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Ah, New York…the big apple where lots of big deals are made by big cheeses, people drive big cars around big neighborhoods, and chill out in a big park in the middle of a big metropolis. The sandwiches are big. The buildings are…ahem… ‘big’. Or should that be – ‘BIG’. Quite fitting then, that the biggest mystery of all is quite how this hulk of a city could be the biggest paradox on earth. Everything about New York is a contradiction, in the sense that everything is crammed, juxtaposed if you will, into a bustling and vibrant socio-economic pool that is as alive as, well, anywhere could be. I got back yesterday from a couple of weeks spent working on a new film with a director who lives in Manhattan (hence my absence from the site), and just had to write something about it. New York does that to you. First off, when you land at JFK, be not fooled by the visa waiver form. I have a US visa, but I entered on the little green slip of paper anyway, and immediately came upon the problem that is simply ‘there’ to stump the ‘aliens’. Under the place where you have to write where you are going, you have to write ‘City’ and ‘State’ – on one line. New York City is in New York State (which won’t fit on the line), so you have to hold back a snigger/song when writing ‘New York, New York’…and believe me, at 11.30pm, the customs officials just don’t appreciate humour. Either I shouldn’t have watched Monty Python on the plane or maybe I should have tried ‘humor’ instead but the Texan lady who stamped my form came jolly close to deporting me, I think. Lovely. Whenever in NYC, I always stay at the same place now. I’ve only stayed there twice, but to be honest, that’s all I need to be hooked for life. It’s called The Gershwin Hotel, www.gershwinhotel.com (hey!), and if ever there was a fu nky lobby, this is it. Added to that, it’s pretty cheap too, especially when you consider that it’s just three blocks from the Empire State, 20 yards from 5th Avenue, and one block from the 28th Street Subway which connects by two stops to Grand Central on 42nd. You are totally immersed in the vibrant heart of Manhattan, the central and most famous neighborhood of New York City. The hotel amenities are fairly standard, but the whole place is nicely appointed with black and white photos everywhere that reminisce of yesteryear and the heyday of the city. It’s rather like the Mezzanine at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel (where they used to hold the Academy Awards in LA), but with a touch of NYC nostalgia. And all very funky. Other perks include being able to book online, a nightly $5 comedy club (actually pretty good the night I saw it, 2 hours of pretty impressive stuff and about 10 minutes of sheer rib-aching pleasure!). I won’t relate much of the non-leisure my trip to you, because frankly, it would bore the hell out of you. It bored the hell of me, for the first time I realized why ‘business’ and ‘pleasure’ are two separate categories on that form. I hate media lawyers. Just to let you know. Fortunately, my last three days were purely pleasure. The first day of my break I took the no.6 metro (green line) south, changed at Bleecker St. and then headed down to Battery Park, where the Staten Island Ferry crossing leaves. This was a curious experience to say the least, because the line passes right by World Trade Center – well, that’s to say it did until September 11th. More about that in a minute. I walked along the quayside up to the Staten Island Terminal, which is a big pavilion like building built in the Old NYC style. Catching the ferry is essentially a big scrum, although it’s a big boat so there’s rarely any squash aside at peak hours (8am and 5pm) to and from the islan d. The (free) crossing takes a leisurely half hour during which you can sit down on the rather uncomfortable but plentiful seats, or better still you can venture out on to the sides of the boat to look at the Statue of Liberty. The boat passes pretty close – 100 yards away or so, and even the New Yorkers stop to give it a second look. Remember to head for the right hand side of the terminal when you get in if you want the best seats to see the Statue…and likewise on the left on the way back. This side also provides the best view of the Manhattan skyline, towering off into the distance. This, I promise you, beats any photograph. There is something about the way the light hits off the buildings that is remarkably beautiful, it’s rather like seeing a photo of the New York skyline with a pair of 3d specs on, it’s like you can reach out and touch these enormous structures. And that was when things felt a bit weird. Partially a sense of deja-vu, because I had been on this exact same ferry five years ago, and the skyline looked somewhat different; and partially because you get a partial view of the wreckage of the twin towers on the ferry. Amongst the pristine skyline appears this apocalyptic tangle of building materials, jutting up between two reflective skyscrapers and the green trees of Battery Park, and illuminated, even by day, by huge floodlights. It’s very creepy. VERY creepy. The boat was also silent in awe of the sight, which wasn’t huge (the WTC was six blocks from the quayside) but hugely powerful nonetheless. Arriving at Staten Island, be prepared to be practically assaulted by the taxi drivers if you go out of the ‘taxi’ exit. Yes, it’s a shorter route out of the terminal, but you may wonder why no New Yorkers are using it!!! I thought I’d found a shortcut, but no – it took all my limited powers of persuasion to tell them I was just using their exit as a shortcut to avoid the s crum. I didn’t spend much time on Staten Island, aside walking around the riverside, and also walking up to the St George Public Library, on the far side of the Staten Clock Tower. The Island is very beautiful indeed, and reminded me a lot of London – the whole place has a very distinct European feel, augmented by the large Italian and Polish communities that are based there. Personally, I suggest taking the ferry at 10.30am, walking around the Island, find some lunch there, and take the 2.00pm back. Walking back up through Manhattan having returned on the ferry, my host insisted we should walk through Chinatown. Which was rather worth insisting, because it’s unlike any other place I’ve ever seen. It’s a good place to stroll through when it’s getting dark, because there are so many neon signs outside every shop it’s unbelievable. The markets are just like the bazaar streets of China, there are so many products there that you won’t even think came from this planet. And since all the labels are written in Chinese, they might as well have come from another planet for all that I was able to guess what they were. I was offered a piece of food by a guy with his wok and all the paraphernalia in the middle of the road, seemingly oblivious to any traffic…which was delicious. I found out later that it was a real delicacy - sheep’s tongue sautéed in vinegar, but hey, what you don’t know normally doesn’t hurt you, right? It tasted good at the time, but then this is from the person who thought battered haggis tasted good at 3am in the middle of Edinburgh…I was very, very drunk, as the old guy said on the Fast Show. How true. Now to explain the title. Bear in mind I have no sense of direction whatsoever…navigating your way round the city is…er…easier with a compass. The only way really is to get a map and go to the corner of the street and work out which corner that is…then walk to the next corner and work out which this is – you should then be able to work out which direction you’re facing and thus work out which way to go, but it’s trickier than it sounds. Alas, the metro stops aren’t signposted like the Underground in London, so if you don’t know the city, a map is TOTALLY essential. They are also free – just ask the receptionist at the hotel. One of Rudy Giuliani’s initiatives was to publish a map and guide that is free to all tourists – very helpful. The next morning, I awoke to the rumble of the city that is a 24 hour audible backdrop no matter where you are in town and however many layers of glazing you care to be encased behind. My friend and I took the no.6 again, but this time north, four stops to Grand Central Station on 42nd Street. A short walk later and you are on Fifth Avenue again, near to Time Square. Continue down 42nd and you’ll find yourself in Broadway, not just on the Avenue of that name, but in the heart of the theatre district. Yeah, THAT Broadway. THE Broadway. Rather like Chinatown, this and Time Square have to be seen by night for full effect, although they are no less impressive by day…although be prepared. They are heaving masses of people, and it’s worth keeping your wits about you as to where cars and other people are. Also, here is a good place to make sure that any valuables aren’t in your trouser pockets or easily taken, because the whole commotion makes it a pickpocket heaven, I guess. Just a sensible precaution. Anyway, cruise down Broadway towards Time Square and there are many attractions to be seen. Such as, the largest store in the world, the headquarters of the US giant Macy’s. And what a store you have in store for you! You name it, you can get it here, 16 vast floors crammed full of everything from kitsch to conventional. Definitely worth a walkaround. And then you walk into Time Squ are, which is simply sensory overload. There are so many light bulbs and people that the temperature on the ground is actually 4 degrees higher than the rest of the city! The lights themselves are staggering, especially the huge Nasdaq sign, and the massive screen that is the side of the CNN building there, playing 24 hours. Also there when I was there was the massive poster for Harry Potter which had to be seen to be believed – they had bought the ENTIRE billboard space on the side of a skyscraper, and that poster had to be at least 24 stories high – stunning. After the previous gastronomic delight, I decided to play safe and not get lunch in Little Korea, which is the name of the area around 42nd and Broadway, just south of Time Square. In this area though, you can actually get just about any food: Japanese food is all the rage at the moment, Chinese is great but less so, and the good old American Deli is in its element. Where else can you get a three deck ham and cheese sandwich at 4am and be asked to choose from among 16 varieties of ham and 29 varieties of cheese, plus any salad you like, one of 15 dressings, and no less than eight different varieties of bread? (Tip: never just ask for ‘a ham and cheese sandwich’ – that will illicit a quiet grunt of touristic disbelief and then a tirade of questions. Also, rather like in Seattle, don’t just ask for coffee, because they’ll have several hundred ways of making it at 4am…!) That afternoon, I wandered around Hell’s Kitchen with my friend, which sounds like we put our lives in mortal danger! We didn’t…Hell’s Kitchen, despite its name and reputation, is now a charming Italian community that has had a lot of money spent on it by Rudy Giuliani, the outgoing mayor. The mafia have long since moved out, but the area retains a real cultural identity that is the true spirit of New York, a sense of close community in a greater whole. And the c offee you can get is the best espresso outside Sicily. It’s well worth a visit. After some fantastic pasta made by a true Italian ‘mama’ in a tiny restaurant which clearly hadn’t changed much since the time of the Mafia, we headed back to Fifth Avenue and Grand Central, and caught the no.4 to the Empire State building (the closest metro stop is 32nd, by the way). All metro travel costs $1.50, no matter how far you are travelling. That, I can tell you, is a pleasure, considering that unlike the underground, the New York metro is very clean, and runs bang on time. You can get an unlimited weekly ride for $17…about 11 quid – compared to London, that’s positively awesome – and that metrocard will allow you to get right to JFK too, which is about half an hour outside the city. Other travel includes the buses, which is also $1.50, and yes, you can use the same Metrocard on the bus too. Taxi’s – be careful. There are many con-artists out there who will charge astronomically – only use the yellow licensed cabs, and if the driver isn’t displaying his city ID, don’t get in. They aren’t cheap either – JFK airport to Manhattan is normally $40. Take the subway – it’ll save you a lot of money. Now, I have certain expectations about the Empire State building that were cruelly dashed. Ever seen Sleepless in Seattle? You know the ending, where Meg Ryan runs into the Empire State and goes straight into the lift and comes right out at the top? Yeah, right. As if. Firstly, you have to show some form of ID before you enter the building, since September 11th anyway. Then you walk in the front and head down a corridor towards an escalator which goes, er…down. There you’ll find the ticket office, where you have to fork over 8 bucks for a pass to the observation deck. Up an escalator, along another corridor, around a safety barrier. And into a lift. Oh – not THE lift, but one of several en route. Then you come out of that, along another corridor, past a checkpoint, where they take your ticket. Then you get into ANOTHER lift, and that takes you to the top floor but one, where you walk up some stairs into the observation deck. And remember how the observation deck was empty, the middle room was just an open space where that kid left his bag by the poles on the side? Yeah right. It’s a bloody gift shop in reality!!! Where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan met? Er…it’s a T shirt stand. Or a coffee mug stand, or whatever, I don’t know, all I can tell you is that it does smack of ‘cashing in’. And as for coming back up in the lift that she goes down in – er…no. So much for Hollywood being accurate :-)… The view is worth it however, especially on a clear night – it is simply breathtaking. Remember to wrap up warm, even in summer, because the wind chill up there makes it freezing cold. And don’t forget a camera – although if taking photos at night, don’t use a cheap disposable because they simply won’t come out – you need a decent exposure length camera to stand a chance of capturing the breathtaking view over Manhattan and the Bronx. You can see easily out to Queens, and on a good day, right out to the uber-rich area, the Hamptons. Here at least, I wish Dooyoo would allow me to have some photos. It’s an astonishing view. I spent my last morning in Central Park, which really is equally amazing. It totally sums up the paradoxical nature of the city – you are walking down Fifth Avenue, you pass a huge skyscraper and immediately after crossing the road you are in the tranquility of the park. It couldn’t be more contrasting if it tried, the change from urban to rural is immediate. And even though when you are in the Park, you can see the skyscrapers above the trees around the edges, and hear the gentle h um of the city, it’s still escapist in the true sense. From there I wandered past the Guggenheim, which if you have time, is worth a visit – though leave a whole day for it – even that really isn’t enough, and it’s worth looking it up on the net and deciding what particularly you want to see first. From there, I took the metro to the United Nations, which because it was in session, was surrounded with more police and FBI than you’ve seen in all the movies you’ve ever seen put together. There are many charming smaller museums and exhibitions in the area; of particular note is the Japan Society building, which has a stunning fountain which runs underneath a glass staircase…it’s like walking on water except you don’t get wet! The Trump tower is worth a visit, not to go in, but simply to stand by it and get neckache from looking up at it – from this you get a true sense of JUST how big the World Trade Center was. Incidentally, yes, I did go to the WTC, for about 10 minutes. Tour buses are now advertising the wreckage site ground zero as a stop – a tad macabre for my taste. And it was a disturbing site, but somehow utterly compelling – the smell is a mixture of tar and sulphur, like someone is doing roadworks right under your nose….and the dust is everywhere, literally everywhere…you can rub your fingers on any surface around and you won’t be able to see your finger for the yellow-brown dust that coats it. There are barriers that obscure the majority of the site, but you can get within 20 yards and see the second tower above you, which even after two months was still about 50m high, completely wrecked, a tangled mass of debris that looks like a movie set. It’s unbelievable. My last experience of New York was finding, en route to JFK, a small diner in midtown, that was as New York as New York gets. It was here we ordered the quintessential drink that you can only find in this city – the egg cream. It sums up the city perfectly simply because it sums up the contradictions of the place – it has neither egg, nor cream in it! Why it’s called an egg cream mystifies me! It’s made by a third of a glass of milk, with lots of chocolate syrup in it, into which you spray pressurized mineral water, constantly stirring – the result is a tangy, frothy version of cream soda which tastes extraordinary, but very delicious. The only way to make it is with a soda machine where you can pressurize the water, but if you buy a can of mineral water and shake it up enough, and then pour that into a glass of milk and chocolate syrup, it might froth enough to try it…look up the recipe (Americans call mineral water that is sparkling ‘seltzer’, by the way). Though as comedian Rich Hall says, it’s only worth having it served by a grossly overweight darlin’ from Mississippi, who pronounces the name of her home state ‘Miss Hippy’ (as in the phrase ‘Hah doo lack Miss Hippy’ which if you say it aloud you might get what Bill Bryson meant when he wrote it!), and whose ass looks like a waterbed jammed down a pair of Wranglers. New York, the big apple, whatever you want to call it, is still an amazing city that is very much worth the visit. If you can spend a week there, you still wouldn’t fit in everything, but you would certainly get the experience. I can’t recommend it enough.
Ever get REALLY stressed out because things just aren't going your way? Well, I can proffer a few solutions. Firstly, to quote Father Jack, 'DRINK!'. The second and third ones you should be able to guess! But if all else fails, comfort food is in order, and what better food than chocolate. Chocolate cake. Brilliant. Well, there is a flipside - you can't eat very much of it unless you want to remake its acquaintance over a toilet bowl a few hours later. In fact, that goes for the drink too... But fret not my sullen friends! There is a solution, and it doesn't involve liposuction (I think). It is, a recipe handed down to me by an old Texan friend of mine which, with a few anglosaxon modifications (I took the chili powder out, no really, I kid you not, they like chili powder in their chocolate...) is possibly the most divinely self-indulgently moist offering since...well...since....oh never mind. Best of all, it's light, seriously light - well, at least, it seems light when you eat it, but in fact it's devilishly rich. Wunderbar. BETTER THAN SEX ON A CLOUD CAKE (serves one miserable b*st*rd! Or about 10 happy people...) INGREDIENTS 6 ounces Dark chocolate (NB Must be 70% cocoa solids or higher for maximum effect, though Bournville is OK...) 6 ounces Milk chocolate (NB the same again, Dairy Milk is OK - just) 7 eggs (yes, SEVEN!) 8 ounces flour (self raising, though plain seems to work as well...) 8 ounces butter, unsalted 14 ounces caster sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from a vanilla pod - alternatively use vanilla sugar above Another 6 ounces of Dark chocolate 6 fl. ounces of double cream Ben and Jerry's Phish Food Ice Cream Handful of fresh raspberrys (optional) Believe me, the result is moist, fudgy, and seems light until you've had three or more slices... METHOD 1. Bung your oven up to about 150 degrees or 140 if you have a fan oven. 2. Melt the first two chocolates (6 oz of plain, 6 oz of milk chocolate) in a glass bowl placed over a saucepan of just simmering water until thoroughly seductively smooth and gorgeous. It should melt to the sort of consistency you'd fantasise about painting all over Lara Cro...ahem. 3. Let that cool a bit. While you're doing that, you can separate the eggs, all seven. Put the whites into the cleanest glass bowl you have, making sure there is nary a speck of yolk in there - the slightest dirt can stop the whites foaming up later on. Place the egg yolks in another bowl and beat like crazy until homogenous. Mix that into the melted chocolate and stir very quickly until combined (wait and you'll get scrambled eggs!). The whole mixture will probably thicken right away - it's supposed to. 4. In a food processor, bung in the butter, 11 ounces of the sugar, and blitz until it forms a smooth mixture that again, you'd fantasise about painting all over Angelina...*whips* DOWN BOY! Then transfer to another bowl, and stir in the flour until just combined. Then, add the chocolate and beat everything together until you have a gorgeously rich chocolate cake batter. 5. Go back to the clean bowl with your egg whites in it, and grab whatever you're going to beat them with (I SO resisted an appallingly bad taste joke here, give me credit for that at least...). Add a tiny pinch of salt to the egg whites first, and then beat them until they are foamy, but very loose and not holding peaks at all (god, I could have made SO many rude jokes there...I'm being rather restrained today! Chocolate cake is such an erotic thing to make, no?). Trust me on the salt, a little salt helps chocolate no end. Once they are foaming, add the remaining 3 ounces of caster sugar, and continue beating until they are at the soft peak stage (the peaks of the whites flop down as if they've had o ne or two babycham's too many...) 6. Take ONE spoonful of the soft peak egg whites and stir into the chocolate batter. Then add the now slackened batter back into the original bowl with the rest of the whites in it. Now, this is the crucial bit - stir VERY gently with a metal spoon - using a folding action, don't go nuts, and stop the moment everything is combined evenly. You don't want to knock all the air out of the egg whites, which is what makes the cake incredibly moist. 7. Pour batter into two 9 inch cake tins lined with greaseproof paper and lightly buttered. The mixture WON'T fill the tin, it'll come to about half way up or so...just distribute it evenly. During cooking, it becomes more like a souffle, it rises like crazy - however, because of the flour, it doesn't fall back down again and you are left with a heavenly cake. 8. Bung it in the oven! It should take about 40 to 45 minutes - when a skewer comes out of the centre clean or with the slightest of moist crumbs, it's done - take 'em out and let them cool a bit on a rack. 9. While it's cooking, make the glaze - bring the double cream up to the boil quite slowly, and only just to the boil. Break up that other bit of chocolate (6 oz of dark chocolate I told you about earlier). Put those chocolate bits straight into the cream, take it off the heat IMMEDIATELY and stir like crazy. Once it's a smooth, unctuous mixture, pour it into a bowl and press some clingfilm down onto the surface to stop it getting a skin - and bung it into the fridge until you need it. 10. When the cakes have cooled, place one on the bottom of your serving dish, then a layer of Ben and Jerry's Phish food (or your favourite ice cream - I like Phish food as it has the chunks of chocolate in it :-) - I also use the cakes when they are still slightly warm so the ice cream just starts to melt - also, don't try to spread the ice cream too much as thi s can have disastrous effects - just splodge it on when it's little more defrosted, take it out of the freezer 15 minutes earlier if you like). Other fillings include raspberry jam, cherry jam, or any icing you like, so long as it can stand up to the rich moist fudginess of the cake. 11. Put the other cake on the top, and then spread the glaze all over the top and spread it evenly, allowing it to ooze down the sides (don't refrigerate it too long though as it will thicken considerably - I like it rather liquid.). Mmmm...unctuous... 12. Garnish with fresh raspberrys if you can be bothered. 13. Nah, I won't put the final instruction on number 13, seeing how it will probably add a few pounds to your thighs! We'll need all the luck we can get folks! 14. Serve immediately. Lapse into sweet, sweet unconciousness. Die of chocolate poisoning. Your tastebuds will love you for the rest of your life. Drink a few pints with it and you'll be loving the toilet bowl at 2am! Enjoy :-) (and can you hear your tastebuds screaming out a word to you?! It begins with nominat and ends with an e? Really? You can? Wow. Never knew tastebuds could talk :-) Just kidding...)
After Sept 11th, it was almost inevitable that America would take military action, despite any debate about whether it would happen or not. Granted, although America has always been a good agent for peace in the world, they do strike back at the slightest hint of being attacked. HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE The roots of this war are long and very complicated, but the main parts lie in the American efforts in the middle east and the development of the cold war. In 1979, the CIA launched a covert operation that supported the war of certain Muslim states against the Russians, most notably Afghanistan, which the Russians had invaded. Both Saudi Arabia and the United States supported the defence of Afghanistan, giving money, and more importantly arms (many of which are still being used by the Taliban!). Equally ironic is that the funding came in part from the Golden Crescent drugs trade which has led to today's huge production of narcotics in the fields of Afghanistan. Pakistan in particular was used as the middle man between the CIA and the Afghan defence squad, the Mujahideen. Bin Laden comes from this program, and despite his assertion that he didn't see any evidence of American help, they were basically a puppet group fighting the Russians on the American's behalf. The American motivation was partially the Cold War (it deflected attention away from them) and also a partial interest in maintaining routes for oil supply. The main way that this deception was perpetrated was by filling the Mujahideen with religious fervour - it was a jihad they were fighting in their eyes. However, communication was indirect, through intelligence officers, thus, it looked to the outside world and the Mujahideen that they were fighting their own war. After the end of the cold war, it seems that America's interest had grown considerably - Central Asia was a lucrative area, both for the massive opiate production and also, more lega lly, for the huge oil reserves to be found there, which was probably the main motivation for the Russians to invade in the first place. Alas, the Mujahideen and Al Qaeda, the network of communication that makes up Bin Laden's empire, continued in their religious fervour and saw the USA as an aggressor against Islam and the whole region....which has developed, over time, into the current situation. Thus the irony is, whilst America points the finger at Bin Laden, who undoubtedly had SOMETHING to do with the attacks if not known to be directly responsible (although personally I reckon he probably was), they have actually used the very network they now seek to destroy to their own ends in the past, especially as concerns the war in Chechnya (where the rebels were trained by Afghan camps and which the CIA supported in their actions). IS THE WAR JUSTIFIED? Well, this rather depends on how you see the attack on Sept 11th. Let's assume that it was Al Qaeda and Bin Laden. That means the Taliban are harbouring a criminal who has killed many many innocent civilians and left 14 thousand children orphaned (media didn't say much about them, did they?). Or at least, that's how it seems. The truth there is, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are firmly intertwined simply because the Americans and others encouraged it to be that way back in the eighties. In which case, no, it wouldn't be justified, as the only possible motive for American retaliation would be to bring them both down, which would essentially allow free rein at the oil resources and give the Americans a stronger footing in the central Asian region...the Taliban do not respect the American government in the way that America rather hoped they would some years ago. It would seem then that the war is simply to strengthen the American position - terrorism happens even when there isn't a government to support it. Consider this - when they say, a war on 'terrorism& #39;, arguably they are talking about 'a regime that supports terrorism', the motivation behind which is clearly anti American feeling. If we just look at that evidence alone, then it seems an unjustified retaliation. However, that isn't the whole picture. The Taliban undoubtedly harbour the individuals who make the terrorism possible, and culture the fundamentalism which is contrary to Islam in the eyes of most people that says that the Western world is evil. The by-product of this is that the regime has developed into the harshest and most repressive regime on the planet. I was watching Gladiator last night, and although that ain't no historical document, they were probably right in their portrayal of one thing - the culture has changed little in two thousand years, the major change being that because they have no real economic stablility or connection that the country is hugely poor, relying solely on the remnants of the Golden Crescent drugs trade. This also means that the farmers aren't making any food, thus there is no internal economic growth, and the country gets poorer and poorer. Now you might say, surely they have enough troubles? It's surely immoral to bomb them when they are already living in a big crater of a country which has no infrastructure? Well, I would disagree. I think that as things stand, the Taliban have no intention of developing quickly an economically stable country - they hadn't done anything in five years anyway. They condone the drugs trade that they have condemned on certain forums simply because it keeps the repression going, as they are the only ones with money and power. Essentially, they know that their days are numbered and they are trying to cling on to power, and the inevitable suffering that comes from that falls onto the heads of the Afghan people. So when people speak of liberating Afghanistan, it's true in my opinion. Unlike in some African nations, there are the considerabl e resources to make Afghanistan a strong economic power, and to haul the people out of the dark ages. They have oil, which they could use to build a stronger economic infrastructure, in turn subsidising the production of food and not opium (which would help curb the international drug problem), and thus feed the people without resorting to international hand outs, or even the loans which have so crippled some other Third World nations. Islam isn't the target in any way either, because it can be respected that an Islamic country should remain governed as such, but there is no reason why it couldn't be democratic rather than a theotocratic dictatorship of a regime. Thus I would conclude that yes, even with civilian casualties, even with the occasional missed target, and even with the inevitable heartache and horrors of war, the outcome would be far far better without the Taliban than it would with. Just so long as the coalition against terrorism can resist exploiting Afghanistan once the Taliban falls and resist fighting each other about what should be in place their, which is my greatest concern. At the end of the day, if something worse ends up in Afghanistan, it benefits no one, but if the quality of life and the quality of the future for a resourceful and beautiful nation can be improved, then a war against oppression is certainly a good thing in my opinion. It doesn't matter whether Sept 11th was due to Osama Bin Liner or not, in my opinion it shouldn't matter first and foremost - also, maybe it should stop being an excuse for the attack, and the true reason should be made clearer. The (very unpopular) regime in Afghanistan has reached the point where it is worse in oppression than the Nazis, and if, as it seems, the country can be helped to its feet in a fair and careful way as to benefit the people, then that surely has to be a good cause to fight for.
I've been around a while on the site, and have seen several changes in the payment structure, all of which have been greeted with anything from blood curdling screams of rage to mild bleats of discontent, but all have worked out in the end. Lets be realistic folks, dooyoo is a pretty cushy number. I mean, we write stuff, about anything we give a damn about, and they give us money for it. Not loads, but it's money, and the odd slap up at Pizza Hut isn't exactly a bad thing. I'll be honest. When I first joined Dooyoo, I was thinking 'hey, I could make loads of money here, I can touch type stuff pretty quickly and can knock out 200 word reviews like nobodies business. If I get 5 or 6 reads, I'll only have to write about 100 ops before I'll be cashing in! I can write that easily...'. And lets face it, Dooyoo opinions don't crop up in web searches alas, you won't find the text of an op searchable in google (unless it's by one of those infernal plagiarists which I so hate as you probably know...) Now my reasons are very different. In six months I've only had 100 quid off the site, and have realised that I'm hardly going to be making a mint. At the end of the day, it can't be about that, can it? Unless 100 quid is the biggest fortune you've ever seen in your life (and for some of the kids who come on to copy and churn ops about Snoop Dog, Tony Hawk pro skater etc. etc. etc.) you probably realise that it's not the most profitable way to spend your time. At least not financially. Now I know you're probably thinking 'oh no, he's going to sod off into some diatribe about how it's for the good of the people and how it's about sharing and some namby pamby Disney-esque crap about philosophy and the good of the world etc. etc. etc. So you can take that bit as read. Mm'kay? I've spared you that pain :-) But consider this. The internet is a volatile environment in terms of finance; as much 'virtual' money is flung around as real money. That virtual value causes a big problem - it's hard to value potential. For example, the POTENTIAL of dooyoo is immense financially, because dange a carrot (money) in front of the rabbit (you and me) and you have a beautiful, beautiful harmony to sell to advertisers. You can say - 'here you go, here's a place where people are guaranteed to come back to time and time again, and attracts loads of visitors. Just imagine how much potential an advert can have....' You can probably write the Dooyoo sales pitch already, because as a site Dooyoo relies on the fact that humans are a bunch of gossiping tarts who really like having their voices heard! Well, scrub the bit about the tarts (unless you're talking about the jam kind, in which case, yes please!), but the gossip bit is true. In a sense, someone has realised that word of mouth has potential value, which means that people are attracted more than they might be to a message board. In business, it's called incentive. In rabbit terms, it's called 'carrot' (pronouced...'mnaaahhh....What's up doc?'. But that has to be framed by a realisation that the internet moves and changes as fast as the technology that runs it. Whilst this rapid change lends itself to more op writing categories, it means that advertisers are hard to pin down. The 'potential' is thus still there, but so much less accessible. The mistake that sites that make it onto the pages of www.f*ckedcompany.com (yeah, replace the * with a u when you look at it) have made is that they haven't ridden the storm that is this volatility...they don't plan their finances to cope with that. The trick is, you have to see the falls before they happen so that you balance on the e-tightrope that all these folks have to walk. Go look at that site, and see just how many companies h ave fallen over. Dooyoo is just another company, that has exactly the same potential to both succeed and fall over. It differs in one way though from the others - it has a genuine community that supports it online. And if we're going to support it, we have to do it for better and for worse. Who knows, the internet stock sector may rise again, and prosperity will reign once more at some point in the future. If dooyoo is there to see it, well, then you'll find your payment rate going from 3p to 5p again and maybe more. Survival is the most important thing though, and thus, however it's handled and however it's announced, we have to support the change in the knowledge that if we keep on supporting the site, it will go up again. Shock horror - much as thinking long term is abhorred by the technology sector, that's what we need to do if, as in the book of Dubya, Chapter 12, verse 16, 'we will prevail'. And one last thing. Stop sniggering. I'm trying to be serious!
From it's truly shocking and understated opening, to the electrifyingly harrowing end credits where the sole sound is a cell door slamming, The Circle is a portrayal of oppression and discrimination in hard line Islamic 'society', this is the kind of film that really makes you thank your lucky stars that we are able to take certain human rights for granted. It might certainly make some people think again about the recent attacks on the Taliban...the truth is, they are much worse to women than the administration in Iran which is the target of this film, and you leave with the overwhelming desire for truely empathising with these woman seeking liberation from such awful repression. Unsurprisingly, the Iranian authorities have banned this film from their people. Whilst the film is inherently political and has a huge social impact, it retains a sense of craft that pervades the images and lends to their power. Directed by relative newcomer Jafar Panahi, who has also said that he doesn't see it as being in essence political, the film focuses on the human aspects of the situation, never trivialising or banalising such views, and also, never really being 'feminist' in the sense that it's simply a film about human beings. And as such, along with Amelie it represents a real gem and a pleasure (although in a rather contrasting way to the French masterpiece) to watch which has been the hallmark of independent cinema this year. Most of you may know what I've thought of the Hollywood offerings this year... THE PLOT is relatively scarce because of Panahi's concentration on interpersonal relationships, but the film lacks nothing for this. It centres around the single day, although opening at the end of that day and then flashing back. We open in a hospital, the first line being 'it's a girl'. Ordinarily, the moment of childbirth being an incredibly happy one, the film takes us into a new dimension - th e reaction to these four words is truly astonishing and jaw dropping. 'But...the ultrasound said it would be a boy?!'. The new grandmother is certain that the parents of her daughters husband will demand divorce for this sin - having a daughter. This shocking opening (and believe me, the first three minutes will have you amazed) shifts straight to the streets of Tehran, where two women are trying to place a phone call having been released from prison. We do not know their crimes - we do not care...their desperation is obvious - Nargess is dying to see her childhood home in the idyllic countryside, where she grew up and has the few happy memories she can remember. The other woman, who we learn is called Arezou, is dying for a fag. After various incidents they are pulled apart, having been insulted on the street mercilessly, and wander their seperate ways, to find lost friends - and through this, many more women are drawn into the fold, this group of oppressed people trying to get to safety - everything from prostitutes (a capital crime) to a divorced cinema clerk who has conversations with people when she is selling tickets. Thus we follow the story of this single day, a brief but altogether telling amount of time in which things become so crystal clear. THE ACTING is phenomenal. Mariam Palvin Almani plays Arezou with a compassion and determination that is also perfectly restrained by the society around her, and is utterly believable. One imagines because she has experience of the oppression shown. Equally impressive is Nargess Mamizadeh who perfectly characterises the heartfelt desire Nargess has to escape to her childhood - a certain melancholia perhaps, but one that is totally understandable in her circumstance. As with Amelie though, the rest of the cast is forgettable, not in the sense that they are bad, far from it - in the sense that the escapism and power of the film is such that it really transcends the cinema screen. THE CINEM ATOGRAPHY is equally extraordinary. Unlike Amelie, which relied on a picture-postcard imagery of Paris with all the cracks of modern society papered over, Panahi goes for bright, crisp clear imges which thus convey an extraordinary realism. Tehran is not portrayed as a bustling cultural melange which is the stuff of Judith Chalmers and Wish you were Here: instead, everything is as is...car horns are obtrusive and grating, the dust and grime of the city reminds one of images of poverty stricken areas in New York. The whole atmosphere serves as an intimidation to the audience, an intimidation justified in the sense that it really connects one empathetically to the characters which often have little plot associated with them. THE DIRECTION adds to this. Panahi concentrates on the things that Muslim women are supposed to be conservative about - many shots are close ups of the faces, which have a mournful beauty to them very reminiscent of Eastern cinema. At times, the characters don the Chador (the clothes you see the women in Afghanistan wearing) which covers everything...but underneath you know there is the caged bird that longs to escape. They wear these clothes only to comply with the male dominated society that represses them, for their own safety, not for religious reasons in their own mind. Often, we hear voices but do not hear their origin, which is jarring as it disconnects us from otherwise simple understanding - we cannot tell the emotion, we cannot read the body language, all the standard human subconcious communication paths are cut. The visual tricks that Panahi uses like this make up the really emotionally drawing element to the film - it is utterly riveting from start to finish. You dare not take your eyes from the screen for the same fear that the women are permanently watching their back. And the pace is extraordinary, considering the fact there is so little in terms of plot or structure - everything cracks along at a frightening bustle. The camera pans smoothly around, never resorting to truly unusual angles or sudden movements - this is cinema at its most artistic and measured. Austere perhaps, but that isn't the semblance I had watching this film - it just takes a certain effort to really connect with it. The MUSIC AND SOUND are used to equal effect - there is very little in the way of music which is mostly traditional Iranian folk music, but that lends an immediacy to the images that helps the clarity enormously. For my taste, I think it could have used a little more just to help certain long takes (many scenes are four or five minute montages) but it's only a minor niggle. The sound effects are incredible - the cell door at the end being the obvious one. As we come to the end of the film, everything comes full circle and we return to the hospital, where the birth is about to take place - we know what is going to happen already, and when that door slams the finality and immediacy of what we know is to come is hugely powerful and the fact that we have ended up where we started is hugely effective. OVERALL this is not a nice film. If you want to see a nice easy piece of escapism that really could be Hollywood at it's finest, the go and see Amelie. If you can stomach stronger stuff that really will affect you deeply, and you can appreciate the implications of this neo-realist film, then it's for you...but it's not one to take the kids to. The underlying metaphor - quest for a goal that is never attained eg. an abortion, a childhood melancholy, or a cigarette (hence the circle - it's almost 'what goes around comes around' but cruelly inverted - 'the circle' is the name of the location of the meeting point in the film) - is central, pervasive, and omnipresent in this film - which stands as possibly the finest film in recent years from the East and Bollywood in terms of maturity and stature. If you can take it - a must see. Then consi der the women in Afghanistan and see if you think we should liberate them or not... Dir. Jafar Panahi Iran, 2000 In Farsi with English subtitles (that ISN'T a big deal, before you go 'I don't like films with subtitles!')
I’ve had the distinctly delicious pleasure to bash various movies that I’ve seen this year, which, by all accounts, has been a torrid one for Hollywood. Not only have the events in America led directly to the shortening of box office returns and the pulling of certain ‘insensitive’ flicks, but there has also been numerous strikes by the Screen Actors Guild and various other minor bodies (but they don’t get any coverage, surprise surprise…I mean for example, the gaffer’s association (the electricians in non-biz speak) didn’t work for about three weeks, and nobody exactly held the front pages, now did they? And when the salaries drop, so does the quality (but amazingly, NOT the budgets! It just means the average 100 million dollar movie has about $1.34 of thought…or originality…or wit…or charm…or intrigue…or quality…or…or…er…that’s enough gripes :-) ). And in such times where the doctrine of mediocrity is preached from every executive’s pulpit/office, then one has to do the incredible and look to…. The French. (or the Italians in 1989, but that was a minor exception) One has to seek out a film from the otherwise murky outhouse that is the art cinema section, you know, the kind of film that goes straight to video and gathers dust underneath the desk of the video shop…but, most extraordinarily, it just occasionally produces a cinematic experience of real value. Such previous successes in this genre of miniature phoenix-like proportions include Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (best musical of all time aside West Side Story, both of which could also use Andrew Lloyd Webber’s pathetic manuscripts as loo paper), Jean de Florette (come on, don’t say you didn’t know where that harmonica tune comes from in the Stella ads…) and the other Marcel Pagnol delight La Gloire de Mon Pere (which if you have n’t seen it, DO!). And, taking a proud place on this list, another is Amelie. This is another fine effort from Jean Pierre Jeunet, he of the excellent but rather flawed Delicatessen, whose cinematographic style is to examine, analyze, and generally screw around with the world through the viewpoint of the ‘abnormal’ people in our society, abnormal in the sense of the socially inept. Not by self-fault it has to be said, the central role of Amelie comes from a child whose mother kills herself and whose father is a garden-gnome loving health inspector without any desire for emotional contact between the shy and seemingly bizarre offspring. In her alienation from the social world she builds her own, discovering facets that could not be seen by anyone else but that which are unique to her, unique to the moment. It is often said mockingly that ‘little things please little minds’, but here Amelie shows us that less is more, and her delight in the mundane existence she leads transforms it into a colourful and esoterically stimulating environment. The plot revolves around a typically French tale of romance, in the sense that the leading character is hopeless at her own love life but is expert at engineering the most deliciously abject matches between the equally hopeless folk around her that have the uncanny ring of success every time. She finally snares Kassovitz, who plays an excellent role alongside a scene stealing Tautou, as Nino Quincampoix (a sex shop owner who passes his free time collecting call box cards), but on the way the film passes through the events of recent times such as Princess Di’s car accident, through discussion of hard core sex and its implements, through heart attacks, and other delights that permeate Gallic film. Pornography? Not at all. The whole plot is presented in a fast paced, almost quasi homage to cartoons that were the hallmark in Delicatessen. The cinematography is extraor dinary – visit Montmartre for real, and believe me it doesn’t look like this! This is Paris on a postcard, the artist’s impression, Amelie’s impression even of a world that has to contain good and can erase the bad. The colours are extraordinary, never twice the same, unlike the artist who paints the same scene of the Seine time after time. It effuses a fascination with the cinema and its power that I’ve only ever seen before in a film like Cinema Paradiso. Indeed, one scene plays a hilarious homage to that film with, instead of a montage of kiss scenes as in Giuseppe Tornatore’s masterpiece, there is a montage of orgasm scenes, which is both exhilaratingly bold and hilariously funny (the last sigh has to be heard to be believed!). Newcomer Audrey Tautou is utterly captivating in her role, with such a strength of characterization that she holds up the movie and forces you to watch her, even in the most cringe-worthy, bottom-clenchingly embarrassing situations. Her delicate approach to the role is quite commendable in a part that was originally conceived for another…her fascination at each individual moment is utterly palpable, and totally credible, especially in the occasional silly moment that rather marrs the otherwise flawless script. Mathieu Kassovitz is a strong actor, who as I said before, has to work very hard against Tautou. However, that results in the fact that his performance too is really interesting, although lacking the sheer detail of the character of Amelie. The other cast is all excellent if nondescript…you don’t remember them in the sense that they are totally believable in their roles to not need recognition…you don’t sit there thinking ‘that particular actor’s good’ because, like any GOOD film (remember them? Hollywood haven’t made any this year!), you’ve completely forgotten the fact that you’re in the cinema. Much of the film is superbly narrated, which means there isn’t much subtitle squinting to do, and CERTAINLY no appalling dubbing. But even if there had been, it wouldn’t have mattered at all. The musical score, whilst being typically French (drag that accordion player and drown him in La Seine, somebody, please!)…is charming in it’s own way, with a delicate and deft touch it does strengthen the drama a lot whilst never becoming twee like so much comedy film music. Jeunet’s direction is unobtrusive but omnipresent, mostly lending himself to the style and pace of the film, but also in the construction of the characters and their interaction…there are some priceless scenes where very little is said but everything is understood and wonderfully funny. And, in some ways, that’s all I’d like to tell you about this film – some people have recently said that I write my ops a bit long, which is fair I think. So, in the brevity of thirteen hundred words I hope I do justice to the film, except also to say that if you able to appreciate pure escapism, hilarious comedy, and real quality acting, then you’ll adore what you are about to see. This film begs the question – why aren’t BRITISH film makers working at this quality level? Why do we always have to put up with Guy Ritchie ‘gangstas from sarf Lahndon’ shite? Why do we tolerate mediocrity on the BBC? Forget the fact that it’s French art house. Forget the fact that Hollywood has churned out a whole heap of humbug this year (pardon the awful alliteration there!). Forget the in-’duh’-viduals like Germaine Greer who, in their utter lack of knowledge or taste in the cinema, come out with crap like saying ‘it’s anti feminist, politically incorrect, doesn’t have any messages about women being the stronger sex’, the same people who criticize Ally McBeal for being anti feminist. Forget the people who canR 17;t appreciate quality like this. Grab a bag of popcorn, and head on in for two hours that will make you forget the approaching winter, war in Afghanistan, atrocities in America, and all the low points of recent days; and let yourself be cheered and thrilled by this wonderful feelgood movie. Please. Go see. NOW! Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, Le Written, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet Miramax, rated R in the States so I expect it’ll be a 15. Runtime – 120 minutes. B/W and Colour.
INTRODUCTION It's hard to write an objective opinion on a subject like this. Consider the fact that every one of us has probably been guilty of judging the character of a complete stranger because of some defining characteristic that they had no power over, like skin colour or sex. We probably didn't mean it in the sense that we wouldn't go out of our way to insult, degrade, or abuse that person because of that fact, but in all honesty, we're all racist to a degree. Or that is, if the misuse of the word racism is to be believed. More on that in a moment. Curiously, that prejudgement isn't something we can do anything about. Consider this - in Darwinian genetics, survival of the fittest also entails distrust of outsiders. Certain species have been shown to react more violently when a specimen of a different species was introduced, but when a similar specimen to the first creature was introduced, any territorial disputes settle quicker. Also, among many species, an albino baby is often rejected by the mother - owls being a prime example, but there are many others. There isn't any other defect aside pigmentation in that young, but distrust of the unknown leads to even a less intelligent being falling back on it as a natural character trait. That prejudging is thus a crucial part of the natural defence system. What you don't know MIGHT hurt you, so to be wary is to be wise. Thus, this category heading and the saying 'I'm not racist, but...' is actually thoroughly misleading. Most people aren't racist because they don't put that natural prejudgement into a tangible manifestation. We judge things because that's part of what we are as an animal. So it is maybe pertinent to here include a definition of what racism ACTUALLY means. I've searched around a bit, and by far the best comes from The ICERD (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) - <br>“Any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, or any other field of public life.” So then, a crucial point has been defined here. Racism is NOT, walking down the street thinking, 'bloody whites/blacks/asians'. Racism IS when that thought turns into a tangible manifestation. That might be in the form of BNP members hurling verbal abuse at asylum seekers - or that might be in the opposite spectrum, the Holocaust. Whilst that spectrum is justifiably vast, there is strong argument there to suggest that it really doesn't matter in terms of defining racism. So, lets dispel this 'I'm not racist but...' crap and get on with the real issues. TANGIBLE DISCRIMINATION is what is actually wrong when we say 'racism'. In the simplest form, at a job interview, if the hiring decision is made solely on the basis that one person is of Pakistani origin and one person is of English, then that is clearly tangible and clearly immoral. The problem inherent here is that this discrimination is so easy to hide. This is where the natural prejudgement is allowed to become the defining judgement of character in terms of a direct relationship, rather than measured opinion and objective reasoning. There is only one way you can actually stop that - by education. NOT the usual education stuff where you learn about other cultures (that helps but not really - just because you know something about a culture, you are disassociated from it because one is then consistently comparing it to one's own.) The education required in schools is to create the mindset that in the same way that in an essay you would back up your points with evidence, you should b ack up your subjective opinions with objective reasoning. It's where subjects like English should really play a role, demanding of students that they strongly justify opinions as opposed to loosely reasoning around a problem. Debate about any subject increases our need to work objectively - the notion of confrontation allows the natural desire to win to clarify the thought processes and help that person come to reasoned opinions. Which all helps to guard against 'judging the book by the cover'. MEDIA INFLUENCE is thus also very important, especially with the young, but really in all of us. The old adage 'you shouldn't believe everything you read in the newspaper' is surprisingly true. Part of the education of kids in this country should include teaching them how to discern opinion from fact, and how to discern where manipulative language is obscuring the full truth. Most people don't seem to realise the extent this happens...if you want to have a big surprise in this extent, wait until a particularly juicy political story crops up and compare the articles in the broadsheets and the tabloids. It is quite extraordinary how a simple story can be altered without changing the facts to put across an opinion that merely masquerades as news. And because it masquerades as news, we naturally let our guard down, invoking a built in trust of that which is media establishment. This relates to race issues in a surprisingly strong way. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword - some pens are more mighty than others. Single acts of terrorism, like that perpetrated in New York recently, do nothing to help the cause of what is fundamentally a 'racist' attack (directed at Americans for being American). However, they grow and grow through the dissemination of printed material, which is infinitely more persuasive than the taking of human lives. It is thus the moral responsibility of those who occupy positions of power in media enter prises to take the lead in neutralising the printed word of inciteful and misleading articles and concentrating on the facts...or at least having an understanding of how to split opinion from fact and doing so clearly. THERE IS a universality to tangible racial discrimination that is also often overlooked. That is, until it rears it's ugly head and every one tries to deny it as best they can. And that is - democracy itself is the most prone of any social climate to racial discrimination. Think about it this way - democracy demands that the 'needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few', to quote a bit from Star Trek...but more that the majority should be the path taken after an equal and fair vote. Now juxtapose that with the fact that it is always minorities that are discriminated against. Whilst I don't want to examine the somewhat paradoxical nature of these two statements, consider Zimbabwe, if you will - where white farmers have been partially the target of attacks from black workers and the government. Is that racist? Debatable - blacks were attacked too, but surely there is an inherent nature to this description that prejudges in the way that I described above? For example, the mere fact that I had to refer to the two groups of 'white' and 'black' is one kind of that prejudging. However - I'm not being racist because there is no tangible effect of that, merely from a statement of fact. SO, after these miscellaneous mental ramblings, here, in CONCLUSION are my main thoughts on how we need to approach the ideas of racism and what that word means. Well...this is the tough one. We define people by physical characteristics simply because that is in our nature to do so. We define Britain as 'multiracial' because of our own prejudgemtns and fixation with defining ethnic groups. All we can then hope is that we can teach our children to not let first impressions or the phy sical be more important than the objective and reasoned opinions that are drawn from experience of the world. And also, to teach them that above all, Britain needs to be a human society, not a multiracial one - in the sense that seeing it as such is unnecessary. That doesn't mean give up all notions of multiculturalism which imbues our society with character, it means not seeing that as something that needs to be an issue - just a fact of the world that we live in. Problem is, that really means racism is here to stay, because there will always be those situations where as fallible creatures we allow our judgement to be marred to easily. Fortunately, we are also a species that learns, and in that learning surely lies the key to conquering discrimination in modern society.
One of my most enlightening conversations of my life was with a film composer by the name of Ennio Morricone, being the guy who wrote that spaghetti western tune that you know from The Good the Bad and the Ugly (sic. dayayayaaaaa....weiow weiow weiow...I'm getting so one of this silly things appears in every one of my film ops! How else do I write here how it goes? Just think Lee Van Cleef/Clint Eastwood with a damn big cigar and a poncho and you have it) Anyway, that which he told me was - "Nobody sets out to make a bad movie...but then again, nobody set out to elect Richard Nixon, so you can tell how good nobodys' judgement is...". I've always thought that was rather clever. However, when I watched this film, I seriously questioned it...I mean, someone thought this was good? OK, maybe I'm a demanding punter. This movie isn't all bad by any means, just it could have been so much better...such a waste. Ho-hum. *whistles* What, you want to read a review of it? Oh, go on then. THE PLOT (outlined anyway, and sorry for brevity, I can't make up any more than was there!) Take a few gangs in Los Angeles (where else, I mean, talk about a cheap location!), and throw in a few Japanese import sports cars. Except, they've been 'suped' up a bit. Ok, they've been 'suped' up a lot. They're fast. And furious. Oh yes. And now for the painful bit... Have you seen West Side Story? Or any other Romeo/Juliet related article? Surely, not another, I mean what self respecting writer thinks thats an original plot? Hard luck. I expect you could write the plot yourself now, without having ever seen the movie, and you'd be pretty damn accurate too! Throw in Officer Krupke - OK, so not him, it's actually a subplot about an undercover police officer who infiltrates the group... Do you ever get the feeling that you're in the wrong job? An yway, the plot is supposedly based on a magazine article about real-life gangs who do this kind of stuff. If this movie is anything to go by, they lead pretty dull and flat lives though. ACTORS The undercover cop role, Brian Spindler (what a pathetic name for a movie character!) is played by Paul Walker - rather unkindly referred to in Hollywood as "don't call me Keanu" Walker..for reasons that will become instantly apparent. His acting is worse though...so wooden you'd expect to be able to tap for rubber from it! From the moment he turns up in the film to the moment he sods off at the end, you'll be thoroughly unimpressed. His character seems to yearn to be part of the scene that he is supposed to be infiltrating impartially, and that isn't helped by his boss, who is a cross between every single police chief ever portrayed on screen, and Springfield's very own Chief Wiggum. Spindler rather takes to driving the cars and is torn between quitting and joining the gangs or doing his job. Sounds like a TV reject script, and add to that the fact that Walker simply does not have the charisma to carry off the no-brained role he's dished up here, although maybe I'm missing the point...but he's no Mel Gibson. Anyway, his character is taken under the auspices of master of the workshop where the modifications are done, Dominic Toretto. Another silly name, I mean, 'Dominic'? Not exactly one 'bad-assed' name is it? Oh, well, maybe I'm prejudging it. He is played by Vin Diesel, and no, that's not me taking the p*ss, it's really the name of the actor. Seriously! And in fact, he puts in the most credible performance of this picture, despite looking hopelessly out of place because of it. He was the actor who was memorable in underrated sci-fi horror flick Pitch Black, where he put in a rounded performance with some semblance of characterisation and flair, but here he seems as if he is onl y TRYING to, and somehow never getting into gear, if you pardon the pun. Other notables include 'Faculty' star Jordana Brewster as the ubiquitous blonde chick who always pops up to play Juliet. I mean, sorry, 'Mia', who just happens to be the sister of 'Dominic'. To be fair, she is a good actress and again the role she is given is about as meaty as the average Linda McCartney dish, but she doesn't exactly push the role. I can't remember anything particularly good to say, which normally I can, so she wasn't exactly spectacular, aside in the mammary department... As to the supporting cast, I can't rememeber their names. I also don't think they merited going to IMDB and checking. Which says it all. SOME GOOD POINTS Enough whingeing for a bit. There are some good sides to this movie, that if you like 'this' kind of thing, might attract you to part with that grubby fiver. The 'best actor' laurels...go to the cars...which look great...the stunts are, yes, very good indeed. Full marks to veteran Mic Rodgers for that - well, he did do the 'stunts' for Titanic too, as well as loads of other good stuff. In fact, the studio should pay him a hefty bonus, because without them, this film would be destined for Christmas Lunch. The whole film is directed OK by Rob Cohen (of the utterly shite The Skulls 'fame'), although it isn't exactly Orson Welles. The direction is very much in terms of the action as opposed to characterisation or nuance, of which there is none in this movie. The cinematographic style is very much akin to a music video - indeed the pumping soundtrack sometimes makes you realise that that is what this film is - a glorified...well OK, enlarged MTV montage. Tracks are provided by such 'luminaries' as DMX, Method Man, and Santana, no doubt for an album to cash on the quick buck to be made. Artistic? No chance. Popular? Probably, with the rig ht marketing. And for what it is, it succeeds. OVERALL If you like the no-brainer genre of film making, this is probably up your alley - it contains enough eye candy to keep anyone happy I suppose for the requisite 110 minutes, but you will be left with this overwhelming sense of - 'big deal'. You'll be looking for the book during the non-automobile related scenes. Another recent film that dealt with very similar subject matter was Gone in 60 seconds, which was buoyed by the presence of Nicholas Cage. And also by the fact that it wasn't completely crass in places. Lower your expectations under 'the limbo bar of quality' and you won't be disappointed: however, I'd recommend Top Gear as basically the same thing with a little more interest added for good measure. If you really like this kind of stuff, go see...otherwise rent it while you're drunk one Friday night and you might appreciate it. Pearl Harbor should have been left in dry dock. Likewise, "Fast and Furious" should have had the garage door padlocked. Enough said.
I don't feel I need to say too much about the exact facts of what has occurred over the last day or so. You'd have had to be on another planet to not know of the destruction of the WTC, the semi-destruction of the Pentagon, and the death, inevitably, of thousands of people. I was glued to my screen like you were yesterday. When I turned on - I genuinely thought I must have found a Hollywood movie that I hadn't seen before...it was only when I saw the CNN logo in the corner (the BBC had bought the footage) I realised it was for real. Once all is said and done regarding the rescue, once the rhetoric has been given a good airing, and once people begin to rebuild shattered lives or just scarred ones, there are a few questions that have, as yet, gone relatively unanswered, pertaining to the results of this attack. All the ops in this category so far are on the general details of what happened. I thought I'd have a way more interesting op if I outlined my thoughts on what will be the long-term effects of this on YOU, so here they are. Curiously, they might change your reaction to what should be done...as some of them have serious consequences for us if the 'war on terrorism' becomes just that? 1. RECESSION Everyone knows that at the moment the American economy has seen a sharp downturn. This has been as a result of prosperation amongst the American people - consumer confidence has been high, and thus spending levels have been up, as the average income has also risen. Because of this, the economy in the States has been steadily growing throughout the Clinton administration. However, in the year before Bush was 'elected' (!) the economy began slowing. The federal reserve has cut interest rates to try and curb this, and also prevent a recession. This seemed to have worked - although it was not growing very fast, it was still growing. That was, until yesterday. One of the direct consequences of the attac k will be to increase the tensions in the Middle East, because the US is a strong supporter of Israel, which has been at the centre of most of recent conflicts. This in turn, make trading more difficult, and have one crucial effect...it will raise the price of oil (which has already been rising). As the price of oil rises, consumer spending will fall as people have to pay more at the pump - this effect is always noticeable (more so in the States where the fuel price is about a quarter of what we fork out in England - a tiny price rise to them costs their economy big time and is hugely noticeable to the public.) It is alas, consumer spending that will often determine whether we enter recession or not...in 1990 (the last time the US faced recession after Iraq invaded Kuwait) because the oil prices soared and consumers spent a lot less. That led to a few years of negative growth - recession. The question is, will it do it now? The answer is probably yes, or certainly I think so. Firstly, Japan (the Nikkei) has already plunged, which will just stoke up fears further. Also, it partially depends on what military action the USA decides on (if it involves the use of cruise missiles against eastern targets as after the bombing of the African US Embassies) then there is serious problems...a reason for moderation in the initial rhetoric maybe? Alas, in the cry for vengeance might lie the cause of what would turn out to be a bigger problem - especially if America has a recession on the scale of the 1930's, although that is unlikely...so a word of caution to all those who want to start a war against terrorism maybe? For you to decide. Whilst terrorism should be eradicated, it must be done with extreme care that we don't harm the lives of more innocent people in our own countries as well as those abroad. HOW IT WOULD AFFECT US - we are the strongest link between Europe and the US, and the fact that we are not in the Euro is probably a good thing as a nything affecting them might just multiply the problems. We can still control our own interest rates to our own ends, and thus might avoid following the US down into recession. However, oil prices are going to rise, and the problem will be seeing if that is enough on its own. I believe that NOW is the time for the government to drop the tax on fuel by 6 or 7p, which will boost consumer confidence in this country, negate the effects of the oil price rise, and stop us entering recession. They could put it back up gradually if revenues would suffer from it, but that sacrifice is a worthy one to bolster the economy in my mind. 2. MILITARY ACTION It is likely that as an ally of the US, our military will be involved closely in any action taken...and one thing is certain, action will be taken. In an ABC news poll of 10,000 americans, 86% of them thought that taking military action against the countries where the terrorist factions were based (eg. Afghanistan for Osama Bin Laden if he carried it out) was absolutely the right thing to do. All similar poll were equally lop-sided. I quote from the comments given to the poll... "The world is going to judge us now on what we do and how we react," said Guy Torrey, 59, a real estate broker in Reno, Nevada. "And I think we should act a lot heavier than we have in the past. We're going to have to live with the history, so we need to get it right. But still, this is retribution day. If it doesn't come, it's over for us as a world power." "I would support a complete slaughter," said Todd Niebling, 20, of Portland, Oregon. "If we got into a war, that's fine. You have to do what you have to do." Unequivocal stuff! HOW IT WOULD AFFECT US - deployment of military action as an ally to the US would a)make us a target, b) cost us money in raised taxes and c)put our armed forces in the line of fire. All those are probably ri sks that are worth taking when you watch the carnage on the news, but this will be the big bone of contention...it might also determine whether Bush gets a second term, even whether Blair gets a third. Thus - it will affect us massively. 3. MISCELLANEOUS EFFECTS Other smaller effects include the tightening of immigration controls in many countries, possibly including the UK. This is because any military action will create refugees that will, if the current laws stay, flood into Britain, making the current forays at the Euro tunnel look like tea parties. If we keep our lax asylum controls the way they are, we'll probably get the majority of say, people fleeing Afghanistan. Now, I'm all for giving asylum to people, so long as it's spread out equally among European countries and that no single country bears the brunt (as we are doing now). On average, 68% of those who are DECLINED asylum in this country don't ever get deported, and just disappear. The downshot of this is increased racial tension as has been seen in Oldham and other areas, as racists like the BNP will start victimising those they think shouldn't be here. Expect more problems like that hitting the news in the near future. Tightening of airport controls will be inevitable, especially on domestic flights. The downside to this is airline prices may rise, as consumer confidence will inevitably decline after this, which may spell the end in the long term for super low cost airlines like EasyJet. Not necessarily, just a possiblity, made more likely with the almost inevitable threat of recession. CONCLUSION And finally, thousands of lives will be forever scarred by the events of yesterday. The human cost will probably never be known. The almost prophetic words of Franklin D Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor may put this into perspective. Dec. 7 in Pearl Harbor, "a date which will live in infamy,"..."Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us," ..."No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again."
You do, very occasionally, have to credit multinational corporations with extreme common sense. Shocking? Well, in this case, no, because you can see that they were merely thinking of money in their grubby paws, but fortunately, the exercise in 'cashing in' has led to the availability of one of the most fantastically gorgeous mouthfuls of pure golden silk that ever came from a supermarket. You see, about a year ago, Oz Clarke recommended a wine like he had no other - it was 'scrumptious...zings across your palate like a angel-sent bullet, it really is the most fabulous wine I have ever tasted for the price!'. Next day, surprise surprise, Tesco had sold out of said wine...mainly because most Tesco's have only one or two bottles of it. It hadn't been popular before because it was a little more expensive than other wines on offer and most people don't bother reaching for the top shelf of wine (sounds pornagraphic doesn't it? Well, I did say it was an orgasmic wine!) The wine in question was the 1998 Shiraz by Tim Adams, an Australian winemaker hitherto unknown in this country. He is based in a tiny vineyard in the Clare Valley, which I had had the honour of visiting with a friend - and already knew how wonderful the wines were, when Oz Clarke managed to quadruple UK sales in two minutes on TV. The vineyard is set in this rolling area just east of the bigger Hunter Valley (where some heavenly buttery chardonnays originate from), which is surprisingly small - 30kms long and 15kms wide containing no less than 20 wineries(!) - it is hard to see how so much fine wine can come from such an area, but he is a master vigneron keen on keeping up certain practices (GM free for example, totally organic too) and is a massive conservationist as well. And to top it all, he's an incredibly nice guy who will happily welcome you in into his house and let you taste all the wines on offer. He and his wife (who is a great cook) do an op en door cellar on some days with food and wine tasting included for about a tenner! Now to the wine. Uncorking the minimalist and stylishly simply labelled bottle (real cork by the way, none of this plastic nonsense!), the nose of the wine hits you instantly. Now, a good Shiraz should almost have a mint like smell - very green, with a menthol aroma. You might be thinking 'bollocks! It hasn't got mint in it, he's just trying to look clever like that Jilly Goolden woman!'...if you were the sort of person who laughed at her (I was too!) then buy this wine and be amazed how you can actually pick out the flavours and smells like they do! This wine smells perfect - it's gutsy and yet not outrageous, it pushes itself right to the limit (any more gutsy and it wouldn't be so great!) but it manages to be totally wonderful at the same time. And then you drink it. Orgasm describes it well - the flavour is an intensely fruity, dark, rich wine - the fruit is very much like ripe blackcurrents and mulberries, but with a certain spice that some describe as being rather like cloves, but I can't get that - just a warmth that is like drinking rum on a winter's night. I can't think of words enough to describe the flavour properly, it really is so fantastic and balanced and gorgeous and wonderful and delicious and hearty and bold and... It goes brilliantly with roast beef. Enough said, drink it and you will be smitten, I promise...even the 8 quid asking price will seem utterly reasonable! The wine has won several awards, most notably a gold award from the International Wine Festival and various other accolades. If you get the chance to visit, you will be able to try the 'God' of Shiraz - which is amazingly EVEN better than this wine - the 'Aberfeldy' Shiraz...it don't come cheap in the bottle though (it costs about 60 quid, yes, sixty, to get a bottle to the UK as no-one bothers to distrib ute it over here. To get hold of it, you need to pop to your local Tesco - and if it isn't on the shelf, just ask and they may well have some in stock - otherwise they will be happy to let you know when it's coming back. You can buy it online from a few places, but I have no experience of that yet - I will report back on the best sources! To get hold of the Aberfeldy, then get down to your local Thomas Cook, it ain't coming any other way! Seriously though, if you like young wines, if you like any wine, and you want a wonderful drinking experience that will put you in a jolly good mood...then buy a bottle of this. It's the ultimate romantic's wine as well - it's potent (but not overly so) and utterly memorable... and within a short space of time you'll find that it has disappeared and you'll be yearning for another bottle... Your tastebuds will love you for the rest of your life.
"Mwa ha ha ha ha!!!" thought the wizened old Dooyoo pro as his/her fingers quivered so much on the worn down mouse that it almost shuddered off the fateful button..."the op was good" she/he muttered under her/his breath, and with a lick of the glistening lips he/she added "but NOT good enough for ME!!!!"...and, little by little, the blue box of destiny settled over the dreadful words...... "SOMEWHAT USEFUL!" And with that, the wizened pro headed off to find more delectable morsels of tasty usefulness.... _______________________ OK, so I'm being a little silly here, but I do reckon that some ratings are given by the viewer lobbing darts in a dart board, and only NOT giving a Very Useful when the point hits the bullseye... A tendency to be over-generous maybe, but certainly we are a tolerant lot when it comes to rating. And why not? It is only a website after all, I mean, it's not like this is the be-all and end-all of journalistic excellence... Well no...it isn't. However, a lot of people put a little bit of effort into the site, some put a lot in, and the only gesture of thanks that we can really show them is by rating their work honestly and fairly. That way, the good ops get read and viewed by visitors who might actually be about to buy the products. They also get viewed by the manufacturers, I bet you - who wouldn't? I mean, FREE market research? Guaranteed advertising potential from opinionated customers who are willing to share their knowledge with only a small reward? So, in essence, we owe it to the continuation of the site to rate honestly, because at the end of the day the more trustworthy the internet community finds the information here, the better that Dooyoo will do financially, and thus we'll all be able to keep on earning a few quid here and there in the name of sharing of information and gathering knowledge. That HAS to be good, I mean, y ou never got paid to write your GCSE's, did you?! Here you have it then - the compleat guide to rating an op...up and at 'em! There are, as you probably know by now (or maybe you don't!), 4 rating levels - VERY USEFUL - abbreviated to VU USEFUL - abbr. to U SOMEWHAT USEFUL - abbreviated to SU NOT USEFUL - shortened to NU. You rate by clicking the drop down menu at the bottom of the op, selecting the rating level you choose, and then clicking the 'doo it' button, whereupon the screen will reload, your browser will return you to the top of the opinion, and the rating is saved. You can re-rate at any time, merely by clicking on a new rating and clicking 'doo it' again. ONE MAJOR POINT THAT CANNOT BE STRESSED ENOUGH - THE RATINGS HAVE NOTHING, REPEAT, NOTHING TO DO WITH WHETHER YOU AGREE OR NOT WITH THE SENTIMENTS EXPRESSED...if you feel SO strongly against something, then don't rate it if it's that bad...it's your choice. However, it the position is well-argued then rating it NU because you don't agree is against the site policy and you might find people disliking you very quickly! _______________________ VERY USEFUL "covers every aspect of the subject in considerable depth, and makes both the positive and negative aspects perfectly clear. You would make a purchasing decision based on this opinion." Dooyoo.co.uk ethos. This is what Ciao has to say about 'very helpful' ops - the equivalent for you folks from C who have migrated (or even those with dual citizenship!) "An excellent, well informed and very useful opinion" Put those together and you have an op that covers very nearly or all the points that it needs to cover to leave a potential buyer in no doubt either way as to what the product does and whether it is worth it or not - or certainly with a clearer mind on the product. For ops that are more creati ve based or personal, it represents an op that is well written (that can mean many things - an op that has atrocious spelling but is totally from the heart and makes for wonderful reading is still probably VU), well argued (i.e with no contradictions!), covers the ground well, and makes you think about the subject in a clear way. Here are a set of criteria for very useful ops - if it fulfils several of these and is not noticeably or irritatingly deficient in one aspect in particular then it's probably got to have that VU! - Spelling/Grammar/Layout basically perfect, any errors don't interrupt the flow or sense of the op. - Honest - written by a person who clearly knows and understands the product/subject at hand and actually gives enough of a damn to make sure that they pass that on to others without making things up or missing things that they know are important out... - Comprehensive - nothing obviously missing from the op (like some reference to the subject!), and enough depth of detail to make sure that a potential buying decision is perfectly possible from that op alone - Balanced - Positive AND negatives presented...(not EVERYONE likes something, if you can't think of negatives yourself, research a little - if someone presents NO counter-arguments, how do you know that the opinion is complete...?) - Enjoyable - that certain spark when you read an op and know exactly what that person is talking about, empathy almost; even if you never use the product you would trust what they are saying (this one is hard to put in words, but you'll know what I mean when you find it) There are probably more I could add, but I think these cover the important things well enough. Now onto - _______________________ USEFUL "a good opinion which states the case clearly but perhaps focuses too much on a single aspect of the topic. You might make a pur chasing decision based on this opinion, but you'd look for more information first." Dooyoo "A useful opinion containing a good amount of relevant information" Ciao NB....the second word. GOOD. You do NOT have to apologize to someone for this rating - you're telling them their op is GOOD! Since when is that an insult? Many ops recieve VU's which really should be U's. Again, our tendency to be generous is our own undoing - if we give people top marks all the time, then we make a mockery of our own rating system! Using the same criteria as before, this op might fulfil just one of them, with only little bits of others. It might be interesting and cover many good points, but it might miss out something major. Or it might be quite short and thus not cover all the ground that an opinionated person SHOULD cover! Or the spelling might be SO awful that it's just impossible to make sense of. Or it might just be average...you know, the kind of op where you think, "Yeah, but I could find that out anywhere". A VU op, unlike a U op, has to have that spark that sets it out from the fire...it has to have something personal which can't be found in a magazine or a book, or on the net, or whatever. Rating U doesn't denigrate or insult an op, it merely sets apart the good from the outstanding. Good is NOT a nasty word! ____________________________ SOMEWHAT USEFUL (on ciao, somewhat = fairly) "an opinion that would have been better with more depth or a more balanced coverage." Dooyoo "An opinion of limited use with little relevant information" Ciao Here, I have to admit, I'm a bit disappointed with Dooyoo - I mean, what on earth does that statement actually say? ANY op would probably improve with more depth! So, to rectify that - here is what I think it SHOULD say... "an opinion that covers some basic points but barely scratches the surface, with little personal insight or analysis of the subject at hand. You would DEFINITELY have to seek more info to get to a purchasing decision, but the op would provide you with the basic information, albeit that you could find anywhere else without any difficulty." On the criteria, it would be an op that didn't even attain one of those fully - it might say, give you the basic information, but little else. Here - as an example, this op would be a "somewhat useful" (I wrote it specially!) "DEEP IMPACT is a sci fi film that is very cool. It stars Elijah Wood and Tea Leoni, in a role as a news broadcaster who hits the bigtime in a story about a comet. The special effects are very impressive, especially the moment when the wave hits the coast. I think it is out on video but I'm not sure - it was on television a little while ago. I would say it is a good film." Why SU? Well, it tells you a few facts...it mentions two of the actors, and that the special effects are good. To get a USEFUL, I'd have to add info about more of the people involved, like the director and a few more of the cast, plus maybe a bit of the synopsis...and most importantly a few personal thoughts. To get a VERY USEFUL, I'd have to add info about EVERY major actor in the movie, a detailed synopsis in my own words (i.e not copied off IMDB!), and a detailed review of the film, covering all aspects like acting, directing, music, special FX and maybe others, plus with a personal touch that made the op something that couldn't be found elsewhere. And now, the wizened old pro returns for a damn good maniacal laugh as her/his fingers head towards... __________________________ NOT USEFUL!!! SHOCK HORROR!!! Well...yes and no. No one likes to get this rating as it is a bit insulting to be told that your opinion is junk. But, you have to be cruel to be kind: if someone is writing utter rubbish (and I'll demonstrate in a minute!) then they're going to be insulted the more NU's they get...so if you give one, drop 'em a line to let them know a) why - what they could do to improve and b) that it wasn't malicious! Dooyoo says this of NU's - "the opinion is very one-sided and lacks sufficient depth to really do justice to the topic." That's a surprisingly big band actually - though not in the Glenn Miller sense! Anything from an op that is just totally unreadable nonsense that isn't about the subject, to an op that just lists, say, the tracks on the CD (I've seen 'em!) and who the members of the band are, or an op that is just complete twaddle because the person blatantly hasn't used the product...is NU. A common tell-tale sign is the 77 word, 4 line op which has not a single capital letter or punctuation mark. You simply cannot do justice to a subject in under 150 words unless you are a)Oscar Wilde b)Shakespeare c)my nan. My nan can do justice to any subject...she just says 'it was nice, dear, would you like a cup of tea?' and you have to believe her, she's so sincere! Anyway, as a penultimate deaththroe, I thought I'd try and write an NU op.... " 'tony hauk pro skate is so cool cuz u can do WICKED@!!! stuf f with it., i bought it of my frend in school who ses you can do really cool tricks :_) like halfpipe and stuff..... u should try it go on go on, go on!! peace!.............' " Oh, before you laugh - they've appeared before! ________________________ THE SECRET WEAPON! Now that the dooyoo payment scheme has changed, you have another trick up your sleeve...NOT rating an op. There are three occasions when this is useful a)When an op is copied. Why give the person money when (s)he isn't going to get paid...if he sees t he balance clocking up, then he'll copy more and more, which, although it won't effect Dooyoo because they'll delete him, will effect the honest users who've just had ops booted off the new ops page (which is where many reads come from)...so in consideration - DON'T rate a plagiarist...if the miles don't clock in, they'll probably get bored quicker and sod off back to whence they came. b)When an op is in the wrong place. Don't give it an NU - it's unnecessary - just leave a comment and don't rate it. It's an easy mistake for a newbie to mistake, so why scare them from the site from it with lots of glaring NU's...why make them have to trawl around begging for forgiveness and a rerate when they are new to the site? Just leave off the rating button and at least then it's kinder to the person who probably made an honest mistake! c)When an op is offensive or racist or nasty about people on the site, or anything that you wouldn't want your kids seeing in a month of sundays...don't encourage it by giving them money for it! Just don't rate...in that instance it's FAR more effective than an NU because an NU gives them 5p...which is rather like giving money to a beggar who just assaulted you ten minutes earlier! __________________________ So there you have it. If you got this far (2000 words now!) then congratulations...and you know, they do say that 'practice makes perfect'...now where is the nearest drop-down you can practice on... ;-) Who knows, in a few months, you'll be laughing maniacally too!
OK, picture the scene...one Hollywood has-been sitting around a table with a few executives and lawyers, and they are pitching an idea together hastily. 'How about a new Mick Dundee movie?' 'That'll be popular...the first two were' 'What'll be the new twist' 'Well, he was in the jungle in the first, an in New York in the second' 'We haven't got much money for it remember...where's cheap' 'How about LA' 'Lets call it Crocodile Dundee...in Los Angeles! That's a clever title' and so on and so forth. It really does happen like that with sequels...they would have decided en masse that to give it family appeal they would give Hogan a kid, to give it a bit of celeb status, they would give Mike Tyson a cameo...you can read the thought traces merely by staring at the poster for thirty seconds. How did this movie ever get made? Why did it ever get made? So it was with only an ounce of expectation that I wandered into Mann's theatre, the cinema just off Hollywood Blvd...and on screen number three, got a tasty preview screening with about 26 other adults and about 2 hundred kids (or so it seemed, personally I couldn't have cared whether anyone else had to endure the ordeal, but it was fascinating to watch their reaction to the film as well as the adults...) THE MOVIE Well actually, calling it a movie is an insult to movie making itself...but hey...we'll give it this title just for now (innocent until proven guilty, huh? Aren't I being fair today? :-)) Mick Dundee, and his son...named...er...Mick (stop laughing!)...have to follow his wife (played by Linda Koslowski as in the first movies) when she takes over her fathers newspaper when the bureau chief of said paper, disappeared...mysteriously murdered while investigating about a new movie studio that was setting up shop i n Hollywood. His wife picks up the trail, with Mick(s) in tow, and surprise surprise, Dundee gets involved with all aspects of the movie making whilst under cover, working as a monkey trainer for Paramount studios (now THERE'S a surprise!), chatting with the celebs (about coffee, for some stupid reason), works as an extra in a western...oh it's all too painful to relate. There is the occasional laugh - well, OK, more of a little sniggering - at the knife in animatronic snake's throat at the Universal studios tour... After general meanderings for no particular reason than to get through various ideas that the makers thought might be funny, they uncover a secret plot, and the day is saved...in the most corny manner possible. That's it!...that's the movie in a nutshell. I'm going to TRY and be as nice about this movie as I can. It's appalling. Firstly, the whole thing is totally flawed because it lacks one rather important thing as far as sequels are concerned - originality. You've seen all the jokes before folks, the mugging, the falling of a tree, the crocodile wrestling, the misfit in the city jokes as he tries to grasp modern technology...they are ALL the same as you've seen before, without a shred of new imagination. What was OK in the first films is just SO tiresome here. Secondly, the whole thing is totally flawed because it lacks one rather important thing as far as comedies are concerned - humour. You'll manage a small laugh at each of the points that they wanted you to, but after a while that will turn into more of a laugh-groan sort of affair. There's nothing worse than a comedian who isn't funny, at least I thought that until I watched this film...which is starring a has-been who isn't even a comedian and certainly isn't funny. The cast - well aside Hogan who attacks his role with a commendable energy, despite knowing in his heart that it will probably finish him car eer-wise as far as movies are concerned, is very disappointing...the addition of a bratty kid was possibly the most foolish mistake. Kozlowski really looks as if she wants to run a mile during most of the scenes... The location in Los Angeles on which the film hinges is also stupid, because the film trys to run every Hollywood cliche out as if it were humourous to do so...however, because of that, the movie is one BIG cliche... Need I say more...well, to wrap up then... CONCLUSION If you're really desperate, go and see this movie. It won't do you any ACTUAL harm, it's light on the violence and strong language (so it's OK even for the little kiddos - who probably won't remember the first movie and thus won't be so bored...). Otherwise go and see AI - that's a good movie which actually gives a toss about quality and originality. This movie is awful with a capital A, and will probably do more to damage American kid's view of what Australia (and Australians) must be like. It will be a pleasurable experience to watch it bomb like it did in the States in the UK...hopefully that will persuade them not to bother with any more!
I have a been a long-time devotee of the esteemed organ that is Private Eye, not just for the sheer depth of satirical amusement that lurks copiously and nonchalantly under its cover, but also for the wonderful manner in which it takes the current affairs of the present day and manages to present them in such a manner that the salient points are distilled and explained in order to eradicate, or at least lessen the ‘spin’. The magazine is almost the brakes on the wheels of the political and social comfortable elite, frequently turning those wheels and the car that it represents into a nice, satisfying skid. Particularly satisfying when that happens to be Lord Archer’s car that careers its way into the inevitable ravine of the High Court and Belmarsh Prison. The main strength of Private Eye lies in its longevity…as a fortnightly organ it has run to no less than 1034 editions as of the 6th of September 2001. It was there when many of the defining political events of the last four decades were perpetrated. It was there when Thatcher entered, and when she left No. 10 Downing Street, there when Blair won in 1997, there when BSE first sprouted and then returning of course for the gloriously dire repercussions for the “foot-‘n-mouth” government (and that middle word could be ‘in’ or ‘and’, it’s equally amusing either way... It is currently run by Ian Hislop, he of Have I Got News for You Fame…and the tone of the magazine is consequently bitingly satirical, but often intellectually so, relying on clever puns and keen analysis of the news…he is ably assisted by researchers who obviously know their stuff – many cross references go back years and years to rather obscure events – often ones that politicians rather wish that they HADN’T found! To give you an idea of what it contains, here is an analysis of what this week’s issue contained – it was a particularly good week. THE FRONT COVER – is one of the most important parts, as it always has a tabloid style cartoon with the obligatory photo and speech bubbles…but one that is always VERY funny indeed. For example, this one was – “PIG FLIES SENSATION!” under which was printed a picture of a pig jumping a few feet from the ground with the speech bubble emanating from its mouth saying “And the Hamiltons are innocent!’ – with ‘incredible silly season continues!’ written at the footer of the page. Absolutely hilarious – has to be seen to be appreciated. INSIDE There are a few regulars that appear every week. These include the opening column, ‘Gnome’…which always lambasts the socially comfortable elite…normally a fat-cat or the head of a corporation. It appears in the form of a press release from a fictitious Lord with a name bearing an uncanny resemblance to the target of the lambasting – eg. “GnomerCollins plc (part of the Screws International Group Wapping Advance London EC4” – as the address under a press release about Lord Archer’s ‘latest novel… Also on this page appeared a cartoon depicting Lady Archer with a caption ‘Lady Archer’s new theory on solar power’. The caption from her mouth reads – ‘The sun shines out of Jeffrey’s bottom’… That’s the type of humour that they use – it often seems puerile to start with, but as you think about it you realise just how clever it is! It is also utterly merciless…and often in the face of very strong opinions on each side of an argument. Other regular as clockwork columns include STREET OF SHAME – about Fleet Street – i.e the newspaper medias…the current topic it is screwing for all it’s worth is ‘Porn King’ Richard Desmond wh o owns the Daily Express (‘the Daily Sexpress’) as well as a few ‘art’ magazines… HACKWATCH – again about the printed press, but focusing on those freeloading journalists it so abhors as an organ… HP SAUCE – issues about parliament and the like, general political amusements and scandals revealed EYE TV – a scathingly funny analysis of current television – that is generally incredibly nasty (in the Anne Robinson sense of the word) about the drivel that we are forced to watch on the box DUMB BRITAIN – all the incredibly stupid answers given on quiz shows collected for general amusement (and whilst this may sound like intellectual snobbery, we are talking REALLY dumb things – for example “Who is the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party?” “Geri Halliwell” (a real answer given on the Grant Stott Show, Radio Forth) or from the weakest link reality tv special “What is botany the study of?” “Bottoms” continuing on DOING THE ROUNDS – issues related to scandals in the NHS and the health service in general ROTTEN BOROUGHS – issues about local government worthy of more exposure than the politicians would like… FUNNY OLD WORLD – outrageous stories that really did appear in newspapers around the world ST ALBION PARISH NEWS – a hilarious regular that is written in the style of a parish magazine, just that the vicar is one Rev. A. Blair… a particularly inspired one this… And then a few pages written in the style of a tabloid newspaper which is always worth a laugh (but often not the funniest section of the paper) – but that’s compared to the whole which is excruciatingly hilarious. Recent inclusions – ‘A Level Records as passes reach 110%!’… ‘Did the Hamiltons kill Jill Dando?! – Police investi gate new claim’, or the wonderful “BELFAST LATEST – Peace to be decommissioned” (‘in a major breakthrough, six parties in Northern Ireland have agreed to bury the peace process, and put it permanently “beyond use”’) The last three pages include literary articles and business related articles which although exposing similar outrageous scandals and frauds often are less interesting because they are longer and harder to comprehend without a working knowledge of aforesaid subjects…however they often yield absolute gems. Often the most fascinating part though is the LETTERS page…which often receives letters from prominent politicians and celebrities who have been drawn through the dirt and are rather annoyed. These are often wonderfully undermined by clever titles or inserts by the editorial team…also, this page is the source of the ‘lookalikes’ – where people send in pictures of otherwise unconnected celebrities who are prominent in the media at that moment which resemble each other. This months included – a picture of Charles Clarke MP alongside a picture of Fungus the Bogeyman, and a picture of Danny from Hear’Say next to a picture of Shrek from the animated film, each bearing an uncanny resemblance – and the names under each picture are also swapped for added comic amusement. The letter from the person sending the photos almost always ends ‘I think we should be told’ – which has become one of the Eye’s catchphrases. Anyway – that’s what it contains – plus a whole load of brilliantly drawn cartoons and numerous little articles that just make you smile and feel incredibly knowledgeable. CONCLUSION That’s the strength of Private Eye; you feel like you’re being told something incredibly important, like a secret, that you yourself become important because you are ‘in the know’. It’s the same as when you were in school and in a club which was very exclusive – and all the other kids envied you for it… it plays on that Bond-esque feeling of being a bit ‘dangerous’ and combines that with being utterly hilarious and wonderfully satirical – and scaring the shite out of certain politicians. That said, it isn’t without downsides. Occasionally the news is dull and the magazine seems weak…it always perks up again, but it is reliant on famous people doing things they shouldn’t, or a ‘silly season’ to waltz along. It is also often a little smug in tone – making out that it is somehow all seeing, omnipresent…when it occasionally drops to the level of the tabloids it lambasts in terms of ‘exposing’ stories for maximum reader potential, albeit in a very intellectual and cleverly written way. And also, they have once or twice written complete and utter bollocks about a story (although that is pretty rare now) which has meant they’ve been sued a fair number of times…of which they’ve won a few more than they’ve lost, but only just. That aside, it is one of the most intelligent, analytical, satirical, and important publications that you will find on your newsagent’s shelf. And it only costs a pound, which is hardly breaking the bank once a fortnight. Subscriptions are easy to take out, costing 19 quid for a year (26 issues) (I’ve subscribed for 5 years and never had a single problem with the direct debit or the billing, or issues turning up late etc…plus you get it a day before it appears in the shops). Not bad. They also publish books of the cartoons (some of which are very famous) and have the occasional event which you can go to, like signings by Hislop etc. If you want to sample what it has to offer, visit www.private-eye.co.uk - which should give you a flavour of what to exp ect (it has most of the major cartoons and columns for free online pleasure). And after all that, you get to spend at least an hour of your fortnight with a smile on your face, for a pound. That’s not bad at all, now, is it? So, what are you waiting for? Go buy!
I was wandering around the Third Street mall in Santa Monica yesterday when a rather pointless and incoherently silly thought struck me – why a ‘circle’ of friends/’circle’ of trust etc. etc.? Why haven’t the triangles of the world gone to an employment tribunal to complain about this? Surely this is discrimination against the beautiful and yet misunderstood octagons? After having seen a nice man in a white coat who injected some ‘magic liquid’ into my arm and told me to wear something other than a dressing gown in the street, I returned to my apartment and thought I’d write the Hitchhiker’s guide to the circle of friends, what it is, what it isn’t: why it exists (and if you like Cartesian dualisms, why it doesn’t)… THE CIRCLE OF FRIENDS AND WHAT THE HELL TO DO WITH IT Let us suppose for an instant that you are a ‘newbie’, a popular phrase for someone with excessive post-auricular moistness, or in specific terms, as wet behind the ears as an over- enthusiastic Labrador in an Olympic size swimming pool…you’ve written a couple of ops that you think are OK and you start cruising the site…after a short while you chance upon an op that particularly tickles your frontal lobes and you find yourself chuckling away and instinctively clicking for the ‘nominate for a crown’ button (spot the hint!)…or even just the VU rating button. You think to yourself, ‘I’d really like to know when this guy writes some more ops, or at least be able to check back to his/her page to see if he/she wrote an answer to the comment I put’. That’s where the first use of the COF comes in…just add them to your trusted user list and you’ll only have to click a couple of times to get back to their page. That use is essentially – I LIKE THEIR OPS AND I WANT TO SEE MORE… Also, if there is someone you are friends with from another site or from the real world (really?!), then you can add them that way so you can check back regularly to see what they are up to. That use is essentially – I LIKE THEM AND I WANT TO SEE WHAT THE HELL THEY ARE DOING… Maybe someone wrote a particularly charming comment on one of your ops, and you want to thank them for bothering – reading a few of their ops in return is the best way, but if you like, add them to you COF too…all in the spirit of friendship. That use is essentially – THEY LIKE MY OPS AND SEEM JOLLY NICE, I”D LIKE TO SEE SOME OF THEIR STUFF… Another good use is if someone is new to the site and seems particularly keen to improve and write good ops – if you’ve raised your ratings a bit and someone has helped you to do it, there’s nothing like having someone say they trust you by adding you to their Circle…so look out for new members, and if they are obviously working hard to write quality stuff, it’s a nice welcoming gesture. That use is essentially – WE WERE ALL NEW ONCE, CAN”T HARM TO BE FRIENDLY… And that’s about it really…the circle of friends is just that – people you trust to write good ops/helpful comments and whose presence on the site you enjoy. Not exactly tough criteria to deliberate when you think about clicking on that button or not. However, there are some downsides to the COF…and here they are THE CIRCLE OF FRIENDS AND WHAT THE HELL NOT TO DO WITH IT If someone adds you to their COF without ever reading any of your ops, it’s someone you don’t know, and someone whose ops you have never even seen before, let alone rated or commented on – then that’s not fair…and whilst it may not seem like a big deal, think about it – why have they bothered? Answer – they just want you to read some of their ops…chances are without any reads back or even bothering to foster some kind of friendship or trust. That’s obviously going to be irritating. Having said that, there’s nothing in the rules against it, and it’s not exactly a major issue really?! So, the solution I came up with is this – if someone adds me to their COF without having ever touched any of my ops or me not having ever read any of theirs (i.e just copying names into it without bothering to do any reading), then I don’t read any of theirs…it soon stops them doing it if they merely add and add and add and don’t get many reads. You can spot people who do this really easily too – they’ve only been a member for three days and yet they trust three hundred people – despite having only rated 4 ops… It’s common for people to trust more people than do them – I for example trust about 180 people but am trusted by just over 100 – and I’ve read well over fifteen hundred ops – the ones I trust are generally the ones whose ops have made me chuckle. So in essence, there isn’t really a problem with people abusing the COF because it isn’t going to do them much good in the longrun (they’ll only get a read from a person by doing it once, and that’s going to be a slow way to make money! If you feel someone’s just opened your ‘trusted by’ list in another window and added the lot to their ‘I trust’ list, then you might think about complaining…but a friendly word in the right direction will often stop such practices. Many people misunderstand the COF when they join and think that it is perfectly OK to add everyone and anyone to get a few reads…it’s an easy mistake to make. IN CONCLUSION then… The circle of trust isn’t a magic circle (roundabout!)…it won’t get you hundreds and hu ndreds of reads – only quality ops will do that. What it is is a way of acknowledging the work of those you enjoy and are friends with, and a way of reinforcing the ratings behind your ops (if someone has lots of people who trust them, ie into three figures, then chances are their ops are worth a look), which will ultimately help visitors to your work make the better decisions. And make you a bit of dosh, whichever is more important to you. And that’s got to be good. And now you must excuse me…I have to take my medication… :-)
No really, Jilly Goolden has used all of these to describe wine...bonkers, but anyway, here for all you dooyoo punters is a quick guide to wine and all that it entails. Sit back, and don't expect to get up again too quickly! QUESTION 1 WHAT THE HELL IS WINE ANYWAY?! Well, believe it or not, a lot of people don't know. Wine in it's current manifestation is fermented grape juice, though in the strict sense of the word it doesn't have to be grapes to be wine - in fact there are many foodstuffs that can be fermented into a substance that we'd call 'wine'. A delicious example of this is Mead - which is made with honey. No matter what the original source is though, there must be some form of fermentation - that is, sugar turning to alcohol. That's a simple chemical change that occurs naturally over time with the presence of yeast. The more alcohol that comes from the sugar the more alcoholic the drink, simple as that. Above 16% alcohol the yeast dies - so if a wine is above 16.2% then it is a fortified wine - which means a brandy has been added. This is generally only done to rubbish wines to make the alcohol content higher and market them to the blokes in the gutter at no.22 Trafalgar Road who want to get as rat-assed as possible in the shortest space of time. Not worth drinking if you appreciate your health! So wine as we'll discuss it here is fermented grape juice that has alcohol content of between 6 and 15 percent. QUESTION 2 TELL ME A BIT MORE ABOUT THIS FERMENTATION LARK THEN... Oh, go on then. The crucial thing with wine is the grape. The grape makes the wine what it is...because they are so different in character, so are the wines. We'll come onto the different grapes in a bit, but here is the complete wine-making process. The grapes are grown on the vine until the winemaker thinks it is time to harvest them. This is based on size and appearance, and also heavily based on the weather forecast (it needs to be good weather to harvest grapes really). The grapes are generally picked by hand, certainly in the case of the French vineyards. Hand picking allows for far more discrimination between good grapes and those that have slight rotting or whatever else. The grapes are placed in a large vat and crushed. Yes, this is often done in France by treading them underfoot...but they do like their Camembert don't they! The skins may or may not be removed, likewise the seeds. This is crucial in terms of the final flavour of the wine - and the length of time that the seeds and skins stay in is called maceration - this can be a few hours or even up to a month. Then all the juice is extracted using either a centrifuge (for mass production of wines like Ernest and Julio Gallo Brothers) or by using a 'bladder press' - a pump that squeezes the grape skins gently over time until there is nay a drop left. Then yeast is added to the juice, and often sulphur dioxide as a disinfectant that can be removed later (however this is one reason why some people are allergic to wine- the sulfites which remain are occasionally allergens). There are many types of yeast for the winemaker to choose from: the most common is Saccharomyces. Another common one is the Brettanomyces strain of yeast. As yeast works, it causes grape juice ("must") to warm up considerably. But if there's too much heat, the yeast is deactivated and won't work. One modern way to deal with this is to put the juice into large stainless steel containers that have refrigeration systems built around the sides. The winemaker can regulate temperature precisely. Other ways of doing this include barrel fermentation (common with French Sauvignon Blanc) which also enhances the oaky flavours of wine which are also aged in oak barrels. Once the fermentation process is done (take a varying length of time ), the wine is ready - aside filtering off the dead yeast and various other substances which collect as a scum on the top. Happy? QUESTION 3 NO. NOW I WANT TO KNOW WHAT THIS BLOODY CHARDONNAY THING IS! OK, here is a quick rundown of the major grapes that you will drink. RED WINE Cabernet Sauvignon A constituent part of Bordeaux from France, this is also the mainstay of many of the classier wines...it has the serious 'connossieur' (aka Snob) touch, despite being a common grape. It has a high level of tannins (the things that help give you a hangover, and yes, the same things that you find in leather!) which means it has a dark, rich flavour that is very sophisticated and often quite hard to drink. Grenache Often used to make Rose, a fairly nondescript grape that is often reminiscent of strawberries. Common regions include Spain (where it is called Garnacha) and France (eg Chateauneuf-du-Pape). Merlot Often a grape that is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon in cheaper wines, it has a nice flavour of its own - and is one of the most popular international varieties. Gamay The grape that makes good old Beaujolais...again quite sophisticated, and sometimes blended with a decent Merlot for a good glugging wine. Nebbiolo Often mistaken as Californian, this derives from Northern Italy - Piedmont to be precise. Found often in Barberesco where it is fabulous. Syrah/Shiraz One and the same grape (the second name is what the Aussies call it), this is one of my favourites. Deep coloured tannic reds that are gutsy and really grab you by the balls and don't let go...fabulous wines. Pinot Noir The only grape in the famous French Red Burgundy appellations of the Cotes de Beaune, Cotes de Nuit and many other mid to southern regions of France. Light in colour, but not in taste where they are deep and subtle. Zinfandel A Californian ma instay, this is a deeply fruity red that really 'zings'! The older the vines the better. A good picnic or barbecue wine this one, delicious and simple. WHITE WINE GRAPES Chardonnay The standard - everyone's drunk it. A good chardonnay should be buttery and yet tangy with a certain spiciness to it. Delicious but can get a little dull. Best regions are New Zealand and Chile in my opinion, but it's made everywhere and is lovely most of the time. Chenin Blanc The grape planted most in the French Loire valley. In the USA, it is often used to make a light, fruity wine with unassuming ang simple characteristics - again good for barbecues. Sauvignon Blanc Has a very 'grassy' or 'herby' characteristic according to those in the know...very tangy white grape, often very gutsy too. Best ones come from France where it is used in the sweet wine Sauternes but also on it's own as a great out of doors drinking experience. Riesling A very common German variety, this is often a sweet wine like a Spatlese but can be drier. One thing, people will often say this aftertastes a little like petrol fumes. That's because it often does! Gewurztrauminer pronounced - Geh-verts-t(e)row-meen-er, OK?! The standard German variety, wurz actually means 'aromatic' - it tends to be quite a gutsy wine, but with a lot of flavour and nose. Semillon Another major Bordeaux variety, this is more and more common - often blended indeed - it has a pleasant flavour of herbs but can be a dry or a sweet wine at the end. Er...enough grapes (that's all I can remember!) AND FINAL QUESTION WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO BUY? THERE'S THOUSANDS OF THE BUGGERS! HEEEELLLPPPP!!!! Ok, deep breath...in.....and out....aaaannddd relax. Better? The simple way is to ask yourself what you want it for...is it to get rat-assed in a gutter (in which case Vodka will probably do the trick), is it for drinking by itself, or is it with food. At the end of the day it will come down to taste...which is why I only recommend one wine at the end which I particularly adore (so much so I bought three cases of it!). The basic rules (which can be broken but are worth sticking to until you know a bit more about the flavours) are with a strong dish you need something strong to stand up...with a sweet dish you need something sweet or a champagne, and with fish you ALWAYS drink white wine unless you want Mr Bond to kill you and pinch that decoding machine (a prize of a opinion read or two to anyone who knows what I'm on about here!) With chicken which isn't too spicy, a good choice is a chardonnay...or even a sauvignon blanc...as with fish. If it's spicy, go for a gewurztrauminer or something gutsy that won't be obliterated by the food. If there is a wine in the cooking, stick to the same colour or the flavours will simply attack each other and not get on. With red meats, red wine tends to go nicely - beef loves a good merlot, lamb is fab with a shiraz, but the only true way to find out is to experiment. If you really need a book, I would recommend Oz Clarke's pocket wine guide which is comprehensive and also very accurate...plus the fact that his palate is for young wines rather than old, which is always so much better than the wine snobs who will not drink anything but vintage Bordeaux... Without food, then just about anything is great (aside a very sweet wine which won't be nice on it's own.) And on, lastly to my favourite and least favourite wine which I will now wax lyrical about, or insult the hell out of depending. Aussie Shiraz is always good, but one particular wine is by Tim Adams - the 1998 Shiraz. It costs about £6 in Tesco, but is absolutely amazing, I mean FABULOUSLY WONDERFULLY ORGASMICALLY GORGEOUS...PLEASE go a nd try it, your taste buds will love you for the rest of your life! It is fruity, strong, has one heck of a punch, a wonderful aftertaste, and is incredibly drinkable. Even better is the Aberfeldy Shiraz, but I've only ever had one bottle of that and it cost £40 so I wouldn't worry (it never made it to this country alas as they only make about 400 bottles a year)... And the dunce's cap goes to - Asti Spumanti. Spewmanti more like... Foul, sickly sweet stuff - Coca-Cola in a wine bottle! Oh and lastly - should you ever overdo it - here's how to lose a wine hangover... For white wines, use Alka Setzer XS in water with a glass of orange juice as well...and for red wines use a panadol tablet with a glass of cold milk. Don't ask me why they work, but they do...promise! DRINK!