james debate
james debate

Wednesday 21 January 2009

As I start to write this out, I am sat in the library at a hospital in London. I'm watching the inauguration on this rather nifty facebook/cnn collaboration, and I am bloody loving it. As someone who has been following and supporting Obama since the beginning this is no surprise. What even I could not forsee is the reaction all around me. The library, normally completely empty is absolutely packed full of English doctors, nurses and even a few patients, all watching the exact same thing around the various computers.

obama swears in inauguration

Millions crammed into DC to watch the inauguration, another 3 million watched it live on Facebook, many millions more watched it on tv all over the world. It was without a doubt the most watched live event of all time. It is a fitting end for a journey that has been groundbreaking and history making every step of the way, and indeed a sense of near universal pride has overcome Americans everywhere, something they're not used to in recent times.

Indeed it is a proud day for us all. Bush is finally gone, and I think we can all say good fucking riddance. The only good thing about his presidency is that he has now so completely trashed the Republican party that the Democrats can look forward to a very bright and dominant future, and indeed it would seem to most observers that pretty much the entirety of the next generation of Americans has been so alienated by this corrupt douche, and so won over by Obama that the GOP is screwed for the foreseeable future, barring a complete image make over, a complete overhaul of high profile members and ideology, and some catastrophic blunder on Obama's part. And that of course is great news for the entire world.

Most heartwarming of all was to see Teddy Kennedy keep his promise to be here the day Obama gets sworn in and see the torch handed over to the next generation of inspirational Democrats. The only black spot of the day was Teddy's fatigue related collapse shortly afterwards, though we hear that he is ok now and alert again. There goes a great man, and one who hopefully will still be around for a while yet.

So the new world begins today. A world where science and technology is at the forefront, not hate and warmongering; a world where 'intellectual' is not a fucking derogatory term! A world where we work with our allies, not against them (i know, what an idea) and a world where we can finally admit that global warming is real and needs working on! A world where the national debt goes DOWN instead of exponentially UP (is it really a coincidence that it always goes down with a democrat in charge and always goes up with a republican?) A world where we realize that there are more important things than putting extra cash in the pockets of the oil tycoons, and that like it or not, oil WILL run out and we need to find an alternative. I could go on and on for ages such is the extent of ridiculous republican policy that we are now FREE from.

9 in 10 people across the world are deliriously happy today, I hope you're one of them.

Well, for anyone who thought America could really afford to disregard the value of science and progress for a decade and still remain at the forefront of development, this article is a wake up call. A team of frontier researchers in Glasgow have recently announced that they are to start a trial designed to examine the usefulness of embryonic stem cells in treating stroke patients.

glasgow stem cell research stroke

Stroke patients show damage to tissue in the brain as a result of a disruption of of blood supply. This invariably leads to a decline in brain function.

The difficulty in treating this is that brain tissue naturally doesn't really have a repair or renewal function, which means that once damage is done, it can not be repaired.

One hypothetical way to fix this is by using the base stem cells that our brains develop from after we are born to generate new brain tissue and neurons. It is a technique that has been shown to be effective in animal testing, but clearly use on people is an entirely different matter.

However, now for the first time we are going to see trials on actual human patients to see if it works. I don't have to explain to you that this could be huge, with the potential to help many many people, not just those with strokes, but those with other conditions involving neuronal damage, and if the principle is sound, other unrelated conditions.

It is an exciting time for medical researchers, and most will tell you that we are currently going through the medical equivalent of the industrial revolution. Stem cell research presents perhaps the most interesting of these frontiers with near limitless potential that could extend life expectancy for several years, hypothetically able to treat any systemic damage.

And yet these exciting developments are being made in Scotland, as opposed to the biggest and richest (and formerly most cutting edge) nation on the planet. We have Bush and his bible waving cronies to thank for that, and as Obama takes office with the intent to return American scientists to the forefront of research one can only wonder what the world would be like today if we had taken this approach eight years ago. Sigh.

Directed by Gus Van Sant
Written by Dustin Lance Black
Starring Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin
Release date(s) 26th November 2008
Running time 128 minutes

harvey milk Film

In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay man to be voted into public office in America. Scoring a massive victory for gay rights, Milk became one of the icons of civil rights, up until his assassination in 1978. This is the film about his short lived political career.

This film, directed by Gus Van Sant, who you may know as the director of Good Will Hunting and Elephant, tells the political story of Harvey Milk and the legacy he left after he was killed, so powerful was the movement he inspired.

Van Sant's direction is typically accomplished, and Brolin gives a memorably layered performance as Dan White, but it is without a doubt Sean Penn who steals the show here, with a performance that will without any doubt earn at least a nomination for the oscar for best actor.

Penn doesn't try to present the eponymous Milk as a hero of any real sort, but as a real person, with good qualities and bad qualities, who just stood up at the right time for what he believed in. The heartfelt credibility Penn brings to this role is particularly impressive for such a difficult character. An actor trying to play such a liberally gay man without turning into a cartoon character is not easy, but Penn pulls it off with aplomb and manages to play the part with a certain strength and determination that suits the character perfectly.

It's a film that's hard to criticize, but it's still not the best film of recent times. It doesn't really do anything wrong, but at the same time, there have been recent films done with more style and panache, there have been recent films that hit harder emotionally and there have been films that are more exciting, more fun. So while this is an excellent piece of cinema that ticks all the boxes, it is perhaps a little too much so, and doesn't really push the envelope in any sense.

A milestone moment in American political history has translated into an impressive piece of cinema, and one that is sure to be appreciated in some form at the academy awards. This is certainly one of the highlights of this recent season of films, even if it perhaps doesn't hit home as hard as some other recent films.

Now I have brought many unknown up and coming bands to your attention over the years, and as you know I like to find artists who sound a bit different, fresh and unique. Well this time, more than perhaps any other, I can certainly deliver that.

So today I present a band destined for great success in the coming year, Passion Pit!

When you first listen to them, you'll likely be thinking, what the hell am I listening to? And don't worry, because I thought the same thing. It's jarring and strange, but frankly it might also be genius.

I hate to be one of those guys who describes a band by likening them to someone else, but just to give you some idea of what they roughly sound like, think the Postal Service on acid, with a hint of the Avalanches. Really it's hard to compare it to much else as it is a very unique sound.

Such a unique sounding band also comes with a unique origin story. Michael Angelakos created a set of songs in his bedroom on really basic technology for his former girlfriend as a belated Valentine's Day gift. After hearing how exceptional the set of songs was the present ended up finding it's way around his college campus and became quite popular. Out of this small success, Angelakos formed himself a band and earned a record deal.

His full album is due early this year, and will not include any of the songs on his EP, instead being an entirely new piece of work.

Now this is basically an amateur demo album, far from a finished product, but the potential is there for all to see. This guy has something about him for sure.

So what songs should you check out?

Better Things
I've Got Your Number

song of the day: "Better Things" by "Passion Pit"

thing that makes me smile today: CNN and Facebook partnering up to let people watch the inauguration live online.

pic of the day:
National Pride

The Last 8 Years

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by Simon Beaufoy
Starring Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan
Release date(s) 26th December US, 9th January UK
Running time 120 minutes

Slumdog Millionaire Film

Whilst he has long been one of the more under-appreciated film makers in the business, Danny Boyle is well known among connoisseurs of cinema, having made cult classics such as Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and the Beach, each of which was a master class in direction (the first half of the Beach anyway).

Despite this, Slumdog Millionaire almost passed me by unnoticed when it was released, with such little hype being made about it in the months building up to the film, unlike nearly all of its peers in this year's awards season. However as soon as I found out about it (just before New Years) I made sure to go see it as soon as possible, and I can safely say it was worth my time.

Boyle brings his distinctly kinetic and stylized directing to India this time for what can only be described as a modern fairy tale. Jamal (Dev Patel) is a formerly impoverished street child who has made it to the final question of the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. As no one living in India's strict caste system can believe that such an uneducated 'slumdog' could know so much, he has been accused of cheating and is being interrogated by the police, to whom he proceeds to recount the story of his experiences that have led to this moment.

What follows is an exhilarating celebration of life as we follow the fates of two young children on the streets of Mumbai, torn between the exuberant innocence of unsupervised freedom and the harsh reality of the limited world they grow up in. Bullies and gangsters are stood up to, life lessons are learned, and a sweet childhood love story develops across the years as we watch these lives unfold in front of us.

The acting is superb, particularly from the young children playing Jamal and his brother Salim, as well as the smarmy and sneaky tv show host played by Anil Kapoor that makes you wonder if Chris Tarrant is really as nice as he seems. But what really makes it work is the clever and touching screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, and, as I have already mentioned, the slick and beautiful direction of Danny Boyle.

This film puts doubt in my mind over my earlier claims that Frost/Nixon was the best film of the past 12 months, this might well top it. And if top Brit Danny Boyle doesn't get the oscar for best director this year (having just won the golden globe for the same honour) it will be a travesty.

Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by Justin Haythe (screenplay), Richard Yates (novel)
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet
Release date(s) 26th December 2008
Running time 119 minutes

Revolutionary Road Film

Directed by Sam Mendes, director behind the uniquely spellbinding classic American Beauty, Revolutionary Road sees the Brit return to his now familiar cinema surroundings, plunging the dark depths of American suburbia. This outing comes from excellent source material, the well renowned novel of the same name by Richard Yates. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, it is hard to see how this film could fail, and indeed I even had it listed on my hot tips for 2009, following in the footsteps of my notoriously accurate predicting from last year where I had 100% spot on. The film even picked up a Golden Globe.

The story follows the lives of a newly wed couple played by the two stars with a relationship that is seemingly idyllic on the surface being shown to their neighbours and friends, but underneath brews the murky waters of discontentment and ennui, all set in the naive isolation of a 1950s suburbia.

So what does the film do well? Well the direction is typically excellent as you would expect from Sam Mendes, although he will find it difficult to make a film that stands out after the success he achieved with American Beauty, and this is clearly not it. It's not stylistically different enough or original enough to earn him the same kudos he found with that project. The acting, particularly from the two big stars, is simply top notch, and definitely the best thing about the film. Leo is excellent as he reminds us once again that he is much much more than the pretty face who made girls cry in Titanic.

That is where my congratulations have to end however. The real key to a book like this is the passion in every seen, and the twisted workings inside the minds of our two fairly unlikable characters, and this screenplay simply does not do that justice.

Mendes' direction, though technically excellent, feels almost sterile for most of the film, like he's there just doing a job rather than bringing the inner conflict to life. And because none of this makes the screen, frankly not a whole lot happens for the duration of the film and it's basically two hours of Leo and Kate bitching at each other over every little thing, without much substance to make it meaningful.

There is also an over-preponderance to dwell on for far too long on each overblown emotional segment and largely bypass the actual meat of the story that goes on in between these scenes within each of the characters.

In the end this is not a bad film, but it's not particularly great either, and a bit of a disappointment considering how good it could and probably should have been. This is the sort of film that critics are going to be highly divided on, and will probably only be liked by the most pretentious of critics, which the academy loves, so expect to see this make an appearance at the Oscars despite it not being as good as a number of recent movies.

song of the day: "Sweet Disposition" by "the Temper Trap"

thing that makes me smile today: CNN's big "Puppedential Debate" to determine who should be the next "first dog" - breaking news, Obama's endorsement has gone to a labradoodle.

pic of the day:
tetris construction site
iPhone apps
Slumdog Millionaire
Gambling Refs

Facebook apps
Revolutionary Road
Bad Refs

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