Poster – Central Nervous System (Raw)


Coloured in later on computer.


Poster – Mixed Bag at the Bumper


Film Poster – Fight Club


Film Poster – The Empire Strikes Back


TV Review – The Planners, Lizard Lick Towing, World’s Most Dangerous Roads, Forget The Oscars, Here Are The Kermodes, Bob Servant Independent, Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway

Industrial Vernacular

Welcome to the red-nosed, trouser-dropping world of Council Planning, wherein dull local government functionaries go about the business of allowing appalling buildings to be built with nary a brown envelope or tap to the side of the nose. The Planners (BBC2) looked at Chester’s Leadworks, of which only the distinctive tower remains. It was actually built in Napoleonic times, used to make lead shot.

Seeing how Napoleon is not much of a threat anymore you may think it would be long past its useful best, but it only closed 11 years ago and has been quietly rotting away ever since. Enter Chester’s Lead (not lead) Planner Fiona Edwards. “If I was responsible for seeing this tower disappearing, I’d have a lot to answer to.” It’s always worrying when someone seems more worried about their own legacy than the city’s, but she has got a plan.

Some developers want to remake the area into 1,000 square metres of shops, restaurants and apartments. Even Chester has been taken over by charity shops of late, but it’s nice to be optimistic. The architect arrives at the site. He’s called Matt Brook and he’s got a tiny mouth through which he forces an awful lot of words, most of which are quasi-architectural rubbish. “We’ve tried to give it more of an industrial vernacular. It’s lead-ish.”

His ‘lead-ish’ design features two buildings either side of a big tower that looks more, well, ‘penis-ish’. In fact, those bollocks, I mean buildings, look familiar. The jet black cladding is strongly reminiscent of Liverpool’s gruesome Mann Island, the obsidian blindfolds that obscures one of the waterfront’s great views and threatened its World Heritage Status.

Whilst Matt drones on (“You feel a weight of responsibility dealing with a building at this point in its life cycle, because if we can’t get this scheme to move forward you’re onto a vicious circle…”) suspicions are confirmed when an objector goes to Liverpool to ‘do some research into the architects’. Uh-oh. Apparently, Mann Island’s architects are not only still in business, but they’re peddling their Carbuncle Cup-nominated work to other poor saps.

The appropriately named Matt doesn’t care. “I’d much rather create a building that forced people to have a reaction to it.” A reaction like getting a World Heritage Status revoked? Time for the massed ranks of the Planning Committee to leap into action. Visiting the site in a minibus, they resemble an old people’s home on a day trip to some Roman ruins.

Opponents argue their case before the Planning Committee. “Alien and cheap… brutal and gloomy… cheap and ugly…” You’ve said ‘cheap’. The Committee are wont to agree. One of them thinks the architect needs to be shot. Matt is actually sat behind her but he doesn’t immediately see this as a murder threat, no doubt used to it. Fiona, vessel of the developers, sees which way this is going and withdraws the bid on their behalf.

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of it. The architects momentarily lick their wounds, “We’ve never had that kind of objection from anything other than single objectors,” says Matt’s boss, somehow mistaking the entire population of Liverpool for a single person. But they come back, guns blazing, with exactly the same plan except the cladding is grey (“zinc”).

Unbelievably, this is accepted. No-one even threatens to shoot anyone. What changed in the meantime? We may never know for, despite presented as a behind-the-scenes exposé, nothing on-screen can explain this volte-face. Well done Chester, you’ve got your own Mann Island. In the shape of a grey cock and balls.

Still in the world of reality programming, and almost as unbelievable, is Lizard Lick Towing (Dave), a show so false that it has a quality disclaimer at the beginning. Even Dave have got standards. Lizard Lick Towing is unapologetically American trash TV, which must be in short supply as this is so manufactured it could come with an endorsement by Henry Ford.

Lizard Lick Towing are a repossession company, consisting of three wacky people and others who can’t be as interesting. Ron is the boss and looks like a wrestler dressed as a skate punk with a Donald Trump haircut. Amy is also the boss and also looks like a wrestler, but she’s otherwise normal. Bobby is Ron’s apprentice, who doesn’t seem to possess a brain. But he’s American so he gets by.

Their first task is to repossess a truck in the backwoods of their snowy part of North Carolina. Ron is wary, knowing from experience what can go down in the backwoods. He’s right. A shotgun-wielding Hick in army fatigues meets them and, with an impassioned “Y’all aren’t taking my daddy’s truck!” showers them with petrol and threatens immolation.

Ron and Bobby beat a retreat back to the office like the US Army withdrawing from Saigon. But the Hick rings them to apologise for his uncouth behaviour. He now wants y’all to repo his daddy’s truck. Ron, changing out of his petrol-soaked clothes, is now even more wary. “About three hours ago you was madder ’n a wet hen at an omelette scramble,” he tells the Hick over the phone.

Brainless Bobby is keenly optimistic for recovery. Ron responds with more carefully scripted North Carolina wisdom. “I know you’re all roostered up but I’m not feeling so cock-a-doodle-do.” Unwisely, Ron listens to Bobby. “It’s a trap!” Admiral Ackbars Ron. The Hick attacks again with what looks like grenades but aren’t, otherwise there’d be bloody body parts everywhere. Throughout, the Hick’s face is not pixellated. Either he signed a release form or he’s not actually trying to kill anyone.

This all happens in the first ten minutes of a very short half hour. Our tame morons move onto other things, such as repossessing a herd of deer during which Bobby ‘hilariously’ shoots Ron with a tranquilizer, and Amy employing a massive comedy black woman who had previously tried to ‘hilariously’ rape Bobby. Lizard Lick Towing was originally shown on TruTV in the US. It fits, as it’s ‘true’ but not really.

Our reality shows are slightly more sedate. In a recent episode of World’s Most Dangerous Roads (BBC2), Jessica Hynes scared the effluent out of the Earl of Grantham whilst bombing over mountain passes near the already scary Chechen border. Vertigo-sufferer Hugh Bonneville went pop-eyed whilst his hands desperately tried to grip any substantial surfaces within reach. The recently qualified Hynes apologised, once Bonneville regained something of his admittedly pasty colour. “I got through a few driving instructors.”

Now that the extravagantly meaningless Academy Awards are over with, one must look back at the unextravagant Forget The Oscars, Here Are the Kermodes (BBC2) and compare. Overly bumptious film critic Mark Kermode really liked A Royal Affair, a Danish film that compares badly with Danish TV. To top it off, he picked Sam Mendes as best director for Skyfall, a decent film, badly directed. The Oscars won’t be forgotten anytime soon, Mark.

Talking of Hollywood stars, the Brian Cox who isn’t a slightly camp Mancunian professor has been donning a badger moustache and slumming it on Bob Servant Independent (BBC4), portraying a fictional Dundee man-of-the-people-whether-they-like-it-or-not, now standing for parliament. This week saw Servant appear at a by-election debate, albeit only broadcast on BBC Local Radio.

Servant’s fiercely loyal agent Jonathan Watson urges him to ‘go Braveheart’, much like Johnny Cochran’s vaunted and infallible Chewbacca Defence, to which Servant is at first reluctant. But sensing defeat by the more erudite competition, Servant ups the rhetoric. “Give us our freedom!” Shame the originator of this manoeuvre was an anti-semitic Australian.

Ant and Dec’s Saturday Takeaway (ITV1) returned with its stars yet to go doolally, despite them telling the world that they’ve taken drugs and one of them voted Conservative, perhaps as a result. Nancy Reagan never came up with a better Just Say No Kids message. They’re also currently in an advert for Morrison’s saying how great supermarket meat is, not the best thing to be doing at the moment.

Going doolally is the inevitable result of appearing on such high-profile shows. Primetime Saturday night, when there’s always millions of families watching, has driven many a so-called ‘light’ entertainer over the edge. But Ant and Dec have survived this bear pit for a long time now.

“Woo-hoo-hoo, I love fireworks!” geordies Dec (or maybe Ant) in the opening introduction. They’re combatting their critics by using their main weapon against them: Twitter. They fetch a prole from the audience who’s an obsessive recorder of their own life and effectively mock her timeline. They even get her favourite boy bands, no longer boys, to mock-sing some of her tweets, but she seems delighted.

Feeling she hasn’t been humiliated enough, they do a Have I Got News For You missing words-style round of particularly inane tweets, but she knows the answers before guest announcer David Walliams has finished reading them. Lesser hosts than Mr. McPartlin and Mr. Donnelly would be annoyed by this refusal of a non-celebrity to not accept their unworthiness, but they laugh along. Yes, they are genuinely good at what they do.

TV Review – Black Mirror, Dancing on the Edge, Being Human, Hugh’s Fish Fight


Almost Creepy

Much like finding out your burger is 90% horsemeat, the first series of Black Mirror (C4) was a tough beast to swallow. A provocateur, writer Charlie Brooker likes taking an already  twisted idea and seeing how far he can get it to corkscrew. Usually, when presenting shows like Weekly Wipe, this is leavened by his corruscating sense of humour. In Black Mirror, as with his earlier Dead Set, everything is very serious.

Channel 4 are constantly reminding us that we can watch the first series of Black Mirror online, whenever we want, even on our phones. The only time I’ll ever watch Prime Minister Rory Kinnear porking a pig again is if I’m the subject of a rendition to an unfriendly country with surprisingly good broadband connectivity.

The first episode of the new series of Black Mirror mercifully didn’t need you to put your hands over your eyes. It’s so low key that it’s hard to believe this is the same sowfucking series. Hayley Atwell and Domhnall Gleeson are a perfectly ordinary young couple, so ordinary that they have disappointing sex. They live in a nice cottage in the country, surrounded by the sort of rain that never falls in World Without End.

Gleeson does like sharing things though. Not with his wife but with the world at large, using a subtly hinted-at not-too-distant-future version of Twitter. This is achieved using various devices that would make Steve Jobs weep in his sweater if he were still around. Then one day, Gleeson doesn’t arrive at the cottage on time, whilst the police arrive several hours later.

At the funeral, a friend recommends signing up to a service that could help the grieving Atwell. “He was a heavy user, he’d be perfect.” A heavy user of social networking that is, as Atwell discovers when she gets an email from software imitating her dead husband. Soon enough she’s exchanging emails and updating him on things.

“Almost creepy isn’t it?” chatrooms dead Gleeson. Atwell is so relieved she has someone to talk to, she’s forgotten her need to be distracted is the death of the man she’s chatrooming to. By uploading loads of videos she is also able to talk to a simulacrum of his voice. What she may finally find creepy is what Gleeson calls “another level to this.”

During the adverts, which features BlackBerry and Microsoft products that look inadequate compared to what Atwell is using, she gets a giant box of an Amazon delivery. Opened, this looks like what they put in hamburgers when the horsemeat runs out. Once defrosted, it turns out to be a perfect clone of Gleeson. “You look like him, but on a good day,” breathes an impressed Atwell.

But, just as all online flirtations are doomed once you have to breathe each other’s cheese and onion crisps, so Clone Gleeson proves both too perfect – he’s good in the sack, “That I can turn on pretty much instantly” – and simultaneously inadequate, in not knowing things he never shared amongst the wider world.

“You’re not enough of him,” says Atwell sadly, before consigning him to the attic like a passing time-passing handicraft you should eventually get bored of. I’m glad Black Mirror is around, I just wish it was shorter and to the point, like its Twilight Zone inspiration. At least we didn’t get a feature-length bore-athon like last year’s interminable talent show episode.

Talking of interminable, what’s been happening on the buzzy Dancing On The Edge (BBC2), Stephen Poliakoff’s caffeine-trip through the sweaty basements of the early days of British jazz? Well, rather quickly during the first feature-length episode, smooth Chiwetel Ejiofor’s band left the jazz clubs for stately homes, garden parties and high class tea rooms.

Ejiofor spent the rest of the hour sighing as he was handed oversized thirties phones by other people’s servants to be told the latest bad news about a member of his band being deported. So it goes, Dancing on the Edge is really just a typical Poliakoff drama where everybody is fascinated by royalty.

The Prince of Wales turned up in episode two, along with Jacqueline Bisset as someone called Lady Lavinia Cremone, who lost her sons in the war and now spends her time collecting jazz magazines. This naturally impresses Matthew Goode, spiv peddler of said jazz mags.

“There are important people here,” says Ejiofor’s sort-of manager, played at full-on oiliness by Anthony Head, channeling Malcolm McLaren. Damn right there are. Everywhere you look on Dancing on the Edge there are important people. The other members of the band now just Blackground scenery, this week’s episode was all about sticking it to the Nazis.

Snobby hotel manager Mel Smith has booked the band to play his massive tea room, when a German delegation leaves in disgust. The Nazis didn’t like jazz. “Fuck ’em,” says Smith. It takes a long time for the Germans to leave the room, but then it’s a big room. Poliakoff likes his characters to be dwarfed by their surroundings and even John Goodman is rendered a tiny dot in the distance.

Dancing on the Edge is piffle. Overdressed, over-starred piffle. When the only other member of Ejiofor’s band who actually has a character, Angela Coulby’s slinky chanteuse, spends all episode in a coma, then dies at the end, it reads like a metaphor for Poliakoff finally deciding he can’t be bothered with all this jazz stuff anymore. Let’s have more devious toffs giving dinner parties.

There’s far more enjoyable programmes elsewhere on the BBC network, and for a fraction of the cost. I gave up on Being Human (BBC3) sometime during season three, when its undemanding premise of three supernatural weirdoes sharing a house was shoved aside in favour of a ball-aching overall plot that was so melodramatic it made The Devils look like a fun romp.

A quick Wikipedia check reveals that a lot of stuff happened and now there are three different characters occupying the house share in Barry, each with the same attributes as their forebears. Tom, son of Robson Green, is the werewolf, working in the same hotel as Hal, a 200 year old vampire and Lord to boot. Haunting the house is Alex, Hal’s one-time girlfriend.

In other words, the show has been re-booted. Thank gawd for that. This is Being Human as I remember; slightly silly and not at all full of dread import. A flatshare dramedy about people who shouldn’t get on. The latest episode even featured Julian Barratt as this week’s guest star, finally breaking his recent exile whilst he looked after the twins he had with Julia Davis.

Barratt is perfect as a former weatherman who now does motivational talks at hotels. He’s recently divorced, recently unemployed and living in his car. And he’s also a werewolf, the only thing immediately spotted by Tom. Barratt barely breaks his rictus smile as he offers to become Tom’s life coach. This ‘advice’ consists of moving in, acres of corporate-speak and getting Tom to put a car iron through the window of his ex-wife’s BMW.

Really, Tom is getting back at a perceived slight by Hal, who’s got his own problems. He’s been ‘dating’ a proper Lady for over 200 years, Amanda Drew, dressed like a “cake decoration”. She gets the best lines as an outwardly Regency Lady ghost who’s been secretly keeping up with the times whilst Hal isn’t around and keeping him on the straight and narrow whilst he is.

A worried Alex gets her to confess to her (very) longtime paramour. “I like action films,” admits Lady Drew. “John Woo, Jackie Chan. And the music of Metallica. I shoplift… quite a lot. I suppose this must all be a head fuck.” However, Hal has a confession of his own to make, being that Drew had thought that she was his last victim all that time ago. Far from it, the Lordly bloodsucker. Drew looks agog. “You. Are. Shitting. Me.”

She tries to get revenge with a poltergeist stake aimed at Hal’s heart, but the gang team up to defeat her. Foiled, Drew ponders her options. “Maybe I’ll go scare the shit out of some loggers in the Amazon.” I like new Being Human, back to what it did best. Oh, it’s been cancelled. Well done everybody. I’ll sign any petition going.

Hugh’s Fish Fight (C4) is the sequel to an earlier series where Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall tried to stop overfishing. These attempts succeeded in getting some European legislation implemented, although Hugh can’t help but talk all over the announcement on the radio.

Despite mostly looking like another episode of Heston’s Fantastical Feasts (our hero educates the masses on a British seafront with the aid of a giant totalizer thing) it all got a bit peculiar when Hugh goes to Indonesia to participate in a fishing trip that uses dynamite. Something which has been banned throughout the world. Including Indonesia.

“It just doesn’t look safe,” understates Hugh as the fishermen make their own dynamite over a roaring fire. Hugh gets permission to participate in this by refusing to reveal the names of the people involved in this illegal activity. “I’m not sure how I feel about being complicit in the dynamiting of a reef,” he notes. We’re as confused as you, Hugh.

TV Review – Richard III: The King in the Car Park, Top Gear, The Great Album Showdown, When Albums Ruled the World, Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe, World Without End

Retro Nonsense

Something unbelievable happens about ten minutes into Richard III: The King in the Car Park (C4). The trouble is it happens to the sort of person who believes, and wants to believe, in things very much. Simple ordinary life is too dull; she’s forever motivated by “the strangest sensations.”

Her name is Philippa Langley and one of the things she believes in very sincerely is that King Richard III was not a Shakespearean monster, rather a slandered King who never had any kind of twisted back and ruled both justly and, indeed, wisely. Langley deeply believes this, as Catholics believe the Pope is one of them. So much that she raises enough money to dig up a car park in Leicester.

Langley has gotten advice from an historian that Richard might be buried in the car park, the former sight of a medieval friary. This is based on the theory that his post-battle corpse was displayed for all to see then interred in the nearest church. Despite this vagueness she chooses the first digging location because she sees an ‘R’ painted on the tarmac. To everybody else this would mean ‘reserved’, but she isn’t and is relying on her sensations. That’s where they find a pair skeletal legs.

This is what happens 10 minutes in. Bear in mind they’re not even sure of the location of the church attached to the friary that might be the final resting place of the last Plantagenet king. The original plan was to uncover the friary first and locate where they might find Richard’s remains from that. To uncover his remains the first time they digged down should be impossible.

Yet that’s what they did. Whilst other diggers are still looking for the friary, Langley is standing on the bit where ‘R’ used to be and looking down into a trench whilst be-masked “bone expert” Jo uncovers more of the remains. Jo finds a skull with a hole in it but has to apologise because she made the hole herself with a pickaxe ten minutes earlier. Then Jo finds that the skull is attached to an abnormal spine. Weird has just gone beyond weird.

“I just thought she was insane.” The presenter and man on the ground is Simon Farnaby, comic actor most famous for, er, Horrible Histories. You can imagine how low rent he is. He looks like Tom Baker’s dim cousin and has a Yorkshire accent. Richard III was a Yorkist so there’s the obvious connection.

Farnaby was obviously brought in by Channel 4 at the beginning of this documentary because he was cheap and the whole thing was patently ridiculous. Unluckily for him and them, this epic search for Richard III found him in the first ten minutes. The bones are uncovered and deposited in the University of Leicester, in a cardboard box wouldn’t you know. Philippa wants to put a Royal Standard over the box, which brings out the uncomfortable in everyone.

“This seemingly bonkers project might just have pulled off the impossible,” says light relief Farnaby, whilst the viewer wishes that someone like David Attenborough could take over now it’s gotten fascinating. Indeed, Farnaby is disappointed this isn’t all more like a Steven Spielberg film. The music isn’t helping either, jaunty twinklings seemingly piped in from the Great British Bake-Off when we’re looking at a freshly dug up corpse rather than a nicely-iced Battenberg.

The bones are laid out in the university’s archaeology lab. Farnaby brings disbelief whilsy Langley brings Michele Bachmann’s fervour and glassy stare. Jo the Bone Expert is quite breezy about handling the skull. Imagine if they dug up the Queen’s father, as played by Colin Firth, and did that. There’d be a public execution. Langley is upset. “It’s all just laid out for the world to see. Again.” So why did you dig him up? She’s actually upset that the corpse has a twisted spine. She thought that was Tudor propaganda. A professor assures her that such a spine would be hardly noticeable when clothed. Langley calms down.

Carbon dating puts the bones at the time of the Battle of Bosworth and the wounds on the skull that weren’t put there by pickaxe-wielding Bone Experts match the descriptions of how Richard died in battle. But it’s DNA that will finally prove it. The closest relative they can find is a cabinet maker in Belgravia with an American accent. There is a match. “So we can categorically say we found a king in a car park,” says Farnaby, choosing the exact words to not match the occasion. This documentary told a remarkable story that the makers clearly weren’t expecting to tell. “Royalty’s a queer old thing,” sums up Farnaby.

It’s been a while but the new series of Top Gear (BBC2) finally arrived last week. However nobody cared as they were reviewing new cars, which blah blah snore. People don’t watch Top Gear to see cars being reviewed. What we like is three middle aged blokes going on road trips and arguing about nothing. Anyone who’s ever seen their dad and his brothers fiercely facing off over the pop music of their youth will know there’s nothing funnier.

This week’s Top Gear takes place in the USA and they do a road trip in expensive cars for no obvious reason. Clarkson turns up in a yellow Lexus blah, which is apparently the best car ever. James May turns up in a blue Aston Martin snore moments later, which Clarkson calls “The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” In return, May calls Clarkson’s hideous yellow blah ‘fantastic’. Hold on, where’s the middle-aged bickering?

Thankfully, self-styled short angry bloke Richard Hammond arrives in a black blah and the pointless shouting commences. “That looks ridiculous. This is a bunch of retro nonsense.” It may sound forced but they are all getting quite old now. To compensate, the show throws a game of laser quest involving two planes strafing them as they race round a track. The planes especially liked shooting the Lexus thing, possibly because it’s bright yellow but probably because it’s driven by Jeremy Clarkson.

The climax is a race to the Mexican border, with the loser getting the honour of actually going into Mexico. Our trio are worried about this, thanks to derogatory remarks made on a previous show. Clarkson and May contrive to make sure it is Hammond who loses, which they regard as only fair as it was Hammond who offended the most. Offensive remarks against a whole country? Just another week on Top Gear.

Jeremy Clarkson also showed up on televised radio show The Great Album Showdown (BBC4). Part of the BBC’s Golden Age of the Album strand, Danny Baker hosted with the breathless excitement of someone who genuinely knows what he’s talking about and has the tools to articulately share that knowledge.

“Welcome to my world,” he introduced, which was mostly a chat between Baker, Clarkson, producer Stephen Street and journalist Kate Mossman about rock albums. Unfortunately, the chat was interrupted throughout just as it was getting good by Baker introducing pre-recorded clips of him explaining what they were talking about. Since the only people watching are people who already know what he was talking about it seemed a little pointless.

Without the pre-recorded clips, The Great Album Showdown was a radio show on TV and there’s honestly nothing wrong with that. Only people in cars listen to the radio these days anyway. What’s the problem with watching Baker and Clarkson arguing about which year was the best for rock music? Clarkson thought 1973, Baker thought 1971. There’s merits to both sides, and they were more believable than the disagreements on Top Gear.

At the end of the programme, the guests chose their favourite albums and Baker visibly bristled when Mossman chose a Queen album. Clarkson chose Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, despite Baker earlier saying “there’s another Fleetwood Mac?” in admiration of the earlier Peter Green version. Clarkson’s other choices were the Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and End of the Century by Supergrass, thereby telling us, as if we didn’t know, that he is a true populist. The Great Album Showdown was cheap, disposable and pointless. I could have watched it all night.

Related documentary When Albums Ruled The World (BBC4) prominently featured an irritatingly braying hipster in hornrims unforgivably called Travis Elborough, who somehow got more screen time than the likes of Rick Wakeman and Noel Gallagher. Even worse, it had a segment on Dark Side of the Moon that bafflingly showed the rear of the album, where the rainbow light converged. This should be a scandal worse than Sachsgate.

Never mind radio on the TV, Charlie Brooker finally returned in front of the cameras for Weekly Wipe (BBC2), a newspaper column on the TV. He said that Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards’ victory in Splash, “proves once and for all that even our fittest celebrities are no match for our shittest Olympians.” Wish I could come up with stuff like that. It’s probably because I don’t watch Splash.

In World Without End (C4), the Black Death finally arrived. To celebrate, our now nunnified heroine fell into a plague pit with the élan of Miranda Hart. Naturally, a fellow nun consoled her with some sapphic snogging. As daft a programme that has ever shown an England where it never rains, Show Without End still has two shitisodes to go.

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