Friday, 30 May 2008


I find myself attending a lot of conferences dedicated to communication and marketing and rarely meet anyone interesting.

Yesterday was an exception. I got chatting to Nina Flowers, one of the founders of amoosi - a fashion label dedicated to chic, elegant and ethical designs.

According to their own mission statement, "amoosi addresses both the need to tackle the problems of post consumer waste in the fashion industry whilst also inspiring change in the fashion industry."

You can only pick their designs up in Koh Samui in Westminster currently, but I'm sure their distribution channels will be more widespread in the near future.


Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Film Review: Iron Man

Perhaps I ought to reassess X-Men 3, Spider-Man 3 and Rise of the Silver Surfer.

After all, if those three hadn’t been such unmitigated cinematic disasters, it’s unlikely Marvel would’ve set up their own studio and started producing films themselves.

Iron Man – the first movie to come out of Marvel Studios – offers a pretty good indication that Marvel are tired of having their shit fucked with by 20th Century Fox and are ready to get their house in order.

The film begins with weapons manufacturer Tony Stark trying to flog some Jericho missiles to the US military in Afghanistan, before he’s wounded and captured by a terrorist cell called Ten Rings.

Ten Rings order Stark to build a Jericho missile for them and allow fellow captive Dr Yinsen to implant a car battery-powered electromagnet into Stark’s chest to keep a piece of shrapnel from piercing his heart. Stark quickly tires of lugging a car battery around and creates a new power supply based on some technology that he’d already constructed for Stark Industries: an Ark Reactor. The Ark Reactor will power something a lot bigger than a tiny magnet, so Stark builds a crude power suit and fights his way out of his prison.

After his escape and a grilling from a Vanity Fair journalist, Stark vows to stop developing weapons and begins work on, well.... another weapon: the power suit that will eventually allow him to become Iron Man.

His business partner, Obadiah Stane, doesn’t approve of the company’s new direction and, along with fellow board members, turfs Stark out of his own organisation.

After another meeting with the toothy girl from Vanity Fair, Stark learns that his company are continuing to sell weapons to terrorists and he asks his assistant Pepper Potts to find the shipping manifests so that he can track down the illicit shipments and destroy them. Potts learns that it was Stane who hired the Ten Rings to kill Stark but before she can tell her boss, Stane nabs the Ark Reactor from his chest, hops into his own power suit and begins causing carnage.

Stark plants the original Ark Reactor back in his chest, fires up his Iron Man suit and, of course, kicks Stane’s ass.

It’s not a complicated movie but it’s a near-flawless superhero flick: plenty of thrills and spills to satisfy the adrenalin-hungry action movie fan and more than enough waves at the geeky comic book crowd. Not only is there reference to The Iron Monger, but we’re teased with the inclusion of War Machine in the inevitable sequel. And that’s all before Samuel L Jackson makes his post-credits appearance as Nick Fury and fellates fanboys everywhere with the merest mention of The Avengers Initiative.

The only problem with the film is that, at times, it’s uncomfortably jingoistic. Marvel have moved the original story from Vietnam so that Stark can be captured in Afghanistan by some dark-skinned, bearded villains with frighteningly hooked noses, who may as well be wearing I Heart Taliban t-shirts.

Not only does Potts refer to the anti-military Vanity Fair reporter as “trash” (take that anti-war activitists!), but we’re informed that the US military refuse to attack enemy military targets when they have “human shields”, which is surprising since the term was originally used in the Iraq War to excuse the death of civilians from US bombs. But I suppose it’s nice to see Marvel attempt to rehabilitate the American military’s reputation.

Patriotic chest-beating aside, director Jon Faverau brilliantly captures the lifestyle of a billionaire playboy and the special effects are genuinely breathtaking.

It’s also impeccably cast. Downey Jr plays the womanising, scotch-swilling Tony Stark wonderfully, Jeff Bridges is fantastically villainous as Stane and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts is back to perfectly straddling the line between vulnerable and sexy that she last did in Se7en.

If the cast can be kept onboard and the writers can come up with decent ways to introduce some of Iron Man’s more fantastic enemies like The Mandarin, MODOK and Ultimo, I’d say it looks like Marvel Studios are onto something.

The Hulk looks shit though.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Film Review: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

In the words of any number of George Lucas’ shitty scripts: I had a bad feeling about this.

Lucas has had twenty years to get this new Indy film right. And he’s failed. Miserably.

The story is lacklustre and the script is disjointed and sloppy. The Russian baddies are so comically inept that it’s impossible to place any emotional investment in the heroes, and Indy himself is left bumbling around in the background spouting exposition for much of the movie, while the spotlight is thrust upon his son Mutt Williams (played by Shia LeBeouf).

John Hurt’s character is utterly unnecessary and should have been chopped to give Karen Allen (chronically underused as Marion Ravenwood) more screen time. Ray Winstone’s character, Mac, begins the film fulfilling the role of Indy’s sidekick, but soon joins up with Cate Blanchett’s band of Russians. After an hour, he reveals himself to be a CIA double-agent, before switching back to Russian sympathiser twenty minutes later. By the end, his character has flip-flopped so often that he’s simply that fat, rubbish actor who advertises crisps.

The set-pieces are poorly constructed and, at times, downright laughable. There’s a scene where Mutt swings through the jungle from vine-to-vine like Tarzan while being followed by an army of CGI monkeys, and a sequence where Indy hides in a refrigerator to survive an atomic bomb that’s been lifted straight from an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon.

And all of that is before we get to the fucking aliens.

Yes. Aliens.

The premise is that the Mayans developed their sophisticated civilisation by harnessing alien technology. The film’s titular MacGuffin, it turns out, is the skull of an alien, which the Russians believe holds some psychic power and which Indy is trying to return to the lost city of Akator.

The idea of a super-strong magnetic alien skull isn’t really any sillier than the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail but it would’ve improved matters if the power of this super-strong magnet wasn’t easily nullified by being placed in a canvas bag.

Predictably, Indy returns the skull to Akator with Cate Blanchett in hot pursuit. With the skull back in its rightful place, the aliens somehow come back to life and fly off in their spaceship. They also burn Cate Blanchett because, presumably, even extraterrestrials hate commies.

The wedding scene at the end suggests that they’re going to give Shia LeBeouf the chance to take over the franchise. So don’t be surprised if Mutt Williams And The X-Files Bullshit is in cinemas sometime in the next two years.

Crystal Skull should have seen Indy reclaim his fedora-shaped adventure film crown from the likes of the The Mummy, National Treasure and Tomb Raider, but not even a very short cameo from the guy who plays Blazanov in Deadwood can redeem this truly awful movie. Like the very worst sequels, all it serves to do is diminish and detract from the films that preceded it.

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is worse than Spider-Man 3. Worse than The Matrix Revolutions. Worse than The Godfather Part III. Worse, even, than The Phantom Menace.

In fact, the only conceivable way that George Lucas could’ve made this a bigger heap of shit that he already has would’ve been by adding a long-eared, CGI alien Rastafarian who walks around saying “Meesa like Uncle Indy. Meesa think that teese Russian are very bad.”

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Man refused on a BA flight because of Optimus Prime

Heathrow terminal 5 and this poor bloke tries to board a BA flight. He's refused entry to the plane and told to go back and change his t-shirt, which features Optimus Prime.

BA should've been more concerned that the plane could have been Starscream.


Saturday, 24 May 2008

Marlo and Snoop play dress-up

Jamie Hector and Felicia Pearson (aka Marlo Stanfield and Snoop Pearson) from The Wire are modelling some clothes in this week's Observer.

Kinda weird, but hey.


Friday, 23 May 2008

Man loves having sex with cars

Edward Smith, 57, is a mechaphiliac. He loves "having sex" with cars. His current love is Vanilla, a white Volkswagon Beetle. His last relationship with a human was 12 years ago and he never had sex with her.

Link to the full story in the Telegraph

Link to a YouTube video of Smith

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Jack Sparrow tell-all

Los Angeles Magazine have published a piece written by one of the Jack Sparrows that walk around Disneyland.

It's well worth reading for an insight into how controlling the Diz are and how much ass the Jack Sparrows get.


Friday, 16 May 2008

Millwall 1 - 9 Middlesbrough

Just got back from The New Den, where Colin Cooper's Middlesbrough team beat the Alan McLeary's Millwall team 9-1.

Most important thing, I scored!

Second most important thing, we raised nearly ten grand for the Finlay Cooper Fund. A charity set up by Colin Cooper and his wife Julie to assist charitable causes on Teesside.

The match itself was fantastic, if a little one-sided. And afterwards there was a hotly-contested auction in the club bar. Not enough Dong Gook Lee merchandise to get me interested but there was plenty of great gear on offer.

Coops and his wife are both incredibly humble, down-to-earth and were clearly touched by everyone's efforts. It's rare you to meet such refreshingly lovely people.

It's worth adding that the day wouldn't have been possible without the stellar efforts of Andy Walker from Middlesbrough Supporters South and Jason Pickering, who represented the Millwall end.

A brilliant day and a brilliant amount of money raised. Well done to everyone who was involved.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008 Writers' Awards 2007/08

The 2007/08 Writers' Awards are now up at

Some pretty funny stuff in here from several of the staff writers.


Ball games

Game Review: Grand Theft Auto IV

Believe it or not, there was a time not long ago when video games weren't just sociopathic murder fantasies.

But, of course, the epoch-defining release of Grand Theft Auto III in 2001 changed all that. Now all anybody gives a shit about is what sort of guns you can wield, how much stuff you can blow up, how often the characters swear and how many whores you fuck.

Naturally, the answer Grand Theft Auto IV gives to all these questions is: lots. But thanks to the brilliant minds at Rockstar, it manages to do it all with consummate style.

While Vice City centred around Tony Montana rip-off Tommy Vercetti in the garish surrounds of mid-80s Miami, and San Andreas allowed the player to control CJ in Boyz In The Hood-ish early-90s Los Angeles, IV's anti-hero, Niko Bellic, arrives in cynical, brutal, loveless and present day New York-aping Liberty City.

Niko – straight off the boat from Serbia – meets up with his cousin, Roman, and is quickly given access to a mobile phone and the internet. Rather like Ashley Cole and Jermaine Pennant, GTA IV uses the mobile phone in inspired fashion, allowing you to access missions, organise activities with friends, arrange dates or simply shoot the breeze.

The internet is used in much less interesting ways. You receive the odd email from other characters and from family back in Serbia, plenty of unfunny spam, the opportunity to read news reports about the havoc you're wreaking around Liberty City and access to an online dating service. All nice touches, certainly, but you sense there was much more Rockstar could've done with it; that the GTA series hasn't taken the opportunity to offer pornography on its in-game internet is downright head scratching.

There are a couple of other new additions to the series. Cars aren't all magically unlocked now, so stealing them often requires smashing the window, setting off the alarm and hot-wiring them. This will obviously make you more visible to the police, so the ability to use Roman's car service or hail taxis is useful. The cabs can be used to instantly transport you to your destination but you'll pay more for the privilege. It's a neat idea that solves the series-long problem of having to drive infuriatingly long distances to missions but like, say, Oblivion, it does stop you exploring the city as much as you might otherwise.

It's the combat that has undergone the biggest refinements, and it's finally now possible to target enemies accurately and instantly using the shoulder buttons. Hey, Ocarina Of Time managed to get it right in 1996, but whatever. The new cover system, too, is handy, but it's nowhere near as sophisticated as Rainbow Six's and far too often you'll find Niko glued to the wrong surface and promptly bukkaked by billions of bullets.

Liberty City itself and the people within it, though, are the game's biggest successes. Unlike San Andreas or Vice City, you genuinely feel for this world and its inhabitants. Not only is Niko the series' first vaguely sympathetic character, but the supporting cast of gangstas, government agents, steroid addicts and Rastafarians is dripping in diversity and charisma.

While you listen to Iggy Pop, Roy Ayers and Juliette Lewis talking about your actions on Liberty City's myriad of radio stations, your friends will call you to go bowling, play pool, or simply to go out and get drunk. The more you hang out with your friends, the more likely they are to provide you with work, but the conversations ebb and flow so brilliantly that you'll want to natter with them anyway. Dates, meanwhile, will compliment or diss your choice of clothing and venue.

Liberty City is certainly inspired by New York, but not totally beholden to it. Unlike most game worlds, far from feeling like it only began existing the second you turned on your console, Liberty City looks and feels lived in. Drive to the affluent areas of Algonquin and the streets are newly paved, the cars more expensive, the police more plentiful, but take a trip to downtown Bohan and crack dealers, prostitutes and heroin addicts litter the streets.

It’s a good thing that the scripting and the characterisation are as good as they are, because the missions themselves are a bit of a letdown.

Seven years on from GTA III and it's still a matter of driving to a point on the map, watching a cut-scene, driving off to a mission, completing it and saving. Rockstar have added some new dynamics, such as eavesdropping or using the camera phone to identify the right target but there are far too many missions that you see you chasing the target using the kind of gameplay that Taito perfected in 1988 with Chase HQ.

It would've been nice to see the developers tinker more boldly with their well-worn format, but the dialogue goes a long way to preventing things becoming stale, and Rockstar should be congratulated for creating the most coherent and atmospheric gameworld ever seen.

Of course, to enjoy GTA IV you will need to ignore the fact that it's a mass-marketed piece of hyper-violent misogynism being cynically targeted at teenagers, but that's another story.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Season review in The Observer

The Observer's online team still don't want to publish this stuff online, so here's a c+p from today's paper.

How was your season?
Plenty of dreadful football, an all-too-predictable FA Cup humiliation and a handful of decent performances; if we hadn’t had Mido’s belly, Southgate’s tank tops and Lee Dong Gook to keep us entertained, it would have been a very boring season.

Happy with the gaffer?
To be honest, Gareth’s a decent bloke and that’ll do for me, but it’d be easier to have complete faith in him if he stopped trying to assemble the league’s most overpriced and overweight side.

Who were the stars - and who flopped?
Downing and Wheater had impressive seasons. We’ll need more from our much-hyped stars of Youtube, Tuncay and Alves, next season.

Who were the best, and worst, away fans?
Considering our game was played on a snow-driven Sunday, the Man United fans turned up in good voice. Why the Geordie lot felt they needed to resort to hurling anti-Islamic abuse at Mido, I’ve no idea. Surely it would’ve been easier to taunt him for being fat and rubbish?

Top hate figure at another club?
If he’s still finding London house prices a bit steep, Jonathan Woodgate might want to consider supplementing his salary by running workshops on how to go from local hero to big-mouthed tool in three easy steps.

Top five best opposition players?
Dmitar Berbatov, Rio Ferdinand, Fernando Torres, Gareth Barry, Paul Scholes.

Who do you want to win the Champions League? Chelsea, United, not bothered

Fabio Capello - right choice, wrong choice, not bothered?
Right choice.

Game 39 - good idea, bad idea, not bothered?
Bad idea.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

CCTV doesn't work. Answer: more CCTV

Who'da thunk it? Those thousands of CCTV cameras in London aren't preventing crime.

But it's okay, Scotland Yard have a solution: build more cameras.

You couldn't make it up.

Full story here

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Album Review: Home Before Dark

You had to feel for Neil Diamond. With 12 Songs, he’d just recorded his best album in twenty-five years and just as the critical and commercial success was beginning to build around it, Sony’s Rootkit fiasco meant it was withdrawn from sale.

Perhaps spurred by the sense that his last album ended up being ignored through no fault of his own, Diamond hurried back into the studio to record another deeply personal album. One that ranks alongside anything else in his forty-six year recording career.

Diamond’s second collaboration with Rick Rubin in three years catches him in reflective mood; looking back but always with one eye on the future. The reunion with Rubin ensures that the emphasis is always on Diamond’s plaintive lyrics and distinctive voice, with subtle accompaniments added by Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, lead guitarist Mike Campbell, bassist Smokey Hormel and former Will Oldham collaborator Matt Sweeney. There are no drums.

The twelve songs are all entirely new, and Diamond sings solo on all but one them. The exception is Another Day (That Time Forgot), a duet with Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. The song is a joint confession between two lovers who have no idea how they’ve grown apart. With Tench’s piano beautifully filling the breaks between the verses, Maines’s voice is mournful, shadowy and the perfect foil to Diamond’s world-weary croon.

In fact, lost love is a theme running throughout Home Before Dark. The astonishing opening track, If I Don’t See You Again, has Diamond sounding more vulnerable and exposed than ever as he reflects on the bittersweet aftertaste of a love long gone (“I went out looking for love, and never liked what I found, don't pay to make it alone, God knows it's lonely out there, I made it once on my own and hardly anyone cared). It is, quite simply, classic Diamond.

Gorgeous first single Pretty Amazing Grace and, later, the trembling Without Her follow the path of clear-sighted nostalgia, but there’s more to Home Before Dark than longing and melancholy.

One More Bite Of The Apple focuses on Diamond reuniting with his true love: songwriting (“been away from you for much too long, been away but now I’m back where I belong, believe when I was gone away that I’d do just fine, but I couldn’t get the music off my mind”). It’s one of the few moments on bluster on the album and Diamond is forced to stretch his 67-year-old lungs, as Sweeney’s guitar pushes him just past his vocal limit.

It follows Forgotten, the other unashamedly boisterous rocker on the album, and the only other time that Diamond’s voice, otherwise in fine fettle throughout the album, quivers and cracks. These flaws and imperfections in Diamond’s voice do nothing to detract from the album. He doesn’t write like a young man and his words shouldn’t be sung like one.

Blemishes and all, Home Before Dark is an album of rare beauty, grace and eloquence that captures Diamond in all his plain-spoken and big-hearted glory; and is easily the most intensely personal release of his esteemed career.

This review is up now on Popmatters