Sunday, August 28, 2016

I Won't Give Up

Since returning from Australia late last year, I have been going through some incredibly stressful and painfully traumatic experiences akin to attempting the obstacle race on the Krypton Factor.

These crippling challenges are both as vile and unpleasant as each other but are somewhat of a necessity if one wants to achieve anything in life.

They are:

Job application forms and Dates.

Long gone are the days where one spruced up one’s CV and delivered a succinct and coherent detail of one’s educational and vocational experience.

Long gone are the days of meeting people through social venues and getting to feel the vibes as you connect with another soul face to face.

Nah.

Everything now is online.

Each job I apply for has its own variation of a form to fill in and I have to repeat the same information over and over again. HOWEVER, there is never any room for possible discrepancies. e.g. I had a full time job whilst at University. One cannot explain this on the forms, as they don’t seem to think that such a thing would be possible. They also have mandatory fields for phone contacts of places that I worked that no longer exist. So, what happens? I leave things blank, the HR people look and think “Must be lying” and it gets binned (or deleted – wha’evs!) The most infuriating thing is after spending a good hour or so answering all their tiresomely pedantic questions about where one went to school, what grades one achieved, and to whom one sat in Geography class, they the ask you to upload a CV at the very end!!

When it comes to references, all of mine are in Australia and this makes it much harder to prove how bloody worthwhile I am. They probably just look at the ‘00613…’ and think “Fuck that!”

So, each and every laborious application for a job has left me frustrated and exhausted.

Pass me a bottle of red, luv!

As for dating…

I have tried a few of these phone apps. Oh, it’s appallingly depressing. A handful of pictures, a brief bio trying to sell oneself (for crying out loud, I was able to sell books about housewife bondage to Christian bookshops, yet I can’t sell myself for love nor money!) and all for nought as people simply swipe left because they catch sight of my lazy eye.

Even if one does make a rare connection, most just chat for hours and hours and then chicken out actually meeting because they suddenly realise they are married.

I have had a handful of dates:

  • One admonished me for talking about sex
  • One was so disinterested he left half way through
  • And one was too interested and got a little rapey.

Crikey, lads… what is a boy supposed to do?

Pass me a bottle of bubbly, luv!

All the rejections from employers and suitors alike are becoming very wearing. I am feeling less and less of who I once was; a ghost of my former self.

Some day soon a company and a guy are going to find me fascinating, irresistible and charming. They will realise what they’ve been missing and all will be right with the world.

This should be a sufficient picture to depict 'all right with the world', don't you think?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ain't Such a Bad Place To Be

I consider myself relatively lucky because I am in a position prior to a vote where I have a reasonably blank slate. I am not overtly politically minded and my views and opinions tend to be ill-informed and somewhat "piss weak" when standing up to any form of scrutiny. The reason I consider myself lucky is that the Eu Referendum is on Thursday and I have had plenty of time to become acquainted with the facts (after sifting through a minefield of propaganda and seriously odious bullshit!) - I also don't have any prior leanings or prejudices to stand in the way of a fair and controlled debate.

As I have only recently returned from living in Australia for the last sixteen years, I only had a brief knowledge of the main figures in British politics and the shenanigans they all get up to. I was too awash with the insanity of the Australian Government to pay much attention to my home-soil's circus.

So, what did I know about the UK and the bullies in the playground? well...

  • Boris Johnson looks like an albino Baron Greenback from Danger Mouse
  • Jeremy Corbyn looks like someone's dad who has popped 'round to ask us if we could keep the noise down
  • Nigel Farage makes Hitler look quite charitable and easy-going
  • David Cameron likes his sausage wrapped in bacon

Boris is pleased with his purchase of Grecian 2000.

Admittedly, not the greatest of knowledge when it comes to making a decent decision about the future of Great Britain, the European Union and the many generations to come.

It's an added complication when the current Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition is on the same side and one wonders what all the fuss is about, but that's something I have just accepted.

On the 29th May, 2016, an opinion piece was published in The Guardian written by David Mitchell where he voiced a fear that I shared. Basically, why get hoi polloi to make a decision that the experts have a better grasp on? Fair-dos, I believe in the notion of democracy and I think if the decision was made without my consent, I'd be a little bit miffed. However, not everyone is well-versed in politics (like me) and many won't even bother checking facts and will blindly give a knee-jerk reaction because they didn't like someone from the local pub's opinion (and they once knocked over his pint and the grudge still holds!)

"UKIP voters enjoying the British sunshine."

Anyway, this is not a blog post about the failings of the democratic system in place. This is about taking control of an opportunity and making the most of our right to vote... So...

My first port of call was to ask my friend Dan about his thoughts on the whole complicated issue. Dan knows more about politics than I know about Alfred Hitchcock movies, so I knew it would be a safe bet. He advised me wisely and fairly. I took all his points on board.

I then started researching the pros and cons. I learned about the impact on farmers, the various regulations imposed by the European Union, the allegations about funds, rebates etc., the whole immigration malarkey... gosh, my head was spinning.

I started to look for inspiration from those I admired and whose opinions I trusted.

In late April, the President of the United States gave us his opinion

and there was, oddly, quite a backlash. Now, call me a big old Leftie if you will, but I actually value the words of a leading Democrat who understands economies, prejudices and legal matters globally.

OK, if complainers want opinions to only come from local minds, then take a look at this piece from the rather spectacular brain of J.K. Rowling.

Yes, I know that some belligerent folk will whinge and say "But she only writes kids' books about magic!" to which I say "Don't be moronic imbeciles - the woman's a legend!" and that will be the end of that argument.

I can understand the notion about wanting to be an independent land once again, I really can, but I also want to relive my school days and not have to worry about bills, rent and politics - nostalgia is hindsight with rose-tinted glasses. It's not necessarily an idyllic paradise with rainbows and unicorns (er... not that Olde England was ever like that. I'm being facetious!)

Britain's future in the eyes of Nigel Farage - only with lots of white people too.

National pride is, on some levels, to be commended (however, I have often said that there is a very thin line between National pride and racism!) but one can still be a proud Briton in a European Union. No one is going to take that away from anyone.

Those who are worried about border control need to take off their pointy white hats and focus on a less insensitive/barking mad notion.

Also, if we do leave, you realise England will never, ever win the Eurovision Song Contest again. It's a point to consider...

As you have probably gathered by now, I will be voting to remain. I don't know all the facts but I have gone out of my way to listen to both sides of the argument. I trust the multitude of advisors, economists, politicians and (ho ho) celebrities (me being facetious again) who suggest that a future within the European Union is a future with vastly more strengths and possibilities. The fact that Farage, Trump and Putin think we ought to opt out is enough reason for me to stay in. The opinions of narrow-minded, egomaniacal bigots do not sway me one jot.

Also, John Oliver says we should and that's good enough for me. See John's take on Brexit here!

The truth is, there will be complications and problems whether we leave or stay. I just don't think anyone should be voting without doing a little bit of research and not take everything at face value. Vote with a conscience. Vote with a heart. Vote with a brain. Just don't vote with hate, anger and fear.

If you're a nerd like me and you're still perplexed by the whole issue, just think "What would the Doctor or Gene Roddenberry do?"

"...In, Out, In, Out, and Shake it All About!"

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Victoria Wood (1953-2016)

Today, another of my heroes has passed away. Writer, singer, comedian. Victoria Wood was more to me than just a person off t'telly

I was only nine years old when I first stumbled across her brilliance. My Mum had taped episode six of Victoria Wood As Seen on TV one evening as she had been otherwise engaged - probably doing a dash of Shakespeare at the local AmDram ("It may be Hamlet, but it's got to be fun, fun, fun!")

I watched this one episode repeatedly and insisted on my friends watching it too. Luckily, the series was to be repeated later in the year so I was able to watch it all prior to the second series the following year.

I remember one particular evening when, although sent to bed early (it was a school night) I would listen to the show on TV through the floorboards of my bedroom. I still recall becoming quite emotional after hearing Victoria sing the sad song 'Crush' through a few inches of wood and some tufted-shag.

Well, I became obsessed. No one else had touched in to my sense of humour quite like Victoria (and never has since). I watched everything I could lay my hands on (repeatedly), grew to know sketches off by heart. I had books, videos, cassettes, and then one day.... I got to meet her.

It was Tuesday 19th March 1991. It was at Wolverhampton Civic Hall. It was, quite possibly, the most exciting night of my life.

I laughed so hard that evening. Afterwards, I went back stage to get my copy of Up to You, Porky signed and I gave her a bunch of flowers and a letter.

I had no idea that she would respond AND it would begin an eighteen year correspondence.

Her first letter was brief (postmarked 9th April 1991 - I have kept all the envelopes! I may use the stamps to make a novelty lampshade one day).

I'd enquired about a certain dress from one of the sketches (Whither the Arts? - 'Bessie!') and had also invited myself 'round for tea and cheesecake.

Dear Ben - I'm afraid I don't have the orange dress anymore - I think Pat borrowed it for EastEnders. Love Victoria. PS The cheesecake is in the larder ready.

And so our little pen-pal relationship began. We wrote back and forth frequently and she even helped me out with my A-Level English Language course when I was writing about comedy. I studied an episode of Acorn Antiques and Victoria helped with questions I had about the show and her approach to comedic writing. Ultimately, my study earned me top grades and I owe some of that to Victoria. She was so kind and generous.

I met her multiple times after that and she even recognised me in a public place once! (...people hide in shop doorways when they see me coming because they feel inadequate!)

There was even a time when she gave me permission to perform an omnibus edition of her 'Carl & Gail' sketches at a revue night alongside my friend Gaynor Wall. (I played Carl, obviously.)

Gail

Carl... do you know the facts of life?

Carl

Some of 'em

Gail

Which ones?

Carl

Gravy. I know how that's made... and I know where me Mam's apron is!

Apparently, it went down quite well - we even got a mention in the Matlock Mercury.

Victoria Wood As Seen on TV is still heralded today as one of the finest sketch show comedies in British history (it's true!) and I never ever tire of it. It has always stood proudly at the top of my 'Favourite TV Shows of All-Time' list and will undoubtedly remain so.

Then, in the late '90s, she wrote and starred in one of the most quotable sitcoms ever - the sublime dinnerladies. Again, it only lasted two series (like ASOTV) and that was due to Victoria's insistence on not outstaying her welcome. Some TV shows go on and on to eventually become stale. Vic liked things to remain fresh.

What made Victoria so outstanding with her writing is that she never hogged the best lines for herself. She always new her ensemble so perfectly that she could write to their abilities. Each character she writes has a beautiful depth beyond the outward caricature. Victoria could do pathos (and bathos!) like no one else.

Victoria's body of work was more vast than some realise. She is known, of course for her comedic songs and her superb ear for dialogue, but she was also a great dramatist. She won two BAFTAs in 2007 for her heartbreakingly beautfiul film Housewife, 49 based on the diaries of Nella Last - one for her writing and one for her performance as Nella.

This just added to her somewhat cluttered mantelpiece of glittering awards thrown at her over the years.

Just within the last hour or so, I have had numerous friends text, email, message me. Everyone who knows me well understands what Victoria Wood meant to me. She was my idol, my mentor, my Comedy God. I am tearing up as I type this.

I feel rather miserable by the fact that our correspondence dwindled and we didn't write for the remaining few years of her life - but I hope she knows that I truly was one of her biggest fans.

Maybe I have missed some other things to say, but I am a little overcome with grief. Maybe another time.

To paraphrase Mrs Overall; "Crying won't bring her back, Miss Babs!"

But, my god, I wish it would...

Friday, April 8, 2016

Gold

Trying to finalise a top ten list of my favourite films is not only daunting, but somewhat impossible.

(I just know I have compiled a list like this before, but I am not trawling through my entire blog just to check!)

I have so many favourite films. A list of one hundred would be easier.

How about a top thirty? (I started at twenty but kept thinking of others!)

These films are all personal favourites. They may not all be winners of great awards or even listed on lists by other film critics, but they mean something to me - and isn't that what really matters? In my eyes, these are pure gold!

So, in no particular order, here are my top thirty favourite films...

It's not the most butch list ever, is it?!

Clue (1985)

I don't think there is anybody out there who knows me well who doesn't already know that this IS my all-time favourite. I have seen it so many times and it never fails to entertain me. I know it (almost) word for word.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

A damn-near perfect movie (for me). It has drama, romance, comedy, horror, a singing plant... what more could you ask for?

The Haunting (1963)

Based on the seminal classic horror novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, this is a film that should be studied by those who churn out crappy jump-scare horror. Pure brilliance.

The Birds (1963)

I love Hitchcock films and to limit my choices for this list was very hard. However, this stunning slow-builder is simply terrific.

Strangers on a Train (1951)

My second Hitchcock has some superb set-pieces. This is the film that actually sealed the deal with my love of his oeuvre.

The Gay Divorcee (1934)

This was a hard choice as I have often cited 1937's Shall We Dance as my favourite Fred and Ginger movie. However, as I am limiting my list to thirty and I love all of their black & white collaborations, I choose this as it is the epitome of everything that is great about their films.

Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Lynch is a bit hit and miss for me but this is, without question, his masterpiece. It stayed with me for days after the first viewing. Sublime.

The Red Violin (1998)

A severely underrated movie, in my opinion. It's an incredible journey through various countries over generations. The soundtrack won an Academy Award (rightly so).

Easy Virtue (2008)

One of those movies that never fails to cheer me up. A perfect cast.

Repulsion (1965)

One of two Polanski films on this list. It's depiction of creeping insanity is delirious and captivating.

Ed Wood (1994)

Tim Burton's best film (as Director) and Johnny Depp shines as the earnest yet terrible film maker.

Death Becomes Her (1992)

Camp as Christmas and beautifully macabre. It has become a bit of a cult classic but I have always loved it (I saw it six times at the cinema!)

Psycho (1960)

My third and final Hitchcock for this list (I have so many favourites!) is the genre-defining, spine-tingling, utterly brilliant movie that terrified a generation.

Time Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Although not directed by Burton, this is his baby. It blends my love of Hallowe'en and the joy of Christmas all in one go.

Some Like it Hot (1959)

Seriously, it had to be on this list. It's an undisputed classic.

Tootsie (1982)

Onto another drag movie and another flawless piece of cinema. Dorothy Michaels is a masterpiece in acting.

Thelma and Louise (1991)

Ridley Scott is an amazing director and no one can deny the chemistry between Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon.

Sweet Charity (1969)

An incredibly under-appreciated film, this one. I adore it. It makes me cry every time.

Brief Encounter (1945)

David Lean, Noel Coward, Rachmaninoff... sheer heaven

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Another film highlighting incredible chemistry. this time between Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.

Dead of Night (1945)

An Ealing Studios classic. Michael Redgrave's performance is astonishing.

The Ladykillers (1955)

Another Ealing gem. Despite the stellar cast, Katie Johnson steals the movie as Mrs. Wilberforce (Mrs. Lopsided)

Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Yes, yes, an obvious choice. But is is brilliant and Jean Hagen is magnificent as Lina Lamont.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Another Polanski. This one adapted from Ira Levin's novel. As far as I am concerned it is one of the best adaptations (book to movie) I have ever witnessed.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Macabre, camp and fantastic.

Alien (1979)

Another Ridley Scott. I much prefer this to Aliens but I also prefer Scott over Cameron any day!!

Barbarella (1968)

Jeepers. I do like the camper fare, don't I?!? How can anyone not enjoy this space romp?

Mary Poppins (1964)

Practically perfect in every way.

The Last of Sheila (1973)

Another murder mystery with a superb cast and a sensational plot by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins.

Murder by Death (1976)

A totally bonkers spoof but with class 'A' performances all 'round. (Although Maggie Smith steals the show..)

So, that's the lot. A few bubbling under the mark such as Bugsy Malone, My Fair Lady, El Orfanato, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark to name a few... I know I will wake up at three o'clock in the morning thinking "Why didn't I think of THAT one?!? but for now I am content.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Tell Me The Worst

Nothing is perfect. On that I am sure we can all agree.

There are many books, films, TV shows, and songs that undergo an awful lot of scrutiny from the multitude of fans across the globe, but few get nit-picked quite as much as the likes of Star Trek and Doctor Who. Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans are notoriously hard to please and I cannot deny that I am often a little perplexed by some of the decisions made within the walls of show-runners' offices. Only recently I was shocked to see the tirades and abject vitriol spouted on-line toward the recent season finale of AMC's The Walking Dead. However, in this case I think it's more to do with the fact that it didn't match the original comic book version, but as I have not read those, I actually found the finale quite gripping and entertaining.

It's hard to please everyone and it's even harder to please the die-hard fans...

This brings me to Doctor Who. Yes, yes, I have written about this show before, but I wanted to just highlight a few moments since the greatest programme on TV returned to our screens where I have found myself either 'facepalming' or throwing my hands up in the air and bellowing "WHAAAT??" at the television. Sometimes it's the sheer audacity of the writers/showrunners that beggars belief, but I don't want to sound like one of these terminally indignant fanboys. I am much more forgiving than most.

Doctor Who can be one of the most exciting, thrilling and breath-taking shows on air. It's a show about adventure, love, and right versus wrong. But it's not perfect...

Let's just pick a handful of episodes since the triumphant return in 2005 (beware potential spoilers):

Dalek

by Robert Shearman

Not a massive gripe, just a problem that seems odd in hindsight. Simply this: how come Henry van Statten has never heard of the Daleks in 2012 when they invaded Earth numerous times including the relatively recent 2007 (Whoniverse time - remember Rose was delivered home twelve months too late)?

OK, I accept that timelines are fluid in sci-fi worlds and we can't get too nit-picky over this, so let's move on.

Last of the Time Lords

by Russell T Davies

I got the notion that it was the power of positive thought that saved the Doctor - I have no problem with that because Russell T Davies set that up earlier with the whole Archangel Psychic Network thing; turning the weapon into a cure. That's fine.

But floaty Doctor? Hmmm. And shouldn't he be naked? Did Martha tell everyone; "Oh, and while you're thinking the word 'Doctor' think of his lovely brown suit too!"

Journey's End

by Russell T Davies

I feel a bit churlish writing about this one because I love series four, I love Donna, and I love this episode. However, the TARDIS dragging Planet Earth back is a stretch but, to be fair, the Doctor's reaction to the ONE planet left behind being Earth is priceless, if brief. It's a bonkers notion, but one can't help feeling the warmth of the companions and the Doctor(s) banding together to help save everyone. I read one review which said if you could cope with this image, you'll love the entire finale. I guess it's true.

The Big Bang

by Steven Moffat

This gets a loud "W.T.F?" from me (especially after a great first part in The Pandorica Opens).

REBOOT THE UNIVERSE? Who are you? J.J. Abrams??

There's science fiction, there's high concept notions, and there's pure insane bollocks.

The Girl Who Waited

by Tom MacRae

I only have one major issue with this and that is why on Earth didn't Amy just ask which button? Who presses red over green? Odd.

The Angels Take Manhattan

by Steven Moffat

I have two problems with this episode. Firstly, the Statue of Liberty being a Weeping Angel. 1) It's not made of stone, 2) the Angels cannot move when they are seen (this in the city that never sleeps!) and 3) it's just bonkers. The French don't hate the Americans that much, do they?

Secondly, there is the ending. Now, I know Steven has said he wrote a different ending and I can't help but wonder if he originally had Amy and Rory die for the sake of the paradox. If so, this would make sense. I imagine Steven then hated the down-beat and grim ending for the couple, so he rewrote a more "fairytale" ending so as not to upset so many kiddies before bedtime. However, the whole thing about the Doctor not being able to ever land in New York is just codswallop. Let's not mention the fact that Amy and Rory could just travel elsewhere and meet up with him.

Kill the Moon

by Peter Harness

What started out as a genuinely creepy and exciting episode left me gaping at the screen in bewilderment. The Earth's moon is an egg and always has been? What arrant nonsense. I am perfectly open to science fiction concepts but, as with some of the examples previously mentioned, I don't like the audacity of some creative people who need to stamp "AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN" on everything. It's not clever. We are not impressed or left in awe. The Doctor has visited the moon both in the past and the future. I am sure something would have been mentioned at some point by someone. Now, if this story had been set on a different planet's moon, then I would quite easily accept the theory without drawing a breath. Let me show how this can also help another episode...

In The Forest of the Night

by Frank Cottrell-Boyce

Once again, lovely idea. A forest appears overnight. We see the city of London completely swamped with foliage. What a terrific image. BUT... it all happens so quickly and gets cleared up the next day and, apparently, everyone will forget. Hmmm. When I saw this episode for the first time, it made me think how well it would work in the form of a novel but, as I mentioned before, on another planet. You could still have the threat but then not have the 'magic' solution. You could have the inhabitants of the city deal with the aftermath over time with the Doctor saying; "Now, look after your plants before it happens again!"

Face the Raven

by Sarah Dollard

I have only seen this episode a couple of times, so I may be missing something. For a first-time writer of the show, Sarah has some fantastic ideas and there is some cracking dialogue. The thing I don't understand is just why they can't take the Chronolock off Clara. Is it explained fully? Not to my satisfaction. If Ashildr took it in her stead, it wouldn't matter as she is immortal. Maybe I need to rewatch as it surely must be explained. I'll come back to this another time.

Heaven Sent

by Steven Moffat

OK, I know this one will be controversial. Yes, it's a tour-de-force performance from Capaldi. Yes, the visuals are stunning. Yes, it's another high-concept episode...

I just don't understand why anyone, Time Lord or whomever, would subject anyone to that kind of torture over, basically, NOTHING! Seriously, think about it. It makes no sense!! Billions of years??? For WHAT?? An answer? Even Deep Thought would think that was stretching it out a bit!! Still... Rachel Talalay's direction is superb.

All That Said...

I could ramble on about other oddities and inconsistencies within the show, but it IS just a TV show (and a damn fine one at that). I said earlier that it seems a bit churlish to make criticisms but occasionally it's fun to question and scratch beneath the surface. Anyone can ask me to rave about Doctor Who and I will do so for hours.

I'll finish with one more silly nit-pick...

It's bigger on the inside? WTF?