Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Junior choice

I don't need an excuse to play this but, if I did, today's the day. As inspired by playing Wipeout 2097 on my antique PSOne.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Damned if you don't

I've mentioned Damned before, not on here but on Twitter. Since series two has just started, it seems a good time to sound a klaxon that you need to be watching this. Co-written by Jo Brand and Morwenna Banks, and starring them both alongside Alan Davies, Kevin Eldon, Isy Suttie and an excellent supporting cast, Damned is an office comedy drama (dramedy?) set in a social services department. And because there's gentle comedy, the sort of real-world comedy that surrounds us every day, the programme gets away with the gritty, bleak challenges facing that working environment, all the better to shine a light on them.

Drama, comedy, pathos. Pin-sharp dialogue and a broad, talented cast. What more do you want?

Damned is over on All 4 to watch on demand, right now. Series one is there for catch-up purposes too. Speaking of which, here's a clip from that first series, so you can see what you've been missing. Now, what are you waiting for?

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Insufficient oil pressure

To my environmental (and financial) regret, I run two cars. One is a precision-tooled slab of Germanic engineering that is quiet, efficient, comfortable, spacious... the other is a cheap, poorly-finished, lightweight slice of Italian fluff that I bought in a hurry when my previous job forced an office relocation on me.

Now if you go too fast around a corner or brake hard in the Italian fluff, the dashboard beeps unhappily and displays the warning message "Insufficient oil pressure", before advising me to pull over and switch off immediately. Of course I do no such thing - the oil pressure is fine, it's just that the cheap sensor is unreliable, especially when jiggled (as might happen under sharp cornering or severe braking). But I do like the wording of the warning - insufficient oil pressure seems like a fitting metaphor, especially for today.

A clip from one of my favourite films (The Game) and favourite directors (David Fincher):

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

A public service regram

(With apologies for use of the appalling "regram" contraction)

In case you were unaware that Susanna Hoffs is on Instagram and Twitter... she posted this today.


Happy Valentine’s Day ❤️❤️❤️ Photographs by Harry Page, February 1991, London

A post shared by Susanna Hoffs (@susannahoffsofficial) on

You're welcome.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

"Suddenly, every horror story I'd ever heard was no longer fiction"

From Nicolas Roeg's 1973 masterpiece Don't Look Now

Interested in horror stories, or how films scare and unsettle us? Seen those "supercuts" on YouTube that splice together scenes from various horror films into five or ten minute montages?

Well, imagine a supercut made properly, by the BBC, that lasts for 88 minutes and draws on 100 years of scary and unsettling films, from all around the world. For that is essentially what Fear Itself is - an iPlayer original (which should mean it remains available, rather than disappearing after 30 days), the BBC describes Fear Itself thus:

Half-heard whispers. A creaking door. A missed step. From Vertigo to Videodrome, the scariest movies exploit our greatest – and most basic – fears.

Constructed from cinema’s most heart-stopping moments, Charlie Lyne’s film explores how filmmakers scare us – and why we let them.

A girl haunted by traumatic events takes us on a mesmerising journey through 100 years of horror cinema to uncover the fundamental nature of fear. It may change the way you watch horror movies for good.

I should add that the aforementioned girl's narration, in what I can only describe as a little fluffy clouds voice (you'll know what I mean when you hear it) only adds to the sense of unease that permeates, no, saturates the film.

Still need convincing? Here's a list of the films featured in the supercut. And okay, yes, I know that 88 minutes is quite an investment, but if you have any interest in the genre at all, its history and how it gets under our skin, this is worth the effort. Watch it here.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Clandestine Classic LV - Is It Like Today?

The fifty-fifth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Back in the days before the Internet, if you wanted to know what was going on in the world of music, and what your favourite bands were up to, you had to read the music press. So, in the early 90s, I read Q magazine an awful lot. And, for a while, Q was very much in love with World Party.

World Party were, essentially, a vehicle for one-time Waterboy Karl Wallinger, on whom Q lavished hundreds of column-inches, especially after making World Party's second album, Goodbye Jumbo, their album of the year in 1990. They were still eulogising about Karl in 1993 when follow-up Bang! was released.

Now I hadn't bought into Q's canonisation of Wallinger, but when I saw a copy of accompanying single Is It Like Today? in a bargain box, I thought I could risk 99p to test the magazine's devotion. And you know what? This song, at least, lived up to their hype.

Is It Like Today? was World Party's UK singles chart highpoint, just squeaking into the Top 20, at 19. Musically, I loved it, for it's carefully picked guitar line and piano counterpoint, the slightly dreamy vocal delivery, Karl's harmonies, the lyrical conceit (a face-to-face with God, in which the almighty laments how messed up his creation project has become), the middle eight with its whispered "Bang!" (God deciding to destroy his creation, perhaps?) that gave the parent album its title, and its beautiful, melodic outro. All of it - tremendous. I remember putting this on every compilation tape I made for a while, back then.

Despite Q's relentless patronage, World Party never really translated critical acclaim into massive commercial success, and after the next album (1997's Egyptology, a relative flop), Karl basically took most of the next decade off, not least because, after having an aneurysm in 2000, he understandably wanted to put his energies into being well.

Anyway, World Party resumed active service in 2006, but it's been pretty quiet from Karl since box-set activity in 2012. You can find today's classic on the aforementioned Bang!, the single-disc best of Best In Show or that comprehensive box-set Arkeology. You might imagine I have some, or even all, of these, but I don't - today's classic remains the only World Party record in my collection. Why? Because I don't believe even Q's favourite son could top it, and I've never heard anything to quite convince me to give him the benefit of the doubt. But when you've recorded this, well, that's enough for anyone, isn't it? Have a listen and see if you agree.

Footnote: the Robbie Williams hit She's The One is a cover of a World Party track from Egyptology.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

A fatuous graph for a fatuous survey

Ten day ago, I launched a fatuous survey to test the hypothesis that bloggers of a feather flock together, and that if you read this blog you're more likely to be like me, to share views and preferences, than you are to be otherwise. In short, I wondered whether blogs, like our social media timelines, become mirrored bubbles, reflecting ourselves and hiding different views. The results are in, and a fatuous survey clearly calls for a fatuous graph.

A mighty eleven people responded, and nobody scored less than 50% in this not-very-scientific test. In other words, no-one was more unlike me than like me. The average score was 65%, or roughly two thirds like me and one third not. The median value was 55% and the mode 50%, maths fans.

A special mention must go to top scorer The Man Of Cheese, at 75%. In truth, this arguably demonstrates the inaccuracy of the test, as he and I are probably >90% alike. Anyway, I don't intend to run through everyone's scores, but I did want to go on a bit (sorry) about the questions as there was massive discrepancy in the degree of correlation.

  1. Coke or Pepsi?. Only 18% of respondents were like me. I should maybe have been more explicit in the question, to make it clear that this included all variants of each brand, i.e. Coke Zero or Pepsi Max. They're both poison, I know that, but Pepsi is much more caramelly, and seems a bit less watery, to this boy.
  2. Bitter or lager? I though this would be closer but 73% of respondents agreed with me that, generally speaking, bitter is better.
  3. Coffee or tea? A big shock for me in that only 36% of respondents expressed the "correct" preference for tea. What's wrong with the rest of you?
  4. Raspberry ripple or rum and raisin? A surprisingly close call. I was heartened to see 45% of respondents prefer the old school, 70s-style ripple.
  5. Full-fat or semi-skimmed? A no-brainer in these health-conscious times, with 91% of respondents agreeing with the less calorific option. Or was the question a metaphor?
  6. BBC or ITV? Another no-brainer, with 91% of respondents correctly preferring the Beeb to the other lot. It's a good job the one person who preferred ITV was anonymous, otherwise we might have had to have words...
  7. BGT or SCD? Basically the same as the previous question. Part of the fun, for me, was wondering who'd know what the abbreviations stood for (Britain's Got Talent and Strictly Come Dancing). A comfortable 64% rightly preferred Strictly, a figure I hope would have been higher if I'd spelt it out.
  8. Claudia Winkleman or Tess Daly? In other words, kooky brunette or slightly bland blonde? 82% of respondents were "like me" on this one, preferring kooky.
  9. Have I Got News For You or Mock The Week? Not much in this, unsurprisingly, with 64% agreeing with my preference for HIGNFY.
  10. The Daily Mail or The Guardian? 82% of you also prefer the lefty broadsheet tabloid to the righty one.
  11. Digital (inc. CDs) or Vinyl? The only question I clarified part-way through, to make it clear that I was including CDs in "digital". Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the muso crowd in this neck of the blogosphere, only 36% agreed with my preference for digital. I should add that I do own a fair bit of vinyl, still, and love it. Don't hate me, is what I'm saying.
  12. The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? Another predictably close one. 45% of respondents were "like me" in preferring those four lads from Liverpool.
  13. Chrissie Hynde or Debbie Harry? In many ways, the toughest question here, as both answers are right, really. I opted for Chrissie. Only 27% of you agreed.
  14. I.R.S. R.E.M. or Warner Bros R.E.M? 64% of respondents agreed with me that the Athens boys, though great, were never quite the same after they moved into the big league.
  15. Football or rugby? I expected this to be closer, in these days of Premiership prima-donnas and obscene pay, but 82% of you, like me, still prefer the round-balled game to the oval.
  16. Daniel Craig or Sean Connery? Because everyone has an opinion on Bond. 73% of respondents correctly preferred Sean. There is a case, I think, for suggesting that Goldfinger is the only Bond film you'll ever need.
  17. Rocky III or Rocky IV? All joking aside, a tough one to answer. III has Mr T, Mickey dying, The Eye Of The Tiger and "You gonna ring the bell?" "Ding ding.". IV has Dolph, Apollo dying, running up mountains in the snow and Sly ending the Cold War. But IV's montage sequences win it for me. 45% of you agreed.
  18. Andrew Garfield or Tobey Maguire? Another question that confused some, but this was a straightforward Spiderman question. For me, Tobey Maguire's Spiderman films, especially the first two, are the best superhero films you could ask for. 55% of respondents thought so too.
  19. Francis Ford Coppola or Stanley Kubrick? Don't get me wrong, Coppola has made some true classics, but Kubrick is peerless in my book. 64% of you agreed.
  20. Android or Apple? And again, 64% of respondents were "like me" in preferring your device's HQ to be Mountain View rather than Cupertino.

And there you have it. I promise I will never do this again.