Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Ferris Bueller II (or, why wait for the Superbowl?)

I am British and so, by definition, have no real interest in the Superbowl. In fact, I was being generous by including the word "real" in that last sentence. But nevermind. Apparently much fuss is made about adverts that run during Superbowl commercial breaks - how they are special, how much they cost to place, that sort of thing. Normally, my response to this sort of fuss is, at best, an indifferent shrug. But this year, Honda are showcasing their new ad... an ad in which Matthew Broderick reprises his Ferris Bueller persona. Since Ferris Bueller's Day Off is one of my favourite films, I was intrigued. More than a little concerned too - I didn't want Broderick to ruin something really rather special just for a few (hundred thousand or more) Honda dollars. Imagine my relief then (and surprise, given what they must be paying for the Superbowl ad slot) at finding the ad is already available, like everything else, on YouTube. Here it is - what do you think?

Some time ago, I wrote about the film on which this ad is based and asked the question "if Matthew Broderick lives to be 150, will he ever top Bueller?" I think the answer to that is still no, but at least with this ad he manages to pull off something of an homage. Okay, maybe it's a sell-out... but it's a lovingly-crafted, respectful sell-out. Funny too. At the risk of stating the obvious, I'd still rather have a Ferrari 250GT than a Honda CR-V though...

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Clandestine Classic XXII - For Tomorrow

Songs For Me (And My Baby)The 22nd 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.

Before you leap straight to the comments link, no, I'm not touting For Tomorrow by Blur as a clandestine classic. It was one of their biggest hits, after all. Not clandestine in any way. So read on.

Twelve years ago, almost to the day, The Man Of Cheese and I went to see Gene at The Forum. They were, as you would expect, excellent. As were the main support band, Bellatrix (though I seem to recall my opinion may have been clouded by slightly fancying the singer). Of course we were too late arriving at the gig to catch the first support act, probably as a result of consuming ale in some pub or other first. Whatever the reason, we missed The Motorhomes. It didn't matter though; as we left the venue, a three-track promo for their album was pressed into my hand by a faceless record label marketing intern. I took it home and played it the next day. It wasn't good enough to make me go out and buy the album, so as a promotional tool perhaps it failed, but one track stuck.

What can I tell you about The Motorhomes? Not too much, actually, although Wikipedia tells me they formed in Jönköping, Sweden, in 1997 as a four-piece. By the time of the debut album, Songs For Me (And My Baby) in 1999 they had added a member. There biggest hit, Into The Night, came from that debut. As well as the Gene support slot, The Motorhomes were on the undercard for a Suede Scandinavian tour. Oh, and they played at the Reading Festival. But then... then there was one more album, The Long Distance Runner in 2002, before the band split in 2004 - singer Mattias Edlund decided he'd had enough.

I did find a Swedish music website that talked about The Motorhomes. Google translated some of it for me, and apparently the band produced "melancholy guitar-pop, brittle pop music and more things than you can name." Blimey. There are a couple more things that I can name though. For Tomorrow is characterised by what I can only describe as a real ear-worm of a guitar line, and an ethereal quality that you don't find too often with male vocalists. Maybe it's something to do with Mattias's entirely relaxed but utterly precise enunciation (something that a lot of Scandinavian bands singing in English seem to have).

Aside from his vocal style, what's he actually singing about? Seems to be about soldiering on in the face of adversity, perhaps a relationship that is doomed but somehow stumbles on in the vain hope that something - anything - might improve. I know, not what you'd call upbeat. But look...

Nothing's too good, nothing's too bad,
We can't live for today just live for tomorrow.
We got to go on, got to go on,
No, we never know.


Hold just one moment;
You're out of line,
And it is choking
What we've got.
I'm so tired
Of being right.

I don't know about you but those are better lyrics than I could write in Swedish.

Anyway. I can't tell you about the album, Songs For Me (And My Baby). It might be ace. It might be pony. What I can tell you is that For Tomorrow is beautiful. And whilst I couldn't find the track for you to download, we can at least rely on YouTube to provide us with the proof. Have a listen. What do you reckon?

Monday, 9 January 2012

In search of a comment (or, the great Danny Boyle re-tread scandal)

Some time ago, I pondered upping sticks and moving this blog to Blogger or WordPress or one of the others. I ummed and aahed. My reasons for moving? I wanted a nice blogroll and I wanted a decent commenting system. My reasons for holding back? I wanted to retain absolute control of how the blog looks, and I didn't want to be constrained by Terms & Conditions as to what I could include in a post. So I soldiered on as an independent, and found a way of producing a blogroll that met my exacting requirements. Happy days all round then.

Except the commenting thing really got to me. Don't get me wrong, I love it when someone comments, I really do. But the process of transferring that comment from your submission to its appearance on this page is painful and long-winded. First of all you get taken away from the blog, to a page that looks suspiciously like a generic contact form. Then you have to jump through lots of hoops, like filling in fields I probably don't need and reproducing a Captcha code. Then you get taken to what looks suspiciously like a generic thank-you form, and left to find your own way back to the blog. And that's only the start of it. I get a plain, vanilla email with your comment in it. I have to cut and paste bits of it, jiggle them around and encapsulate them in HTML to add them to the relevant post. Then I have to repeat the process but with XML for the comments RSS feed. Then I have to FTP both updated files to my host.

In short it's a faff, and a faff that had me on the verge of reconsidering my decision not to move to the whole shooting match to a proper blogging platform... In fact, I resumed my project of recreating the entire PipSpeak blog in Blogger. I got as far as 2010 - five years of posts - but gave up when I realised I couldn't embed an Amazon widget. Yes, I know you can put them in a sidebar gadget, but you can't in a post - you just get a big gap where your lovingly-crafted widget should be. And before you suggest WordPress or Tumblr or any of the others, from what I can see they have the same problem too.

Back to the drawing board then. How to make comments more natural for the user and less of a faff for me? I considered using Disqus as a third-party commenting system but there's too much CSS drama required to make it look how I would want it to within the site, so that was a no. Instead, I realised there was no choice but to write some code. So now you have a bespoke comments form that should open in a nice, discrete window of its own. There's a minimum of fields to complete, and no Captcha. If you have cookies enabled, the form will remember who you are for 31 days, so if you comment often (please do!) you shouldn't have to type your name and website in every time. And when you've hit "send" you get taken to an equally discrete and relevant thank-you form, with an easy "close" option, leaving you back at the blog post you started from. And for me, well, I let the form do some of the text-jiggling and HTML-wrangling for me. It's still a faff overall, but it's a little bit less so.

All I need now are some comments... so here's an idea I've been sitting on for nearly four years. Is Danny Boyle recycling his own films? Compare and contrast the opening sequences of Trainspotting (1996) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008), both shown below. Not the soundtrack, but the visuals. Does Danny have a "title sequence chase" check-box he likes to tick periodically? Paying homage to himself? What do you think?

And while you're busy commenting, do you prefer the new commenting "experience"?

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

That was the year that was: 2011

A parody too farI don't usually write end-of-year reviews like this, but I know what you're thinking: stop apologising for the things you've never done 'cause time is short and life is cruel. On that basis, I guess it must be up to me to change my blogging habits, if not this town called Malice. Here, then, are my highpoints of 2011 or, as I understand I should now say if I am to be a pop-culture media figure, here are last year's best bits.

Best album

"The King of Limbs" by Radiohead - yes, here's where I admit that my taste in music is never going to get less parochial. I like what I like, and I shouldn't apologise for that. "The King of Limbs" isn't anywhere near as good as "In Rainbows" but the fact that it's still my album of the year suggests that either it's been a bad year for the long-player or that I haven't bought many. Possibly both.

Honourable mentions: "Collapse Into Now" by REM (still parochial); "What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?" by The Vaccines (a bit more down with the kids).

Best song

"Nørgaard" by The Vaccines - fast, exciting and enough to get me interested in the album. Better than their breakthrough single too, you know the one that very deliberately has "sex" in the title.

Honourable mentions: Slow Moving Millie's version of "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" from that ad, not least for giving blokes in pubs across the country the chance to rake over the coals of the "what makes a good cover" debate.

Best gig

Former Gene-frontman Martin Rossiter's triumphant return at the Barbican. He's still got it. If I were you, I'd make sure I had tickets for his slot at the Shepherd's Bush Empire on the 3rd of March, supporting My Life Story. I'll see you there (you can buy me a pint).

Honourable mentions: the amazing I Am Kloot at the Norwich Arts Centre; the triptych of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Morrissey at the Hop Farm Festival.

Best book

"Submarine" by Joe Dunthorne, 2011 being the year I got around to reading it, rather than the year it came out. And no, I haven't seen the film, though I understand that's okay. The book, though, is a compass-point-sharp description of being a teenage boy lost in the process of growing up, a hybrid of Catcher In The Rye, Black Swan Green and Adrian Mole, and full of cultural references that you'll enjoy. A little bit of a slow starter, but stick with it.

Honourable mentions: the ubiquitous "Room" by Emma Donoghue; "America Unchained" by Dave Gorman, in which he sticks it to The Man™.

Best film

"Black Swan" for its unsettling portrayal of mental illness, it's clever monochrome palette, great performances from Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. A powerful film that left me feeling decidedly wrung out by the time the credits rolled.

Honourable mentions: "Another Earth" - a beautiful, intelligent and moving piece of sci-fi starring and co-written by Brit Marling, surely one to watch.

Best television

"Page 8" from the BBC. Just my kind of television: it made you think, it made you concentrate and it made you want it not to end. A great cast too, headed up by the always-watchable Bill Nighy and the bewitching Rachel Weisz.

Honourable mentions: "Black Mirror" from Channel 4 and the pen of Charlie Brooker, the first episode of which generated more discussion in the staff canteen than any other television of the year, including reality- and celebrity-shows.

Best comedy

"Dave Gorman's Powerpoint Presentation" which, I can quite honestly say, is the funniest live comedy show I have seen on any stage, anywhere, ever. He'll be touring it again in 2012 - if you enjoy intelligent comedy that isn't at someone's expense, that is observational without being McIntyre, that plays with your (pre)conceptions of the world around you, well, I really do urge you to pick up some tickets.

Honourable mentions: most things with Mark Watson in, for many of the same reasons as Dave.

And that's it. Agree/disagree? What were your best bits?