Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Happy holidays all, I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday season, somewhere nice and warm like in front of a fire with family and loved ones.
It's easy to forget during all the tinsel and sparkliness of xmas that we are just a few short days away from the biggest party night of the year, New Year's eve. But before the festivities can get underway, we must reflect on the year that has passed and, in this particular year, the decade that has passed.
And so, before I head off to Paris, I will compile my massive review of the "best of" awards from the past year and the past decade in general. Each of these will then be divided into five categories: Cinema & TV, Music & Theatre, Videogames & Technology, Sports & Personal.
It's a massive undertaking, but I will follow it up with a list of the hottest tips for 2010 that you should look out for, as well as a retrospective look at my predictions from last year.
So without further ado, here are the 2009 Debbie Awards:
Best of 2009
Cinema & TV
1. The Debbie for TV Show of the Year
Runner Up: Flight of the Conchords
Without a doubt the under appreciated gem of the television world, Entourage reminds us exactly why HBO is the best network out there. A kick ass blend of humor, drama, glamor and the good life, Entourage is back to its best after a shaky previous season. The show continues to follow a hollywood star and his buddies as they attempt to conquer hollywood, and features everything that a good tav show needs; smart writing, great cast and a top soundtrack. Now heading into its 7th season, Entourage is the best show on television.
Sadly this year's runner up, Flight of the Conchords, has come to an end. Vaguely reminiscent of Peep Show, Conchords was quite honestly the funniest thing I've seen for a long time, and at only two seasons of 8 episodes, it's far too short. Then again, considering they have to record a whole album of music for each season it's not entirely inexplicable.
2. The Debbie for Film of the Year
Winner: District 9
Runner Up: Avatar
2009 was the year of good sci-fi, with excellent films like Star Trek not even getting a look in ahead of the competition. Instead, the award goes to the brilliant District 9 which has received universal acclaim for giving us one of the freshest and most original films in years, with one of the best directorial debuts in recent history.
Meanwhile the runners up prize has to go to what is surely the biggest film of the year, James Cameron's latest, Avatar, a breakthrough in cinema technology and a cinematic event like few others.
Music & Theatre
3. The Debbie for Theatrical Production of the Year
Winner: Twelfth Night
Runners Up: A Doll's House
The Donmar followed up their astounding Ivanov production from the end of last year with an equally remarkable portrayal of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, featuring Derek Jacobi as Malvolio and a host of other fine actors.
Also from the Donmar, Gillian Anderson gave an excellent performance in A Doll's House.
4. The Debbie for Album of the Year
Winner: Manners - Passion Pit
Runner Up: Still Night Still Light - Au Revoir Simone
Passion Pit achieved something special this year with Manners, a hyped album that did not disappoint. In doing so, they produced one of the most infectious, catchy, euphoric and downright excellent albums you'll have heard in a long time, with tracks like Moth's Wings and To Kingdom Come. And this from a debut album as well.
Meanwhile, Au Revoir Simone's latest album reached a new high for the band. Elegant and charming, Still Night, Still Light is their most consistent album yet and one of the best of the year. This album runs the gamut from the classic pop of Another Likely Story to the dizzying Only you can Make you Happy and the laid back Take Me As I Am.
5. The Debbie for Debut Album of the Year
Winner: Manners - Passion Pit
Runner Up: XX - The XX
Passion Pit already won the best album of the year with their debut effort, so of course they're also going to win the best debut album of the year with their album Manners.
XX, meanwhile, is an album that I am sorry I didn't get around to reviewing on here, but man what an album. The XX bring a fresh, minimalist style that is frankly beautiful in a way that few songs are. In particular they have received acclaim for the single Islands, but VCR also demands a listen.
6. The Debbie for Song of the Year
Winner: Into the Clouds - Sound of Arrows
Runners Up: Snookered - Dan Deacon, Skeletons - Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas
It was a year that saw many more good songs than good albums, and it really took me a long time before deciding that Into the Clouds would be my song of the year. It's an ethereal, uplifting joy to listen to that sounds like it's being beamed down to Earth from some higher power, and it whets the appetite for what we can only hope is a full album next year.
Meanwhile close runners up included Dan Deacon's trippy Snookered, Yeah Yeah Yeahs' absolutely dreamy Skeletons and the club anthem of the year I Gotta Feeling, by the Black Eyed Peas, their best song by quite a distance.
Videogames & Technology
7. The Debbie for Technological Innovation of the Year
Winner: Amazon Kindle
A revelation, pure and simple. The day of having a library full of paper books and piles of old newspapers is now a thing of the past. You can have all your books and as many different newspapers as you want right here on a thin, handheld electronic device. As if that was not enough, the screen uses the absolutely fantastic e-ink technology which is effectively the same as printing something with real ink, requires no power to maintain an image and can be read in the exact same lighting conditions as real ink printed pages. Has to be seen to be believed.
8. The Debbie for Videogame of the Year
Winner: The Beatles: Rockband
Runner up: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
It was a pretty slow year for videogames, with Modern Warfare 2 the only release that was particularly hyped up, and most of my modest videogaming time was instead spent playing games from 2008 like Fallout 3, and your standard annual fare like Fifa and Football Manager.
One game, however, was impossible not to fall head over heels in love with, the Beatles: Rockband. This perfect celebration of the greatest band of all time was a joy for all the senses and definitely the game this year which above all others earned that pricey fee.
Meanwhile, Modern Warfare 2 is my runner up. It was, ultimately, a fun well made game, but full of technical bugs (on the PC version anyway) and was so brainless that I honestly felt stupider for having played it.
Sports & Personal
9. The Debbie for Party of the Year
Winner: New Years at the Crillon
Few things compare to a new years eve balcony party overlooking the Place de Concorde. Retro party masks and free vintage Veuve-Clicquot is the clincher here.
10. The Debbie for Restaurant of the Year
Winner: O Ya
Runners Up: Hakkasan, Vingt-Quatre
It was a very dark year for food, following the closure of my favorite restaurant in the world, Gallopapa. It turns out that having a restaurant in the lamp lit tunnels under a tiny town in Tuscany is not particularly lucrative, no matter how absurdly awesome and pretty it is.
However there is much great food to be had in this world of ours, and the pick of this year's selection is without a doubt O Ya, from Boston, Massachusetts in the US. This small, unassuming sushi place, located in an old firehouse, produces some of the most mindblowingly fantastic sushi you will ever taste. Honestly, to compare it to other sushi restaurants feels somehow fraudulent, because it is just so different, and so amazing. The highlight is the La Ratte potato chip with black truffle sushi, like a pure distillation of what heaven tastes like.
Meanwhile, Hakkasan is an old favorite that never disappoints, and Vingt-Quatre, the 24 hour bistro in Chelsea has been my saving grace so many times this year at 3am after a night of drinking that frankly it has to be mentioned (the food is fantastic too).
11. The Debbie for Douchebag of the Year
Runner Up: Ben Fitzgerald
Fast on their way to becoming the "Myspace" of social news websites, Digg continued its odd strategy of selling out to the unwashed masses whilst simultaneously giving all the actual power to a select few 'power users'. The final straw came with a series of incidents in which entire college dorms and people who logged in via public computers found their accounts mysteriously deleted without any official word.
And Ben… you're just a douchebag, seriously you're such a douchebag.
12. The Debbie for Footballer of the Year
Winner: Lionel Messi
Runner Up: Fernando Torres
Looking at the current crop of football players there is one that stands head and shoulders (not literally in this case) above the rest, in terms of both pure talent and consistency over the entire year. Lionel Messi, the little Argentinian wizard is the best of the "new Maradonas" that have popped up every few years, and even at his tender young age, the best player in the world right now.
Picking a runner up was very difficult, but in the end the award has to go to the man who, when fit, is simply the most unstoppable striker in Europe. Torres not only has the pace and the skills, but the immense strength that can batter through opposition defences.
13. The Debbie for Nightclub of the Year
Winner: Absolut Icebar
Runner Up: Grace Bar
It may be a bit of a gimmick, but no one can deny that the Absolut Icebar is damn fun, and a beautiful place to get hammered. Meanwhile Grace Bar needs to make the list after the great halfway dinner there.
14. The Debbie for Book of the Year
Winner: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind - William Kamkwamba
An inspiring and hard to believe story that also happens to make a damn good read.
Best of the Decade
Cinema & TV
15. The Debbie for TV Show of the Decade
Winner: Arrested Development
Runner Up: Life on Mars (UK edition)
There really is just nothing that compares to Arrested Development as a TV show. The calibre of writing in this show has never even come close to being matched. And it's not just because it's extremely funny and extremely smart. It's the attention to detail with every single character, every single word of dialogue, with all the songs featured in the show having been written specially for the show, and it's the unique style with which it is done. But above all, it's that by the time you reach the end of the series you see that they clearly had every detail of the show mapped out from the start, with every episode peppered with injokes and omens of things that happen years later. It's brilliantly self referential and really a staggering accomplishment.
Frankly, most British TV shows are pure crap like Skins, however every once in a while they throw up a real gem, like Fawlty Towers or the Office, or in this case, Life on Mars which might just be the best of the bunch. This is one of those sublime shows in which everything is pretty much perfect; great cast, direction, awesome soundtrack, fantastic writing that mingles expertly between funny and serious, and also that intangible quality of genius that the best TV shows have.
16. The Debbie for Film of the Decade
Winner: Donnie Darko (2001)
Runner Up: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Now this was a very difficult one to choose, but in the end in a decade with far too many wonderful films, I decided to give the grand prize to Donnie Darko. This is just one of those films that I can watch over and over. It has everything, humour, suspense great direction and top performances from the entire cast, from the star Jake Gyllenhal to the supporting cast of Maggie Gyllenhal, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, and the list goes on. The soundtrack is sublime and the whole package is just an incredible, darkly comic, trippy, and epic emotional experience.
The runner up is a film that is almost as good. Starring the always underrated Jim Carrey and oscar winner Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine is probably the trippiest film you will ever see, in a good way. But more than that it is intelligent and moving, touching viewers on a core level. Thought provoking, well made and well acted, Eternal Sunshine is an utterly beguiling journey with few equals.
Music & Theatre
17. The Debbie for Theatrical Production of the Decade
Runner Up: Ivanov
The best thing I have ever seen in the theatre has got to be Frost/Nixon, as directed by Sam Mendes and starring the same cast as in the film, in its original Donmar production. Frost/Nixon tells the story of the David Frost interviews with Richard Nixon, one of history's great personal battles.
The close runner up, and this is very close indeed, is last year's Ivanov, a great play by Anton Chekov, made better by excellent performances by Kenneth Branagh, and the underrated Kevin McNally, and top direction from Michael Grandage.
18. The Debbie for Album of the Decade
Winner: By the Way - Red Hot Chili Peppers (2002)
Runner Up: Hot Fuss - The Killers (2004)
The Red Hot Chili Peppers surely hit their peak with By the Way, one of those rare albums where every single song is great, whether it is the titular By the Way, or the chilled tones of Dosed, or the funky rock of Can't Stop, there's something for everyone.
Meanwhile, The Killers have emerged as one of the biggest bands in the world in recent years, and it all kicked off with the impressive debut showing of Hot Fuss. Last year's Day & Age may have been musically superior in some ways, but Hot Fuss was really a revolution, and also contains two of the biggest and best songs of the decade in All These Things I've Done, and of course, Mr. Brightside.
19. The Debbie for Song of the Decade
Winner: Wham City - Dan Deacon (2007)
Runner Up: Mr. Brightside - The Killers (2004)
You either love it or hate it, but Wham City is a simply incomparable track. At 11 minutes long, this masterpiece sounds like information overload at first until you realise how perfectly placed each and every note in this song is. This is as close to the zen of pure musical bliss as anyone has ever gotten, an epic, trippy journey.
Mr. Brightside, on the other hand is a song that everyone loves. In fact there are few songs in existence that provoke such a universally positive reaction like this whenever you hear it being played at a club or a party, even now years after it was released. When this song plays, everyone in the house goes wild, and there's a reason for that.
Videogames & Technology
20. The Debbie for Technological Innovation of the Decade
Winner: Facebook (2004)
Runner Up: iPhone (2007)
Few things have changed the world in recent times as Facebook has. Suddenly the entire planet appears small, as friends and family everywhere can easily stay completely up to date with the details of each others' lives. But that's not even the end of it. With apps, gifts, events and the tendency to become reunited with old friends from as far back as pre-school, Facebook has become an integral part of many people's lives, for better or for worse, and now as important a part as brushing your teeth in the morning and eating breakfast is checking Facebook.
The iPhone, meanwhile, has made Star Trek style technology a reality. Versatile, handheld and with a big beautiful touch screen, there is not a single person anywhere who didn't say 'wow' when they first laid their hands on this.
21. The Debbie for Videogame of the Decade
Winner: Half Life 2 (2004)
Runners up: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004), Rock Band 2 (2008)
On the other hand, it was a pretty damn incredible decade for videogames. The winner I have chosen (this was an easy one) Is Half Life 2. Valve really take their sweet time when making a game, but boy is it worth the wait. Half Life 2 is a technical marvel, with graphics which were way ahead of its time, and still look good today. It also gave the world a revolution in terms of game physics, and even made it a key part of the game's gameplay with the gravity gun. Most important of all though, is the fact that unlike every other game ever, this game is simply pure joy from the first minute to the last, thanks to expert pacing and the introduction of fresh new gameplay features right up until the last level, where most other games throw it all at the player in the first level. One of the best games of all time.
Choosing the runners up was difficult though, mostly because the best games were those which expanded upon innovations from earlier games. For example, Grand Theft Auto III was an amazing step forward in open world sandbox games, one which has inspired a whole genre of copycats, but Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was the better game, and the absolute epitome of the genre so far. It was brilliant fun, but also gave us a game world so huge it has never since been equalled, with three huge cities and miles of countryside in between. Even more impressive was the level of customisation, letting you work out and eat, thus changing the physical dimensions of your character, as well as choosing the haircut, wardrobe, designing your own cars, etc. But the best thing about this game was the introduction of stats for absolutely everything. Drive around your car for a while and you become a better driver, use one gun a lot, and you become more proficient, it adds a whole new dimension to the sandbox genre.
Meanwhile my second runner up was Rock Band 2. As before, credit must go to Guitar Hero for being the real innovator, but Rock Band 2 is the most perfect realisation of this genre so far, with full band play and a huge, expandable song list that is larger than most people's music libraries.
Sports & Personal
22. The Debbie for Party of the Decade
Winner: James' 18th Birthday Party
Some nights have it all; people falling down the stairs, beds and doors coming off their hinges, 4am pasta cook offs, and all topped off with a rousing call to arms of Churchillian epicness, lest we forget to tango with "the Captain".
23. The Debbie for Restaurant of the Decade
Runner Up: O Ya
Gallopapa is probably the best restaurant I have ever been to, the service, the location, the small appetisers and treats. But of course the most important thing is the food, there is no other restaurant that I will eat absolutely everything on the menu, no matter how weird it sounds, and it will be as awesome as it is here. Unfortunately it has now closed, but rest assured I am keeping tabs of the chef to find out where he reappears, and he will.
24. The Debbie for Douchebag of the Decade
Winner: George W. Bush
Runner Up: Guy who tried to steal $200 from me on eBay (and failed)
You really can't say enough about this absolute disgrace to the office of President, a man who almost destroyed the country, squandered the largest surplus in history, lied to and manipulated voters, effectively froze scientific progress with his luddite policies and led to the needless death of thousands. The undisputed most disastrous administration in history has resulted in what is widely known as "the lost decade" and now "the lost generation" who are unemployed and in debt because of this jackass. His name doesn't deserve to appear in this article in bold.
25. The Debbie for Footballer of the Decade
Winner: Zinedine Zidane
Runners Up: Ronaldinho, Frank Lampard
Not only was Zinedine Zidane a good player, he will go down as an all time great. This man had pace, skills, strength, absolutely everything. But more important than any of that is 'genius', pure and simple. Zidane was one of those players who was always 10 steps ahead of his opponents, knew the exact location of every player on the pitch at any one time, and had the technique to hit a pitch perfect pass from anywhere on the pitch. Top class.
Ronaldinho, on the other hand, was just a pure joy to watch during his peak. This man could pull off tricks, flicks and dummies that you simply could not believe, with some of the best technique you will ever have seen. As unpredictable as he was effective. What's more, he always played with a smile on his face, this was a player who epitomised "the beautiful game". Meanwhile Frank Lampard has to earn a place as a runner up simply for showing the kind of immense goal scoring ability that no midfielder has ever had before. Not just did he win the player of the year award for the English national team 4 years in a row, not only did he score more than 20 goals a season from midfield for 6 years in a row, not only has he been decorated with every domestic personal award, but this man pulled the strings in the Chelsea midfield, one of the most successful teams of the decade, and somehow managed to outshine each and every one of his teammates, even in a squad of 30 million pound world beaters.
26. The Debbie for Book of the Decade
Winner: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami
Murakami is an absolutely fantastic author, whose power lies in the ability to convey deep meaning in subtle and deceptively simple language. An easy read and a good read, the Wind-up Bird Chronicle is probably the best of his numerous trippy and mind expanding books.
Well there you have it, it's been a pretty damn good decade, and a fairly mediocre 2009. I have a good feeling that 2010 is going to be something pretty special, read on to the next article to find out why.
Now it is time to look ahead at what the coming year has in store. Every year we like to briefly preview the biggest and best films, tv shows, music, anything that looks awesome, and this year will be no different. But first, let's look back for a minute at my predictions from the start of this year. My 2008 predictions were pretty much spot on, so I had a lot to live up to with my 2009 predictions, as you will see.
Perhaps my grandest prediction was regarding President Obama and the transformative effect he would have. An in depth review of his first year will come closer to the end of his first year at the end of January, but in short there is little doubt that he has made a lot of progress in a short amount of time, but perhaps much more slowly and incremental than one might have hoped.
Then I made a number of predictions of bands that would make it big this year, with a decidedly mixed success rate. For starters Kyte and Subliminal Girls didn't even release albums this year in the end, so the judge is still out there for a little while longer.
On the other hand, the Temper Trap had one of the most successful single releases of the year with Sweet Disposition, even if the album was mostly mediocre. Similarly White Lies' album turned out to be a big disappointment, even though it had one excellent song. Mind you, it still sold very well, so I'm counting that as a win. Empire of the Sun was also a bit of a hit this year, though once again I personally was disappointed.
When it comes to the film world, my predictions were a little better, but then that's the benefit of being such an obsessive cinema aficionado as I am. Avatar is one of the biggest movie releases of all time and a mega mega hit. Meanwhile, Watchmen was also a commercial success, and pretty good too. Revolutionary Road was sadly not as good as I had hoped, but went on to receive numerous Academy Awards anyway.
So all in all a pretty decent year of predictions, but not up to the standard I set the previous year. Nostradamus rating: B-
- Delphic, definitely one of the most hyped up debut acts of next year, their album Acolyte comes out in January. A bit like a marriage of New Order and the Pet Shop Boys, these guys specialise in infectious indie hooks. Check out Doubt.
- Sound of Arrows produced my song of the year Into the Clouds, and a full album is hopefully not too far away. This duo hail from Sweden and produce majestic, ethereal music that, frankly, is hard not to love.
- Devlin. A London rapper who has recently become one of the hottest names on the underground scene. I'd be stunned if he doesn't make it big next year. I don't even like rap usually, but London City is just fantastic, with more than a hint of the streets about it.
In addition, look out for new albums from the likes of MGMT, Stars and Delays, all of which are great bands.
- Inception. My most highly anticipated film of 2010, this film has "awesome" written all over it. Directed by the briliant Christopher Nolan (Memento, the Dark Knight) starring the excellent Leo DiCaprio (Catch Me if You Can, the Aviator) and with a star studded supporting cast that includes oscar winner Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy and Michael Caine. We know very little about this film so far, which has been described as "A contemporary science fiction action thriller set within the architecture of the mind." But it will be amazing.
- Shutter Island. The second on my list also stars DiCaprio, which is slightly worrying, but also comes with the heavyweight directing credit of the one and only Martin Scorsese. Due to be released in February, this film tells the story of two US marshals investigating the disappearance of a patient from mental hospital located on the Shutter Island. It is generating a hell of a lot of buzz right now and going by that trailer and the names attached, it's easy to see why.
- Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. If you haven't read the original comic series, do so now. I was inspired to check it out myself having heard so much positive buzz, but even I did not expect it to be as excellent as it was. Brilliantly witty, original, and over brimming with wonderful geek culture. The film comes courtesy of British director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and stars Michael Cera. This could be pretty awesome indeed.
The big news for television fans out there is the big series finale of Lost coming this January. Love it or hate it, Lost has been one of the biggest shows on TV and if, like me, you're a fan then you'll be absolutely chomping at the bit for this one.
- Bioshock 2. Bioshock was one of the most stunning games of the decade and a smash hit. The sequel is nearing release, and while I personally have doubts that it could possibly live up to its predecessor, the first game was good enough that I have to at least give them a chance.
- Mass Effect 2. Another sequel, this time for one of the best storytelling video games in recent years. The genius of Mass Effect was the ability to make decisions that would have drastic consequences in the gameworld, really drawing you into the adventure and making sure that no two games are alike. With voice acting by Seth Green and Martin Sheen, this is not one to be missed, especially if you were a fan of the original.
So that's all then. Happy New Year everyone, see you in 2010!
Saturday, 26 December 2009
song of the week: "Golden Phone" by "Micachu"
thing that makes me grimace today: Traveling all the way to Greenwich to see Avatar on IMAX 3D and then having to wait an hour before they finally let us into the cinema, late. Fuck Odeon.
pic of the day:
Empire of the Sun
Friday, 25 December 2009
Directed by James Cameron
Written by James Cameron
Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver
Release date(s) Out Now
Running time 161 minutes
Avatar is the latest creation from world conquering director James Cameron, whose last film, Titanic, set all kinds of box office and award winning records, and whose other credits include the likes of Terminator, Aliens and the Abyss. His latest work finally hits the silver screen after suppoesduly 20 years of work, and amid probably the greatest hype storm of any film this decade, can it possibly live up to it?
Despite the simply unprecedented hype, I was actually not particularly psyched before going into this one. For the past few years stories had been surfacing detailing the extent to which James Cameron had been pouring his soul into this film, dreaming of it for decades, having to invent the technology required to film it, and hiring zoologists and bio-linguists in order to craft the most complete and believable alien world ever created, in the most stunningly photorealistic 3D graphics.
This was the promise, and so when the first images and trailers started to appear, they could not possibly live up to such hype. In fact it all looked extremely underwhelming. At the time we were assured it would look much better in motion, on the big screen and in 3D; and now having seen the film in 3D on an Imax screen, I can assure you that we were not misled.
First the basics. SPOILERS. This film follows Jake Sully played by Sam Worthington, a paraplegic marine who is recruited by 'the company' to take his dead brother's place in the Avatar program on newly discovered alien planet Pandora. This is basically a method by which humans can take control of bodies manufactured by a combination of human and alien DNA. These aliens are the natives from Pandora, the Na'vi. The 'company' basically wants to harvest a resource 'unobtanium' (which believe it or not is actually a correct scientific term in this context) which is the solution to all of mankind's energy woes back home. Along the way, Jake falls in love with this world and the Na'vi and decides to lead a resistance against the big evil company.
That's your basic exposition out of the way, the bulk of the film follows Jake's avatar as he explores the lush and beautiful world of Pandora. As already mentioned, Cameron went all out on designing this world, hiring zoologists to design all the animal and plant life so as to be totally believable and authentic. This is one of the film's main strengths, but at the same time it is also the first weakness I'm going to mention, albeit not a very important one.
You see, for all the talk there's been of effort that's been put into this side of the world, it's all a bit superficial, and you get the impression that these 'experts' pocketed a lot of money for not really doing a whole lot besides giving the thumbs up to some artist's wacky doodlings. Most of the creatures are imaginative, sure, but inexplicably designed. For example the six legged horses, watch them move and you will see them run just like regular horses, except with two completely redundant extra legs that in real life would have been removed by evolution. It's a small geeky point and one that is completely irrelevant for most people's enjoyment, but considering this film is trying so hard to claim kudos for such attention to detail, I feel it's worth pointing out that it fails in this regard.
The far bigger concern, however, lies with these Na'vi themselves. In a movie that strives to be fresh and original and believably alien, these aliens are inexplicably based on the most cartoony of native American stereotypes. You've got the chief, the warrior, the mother Earth, they look and talk like something out of Pocahontas (Now that I think about it, the plot of this film is pretty much an exact replica of Pocahontas). This is not the only example of cliché either, the entire 'company' and everyone who works for it are portrayed as such one dimensional 'bad guys' that it becomes a little trite to watch.
It doesn't help that the plot itself is full of Cameron's political soap box preaching, with a strong environmental message about how every living thing is connected and we evil humans are destroying our mother Earth and whatnot. This is buffeted with a secondary serving of post-colonial guilt as we watch the scary modern soldiers wipe out the poor indigenous natives (indeed this is the only reason I can see for the inclusion of native American stereotypes, they should have just skipped it). It's all very overwrought and feels forced. I don't think it's a bad thing for a film to have a deeper message, quite the opposite. But when done right it should integrate with the plot seamlessly, and it certainly does not in this case.
But these are the only complaints I can find for this film, and it is otherwise an excellent piece of cinema which more than makes up for any preachiness and cliché. The fact is that Cameron is simply a great film maker, and this film just oozes with confidence and accomplished story telling. The drama is fully engaging throughout, and paced expertly so as not to put off the casual movie goer, whilst still keeping your average sci-fi fan interested. And as always, Cameron knows exactly how to pull your heart strings; you will be excited when he wants you to be, you will laugh when he wants you to, and you will weep. In addition, he once again reminds us why he is the master of spectacle. Few other directors can pull off such grand set pieces whilst still keeping in touch with the viewer on a personal level. This is why Titanic was a success, and he does it again here in the climactic scenes of the film. He simply does not disappoint.
This is supported with strong performances, in particular from Sam Worthington who plays the lead, Jake, with a nuanced combination of heart and self interest, while Giovanni Ribisi also shines as the darkly comic company suit, Parker Selfridge.
But the real star here is the world of Pandora, and the technology which makes it all possible. For all the subtext and political statements, this film is on the surface a western set in space. The best bits are the ones where Jake is simply out there exploring the unknown. And it doesn't really matter if that world is not the masterpiece of realism we were told to expect, this film succeeds precisely because it pushes the boundaries of believability. The world is brimming with imagination and wonder; huge jungles, floating mountains, neon trees and flying jelly fish. It is so achingly beautiful to look at with damn near photorealistic graphics, and the Na'vi themselves are creepily lifelike when you see them up close. At times you honestly will not be able to believe your eyes, you'll feel like you're really there. Never before will you have felt so completely enveloped in such a strange and magical new world.
As for the 3D aspect, the jury is still out. The glasses are still bulky and annoying and really bug you for the first few minutes, but after that you won't even remember you're wearing them. The graphics themselves vary from some absolutely brilliant 3D work, to times when it just looks like a bunch of flat images placed at different distances from the camera. Overall this is the closest I have ever come to seeing a film that really justified the use of 3D technology to me, but I'm still not convinced that this is the way of the future.
In the end, this is just a real cinematic event, and a landmark film. There are annoyances and poor film making decisions, sure, but frankly you won't have trouble overlooking them when you're watching something as engrossing as this. Never before has cg and live action been so throughly and sublimely blended, and it's something you really have to see.
Beautifully realised world
Wednesday, 16 December 2009
I imagine most people will read this headline and wonder if I have lost my mind. Aside from the fact that I lean Democrat, and that I'm far too well educated to ever vote for the current incarnation of the Republican party, there are very few people who have any sympathy for the group of political song and dance men that are currently preventing Americans from getting healthcare. But I have good reason for suggesting this, so bear with me.
So by now it should be clear to everyone that the current set up in Congress just doesn't work. Even very obvious, unobjectionable, common sense pieces of legislation that are vital to the wellbeing of the country, like the Stimulus and the health care reform bill, are proving very difficult, if not impossible, to push through.
The problem here is not policy, or the legislation itself; as a matter of fact Obama might just be one of the most conservative Democrat Presidents of all time, relative to his era. Looking at the major legislation, we have a stimulus made up mostly of tax cuts, something the Republicans usually love, whereas in health care he opted for the really quite conservative Public Option and medicare expansion (another thing that Republicans previously wanted) as opposed to a single payer model that most developed nations use. Similarly the Republicans recently voted unanimously not to extend the Bush era tax cuts. Democrat voters are using these, and other, examples to point out how the Republicans have abandoned their ideology and seemingly will say just about any old lie to gain support. Republican voters simply don't know any better, and they don't care.
In this case, they're both right. The sad truth is that in America (also in other nations, but played to a far greater extreme in America) politics is nothing more than a sport. It may be a very high stakes sport which plays with regular people's lives, but it's a sport nonetheless, and every politician in Congress ultimately sees it that way, with few exceptions. So am I condoning this behaviour? Absolutely not, but that's just the way it is.
Take health care reform as an example. No sane person could believe the absurd claims Republicans are making about the reform bill, with "death panels" and "rationing" and "Government takeovers". This isn't even a matter of "liberal" vs "conservative", there is nothing "liberal" about treating sick people. Hell, conservatives in the UK have been championing the NHS for decades. The CBO report quite clearly shows that the healthcare bill which recently passed the House would bring about deficit reduction and expand healthcare to almost all Americans, so who could possibly be against that? The answer is "no one" of course, unless you've been scared into believing a bunch of fairytales, which is exactly what is going on here.
So where am I going with this? Anyone living in the real world suspects that The Republicans don't really believe the ridiculous things they're saying, they're not stupid. And I don't buy into the excuse that they're just being paid off by Insurance companies either, frankly almost all politicians are taking cutbacks from lobbyists, that's not exclusive to Republicans. This is simply an example of jaded politicians "playing the game", and therein lies the problem. In the end, senators and congressmen have no term limits, the only thing they care about is winning and keeping their job. For this reason they will simply continue to play the political game.
The Democrats have an overwhelming control of both chambers of Congress. The Republicans effectively have no voice in the country anymore. There is no possible way that they could pass any conservative legislation as things currently stand. This is why being a minority can have such a strong unifying effect on a group. The Republicans want to have some influence, and they know they only way they can possibly achieve that is if they all put their differences aside and vote as a unit of one. They know that they can't win, so the aim here is to prevent anything useful from being passed while the Democrats are in charge, so that neither party wins. The resultant drop in approval of Democrats then allows the Republicans a way back in.
You should be able to see now what the problem is. The Republicans need to fight the Democrats, just so that they can hold some influence over the nation's politics. That is why the Republicans are opposing the healthcare legislation, no matter how good it is, and no matter how much they would have loved to support it in previous years. Obama could propose pure Republican policies (and in far too many cases he has) and they would still oppose it. These are "small party" tactics, and we see them time and time again when one party is in the ascendency over the other, that's just how the game is played. Make no mistake, this unbreakable Republican opposition to Obama has nothing to do with his policies whatsoever, it is just the only way that they can win back some control over the country. And they have to do this precisely because they are in such a small minority.
Simply put: when one party has an overwhelming majority, the majority party wants to get things done and take all the credit for it, and the minority doesn't. When congress is roughly equal, both parties want to get things done and take equal credit, and this is the optimum state of things.
It is for this reason that I suggest that the country would be better able to move forward if Congress was more evenly divided. If we had a 50/50 split in the House and Senate, for example, I have no doubts that we would be passing a more effective healthcare bill than the one we are likely to get now, and more quickly too. The Republicans would have had no need of small party tactics, realising that it would make them look good to pass effective legislation, and therefore they wouldn't have opposed so many of the Democrats' clever cost saving measures. Look back to the 90s in America, arguably the most prosperous period for any country in all of history, in which we had a Democrat President and a reasonably even Congress.
Really these congressmen and senators are all interchangeable chess pieces for their political parties, the only thing that really makes a difference is the balance of pieces. It should be clear that Congress works best when there is rough equilibrium. When one party gains too much power you reach a breaking point, which we are now at, where what little remains of the minority party just becomes dead weight, and prevents anything meaningful from getting done. There are two things that can happen now. Either the GOP disintegrates and just dies off (unlikely, unless a third party really gains momentum), or the system can balance itself out, as it is designed to do, which in the end is what will probably happen.
Looking ahead to the 2010 elections, most people assume that the Republicans will make some small gains, if for no other reason than that the Democrats have so many more seats to lose, it's just logical. This, however, is by no means certain for a number of reasons.
Most obvious is the success of the really quite good legislation that the Democrats have just managed to sneak through by the skin of their teeth this year in the face of such impenetrable obstacles. I will go into more detail on how effective their work has been (and how much more effective they would have been if not for the small party tactics of the GOP) at a later date, but for now all you need to be aware of is that the markets have recovered, employment has levelled off, and if jobs start coming back early next year as most people expect, this will go down on record as the fastest economic recovery in history, which paints a somewhat more negative picture for the GOP.
But equally important is the effect of the growing support for the conservative party. People may remember that at the start of the year I anticipated that there was a real possibility for the Republican party to split in the coming years, a prospect which seems even more likely now. At the time I imagined that the lunatics would keep sinking with the Republican party whilst all the sane conservatives would jump ship to a new party. As it so happens exactly the opposite has happened, with the hard right wingers switching their allegiance to the conservative party. This has had devastating consequences in the recent NY-23 congressional election, which Democrats won for the first time in over a hundred years as a result of this infighting amongst conservatives, and more recently Rasmussen polls (which typically poll about 10% to the right of the rest of America) have shown that the conservative party has more support than the GOP right now, a situation which gives the Democrats a majority of support on the most right wing pollster in the country.
So while it is entirely possible for 2010 to be the final nail in the coffin of the Republican party, I suspect that the two conservative factions will put their differences aside come election time, and that the majority of American voters will be too oblivious to base their vote on the state of the economy or jobs market. Ultimately next year's elections look like small gains for the GOP, and it may ultimately be a productive turn for the country.
So let's clarify here. Yes the Republicans pretty much single handedly destroyed America, but I think you will find that most of the calamitous decisions over the past eight years come from the sheer incompetence of the administration in charge, rather than congressional Republicans (something that I should expand upon, but that's another story for another article), after all the Democrats controlled Congress for the final two years of Bush, to little positive effect. Members of congress ultimately just want to impress their constituents by looking productive, the real direction and drive comes from the White House.
So a Republican President in 2012? Absolutely under no circumstances. But a Republican boost in 2010? That might actually make Obama's job easier rather than harder.
Sunday, 13 December 2009
While few people out there will have heard this name before, there's every chance that you're a fan of his work. James Bobin is a British writer/director/producer who has been behind some of the most successful pieces of comedy gold in the past few years.
Bobin began his career as a director and writer on the 11 O'clock show, noteworthy for being the launching point for the careers of both Ricky Gervais and Sacha Baron Cohen. He went on to co-create the now world famous Baron Cohen characters Ali G, Borat and Brüno, and wrote/directed all the episodes of Ali G in da USAiiiii.
Following on from these successes, Bobin joined forces with New Zealand duo Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement to create the highly successful Flight of the Conchords tv series. Indeed it would seem he has the midas touch at the moment.
As recognition for his work he has won awards from BAFTA and the WGA and received numerous Emmy nominations.
So what does the future hold for Bobin? Rumours suggest that he has signed on to direct his first feature films, Moon People and Jeff the Demon, the latter reportedly starring the always utterly brilliant Will Arnett.
Will these live up to his previous projects? Well clearly that's the problem with achieving such incredible success so early in your career. But whatever the case, if you haven't heard of him yet, you probably will soon enough.
Saturday, 12 December 2009
song of the week: "When You Walk in the Room" by "Fyfe Dangerfield"
thing that makes me happy today: You can now download Simon & Garfunkel's the Sound of Silence on Rock Band. Awesome.
pic of the day:
30 Seconds to Mars
High School Musical (god how awful)
Thursday, 10 December 2009
It is now almost halfway through the season, and the league table is starting to take shape, allowing us to see which clubs will be competing for honours in 6 months time, and which will be competing just to stay in the top flight.
So far it definitely seems my prediction of Chelsea failure this season was wrong. I think I can safely say that Carlo Ancelotti has proven himself as a capable manager, getting Chelsea to play football that is not only effective but exciting and beautiful to look at. Even more of a pleasant surprise has been his willingness to play youth players and give the kids a go, something that most Chelsea managers have not done. It is especially important this year with a looming transfer ban over us to bring up the young and inexperienced players so they can shoulder some of the responsibility from ageing players like Lampard and Drogba.
Yes, there is no doubt that Chelsea so far have been THE team to watch in world football. But it remains to be seen whether they can keep it up, and frankly I'm skeptical, as I have seen all too often how easily this team caves in to pressure, and not many teams in the world have the kind of media pressure and scrutiny upon them as Chelsea do. It's a good start, but now starts the real test for the reign of Carlo Ancelotti.
Meanwhile we saw all the usual hallmarks of a Premier League season; Liverpool underachieving, Man U getting off to a slowish start, small crappy teams playing excellently (Stoke) and of course my favourite tradition, the fantasy that maybe this year, finally, Arsenals forever-young team will come of age and win the league.
Every single season without fail, Arsenal string together a good run of results where they pound a few poor crappy teams into oblivion with their silky passing and everyone starts tipping them for the title. The BBC and the Daily Mail this year ran articles about how Wenger's "Young" team (seriously haven't they been saying that for about 12 years now?) has finally come of age and looks better than anyone else, only for the myth to come undone whenever they play against a decent team and find that their brand of one touch football can't penetrate a half decent defence. In particular, the Yahoo recently released this now infamously mocked article about how Fabregas is the best midfielder in the world, despite not even being in the Spanish national team. They have found this time and time again this season with defeats away to Man Utd and Man City, and a crushing 3-0 defeat to Chelsea at their home ground.
Honestly, any self respecting Arsenal fan would do well to simply ignore all the media hype that comes out. The media love a good 'david vs. goliath' story with young kids beating the old experienced legends, and they are clearly pretty desperate for someone to come along and replicate the feats of the young, early 1990s Man Utd team. But this is simply not going to happen with this Arsenal team in the near future, and I'll tell you why.
It's true that Arsenal do go and buy a lot of good young talent. And note, "buy" as opposed to "bring up" or words to that effect; they always go and spend cash on buying young players at around the age of 20 as opposed to teams like Barcelona who actually bring up their own youth through the academy. Arsene Wenger has pulled this trick time and time again during his Arsenal career, but the problem is that with the increased competition from big spending teams like Man Utd, Chelsea (and perhaps soon Man City), these teams of youngsters just aren't good enough, and since they never win anything, as soon as these players hit a certain age they just run off to bigger clubs. See Thierry Henry running off to Barca, Hleb running off to Barca, Adebayor, Touré, all running off to Man City. Flamini running off to Milan, Ashley Cole moving to Chelsea. They all leave eventually, in search of trophies. Indeed it seems likely that current captain Cesc Fabregas will soon leave.
The problem is that in this world of big money and high stakes, Arsenal don't have anything to incentivise players to stay at their club, and this is why people like Kroenke and Usmanov have recently started trying to buy out the club with promise of big money to spend. Indeed it seems increasingly clear that if Arsenal want to compete for honours again they will need the money to spend on players and wages.
Few Arsenal fans will admit this (only the resectable ones), but it has been more than 6 years since Arsenal have won anything, and frankly changes have to be made. It astonishes me to see fans blaming Wenger and calling for his sack, but there is a large contingent of fans demanding just that. It's amazing, because Wenger is the only thing keeping that team together right now, and yet certain fans have built up all these delusions, fuelled by the absurd media hype, that their players and squad really are the best in the league, even though in reality they are nothing even close, instead squeaking by on the merits of their genius manager.
But it's not all doom and gloom for Arsenal. The exposition I have given so far indicates that Arsenal are simply a lot cause, with behind the scenes directors who do not recognise the current state of football and have yet to get with the times. But this is not really the case. The Arsenal bosses know that money is the reason that they are falling behind, but rather than seeking a 'sugar daddy' to blow cash on them in a reckless manner as in the case of Man Utd, Chelsea, Man City, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, and many other clubs now, Arsenal have sought a different method.
FIFA has recently begun to express concerns over the state of the finances for these spendthrift clubs, worrying that this might simply be a bubble waiting to burst and result in bankruptcy of the world's biggest football clubs and potentially leagues. Indeed this seems entirely possible, if just by comparison with other similar money spending booms that we have seen in the past 50 years that have ended in disaster. See the dot-com boom and bust, and even the recent financial crisis, brought about by reckless spending and loans. In the end, this kind of spending is just not sustainable in the long run.
Even if this does not come to pass, it is still entirely possible that FIFA may seek to introduce restrictions on spending in order to balance out the unfair advantage that certain teams have. They have already introduced restrictions into foreign players that each team can have in an attempt to curb ridiculous spending on world stars by the top three or four teams, this seems a logical next step.
In this case it would seem that Arsenal is setting itself up quite nicely for the eventual crash of this current spending bubble we are in. Instead of seeking dubious Russian roubles or American dollars they have invested wisely in a new stadium, which they hope will pay itself off several times over in the coming years. If the worriers are right and the era of big big spending tycoons comes to an end, then Arsenal will be ideally set up to take advantage of this. It's a risky move, but one that might well pay off in the future for Arsenal.
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Written by Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser
Starring John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton
Release date(s) Out Now
Running time 158 minutes
Roland Emmerich, the man who brought us the epitome of blockbuster spectacle in Independence Day, and tried to pull a similar doomsday scenario trick in Day after Tomorrow, to mixed success, brings us yet another hypothesis for how we're all going to die horribly, in 2012.
This time, the focus of his fear mongering is the Mayan prophecies of how the world is going to end in 2012. Of course this is inaccurate as no Mayan has ever predicted the world ending in 2012, but rather the beginning of a new cycle, which was supposed to be a positive thing. But that's a discussion for another day, let's not detract from the money grubbing shisters who make a good living out of scaring ignorant middle American housewives.
Of course the bullshittiness of the concept put me off slightly, I mean really they might as well make "Dianetics: the Movie" next time, but in the end the important thing is whether Emmerich has pulled another engrossing blockbuster out of the hat that has produced nought but big screen gold in the past.
Unfortunately I think he has missed the mark this time. Emmerich received a good deal of criticism for Day after Tomorrow which was, in a word, a bit silly and extremely cavalier with regard to it's respect of the scientific grounding of his plot, not that the average movie going audience gives a fuck. But ultimately that was still an engaging and entertaining film. This however is something different.
Frankly it's stupid. And sure, I can see a lot of people saying "well hang on, this is just a mindless action flick, don't take it so seriously", well fuck you, you smug git. "Mindless fun" is a term that back in the day was applied to films like Independence Day and Armageddon, which frankly are like Shakespeare compared to this. Those films were silly and over the top, but they succeeded where most big action films fail because of strong character driven plots, a sense of moderate restraint, and clever writing filled with pithy observations on real life. This film has none of those things. The characters are thin and completely undeveloped, the action is so completely over the top that it looks somehow cheaper than it actually is, and the film is frankly far too long at three hours long, with about 20 minutes of dialogue and story in between all the ridiculous set pieces.
Again, I would like to clarify. These set pieces are not just ridiculous in the same way that most blockbusters feature over the top action, they are ridiculous in that they are actually retarded. They actually just look cartoony. It's over the top "over the top", it is to Independence Day what Hostel was to, say, Scream. And that is not a favourable comparison I make.
On the plus side, however, John Cusack does the best he can do with a weak script, and is innately likeable even when there is not much about his character to like (or dislike for that matter).
Ultimately however, I felt that this film was just a waste of three hours, and I wish I had gone to see A Serious Man instead. This film is worse than Transformers 2, and better than the Happening, which is not saying much.