Thursday, 18 September 2014


Picture a media consultancy firm in Shoreditich or Camden.  They are asked to come up with ideas for the "Stoptober" campaign.

Consultant 1: We need to get people to stop smoking for 28 days. So, who smokes?
Consultant 2: Um, poor people. The working class. I have seen them on TV and outside pubs.
Consultant 1: Yes. So, what do working class people like?

After a quick web search.

Consultant 2: How about Al Murray?
Consultant 1: Yes, go on.
Consultant 2: Um, this Lee Nelson fellow seems popular. Apparently his show is “well good”.
Consultant 1: Yes, anyone else.
Consultant 2: How about that guy from Max and Paddy?
Consultant 1: You mean Peter Kay? He will be way too expensive.
Consultant 2: Paddy then?
Consultant 1: Yes. So our campaign will be Al Murray, Lee Nelson and Paddy from Max and Paddy telling people to quit smoking for 28 days.
Consultant 2: I'll contact their agents
Consultant 1: I'll draw up the invoice.
The end.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

An open letter to the Hipsters of London

Since moving to London four years ago it's been difficult to avoid your kind. Though you mostly seem confined to Shoreditich you occasionally seep into neighbouring parts of London as groups of skinny jeans clad, window glass spectacle wearing, posh voiced young men and women head to, say, Covent Garden, Westminster or even as far as Brixton to experience (of course in an ironic way) how the normals live. There are also times where I have had to travel through your domain on my way between engagements and I am also a regular user of the 35 bus (which starts/terminates in Shoreditch) and have at times had to sit amongst you as you wax lyrical about how incredibly deep and philosophical the first Matrix film is and how awesome your new yoga teacher has been. But however much I find you and your ilk off putting, in general we have agreed to keep ourselves as part of an unspoken truce. As I roam London I often like to live in my own little world, a world you have never intentionally invaded. The truce remained unbroken... until yesterday.

The truce was broken on my return commute as I entered a tube train at Angel station. It was a Friday and the Standard does an extra large crossword which I enjoy tackling on my journey home. As I moved to the one empty seat on the carriage I needed to manoeuvre my less than nimble body around a flannel shirt wearing, beard sporting and, most worryingly, guitar wielding gentleman. And whilst my inner monologue mumbling “hipster twat” I sat down and began to tackle the first word. What I did not realise is that I seemed to have stumbled into to this gentleman’s unilaterally defined performance area and not only had he decided to force his talents on all the unwilling commuters with whom I shared a carriage, he wanted to involve me. Apparently not being able to read my body language, at this point screeching “fuck off and leave me alone”, he pressed on and started playing his guitar at me and demanded that I sing because I had sat in his “singer's seat”. He announced the rule about the “singer's seat” to other commuters as if it was some kind of already established in joke (though everyone else seemed oblivious). In the end it was these commuters who saved me The wonderful, miserable, anti social commuter of London had unanimously decided to ignore this arsehole. Despite his ridiculously peppy demeanour he was unable to turn a head or even make eye contact with anyone. As we entered another station the collective ennui of London's public transport users had defeated this performer he left the carriage demanding we like him on Facebook. A victory for miserable bastards everywhere.

A big thank you to my fellow Londeners and a big fuck you to the hipster twat who thought his performance art was important enough to forcibly shove in people faces as they went about their business.



Friday, 28 March 2014

True Detective and TV Atheists

In the last few weeks I have been among those engrossed in HBO's True Detective. For the uninitiated, it follows two police officers who, over the span of 17 years, investigate a spate of serial murders in rural Louisiana. That short synopsis doesn't really do the series justice and it is genuinely one of the best crafted series of television ever made (though I am unsure about the ending).

The central performances are part of what makes the show exceptional. Whilst Woody Harrelson puts in a perfectly fine performance as the flawed, womanising family man Marty Hart it is Matthew Mahogany's role as Rustin Cohle that gives True Detective it's dark dark heart. To help make my point, here's rust on humanity

I think human consciousness, is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware, nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself, we are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labour under the illusion of having a self; an accretion of sensory, experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody. Maybe the honourable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.”

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Oscar Review - Philomena

I was surprised to see Stephen Frear's Philomena on the list of best Oscar nominees. This is not the comment on the quality of the film but based on the fact that it is not exactly a traditional best film contender. It doesn't have the expansive A-list cast of American Hustle and it doesn't delve into a deep analysis of historical or political issues in the same way as 12 Years a Slave or Captain Phillips. On the flip side, unlike other contenders with a similarly smaller a scope, such as Nebraska, it's rather conventionally written and directed. Perhaps it's ace in the hole was the enthusiastic support it received from Harvey Weinstein, arguable the pioneer of the modern Oscar campaign.
The film is based on the true story of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman seeking out any information on the child she gave up for adoption whilst being in the care of a catholic convent in the 1950s. She reaches out to Martin Sixsmith, a real life spin doctor and journalist, who then takes her on a (fictionalised1) journey across the US in search of her long lost son. So, does it deserve to be on one of the best Oscar nomination list of recent times?

Monday, 24 February 2014

Oscar Review – Nebraska

Perhaps one day I will do a blog the difference between the greatest film ever versus ones favourite film ever. In short “the greatest” films tend to be large in scope or the important issues they confront though are often dense and lack a certain re-watachable quality (think Schindlers list or Lawrence of Arabia). Conversely, your favourite film may lack the scope or epic quality of the greatest films but are films you can watch over and over again (maybe I don't need to do a post now).

As far as the latter category goes my favourite film is, depending on my mood, 2004's Sideways by Alexander Payne. My affection for this film could (and possibly will) be the focus of another post but its explained, in part, by the fact that it's primary character is a depressed, unsuccessful, wine loving, borderline alcoholic failed writer (possibly don't want to over think that says about me). Given my borderline obsession with Sideways, Payne, perhaps unfairly, has an uphill struggle when it comes to impressing me. The Descendants, though a perfectly decent film, seemed to lack the both the edge and dark humour of Payne's 2004 offering. So, how well does Nebraska meet to my unrealistic demands?

Oscar Review – Her

If you are not familiar of what the term “High Concept” means; essentially it refers to being able to condense the premise of a film, book or whatever to a simple concept. The most cited examples of this tend to be “what if we cloned dinosaurs” or “Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito are twins”. Out of all of this year’s Oscar contenders, the High Concept conceit of “a man falls in love with his computer operating system” is perhaps the most eye catching. Her, directed by Spike Jonze, is about that very thing. I must admit that the high concept idea did worry me as I thought it could degrade into a pretentious, avant garde, post modernist, up it's own arse analysis of the meaning of love in a technological age or go the other way and be about an operating system being driven violently insane by jealousy. So what did Spike Jonze do with this high concept?

Friday, 21 February 2014

Oscar Review – Gravity (Spoilers)

In the same way the Oscar academy seems to have a thing for films with a period setting the flip side of this is their track record of overlooking Science Fiction films.  This is to the point where no film of that genre has ever won the top gong (though Sci Fi has often dominates the technical awards). This may be part of a wider cultural phenomenon of critics and filmy types not taking the genre seriously. This view has broken down somewhat in recent years with films like Inception and District 9 earning both critical acclaim and best picture nominations. Perhaps the best chance of breaking Sci Fi's long dry spell is with Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity.

The set up is simple enough. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play two astronauts who, whilst on a space, walk are stranded after their shuttle is destroyed by a debris field caused by those damn Ruskies shooting down their own satellite. It's has been praised as a game changer in both special effects and 3D film making. So how does it stack up? 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Quick Review - BBC Symphony Orchestra Concert - Barbican Centre

At the end of January my friend had managed to arrange tickets to the BBC Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven's 4th and Ravel's Bolero.

So what can go wrong when you have some of the finest musicians in the world playing some of the finest music ever composed? Well, nothing.  

The music was played with flawlessly.  

I was more impressed with the Beethoven stuff than I was with the 20th symphony by Rave but it was all beautiful.

Philistine Alert
It was the first time I had been to such a recital and there were some odd things going on that I quite didn't understand. The audience seemed to instinctively know when to clap and when not to clap during the breaks in the music. I am guessing you remain silent at the end of a movement and clap at the end of a symphony. There was also an apparently famous flautist who got everyone in the audience very excited. My friend and I just went with the flow (though I did clap in the wrong place once).

Despite playing the role of fish out of water, I enjoyed the experience of just sitting and letting you mind wonder as the orchestra got on with their job. There are further recitals planned at the Barbican this year and I'd recommend trying to experience an orchestra like this at least once.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Oscar Review - American Hustle

Period pieces often serve as Oscar bait. Having a quick scan over the best Oscar winners since the beginning of the eighties, it seems most have some kind of historical setting. From Gladiator to Titanic from Forest Gump to Lord of the Ringsi the academy seem to like being taken into the past and meeting characters with period hair and clothing. American Hustle provides lots of period clothing and hair and is very aware of it's historical setting and my guess is the Oscar Academy will be impressed. Set in the late 1970s, David O'Russell's American Hustle is a fictionalisation of the Abscam affair, in which the FBI enlisted (in the film forced) con artists to entrap, um I mean, ensnare senior politicians in a bribery sting, using a fake Arab Sheik.

Following closely on the heels of O'Russell's heavily nominated Silver Linings Playbook and starring Oscar winners Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro and with nominees Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams, you have to assume that the producers had the Oscars very much on their mind as they were pulling everything together. So I guess the question is this - does bringing together all this talent in one film actually work and does it deserve the accolades it so very desperately wants?

Saturday, 15 February 2014

My Pod Delusion Contributions

Over the last few years I have done the very occasional contribution to the excellent Pod Delusion pod cast (about interesting things).  It's not excellent because I occasionally grace it with my audio brainfarts, but because of the excellent work put into it by it's editor James O'Malley and some of the amazing contributions and interviews he somehow manages to arrange.

Some of my contributions are interesting whilst others are not great.  Have a listen.  My favourites are the ones on Nuclear War, the Olympic Conspiracy Theories and the first one I did on Parliamentary Censorship in which I interview the excellent New Statesman journalist Helen Lewis and one of my comedy heroes Craig Reucassel.

I also did one on George Galloway winning the Bradford bi-election.  For some random reason it was made into a Youtube video.

I am not the most natural broadcaster and I have an awful, dreary, monotonous voice, god help me.

Oscar Review (analysis)– 12 Years a Slave

Note: Over the next couple of weeks I intend to do reviews of all 9 best film Oscar contenders. Most won't be this long but there is so much to be said about 12 Years a Slave that I thought I'd spend a bit of extra time on it. The following is as much of an analysis as it is a review.

I guess it's of note that there have only been a small number of mainstream Hollywood films that directly deal with the issue of Black slavery. Perhaps it's because America's “original sin” does not make for comfortable viewing for the average American cinema goer. It's of further note that of those films the central characters are often white. Examples such as Lincoln, Glory and Amazing Grace often tell the story of abolition from the perspective. Other films such as Ride with the Devil and Gone with the Wind often place the concept of slavery itself firmly in a supporting role to a central theme of the American Civil War. Even Spielberg's Amistad, a film in which Morgan Freeman and Djimon Hounsou play leading roles, still required a cast of white heroes to further the court room drama. I guess in the minds of Hollywood produces, the majority white cinema going public requires a leading character with whom they, as privileged white people, can relate.

I am not trying to devalue all the aforementioned films as the story of abolition, and white people's role in it, is a story that should be told. However, I think its important that it was not until recently that the mainstream Cinema going public was able to see slavery from the perspective of a black main character projected on the Big Screen. Tarantino had his own unique take on it with 2012s Django Unchained1 and 2013 bought us 12 Years a Slave.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Review: Once (The Musical) – Phoenix Theatre

After watching Spamalot and experiencing how musical theatre could take something I love and turn in it into a giant turd, it was with much trepidation that I was convinced into going to see a performance of Once. I am a fan of the 2006 film of the same name. Set in Dublin, the wonderfully understated film follows the developing friendship (and possible romance) of “Guy” an Irish busker and “Girl” an immigrant Czech girl as they bond over their shared love of music. The soundtrack of the film was mostly written by the two leads Glen Hansard (of the Frames) and Markéta Irglová. It also has one of the most cringing and realistic portrayals of a desperate man having his offer of sex rejected.

As for the musical, it's poster seemed to haunt my commute for the last year and it's very existence would anger me on a daily basis. I don't care if you want to make pull a musical out of the arse of a mediocre 1990s movie but when you try to do it with one of my favourite films its only going to make me angry. As you can probably tell I have a slightly over developed sense of cynicism. I can report, much to my surprise, that my cynical side seemed to take a night off and I genuinely enjoyed Once.

Declan Bennett (Guy) and Zrinka Cvitešić (Girl)

Review: Monty Python's Spamalot at the Playhouse Theatre

Finally, we have an answer to the question “What would Monty Python be like if it was performed by CBBC's Dick and Dom?”. I have personally never asked that question and I am not sure if anyone else on this planet did but I experienced the answer a few weeks ago when my friend invited me to see Monty Python's Spamalot.
Yes, This happened!
I am aware that I am not expressing an original sentiment when I say that Monty Python in general and the Holy Grail in particular have played a central role in my development as a human being. I remember my first encounter with Python. I am not sure how old I was but it was a new years eve, and after watching the fireworks on TV I continued watching as a film about the Holy Grail started. I don't recall the extended credits sequence (maybe because the jokes went over my head) but I do remember being engrossed by the misty hillside and the ominous sound of a rider approaching only to collapse with laughter once I experienced the now legendary coconut gag. Mercifully, my parents allowed me to stay up and watch the entire thing and from then on I joined the rather large python loving fraternity. Flash forward about 20 years later and I am sitting in a theatre, the same gag is being recreated on stage and I seem to be the only person in a 700 seater auditorium not laughing.

New Blog!

That's right. Despite having little in the way of original thought and opinion to add to the ever expanding blogshpere I have got in my mind I should start writing and this is a place to store my text based brain farts.

I will, for the time being, avoid any political and controversial stuff and simply focus on reviewing any films, plays and musicals I may see.

From now on when someone asks my opinion of a film or show I have seen I will simply say "haven't you read my blog?"

I am here to learn, so feel free to leave criticisms and suggestions in the comments.

Blakeley (@blakeleynixon)