james debate
james debate

Saturday 27 December 2008

Well it's that time of year again. The holiday season is upon us, with Christmas eve parties, Christmas parties, boxing day parties, and also parties in between. This is a wonderful time, as it is only under the influence of alcohol that people feel compelled to tell me how much they enjoy reading this website, and in particular last year's Debbie awards were a big big hit.

I have now completed the foundation portion of my BSc and so far so good. If current grades are anything to go by I should be heading for an upper second or possibly even first class degree, which would just be phenomenal. If I manage that then I am automatically qualified for a post degree PhD should I want to, and I'll probably write a book or something.

That's in addition to my novel I'm still writing. Done about 100 pages so far but hit a snag recently, just not so inspired at the moment, too busy actually having a life and doing things, which is clearly a shame.

In a few short days I will be off to Paris for another kick ass New Year's celebration like last year's, so before then I felt it would be appropriate to once again sum up all the highs and lows of the past year bText Coloury announcing the winners of the 2008 Debbies.

On top of this I will also look ahead to the coming year at the films, bands and events that you should all keep an eye on, and look back at last year's predictions to see how close I was (it looks like I was spot on with pretty much all of them).

So without further ado, here are the 2008 Debbie Awards:

1. The Debbie for Best Videogames Console
Winner: the Nintendo Wii

Runner up: Xbox 360

nintendo wiiWell no prizes for predicting this one. Many were wondering if the Wii could maintain it's complete domination of the home videogame market once the novelty had worn off. To say that it has done would be an understatement. The Wii sold more units than Xbox 360 and PS3 put together, and the Wii + DS together sold almost twice as many as Xbox 360, PS3, PS2 and PSP all put together. Life is good for a Nintendo share holder.

Meanwhile the Xbox360 gets the runner up prize. Even though Microsoft are ignorant and useless scumbags who can't do shit right, their console happens to have a lot of good games available. The PS3 right now is completely without redemption.

2. The Debbie for Best Videogame
Winner: Grand Theft Auto IV

Runners up: Super Smash Bros Brawl, Spore

grand theft auto iv 4The most universally acclaimed videogame since Zelda, Grand Theft Auto IV has broken numerous industry records and shown even the stingiest of doubters that videogames can provide as rich and deep a medium for story telling as cinema. The rest of the competition was simply blown away this year.

Super Smash Bros on the other hand was the exact opposite, a celebration of everything arcadey and pure about videogames, whilst simultaneously embracing the heritage of the last 30 years of gaming. The multiplayer experience is second to none.

Meanwhile Spore attempted to go in a different direction, videogame as a vehicle for self expression and creativity, and if not for a myriad of technical problems it could well have pushed GTA4 for this year's Debbie.

3. The Debbie for Best Party of the Year
Winner: International Man of Mystery House Party

Runners up: Josh's Summer Party, Cardiac Arrest at Diva Beach

house party sixtiesThis party, coincidentally around the time of my birthday, was really quite ridiculous. It didn't have the physical damaging out of control nature of the end of term party or the err added benefits of the first xmas party, but it kicked ass.

4. The Debbie for Douchebag the Year
Winner: Guy who tried to steal my money on eBay

Runners up: My Driving Instructor, Phil Dowd

Don't ever try and steal money from me, especially if it's a lot. Let's just say vengeance is sweet.

Meanwhile my driving instructor was just not suited for teaching adults, and Phil Dowd is the childish clown who reffed the Chelsea game the other day and booked any Chelsea player who talked to him, even for legitimate reasons such as "Can you check if the wall is 10 yards back?"

5. The Debbie for Good Guy 2008
Winner: Jeremy Debate

Runners up: Ben Fitzgerald, Alex Roberts

Don't get me wrong, a lot of my friends could have made this list but some dudes are a few particularly good solid people that I can really respect, and that's not something that happens too often. So here's a pint for you dudes.

6. The Debbie for Good Girl 2008
Winner: Sophie

Runners up: Clio, Louise, Jenny

Sophie's a standup gal, and it's good to stay friends with someone after dating a few months. The runner ups here deserve a mention too, some of whom i've known for ages, other's i've only just met. Clio deserves kudos for putting up with me as flat mate for an entire year.

6. The Debbie for Best Restaurant 2008
Winner: Gallopapa

Runner up: Caprice

Gallopapa is, in my opinion, the best restaurant in the world, located in the picturesque tunnels under the quaint Tuscan village of Castellina. The chef is a genius, he can take any ingredients in the world and create something that sounds awful but looks and tastes absolutely divine. So much so that I was even moved to hug him after my last meal there, well done sir!

7. The Debbie for Best Theatre Production 2008
Winner: Ivanov

Runners up: August: Osage County

kenneth branagh in ivanov anton chekhov donmarOne of the all time great playwrights, Anton Chekhov, combined with one of the great actors of his generation Kenneth Branagh, and the Donmar theatre company. It was never going to miss, and it hasn't, it's as good as anything you will ever see on the stage.

Meanwhile I went to see August: Osage County at the National, pretty much just to see Gary Cole (Office Space, Dodgeball, Entourage) for a laugh, and was treated to one of the best written plays i'd seen in a long while. Witty, cutting and multi-layered, it was a smash hit, and despite being more than 3 hours long, the time just flew by.

8. The Debbie for Best Album 2008
Winner: Day & Age - The Killers

Runner up: Feed the Animals - Girl Talk

the killers day and ageWell no surprise here if you read my review of this album. It was truly fantastic, one of the most consistently good albums i've heard in many years and with some truly great songs on it like This is Your Life and A Dustland Fairytale. A latecomer in the running for this award but certainly deserved.

Meanwhile Girl Talk's infectious and brilliant mash up album gets the runner up prize and narrowly beat Coldplay's Viva La Vida and the Last Shadow Puppets' The Age of Understatement.

9. The Debbie for Best Debut Album 2008
Winner: The Age of Understatement - The Last Shadow Puppets

Runner up: Oracular Spectacular - MGMT

the age of understatement last shadow puppetsA side project of the frontman from the Arctic Monkeys, who I never was that crazy about to be honest. I certainly didn't expect this side project to be so good, mixing the best elements of smarmy British rock and oldies from the sixties creating a sound the likes of which you won't have heard in a long long time, and it's damn good. Make sure to check out Standing Next to Me and My Mistakes Were Made for You, brilliant.

MGMT came close to snagging the prize with their synth heavy electro-rock album Oracular Spectacular. This album is a real experience and really almost tempted me to award them the Debbie.

10. The Debbie for Best Song 2008
Winner: Time to Pretend - MGMT

Runners up: Death and All His Friends - Coldplay, Sing the Changes - The Fireman, This is Your Life - The Killers

time to pretend mgmtComing from the excellent debut album Oracular Spectacular is Time to Pretend, the first single released from the album, and what a song it is. One of those songs that combines a stunning fresh sound with meaningful and highly evocative lyrics about youthful excess and coming to terms with growing old, the must hear song of the year, just try not to look directly at the video, it's a little TOO trippy unless you're stoned.

Coldplay's fantastic Death and all His Friends came close too, being one of the finest few minutes of music Coldplay have ever produced. Also in the running was Sing the Changes, a song that reminds us of the ever lasting genius of Paul McCartney, even after a staggering 40 years. And of course, the best song from the new Killers album This is Your Life (linked earlier ^)

11. The Debbie for Best Television Show
Winner: House

Runners up: Lost, Ashes to Ashes

house tv showIn a year where most tv shows seemed to be of a lower quality than last year (Fringe, Heroes and the Simpsons were not great, and Pushing Daisies never lived up to its promise) House remains one of the most consistently excellent tv shows. it deserves the Debbie this year.

Lost almost took the award, being awesome, and one can't help but be even more impressed with Lost seeing now how all the imitator shows (heroes, fringe) have become so poor by comparison, standing as a testament to the quality of the show and its writers. Ashes to Ashes meanwhile was a bit of a disappointment, despite being a smash hit, as I predicted last year, but then Life on Mars was always going to be a tough act to follow.

12. The Debbie for Best Film
Winner: The Dark Knight

Runners up: Frost/Nixon, Cloverfield

the dark knightWell duh, this movie is probably high on everyone's list for movie of the year, and deservedly so. The Dark Knight stands tall as a great crime movie, even without the Batman elements, but for a comic book franchise to give way to such an excellent piece of cinema is unprecedented and truly memorable.

Frost Nixon, meanwhile, is an adaption of the play by the same name, telling the story of the David Frost interviews of ex-President Richard Nixon. I will post a full review soon, maybe today maybe not, but it is truly excellent. Cloverfield, another hotly tipped item on my list last year was another massive hit and was a real experience in the cinema, absolutely unforgettable.

13. The Debbie for "That Defining 2008 Moment"
Winner: Barack Obama Wins the Presidential Election

No contest. Rarely is there a moment where people all over the world are so joined in a moment of pure joy and celebration. People singing and dancing in the streets of New York at 1AM, and simultaneously in London at 6AM.

And now let us cast an eye forward to see what's coming up in the next year that will change the world, be a hit, or just plain awesome. But first, let's have a quick look at last year's predictions and how they fared: New Year's 2008 Post

First the obvious: the writers' strike did end, thank God, and Bush is about to leave the white house, to be replaced by a man so great it almost makes the last eight years of wasted time and devolution seem worth it.

Then we have Ashes to Ashes, the sequel series of the sublime Life on Mars. While Life on Mars was always going to be a tough act to follow, hopes were high for Ashes to Ashes. Sadly it disappointed slightly, achieving mixed reviews despite the consistently high ratings. Fortunately the last few episodes of the series were fantastic and provide hope for the next two seasons that the show is scheduled for.

Cloverfield was an categorical success and a top notch film to boot, and the promise of a franchise beckons should JJ Abrams choose to take it.

Duffy, MGMT and Glasvegas were also highly successful, all with number one singles and high charting albums. I'll be shocked if you've gone the year without hearing songs by at least two of these artists. I think we can look forward to seeing more of these guys in the future, even though I think MGMT is the only one with real lasting power and quality.

So pretty damn good eh? Nostradamus rating: A

- Empire of the Sun are set to achieve great things. Their EP walking on a dream promised a lush psychedelic synth sound similar to MGMT and are hotly tipped to make it big this year. Check out the song Walking on a Dream.

- Kyte. Top band from Leicester whose recently released EP sounds seriously awesome and has put the music world on alert for the next year. These boys have talent and SHOULD be huge next year. Make sure you check out the song Eyes Lose Their Fire and start counting the days til their next album.

- Subliminal Girls. Another hot new British band recently featured in one of my posts. Sound like they could well be one of the best British pop-rock groups in years, highly reminiscent of the Lightning Seeds. Make sure you check out the song Self Obsession is An Art Form, an absolutely golden tune.

- the Temper Trap. This band is already big in Australia, now it's our turn. Grand guitars, driving rhythm and sweet vocals with an almost ethereal sound, they have a lot going for them. Check out this song Sweet Disposition.

- White Lies. Last but certainly not least, this band could well be the new Killers. Coming equipped with a distinctive eighties sound and a talented lyricist, Brandon Flowers himself recently declared White Lies the band he is most excited about. Check out this song Death, listen to the lyrics and make sure you let it get to the end. Top song.

- Revolutionary Road. While technically released in 2008 (tomorrow), this is merely a technicality. They're just giving it a small limited release so that it gets considered for the oscars before being properly released in the new year. This is the new movie from American Beauty director Sam Mendes (awesome movie) and stars Titanic duo Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet (crappy movie). Treading the familiar territory of suburban angst from American Beauty, this film is hotly tipped for the oscars and to be a smash hit. Catch me if you Can and the Aviator showed that Leo is actually a good actor, so be excited.

- Watchmen. The most celebrated graphic novel of all time, and yet it's likely you've never heard of it unless you're into such things. But then again you probably never heard of Sin City or V For Vendetta before they became movies either. Created by Alan Moore, who also penned the aforementioned V for Vendetta novel, Watchmen was written 20 years ago and since then has always been the subject of potential film deals, but was deemed too deep and ambitious for a film. This year that film will become a reality and it looks amazing (see trailer). Sadly will probably not have as big an impact as it would have done in a pre Dark Knight world.

- Avatar. Saving the best for last, Avatar is the ambitious new project from film legend James Cameron. The man only makes a movie like every 10 years, and each and every time he does it changes the world of cinema and sweeps oscars. In short you will see this movie at some point, just like everyone's seen Terminator and Titanic (his films), if it comes out in time that is. This film is also going to be a ground breaking milestone in terms of technology, using some revolutionary mix of live action and cg in a way that's never been seen before... and more than that... in actual 3D. The big wait on this film is waiting for enough cinemas to be fitted out with new 3d screens, but when it gets here, you better be ready for it.

And of course!
The start of the Obama Presidency that has redeemed America in the eyes of the world, and promises to finally get us back on track for the 21st century style progress we've been missing for the past 8 years.

Happy New Year Everyone!
James x

Directed by Ron Howard
Written by Peter Morgan
Starring Frank Langella, Michael Sheen
Release date(s) December 5, 2008 [limited], January 9, 2009
Running time 122 minutes

Frost Nixon Film

Veteran director Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon is the film adaption of the stage production of the same name written by Peter Morgan, who also penned the screenplay for this film. The play was in London fairly recently at (what you all probably know by now is) my favorite Theatre the Donmar Warehouse, and it was pleasing to see the fantastic cast of the stage version recruited for this film, with Frank Langella as Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen as David Frost.

The subject of this tale is Richard Nixon, and the famous interviews he did with David Frost after he had resigned from the white house. Disgraced and with a reputation in tatters, Nixon sees an opportunity to rebuild his career and image by doing an interview with David Frost, a soft talk show host with a reputation as a playboy. The original interview is an iconic part of television history, and I'm glad to say the film definitely does it justice.

What follows is one of the finest duels in cinema, a compelling stew of mind games and delicate jousting between the inexperienced yet cocky brit Frost as he tries to pick apart a highly experienced operator in the ex president Nixon.

Howard is at the top of his game here as he builds the hype and tension like a championship boxing match, documenting the struggles of the underdog Frost in organizing and funding the interviews without any support or credibility and delivers one of his best movies in years.

He is backed up by two truly fantastic oscar worthy performances, with Langella giving us the best ever take on Richard Nixon, spot on with his mannerisms, speech and demeanor; but especially with Michael Sheen's Frost, which is absolutely perfect capturing the smarmy essence of Frost without doing a direct imitation of him, in my view Sheen gives us the best acting performance of the year, and it's even more impressive when you see Sheen in other things and realize how unlike his performance in this film he really is.

But one of the biggest stars of the film is Peter Morgan's script, which rather than presenting Nixon as the cartoon character that is so popular in the media these days, it shows him for what he really is; a criminal sure, a despicable person sure, but ultimately just an insecure, flawed and unstable individual who succumbed to his paranoia. It is a testament to the sharp writing here that one will actually end up walking away from the movie with a tinge of sympathy for this man rather than just contempt.

Masterful and hard to fault, Frost/Nixon is one of the best movies in a long time, and one of the best movies this year certainly. Possibly the best thing about this film is that it's presented in such a way as to be accessible and entertaining, even for people with little interest in politics

song of the day: Eyes Lose Their Fire" by "Kyte"

thing that makes me grimace today: Arsenal manager Wenger preparing his fans for a season if disappointment before Christmas

pic of the day:
initech office space
Bag of Hurt

Can of Whup-Ass

Sunday 7 December 2008

It's always been an issue in sports and football in particular, this issue of referees getting things wrong and ruining games and often making or changing history. From Maradona's insane hand of god (mitigated slightly by the unbelievable piece of dribbling beforehand that may have dazzled the ref too much) to Robert Pires' famous dive against Portsmouth that allowed Arsenal to claim an unprecedented (and arguably undeserved) undefeated season, referees have always made idiotic clangers that have big consequences on the sport.

It has become even more of a pressing issue with the inevitable advent of video replay technologies being used in just about every other sport as to why such progress isn't being harnessed in football to ensure cheaters don't prosper. And indeed while football alone as a sport continues to insist on allowing ridiculous referee blunders to influence a game, it becomes harder and harder to avoid such ideas.

What is particularly alarming is that English referees seem to be particularly bad. At the world cup in 2006, famously moronic blunderer Graham Poll was sent home in disgrace for awarding a player three yellow cards before eventually sending him off, and at Euro 2008 englishman Howard Webb was... err... sent home in disgrace for awarding a ridiculous injury time penalty.

Similarly we live with a league where jokers like Rob Styles, who has been dropped from the Premier League twice in the past year (1) (2) is inexplicably still given the biggest games with the big four teams. We live with a league where utterly inept ├╝berscrotes like Mike Dean can get away with horrendously screwing up not one, not two, but three different title deciding matches in a single year (1) (2) (3) and still be given big games over and over. And frankly it has got to stop.

I am not the first person to say this by any means, but it is clear that the governing body set up for the purpose of running the ref's guild is not doing it's job.

I 'get' that refs do a hard job and all that, but there is some serious ineptitude being shown amongst english refs in particular and I think the blame can only be placed squarely at the referees' association who does absolutely nothing to maintain high standards amongst its ranks, and shows absolutely no desire to hold refs accountable for their cock ups. Every other league in the world does this and so it is not a shock that the standard of reffing in most countries is far superior to over here. Perennial morons like Styles and Dean need to be sacked permanently if they can't step up their game.

At the very least there needs to be some more accountability. If a player messes up in a game it's all over the press, the fans pour vitriol on him and in serious cases the club can take action against him. If a manager fucks up he can lose his job and gets thrust in front of the press mere minutes after a match where he must defend himself in front of millions. Refs have none of this and frankly they should do. They should have to account for their mistakes, they should have to apologize when wrong and they should certainly not be allowed to act like a div and then just walk away from it with no consequences.

This is seriously absurd and needs to change.

The Donmar is, as any seasoned theatre patron in London will tell you, one of the best and most highly esteemed production companies around. The cosy homeliness of the Donmar Warehouse presents audiences with a uniquely intimate and personal view of some of the finest plays written, featuring some of the finest actors alive.

Now they've traded these humble surroundings for Wyndham's Theatre near Leicester Square in order to put on one of the most exciting seasons I've ever seen. Four plays, Ivanov, Twelfth Night, Madame de Sade and Hamlet, featuring thespian superstars Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench and Jude Law respectively. And now I have seen the first of these productions, Ivanov starring Kenneth Branagh.

donmar ivanov kenneth branagh

The play is Anton Chekhov's Ivanov. Chekhov was a late 19th Century playwright and I had the good fortune to study him at Eton during a Theatre Studies course. We were reading his play the Three Sisters. First time I read it, things were not looking so good, but that's probably largely due to it having been a school assignment, and my lack of appreciation for good theatre back then. After studying it properly and understanding it, I truly saw what a genius Chekhov was and I was stunned. To write such beautifully interwoven and intricate stories and conceal it within such nonchalant, delicately subtext-laden dialogue was truly remarkable.

Ivanov is a play of similar, if slightly less, quality. But in a production like this it doesn't matter. Michael Grandage as director has done a fantastic job creating a world that sucks you in, and the acting is simply top notch featuring a whole host of recognizable and talented faces.

Kenneth Branagh is, predictably, superb as the unusually unlikable star of the show, Ivanov. Everyone knows what a wonderful actor he is, but this production shows the man at the height of his powers, summoning a performance both of masterfully subtle restraint and heartfelt angst that is unnervingly real.

But the real highlight of the evening is the powerhouse performance from Kevin McNally, who you'll recognize from Pirates of the Caribbean, Sliding Doors, the forthcoming Valkyrie and many other films, plays and tv shows. His performance as Lebedev is truly something to behold. He acts like a dynamo urging the play on with his infectious energy and you'll find your eyes drawn to him every time he's on stage.

This is an excellent production, especially considering the play is one that I was warned beforehand was one of Chekhov's dryer plays. But make no mistake, this is as good as it gets and one of the best productions i've seen in a long time. Looking forward to the next ones.

Song removed by request
Listen to a preview on Amazon instead: Song Preview

I'm sure some of you out there are thinking that this song title sounds like something I might come up with for the title of my own autobiography, but it's not, and it happens to be an excellent song.

Subliminal Girls are a new band of home grown Londoners, recently signed to a record label with Weekender records. This, their second single, is their biggest success yet and has seen them sign on for the Blissfields Festival this past summer and the Great Escape Festival in Brighton.

Give it a listen, I think you'll like it, sounds a lot like the Lightning Seeds, and sounds as good if not better than some of their best tracks. This one's a real pop gem.

I first heard them playing a gig in Selfridges department store in London, of all places, and they are pretty damn good, definitely one to keep an eye on for the future when they release their full length album.

song of the day: "Self Obsession Is an Art Form" by "Subliminal Girls"

thing that makes me grimace today: This embarrassing review of Football Manager 2009 from one of the biggest videogames websites in the world. For a professional reviewer to compare a management sim to Fifa09 or Pro Evo is absolutely shocking and sounds like it was written as an April Fools day wind up. Very embarrassing for IGN and I wouldn't be surprised if the review gets pulled soon.

pic of the day:
festivus seinfeld
The Killers being used for the Football First Theme song
Morphy Richards

Mike Dean

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