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Category Archives: Film & Television

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things 2010

A week of 2011 has gone by and I haven’t finished my listings yet! Oh gosh! As we all know, a new year means we all have to list things in order of preference. So here, fellow humans, are my favourite things of 2010, listed in order of preference, in a few different categories of interest. If you fancy comparing, here’s last year’s.

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The Last Exorcism is Bonkers

Last night, I went to see The Last Exorcism. And… well. One of the most frustrating things about discussing a recently released work in any narrative medium is not being able to talk about the ending. Because sometimes a spectacular ending can encapsulate everything that’s right about a book, or a play, or a game, or a film. And sometimes, it can encapsulate everything that’s wrong.

The ending of The Last Exorcism fits into neither category.

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Mitchell and Webb

As I was away last week, I only just got around to watching the last episode of That Mitchell and Webb Look. It’s a show I felt started strongly with the first series, then went through a big inconsistent patch in the middle. But the fourth series has been absolutely exceptional. And the way it ended – oh, my.

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Cinema

Went to see Youth In Revolt tonight. It was a nice film – another in the line of quirky American coming of age comedies. I do wonder what Michael Cera will do when he’s no longer youthful looking enough to get away with playing an awkward 16-year-old. He’s pretty much the definition of typecast.

Very funny film, though, with genuinely well-written dialogue and some nice shots. It’s not my “favourite” of that “type”, but well worth seeing.

Still want to watch The Lovely Bones, too, having loved the book. Anyone seen it?

Skins S4E1

There’s one thought that sticks with me throughout every single episode of this “Second Generation” of Skins: was I an uncool teenager? I’m sure I didn’t have that much sex or take that many drugs at 17 years old…

The first episode of Skins Series 4 continues to suggest its team of writers have absolutely no faith in themselves to be able to hold their audience’s attention. So, once again, it’s all about lots of children running around ingesting and selling nondescript powder, and camera work that strays as close as it can to showing off teenage boob.

Every episode. Will there not be one episode in this generation of Skins that does not feature an abundance of sex and drug use? Seriously. That’s all I ask for. Just one episode. Because there have literally been no episodes that have not been absolutely dominated by this behaviour. Series 1 and 2 had their fair share of it, sure, and it took the majority of the first series for it to really find its flow and develop into something palatable. But in Series 2, its creators managed to craft a programme that was very much watchable – even, I daresay, rather engaging and engrossing.

Series 3 was abominable, in pretty much every way. Only Jack O’Connel’s continually excellent performance lifted it above embarassing tedium. With a weak script, a bunch of obnoxious characters and an absolutely astonishing obsession with sideboob and party accessories, it only found its feet in the format-breaking camping-trip episode – and even that relied on the good old magic mushrooms to provide its audiovisual gimmicks. Series 4’s first episode is – oh my god, did you guess  it? – about taking drugs and having sex.

I keep watching it. I keep watching this remarkable drivel. Do you know why? Because Skins is tempting. It’s tempting because, every so often, it shows signs of glorious intelligence and exquisite cinematography. Series 4 kicks off with Thomas’ club night, and a girl’s suicide (the nondescript powder is blamed, even though it seems to have made everybody else rather euphoric and far from suicidal). The dawning realisation of what’s happened, through a smog of dry ice and drug-induced sweat, music pumping in the background, camera flicking between faces and the look of sheer horror painted upon them as crowds start to gather around the girl’s body… it’s an amazing scene.  A really, really amazing one.  Nothing even approaching its quality appears for the rest of the episode.

Instead, we get JJ’s lightweight comedy (oh, hey, let’s laugh at the autistic kid!) and Freddie’s ridiculous facial expressions. To her and the writers’ credit, Lisa Blackwell’s Pandora is an improved character, more wise and less of an impossibility, and Thomas (Merveille Lukeba) has always been an intriguing one. It’s his episode, and an occasionally touching one, if you can manage to invest in his story through the sodden smog of rubbish that stands in its way.

The episode is only really notable for a lack of Effie. But, oh no, she’s back at the end, ready to be the most positively dislikable character in television history once more. (What the creators ended up doing to Effie is a whole different blog post. What the fuck, though? She was such a fascinating entity in the first generation!) I’ll keep watching, I’m sure. But it’ll take some convincing to make me think I’m not going to be cringing all the way through.

Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki is an absolute genius, I’m sure of it. His films are just the most beautiful creations – great, epic works of fantasy fiction that have a deeper, more encompassing appeal than almost anything else that springs to mind. I watched Howl’s Moving Castle with a friend tonight. It’s maybe the third time I’ve seen it. I’m still not sure it beats Spirited Away, but it remains the most magical film, easily towards the pinnacle of Miyazaki’s already impressive filmography.

The backdrop of the war is just astonishing. It’s never explained in any detail; it’s just a circumstance in which these characters are living, in this Eastern-Western hybrid world where wizards and witches dot the land, working for both good and evil. The design of the battleships is phenomenal. The design of Howl’s castle is even better: a big, stomping, mechanical beast of a building, that chugs along on spindly legs, a giant tongue stretching out of its front as a makeshift ramp.

The attention to detail is just staggering. The simplicity and subtlety of the storytelling is beautiful. It’s as rich, engaging and soul-warming as any cinema comes. Glorious.

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things 2009

It’s that time again. 365 days have passed. That means we all have to think about what’s happened in the last 365 days, and which of these things were the best.

The format remains unchanged.  One winner of each category of Denby interest, along with shoehorned-in honourable mentions.  And now we begin.

ALBUMS
Oddly, 2009 was a year of not really listening to much new music, and generally missing deadlines for any music-related stuff I wrote.  But it strikes me just now that a couple of really exceptional albums came out last year.

The record I’ve been listening to a lot today is Bears by Sam Isaac.  Sam’s a top bloke who’s worked really hard over these last few years, touring like an absolute bugger.  He’s come a long way since he played at the venue I ran, CJ’s Music Bar, back in 2006.  (Yes, I used to run a music venue.  There’s a whole heap of past you could tap into if I let you.)  He was playing then as tour support for Luke Leighfield, but I remember being astonished by Sam’s stripped-bare acoustic sound, and we stayed in touch until he became all famous and that.  His record, predictably, loses a lot of that charm.  It’s horrifically over-produced.  But it’s still neat, and filled with glorious personal pop-tunes (many are filled with actual people’s names).  And it namechecks the “level complete” sound in the Mario games.  I mean, that’s got to be worth a mention, right?

Jesca Hoop‘s second album, Hunting My Dress, is really good.  I’ve reviewed it for The Line of Best Fit, and assume the resulting words will be appearing on the site soon.  It’s rhythmic and pondering and driven by big beats and soaring melodies.  It’s among the most creative yet instantly accessible records I’ve heard in ages.

But then, the same could be said of Grammatics‘ self-titled debut, which came out at the start of the year and absolutely blew me away.  Grammatics have been knocking about on the Leeds scene for ages, and Owen, their singer, is one of those guys I have a drunken natter with if I see him out and about but don’t really have much to do with other than that.  So that’s two possible conflicts of interest on this list.  But if I’d never met this lot, they’d still have made my album of the year.  Grammatics is an absolutely astonishing debut, one that dives confidently between radio-friendly pop of the highest calibre and the darkest and most obscure of indie soundscapes.  To see them doing so well in 2009 was wonderful.  But I still feel there should be more of a buzz.  This is a record that received 9 and 10 out of 10 scores across the board, nearly, yet still didn’t propel them into the limelight quite as much as it should have.  The album is on Spotify.  You should listen immediately, then straight afterwards, run out and buy ten copies.

SINGLES
Crikey. This one’s sometimes a really easy category. Other times it’s not.  This is one of those times.  There has been no anthem this year, no song that has been always in my mind and always shouted in the middle of the night in some stupid bar.  I know what I’m about to write as the winner, but I don’t know about runners up.  Okay. Let’s try this.

Florence and the Machine‘s Dog Days Are Over was a really great song on a very mixed album. And… oh, man, turns out Grammatics re-released Shadow Committee this year!  I totally didn’t know that!  And that’s totally worthy of a runner-up place.

The winner? Black Eyed Peas with Boom Boom Pow. Yeah. It’s been that sort of year. One of the year’s great memories is being hideously drunk at the Thought Bubble festival, in a casino on the outskirts of Leeds, dancing with games-journo-colleague Phill Cameron and a delightful-friend-of-a-delightful-friend, and someone – possibly Gillen, possibly not – drops Boom Boom Pow, and it simmers and simmers and then… Here we go, here we go, satellite radio, all gettin’ hit with the BOOM! BOOM! When a song makes you dance like that, it has to be a winner.

COMPUTERISED ELECTRONIC VIDEO GAMES
Easy.

Runners up: Machinarium by Amanita Design, for its absolutely delightful artwork, astonishing emotive capabilities and the wonderful way in which it integrated its hints system into the game.  I consider 2009, while generally not fantastic for games, to have contained about three games that have been absolutely outstanding, and could well have been top of the pile any other year.  That Machinarium isn’t my favourite game of the year is, in some ways, quite saddening, because it totally deserves it.

There’s also Red Faction: Guerrilla by Volition, which might sound like a crude choice, but seriously, check this shit out.  I’m going into some camp of some sort of the surface of Mars.  I have to blow up a building.  I get there, and suddenly and entire army is on my back. The fuckers.  I start shooting, but I run out of ammo. Shit, forgot to stock up. Right. What to do?  Well, I have some remote charges.  I start throwing them blindly, ducking between cover, in some sort of terrible moment of desperation.  I hit the detonate button.  One of the charges had stuck to a giant cooling tower.  It slowly collapsed.  Onto the building I was to destroy.  And blocking the path between the army and me.  I jumped into a jeep and drove off.  That didn’t happen to you.  That’s why Guerrilla is so awesome.

But. This year, Spelunky reached Version 1.0.  And… well, you’re just going to read this.  Because I’m kind of writing-ab0ut-Spelunkyed-out.  But it’s quite the thing that a small freeware indie game, in a year of such astonishing blockbusters, emerges as easily the finest game of 2009.

MOVIE FILMS
I haven’t even thought about this category until right now. Christ. What came out this year?

A quick ask-Twitter moment seems to reveal that I didn’t see any of the good films this year.  So I guess I’m going to have to default to District 9, which was great but in many ways flawed, and not do any runners-up. Man. I feel ashamed.

Thing is, all the films I was looking forward to last year turned out to be really disappointing.  The Firm stands out as the major oh-god-it’s-terrible moment of 2009.  I’m usually a sucker for superviolent social stuff.  But The Firm was just terrible, in so many ways.  It fucked up literally everything that’s usually so cathartic about that sort of piece.  It had pretty much no redeeming qualities.

Apparently Moon, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Synechdoche New York were all awesome. I wish I’d seen them. But this year was more a discovery one in film for me. I watched a hell of a lot of old classics.  I watched loads of stuff that Ladyfriend was astonished I’d never seen, and we talked about it in so much detail.  J.D. sat me down in front of a few pieces of brilliance, I think. But they’re all things released well before 2009.

Favourite film I watched for the first time this year? Persepolis, without a doubt.  But a couple of years old. New year’s resolution: I will watch more new films this year. Y’know, ones that are actually decent.

A SENTIMENTAL P.S.
2009 has been a rather mixed year.  My mum commented a couple of weeks ago that it had been shit, and that she couldn’t wait for 2010. Which struck me as silly. Yeah, a couple of really awful things happened.  People who know me, or people who read this blog generally, will know my aunt died after a thankfully relatively painless battle with cancer.  People who know me really well will know about another thing that I’m totally not going to mention here.  But at the same time, it’s also been a year of astonishing highs.  It’s been the year that people started to pay me to write about stuff: the start of my career proper.  It’s been a year in which I’ve met the most fantastic, wonderful people I could ever hope to meet.  That the list of tremendous people I’ve finally put name-to-face with in 2009 includes Phill Cameron, Greg Giddens, Oli Wilkinson, Kieron Gillen, Mathew Kumar, Ste Curran, Simon Byron, Will Porter and Alec Meer, that other new people I’ve had the pleasure of spending unfortunately tiny amounts of time with include Si Wharton and Bekki Tordoff of Thought Bubble fame, and that I feel I’ve gone from vague pal to proper friend with Rose McMahon, Karla Guedes, Cat Karr, J.D. Richardson and… well, I’m sure there are more, who’ll be offended I didn’t mention.

Man. You can tell there was some beer left in the fridge, no?

Christ. Let’s put a stop to this.

Happy 2010.

Thoughts on ‘How Racist Are You?’

“How racist are you?” asked a Channel 4 documentary tonight.  It utterly failed in providing any sort of answer.

The premise: former schoolteacher and self-appointed (and largely discredited) pseudopsychologist Jane Elliott invites 30 people to participate in an experiment. They’re split based on their eye colour.  The blue eyed group (which expectedly turns out to be all-white, which is relevant) are bullied into a tiny holding cell and forced to wait for two hours awaiting further instructions. The brown-eyed group are rounded up and told they would be teaching the blue-eyed, all-white group a lesson about how it feels to be on the receiving end of discriminatory behaviour.

And… it’s just all wrong.  For so many surface level reasons. That the two ‘expert’ psychologists observing fail to pick up on a single problem is staggering.  So, I will do instead.  Well, not all of them.  There are too many.  But here’s a few.  Starting! With!

The sample is self-selecting, then, presumably, hand-picked to provide the best telly.

The result? An overwhelmingly middle-class jumble of opinionated, educated adults.  Elliott used to do this experiment on kids, which is obviously, hideously unethical, but at least it would have partially solved this issue.  But as it is… you’ve a group of ostensibly clever people who have an interest in the subject that’s being tested.  In other words, it’s a sort-of blinded test but with completely informed subjects.  It fails as soon as it starts, both as a fair test, and as a broad selection of British society.

There are too many extraneous variables.

The whole basis of Elliott’s experiment is that she believes the Western world’s governments subscribe to an education system that promotes white culture above any other.  As such, she attempts to create a situation in which this discrimination can be replicated.  I’ll come back to that in a bit, as there’s a huge thing that fails in this respect.  But the problem here is that, when people react to this situation, a whole host of other variables come into play but are utterly ignored.

It’s all about race.  But factors such as age, gender, sex, sexuality, class – man, everything is playing its subtle role here.  Elliott assigns agency to race throughout, and her pet brown-eyed group totally buys into it, while the blue-eyed group are constantly pressured into a hole, and no one gets that it doesn’t work as an experiment.  It’s excruciating to watch. Nothing is controlled at all.

There’s something much more interesting at play here.

Here’s the big one. I could go into detail about loads more things that are wrong with Elliot’s experiment, but I won’t.  This is what I want to focus on, because I could not believe that the programme did not.

Early on, it is revealed that Elliot hopes to convince her brown-eyed group to behave abhorrently to the blue-eyed group.  She does this by completely asserting her position as a person of high authority.  And… well, it’s totally Milgram, only with real victims.  What’s most fascinating is how readily the vast majority of these people are to go with Elliott’s idea: that the other group need to be educated; that they are inferior based on the colour of their skin. No bones about that: the eye colour selection is in no way coincidentally linked with ethnicity.  Elliott instructs a group of people, whose races vary, that the all white group is ignorant, and in need of correction.

I waited for the sucker punch.  To begin with, I just assumed it would come. And it was implied in an interview at the end, in which Elliott proceeded to be a real dick to Krishnan Guru-Murphy.  Our society and its institutions breed discrimination, she said.  Just in the way she had done then.  Only she didn’t say that last bit.

The result seemed to be that the brown-eyed group walked out thinking it unbelievable that this all-white group of people, this prescribed “other”, could not get it into their thick skulls that this is what they had to put up with all the time; they were astonished by the backlash.  But in fact, what happened was a tremendously unethical, bad-science subscribing idiot just brainwashed a group of people into bullying, abusing and discriminating against another group, one tied by the colour of their eyes and, equally, by the colour of their skin.

That was what was fascinating about the programme.  That’s the only thing that worked in any real way.  Yet it was glossed over, by Elliott, by her participants and by psychologists, to make way for a blurry message of “our society is still really racist.  Here’s the proof: when plonked into an artificial environment and systematically, subtly instructed to do so, people of different ethnicities will argue with each other about race issues.”

A Relevant Press Release

LEEDS, ENGLAND, 4 September 2009 – A new blog launches today, dedicated to providing regular, thoughtful and exciting updates on a range of entertainment media. The Daily Scoundrel is a one-stop shop for musings on various topics – from film to video games, television to music, and beyond.

Lewis Denby, one of the blog’s four authors, also writes for popular video game publications such as Eurogamer and Gamasutra.  “I’m excited to expand my work into other areas of entertainment,” says Lewis. “I’ve a huge interest in music and film, having studied both in the past, and I feel we all have something interesting and relevant to say on each of the topics we cover.”

Blogging alongside Lewis are local journalist and columnist Michael Sterrett; video game journalist and fiction writer J.D. Richardson; and animator and columnist Daniel Hill.

thedailyscoundrel.com covers not only high-profile bands, games and films, but also lesser known independent artists in the world of entertainment.  Its authors are keen to hear from anyone interested in coverage on the blog, or anyone who would like to suggest items to write about.  The scoundrels can be reached via email at contact[at]thedailyscoundrel.com.

The Daily Scoundrel is partnered with resolution-magazine.co.uk, an alternative video games website to which all four authors contribute.

For more information, please visit thedailyscoundrel.com, or send an email to contact[at]thedailyscoundrel.com.

The Daily Scoundrel is a one-stop shop for musings on various topics – from film to video games, television to music, and beyond.

Not a review: The Hangover

Posted on

Two things strike me about The Hangover, which we plodded along to see last night after hearing an alarming amount of people singing its praises.

1. The funniest scene in the trailer isn’t actually in the film.
2. It’s Dude! Where’s My Car? Read the rest of this entry