Saturday, 31 December 2011

Sh*t, Damn, D'Angelo Is Back!

Lovers of soul will be walking with a little more bounce to the ounce with the news that legendary R&B Jesus, D'angelo has announced two live shows at the Brixton Academy in February (the first sold out quicker than you could scream "Good God Almighty!") and ends a 12 year sabbatical with a new album which has made George Michael look like Prince in the productivity stakes.

The flawed genius behind two of the finest R&B albums of all time has made his fans feed on crumbs since 1999, releasing the odd collaboration (Raphael Saadiq, Snoop Dogg, Common, Q-Tip, Mark Ronson) but dedicating the bulk of his time to the important business of rehab, legal wrangling, car crashes, prostitution raps, crack, coke, booze and God knows what else. There were disturbing pictures circulating of him looking like a fat tramp and not the lean, mean sex machine we had gotten used to.

The lack of new material was filled by a few profiteering bootleggers who released albums purporting to be official but were nothing more than off cuts, remixes and unauthorised live recordings.

Over a decade in the making and jonesing fans may have spotted a couple of leaked titbits on the net from the new album tentatively titled James River. Really Love was leaked by ?uestlove in 2007 and is a gently rolling acoustic number which at the time sounded like a work in progress. 1000 Deaths was leaked in 2010, a scuzzy piece of cosmic slop played in the vein of an old Parliament track. The middle eight is so funky you will need to take a shower after you've heard it. This is apparently the direction D'angelo has gone for the new album with ?uestlove commenting in an interview with Pitchfork that

"For all intents and purposes, this album is the black version of The Beach Boys' Smile – at best, it will go down in the Smile/There’s a Riot Goin’On/Miles Davis’ On the Corner category."

With so much speculation and rumour I guess we will only know for sure when it hits stores. Apparently the whole thing has been leaked online in the last few days but I'll be fucked if I can find it (a litle help here?).

It has been a frustrating time for fans of D'angelo as a barrage of young R&B upstarts have emerged to steal D'angelo crown as king of the swingers. At a time when R&B is turning more and more robotic D'angelo will be welcomed back by lovers of real music like a long lost son. Heres hoping he goes back to that looser, dirtier, organic vibe reminiscent of soul legends of old. I am willing to bet my house on the lack of auto-tune on this album.

Eleven years might seem like a long wait for new material but believe it or not there are worse culprits than D'angelo. Kate Bush took 12 years to complete Aerial, Guns N Roses took 17 years to release Chinese Democracy, The Eagles took 28 years to give the public the Long Road Out Of Eden but the winners are The Yardbirds who released Birdland in 2003, 35 years after Little Games.

The last time D'angelo played the Brixton Academy was in 2000 as part of the Voodoo tour. I was there and I remember being one of the very few "white" faces in the crowd. I have no problem with that but it was an unusual environment for me and I felt a bit self-conscious on arrival. Of course with music this good skin colour is an irrelevance.

D'angelo absolutely smashed his performance. At the time it felt like a combination between an old school James Brown revue and a Funkadelic style wig out. Having assembled about the best backing band possible with cats like Anthony Hamilton on B.V's, ?uestlove on drums, Pino Palladino on bass and Roy Hargrove on horns Voodoo and its predecessor Brown Sugar's jazzy ambience was scaled back in favour of an horn drenched upbeat funk. It was one of the best concerts I've ever been to.

I've managed to snag a couple of tickets for the upcoming shows (not cheap) and it remains to be seen with the ravages of drugs, alcohol and time have taken their toll on his genius and his waistline.

In the meantime enjoy this extended take on the classic Untitled (How Does It Feel?) from his Brixton gig over a decade ago for a taste of what is hopefully in store

Monday, 26 December 2011

Do The Unions Live In The Real World?

I am beginning to worry that I might be turning into Margaret Thatcher or worse a Daily Mail reader. The signs are all there. Knee-jerk reaction to strikes, criticism of public sector employees and a growing distrust of those lazy "continentals". Sometimes I wake up in the night in a cold sweat with a ghostly image of Mrs T's bouffanted visage licking my face.

Is it the impending spectre of middle age looming on the horizon or is just these austere times forcing us to lash out at those we perceive to have it better then us?

Last week we had our usual lads Christmas drinks meet-up and the normal good humour ended in acrimony after a heated discussion about public pensions turned sour when one of our teacher friends understandably got annoyed at having to work longer, pay more and get less of a pension whilst those that go us into this financial shitstorm seemingly emerging from the fallout without so much as scratch on their Maserati.

Those of us working in the private sector kindly pointed out that final salary pensions disappeared years ago as they were financially unsustainable. In the end everyone "agreed to differ" before punches were thrown.

Of course many public sector workers have the benefit of powerful unions whose sole purpose is to push for better pay and conditions. The reason I even bothered to blog about this today is because of the general strike by London Underground employees, stirred up by Aslef, means that today if you are one of the 90% of people travelling around London by Tube you are fucked.

So are drivers striking about working longer, having salaries cut or supporting sacked work colleagues? No. The union is demanding triple time pay and an extra day off for its employees working on Boxing Day. I think it is about the time to remind you that the average Tube driver earns £42000 a year rising to £52000 in 2015, twice the average wage. This was a deal that was negotiated as far back as October. Of course it extremely taxing and complicated to press a lever and keep a train on the rails so I can understand the need for a high salary.

To me this particular piece of strike action appears to be nothing more then bare-faced greed.

Did the unions spare a thought for their private sector brothers (many of whom don't get anywhere close to earning that amount) who are going to lose out on a days pay because they can't get into work? Bollocks have they.

Howard Collins, London Underground's chief operating officer, told the Today programme the number of drivers scheduled to work this year had been reduced by 200 to improve working conditions for Tube drivers. He added:

"I can't pay people twice. The salary for train drivers, including working Christmas Day and Boxing Day, is an all inclusive salary."

In this day and age when everyone should be knuckling down and getting the work done it is completely irresponsible for unions to throw their toys out the pram and manufacture strikes at the drop of a hat. It costs the economy and it costs those who rely on the public sector. It is almost like the unions have to justify there own existence.

If they are not careful this militant action is going to undermine public sector workers genuine and understandable concerns about their conditions and we will go back to the dark old days of the early 80's.

Monday, 19 December 2011

I'm So Ronery

If the internet, mobile communications and satellite TV were supposed to bring the world together Kim Jong Il showed that with the right type of censorship and careful brain-washing you can keep the people cocooned in a bizarre 1940's time capsule for an eternity.

Cut off from the rest of the world the temperamental tyrant managed to achieve demi-god status in his homeland despite totalitarian restrictions that subjugated the population to a monochrome hinterland where famine is the norm and dissenters are sent to concentration camps. If the outpourings of grief we are witnessing today are to be believed it seems a collective madness has taken over the country. Kim would give Derren Brown a run for his money in the illusionist stakes, such was his mysterious hold on the nation.

Intensely secretive he rarely made speeches, did not travel abroad and managed to avoid western intervention despite North Korea being on George Bush's "Axis of Evil". With numerous aggressions against neighbours Japan and threats to turn South Korean capital Seoul into " a sea of flames" it was only his nuclear arsenal that prevented the US delivering anything other then the occasional strongly worded rebuke (and you wonder why Iran are keen to get their hands on some nukes?)

You have to hand it to him. His powers of persuasion were phenomenal. Mourners have been weeping and wailing like their mothers had just died despite being treated like shit. Can you imagine such an outpouring of emotion if David Cameron kicked the bucket?

Of course, in the West his death has only achieved such a level of notoriety because in life he was such an oddball. Revolutionary Czech leader Vaclaz Havel died yesterday and barely gets a mention.

Such oddities include his convincing the Koreans that an undiscovered constellation appeared in the sky on the day of his birth, importing giant rabbits the size of dogs to alleviate food shortages, only eating rice cooked with wood from trees grown on the mountain he was born from and from his official state biography the ability to not need to take a dump (ever!)

Kim was also an avid film buff with a collection of more than 20,000 movies. He particularly liked Friday the 13th, Rambo and Godzilla. In 1978 he ordered the kidnapping of South Korean film director Shin Sang-ok and his actress wife Choi Eun-hee with the aim of building a North Korean film industry. They managed to escape the country and sought asylum in America.

Keen to develop a cult of personality his visage is seen adorning every building and is on every citizens lapel. Dictators are seldom fashion icons and Kim looked every bit the ludicrous despot with his collection of platform shoes, khaki jumpsuits, sunglasses and bouffant hairdo. In a certain light he looked like and wizened, oriental Liz Taylor.

One of the funniest stories I've heard about him is that at the opening of a new golf course in Pyongyang in 1994, he claimed he scored the lowest round of golf ever recorded carding a 38 under par including 11 holes-in-one. If that wasn't unbelievable enough it was his first time playing golf. Of course each of his 17 bodyguards verified the feat. The Guinness Book Of Records did not return his calls.

So Dear Leader, President for Life, Soul Brother Number One, The King of Sting and the Hardest Working Man in Show business. The man who held more titles then the New York Yankees will be sorely missed.

Oh, go on then. I'll show you the video.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Pick Up A Penguin

As I was drifting off last night listening to Five Live I heard a story that made me think I had overdone the cheeseboard.

It was a item about a pair of "gay penguins" Buddy and Pedro (could they have picked gayer names?) that were something of an internet sensation and the talk of Toronto Zoo as they had formed a "pair bonding" and regularly snuggled, groomed and defended their territory exhibiting typical mating behaviour even though one wasn't a lady.

The breaking news was not that they were "gay" but they had been split up by Toronto Zoo turing this into some sort of Brokeback Mountain scenario. Of course the zoo had no homophobic agenda but had split them up in an effort to get them to breed as there are only 60000 of these animals left in the wild.

Of course they aren't really gay as they never were witnessed to have had any sexual interaction (who knows what goes on behind closed burrows right?) but lets not let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Sure enough with within 72 hours of being introduced to a female Buddy had forgotten all about his mate Pedro and got down to business. Obviously these Magellan penguins have never heard the phrase "Bros Before Hos".

If living with a man is what classifies as gay these days then technically I was "gay" for about 5 years until my ex-housemate got married (to a woman). I think the word the media has conveniently overlooked in this case is the term "friends". I would like to clarify that no "snuggling" was involved in our relationship although I did let him borrow my hair gel a couple of times.

It also got me thinking whether homosexuality is an exclusively human behaviour. A quick Google and I was quite surprised by the results

Some biologists claim 'gay' animal behaviour has been spotted in 1,500 different species. Which kind of puts a spanner in the works regarding Darwin's theory of evolution and that animals aren't all hardwired to reproduce.

Apparently bisexuality is the norm among male chimps who form long-term partnerships with other males (includes sporadic sex) as it helps them to have strong allies when they challenge the troupe leader. Bonobo monkeys particularly like to get their freak on as males engage in a practice known as "penis-fencing" when they hang from trees and rub their penises together. Female Bonobo's engage in "scissoring" as well which...well you can use your imagination.

It's not just primates that prefer Steve to Eve. Giraffes regularly neck with male counterparts, Bottlenose dolphins engage in oral sex and males rub their erect penises against other males. As females only mate once a year male American Bison turn to their male buddies to release some pent up sexual frustration and more than half of the sexual encounters undertaken by young males are same sex. I imagine it's a lot like prison.

Walruses are typically bisexual and when the women are out of breeding season (you know what that like right lads?) males turn to each other for "comfort". They rub against one another, embrace and even sleep together in the water. It's a nice touch, after all no one likes it when instead of a post-coital cuddle your lover suddenly realises he or she has left the oven on and bolts out of the door (or is that just me?).

So amongst others cheetahs, cats, dogs, elephants, racoons, seagulls, salmon, tortoises, dragonflies, rattlesnakes and fruit flies have all shown signs of homosexuality.

When you think about it really isn't such odd behaviour now is it?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Exploding Helicopter - Transformers (2007)

Those of you of a certain age will fondly remember wiling away the school holidays watching Timmy Mallett physically abuse minors on the garish Wacaday. The piece-de-la-resistance was the Transformers cartoon at the end of the programme that introduced a generation of kids to some overpriced but rather ingenious toys.

Keen to cash in…*ahem*...educate a new generation the franchise was “rebooted” in 2007 with a big-budget movie tie-in helmed by director Michael Bay in what turned out to be another fetid gust in his vaults of stink.

The “story” as such involves the Autobots fighting the Decepticons on Earth over the Allspark, some sort of all powerful Rubix cube that could bring their home planet back to life or be used to conquer the universe. Such are the wild leaps of logic, pedestrian dialogue and retina burning action the story is purely incidental as your I.Q. would have left the building within the first 30 minutes.

Shia Lebeouf (Sam Witwicky) plays an innocent dweeb who inadvertently gets caught up in robo-mess. He struggles valiantly to wangle a few laughs from the morass whilst wooing the delectable Megan Fox (Mikaela Banes) but is quickly engulfed by the all-consuming tide of dreck. You can only imagine that Jon Voight (Defence Secretary Keller) and John Turturro (Agent Simmons) have large alimony payments to fund. They really should be in better films than this.

Despite being a stinking turd of a movie I was clinging to the hope that a few helicopter explosions could justify the wasted two and half hours of my life. I was sadly mistaken. Despite over half a dozen helicopter sightings, including a sexy looking Decepticon attack helicopter named “Blackout”, only one gets engulfed in flames.

Leader of the Decepticons, Megatron climbs an LA building in order to retrieve the Allspark from Lebeouf. An army chopper hovers at roof level and just as he is about to hand the cube over to the authorities, Megatron launches a couple of heat seeking missiles that slam into the copter and send it spinning out of control. It plummets out of shot engulfed in flames.

Artistic Merit

To give Bay credit, Transformers will surely appeal to its target demographic: pubescent boys. In fact Bay has done a remarkable job at visualising the mind of your average 12yr old; a hyperactive, incoherent mess of toys, cars and confusing sexual urges.

Bay had plenty of opportunities to give us a proper chopper fireball yet he drops the ball. There is absolutely no excuse for a downed helicopter not to be shown in its fully exploded glory. Perhaps Bay was combing his fabulous hair. Very, very poor.

Exploding Helicopter Innovation

Robot shoots down helicopter with missile. Sure it has been done before. Bay hasn’t even got the imagination to do that right.

No of exploding helicopters:

1 (just)

Do the Passengers survive?

Doubtful, but as we don’t get the pleasure of seeing the copter slam into the floor we will never know for sure.


The exploding helicopter occurs during the final part of the movie alerting you to the fact that the film is nearly over and you can go and do something more worthwhile with your life such as alphabetising your spice rack.


To quote our friend Robert Davi in Die Hard, Michael Bay usually likes “helicopters up the ass”. Such is his penchant for moody shots of choppers riding into and out of the sunset you would bet your house on a top notch explosion. What we get is an inexcusable abomination. Also how does a helicopter survive a multiple missile impact without blowing up immediately?

Favourite Quote:

Jazz: What's crackin' little bitches? This looks like a cool place to kick it!
Sam Witwicky: How did he learn to talk like that?
Optimus Prime: We've learned Earth's languages through the world-wide web.

Interesting |Fact:

In the cartoon Megatron used to transform into a Walther P38 pistol that his henchman would be able to pick up and shoot but in the film he inexplicably turns into a plane. More liberties taken but at least they get to sell a bit more merchandise right?

Friday, 25 November 2011

Pensions - We're Not All In This Together

Its not all music, films and idle celebrity chit-chat at Messiah HQ. Sometimes we have to get serious.

The thorny spectre of pensions has once again reared its boring but important head with confirmation of a mass walk out by staff at the UK Border Agency on Wednesday that is likely to make air travel a major pain in the ass.

Its not just customs officials who are downing tools. We will see coordinated strike action by 2m public sector workers threatened with pension reform that will force them to pay more into their pensions, work for longer and accept a pension based on a "career average" salary rather than a final salary.

Now it depends on which side of the fence you sit on as to whether you agree with the strikes or not.

If you work in the public sector you are understandably going to be pissed off at having joined a defined scheme, budgeted your life and expectations around that scheme only to have changes imposed arbitrarily.

Alternatively, with private sector pensions being steadily eroded and final salary pensions being as rare as hen's teeth many private sector employees resent the fact that they have subsidise hefty public sector pensions that they in the private sector can only dream of.

For the sake of transparency I need to make clear I work in the public sector. A few years ago we were told that we had Hobson choice of accepting a revised contributory pension or sticking with the generous final salary pension and risk bankrupting the company. So we had no choice but to swallow the bitter pill and go with the lower deal. This type of downgrade has occurred universally across the entire private sector.

The previous government did nothing to tackle the gaping pension shortfall caused by a greater amount of the population living into old age and a stock market that has been in the toilet in the last few years. Whether the status quo has been kept for ideological reasons or because Labour's major funding comes from the public sector unions who they were scared to upset is now immaterial.

If pushed I would have to say that whilst I sympathise with those in the public sector I don't believe they should be immune from the cuts and have to accept that we are living in difficult times and cuts are inevitable. To think other people have to fund their unwieldy pensions. Mass strikes are only going to alienate the rest of the working community who will have to change travel plans and take time off work to look after their kids when the schools go on strike.

If we are all going to take the pain then we aught to look at ALL public servants. One small section seems to have escaped the cuts. Who do you reckon that could possibly be? Whilst millionaire cabinet ministers are keen to trumpet the fact they have taken a pay freeze MP's like pensions minister Steven Webb keep schtum on the fact they still have these gold-plated tax-payer funded index-linked pensions. After just 15 years’ service an MP can retire with an annual pension of £24,000. A worker in the private sector with a defined contribution pension would have to have built up a pension pot of around £700,000 to be able to enjoy a similar annual pension.

It's about time M.P's set an example. How on earth can they justify their mandate when the public can see it is case of do as I say not do as I do?

We are all in this together? Don't make me laugh.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Je Suis Un Rockstar

When you were growing up what did you want to be? Perhaps you had innocent dreams of a being a ballerina or an astronaut? Maybe as your career path became more focused you fancied a respectable career as a banker, lawyer or politician? (See what I did there? I am funny) Chances are whatever direction qualifications, fate and luck have blown you will be sitting in some office typing some shit into a computer.

I admit I never really have had a driving ambition to be anything in particular but I guess secretly I wouldn't have minded being one of two things : a professional footballer or a rock star.

What young lad doesn't dream of one day being a successful musician. The benefits are obvious: fame, money, drugs, exotic locations, unlimited blowjobs from compliant young women. With perks like that I'll take my chances with the strong possibility of an undignified early death.

I have to admit my chances of being a professional footballer are looking decidedly slim. I may still have the vision of David Beckham and the close control of Lionel Messi but no club is willing to take a chance on 35yrs old with a history of knee problems who gets out of breath running 4km on a treadmill. Well, perhaps Arsenal.

No, rock star is still the only real avenue left for me and I recently I took one step to fulfilling my destiny. Regular viewers of my blogs will be aware that I have dabbled in the murky world of music before. I have filmed Youtube cover versions of a few songs that have taken my fancy and I've recorded some of my own material on a home studio. The process was ultimately rewarding but it was unbelievably painstaking and at times quite dull.

However recently I was contacted by a young friend of mine who knew I could play the guitar. We did a cover of Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody". It was OK if unremarkable version and it showed we had a long way to go before we looked and sounded like the pros.

This time we have upped the ante. Bem hired out a studio to record and film a live track, the classic Bill Wither's Ain't No Sunshine. We had done only an hour’s rehearsal and was just hoping it would come together on the night. He roped in a couple of friends who are aspiring film-makers to shoot the video and suddenly it was all getting rather professional.

The studio was in a part of Brighton that I don't normally visit located in a student centric area off Lewes Road. From the outside it looked a bit sketchy situated on the ground floor of crumbly backstreet college but inside it was bright, well equipped and friendly. Branching off from the reception area are a warren of rehearsal rooms and ours contained a full drum kit mounted on a stage, some huge amps and some comfy chairs for the entourage to stroke their chins and say.

"Bit more echo on the mic"

I have to say it was quite fun to play in a proper recording studio. First of all there is sound engineer to make sure all your mics, amps and guitars are working. I nodded along to his talk about leads, voltage and amps as good muso should secretly not knowing what he was talking about half the time. There is an awful lot that can go wrong when you start getting electrics involved as we found out quickly when my electro-acoustic just stopped working. Luckily he had a spare.

I have never professed to be Jimi Hendrix and there was a noticeable added bit of pressure at having to play amplified in front of strangers but eventually I managed just to zone the spectators out and we relaxed into it(as much as you can with camera in your face).

So like me don't let a lack of talent ruin your dreams of fame, fortune and unlimited fellatio. If Jedward can do it so can you!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Live Music -Maverick Sabre - Concorde 2 Brighton - 07/11/11

Down at the Concorde the crowd are getting restless. It's 09:45 and headline act Maverick Sabre has yet to appear.

As the next great white hope Maverick has been seen and heard in all the right places (Buzzcocks, Jools Holland, Chris Moyles, V-Festival) and without even releasing his debut album the venue is sold out. This is in no small part to standout single Let Me Go which goes "Bond Theme" with Portishead's sample of Isaac Hayes' Ike's Rap II. A sample re-sampled. Who said there were no original ideas in music?

Just before things turn nasty he comes out full of apologies blaming a date mix-up that forced him to go back to London to do a batch of interviews only to rush back 10mins before the start.

Much has been made about Maverick's everyman quality and in the flesh he looks every bit the potato-headed council estate chav you would expect to see hanging out by the off-license in a tracksuit with a dog on a rope. Appearances are invariably deceiving as all preconceptions are shattered when he opens his mouth and sings with the voice that is part Finley Quaye part Amy Winehouse, but 100% unique.

Things start promisingly with Look What I've Done a soulful number with a decent hook that talks of teenage pregnancy and female body image. Credit where its due for avoiding the usual Cristal/Beeyach cliches.

During I Can Never Be the heat of the venue gets the better of Maverick and he takes off his T-Shirt only to be admonished by security who come on stage and whisper in his ear that uncovered flesh is against health and safety. Maverick picks up shirt like a scolded schoolboy but once the partisan crown starts to boo he plucks up the courage to rebel.

"I'm boiling up here...this is for all the guys without a six-pack"

he says in a bizarre patois that vacillates between County Wexford blarney and Jamaican rude boy. Let's say he wasn't late because he was held up at the gym.

New song Cold Game has echoes of Stevie Wonder's Gangsters Paradise with its descending chords and I Used To Have It All is a pleasant track. Both are played competently but struggle to stay in the memory after they finish.

Next up an acoustic section where Maverick breaks out the guitar and attempts go all Redemption Song on our asses. Best I can describe the nagging disappointment I feel is that Maverick suffers the Jill Scott Syndrome where the music has been sacrificed in order to tell a story. These Walls a tale of dysfunctional life in and out of prison has admirable lyrics but musically is entirely forgettable. An exception to this They Found Him a Gun. a pretty decent song about gun crime whose refrain is musical enough to get the crowd involved. It shows he can do music and message when he puts his mind to it.

He certainly knows how to work the crowd with his shouts of "You are the best crowd yet, Brighton" and the requests to put our hands in the air. It is a touch too "Radio One Road Show" for my tastes but you can't fault the guy for effort.

After declaring Noel Gallagher one of the best songwriters ever he launches into a pretty unimaginative version of Wonderwall which has the crowd in full karaoke mode. It would have been nice to see him do something a little different with it though.

Current single I Need is a radio friendly slice of inoffensive FM soul which is delivered with his trademark slur.

For an encore we get the big hit, Let Me Go backed up by some great Chaka Khanesque backing vocals that sound a good live as they do on record.

Last up a version of fellow Hackney resident Professor Green's Jungle, a bass heavy distant cousin to Jamiroquai's Deeper Underground which adds some menace to Sabre's soulful warbling.

With only flashes of brilliance Maverick would do well to develop his songwriting craft if he ever wants to challenge the Noel Gallaghers of this world. For a man who wants his debut album to be something

"that people can play back to their kids."

Based on this outing he needs to work harder on his songs unless he wants to be remembered as a poor man's Plan B. To be top gun Maverick needs the melody to meet his high flying ambition.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Film Review - No Country For Old Men

The genre of thriller is often a widely used misnomer in the movie world for films involving detectives searching for clues to murders. To really make it thrilling some director may even throw in a car chase or some artistically lit rumpy pumpy. This is all rather lazy and predictable and probably the reason most thrillers are about as thrilling as a wet weekend in Margate.

Fortunately, the Coen Brother's redefine the genre with this modern classic that bagged a hatful of Oscars and gave a shot in the arm to the careers of both Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem. Not so much a modern day The Good, The Bad And The Ugly but The Old, The Brave and The Nutcase the movie is so utterly engrossing that at times I caught myself peering open mouthed at the unfolding tension.

No Country For Old Men is a literary adaptation of Cormack McCarthy's tense classic about washed-up Vietnam vet Llewlyn Moss (mustachioed Josh Brolin) who stumbles upon a drug-deal-gone-wrong whilst hunting in the deserts on the Mexican border. Amid the carnage and dead bodies is a bag containing $2 million. He decides that none of the corpses are going to need the loot any time soon and decides to liberate the money in order to build a better life for him and his trailer park wife Carla Jean (Kelly McDonald).

Problem is that no-one is going to let $2 million disappear without a fight and sadistic "collector" Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is sent to retrieve the cash. Picking up the pieces is world weary Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) whose laconic investigation follows the trail of destruction.

The film is a distant cousin of another Coen classic, Fargo. It's has a similar collection of nobodies, the same jet black humour and this time substitutes the stark icescapes of North Dakota for the barren deserts of Texas. They both involve murder, ill gotten gains and the long arm of the law.

The cat and mouse chase between Bardem and Brolin is a joy to behold. Street-wise Moss continually tries to stay one step ahead of the single-minded Chigurh with all manner of cautionary steps seemingly without success.

Bardem's terrifying performance as Chigurh is the stand out performance and in the same league as other legendary big-screen psychopaths Hannibal Lector and Norman Bates. He defines the word unhinged, with his own warped set of morals and ludicrous haircut he dispatches his victims with a sadistic calm. The scene involving Chigurh verbally battering a shop keeper is a masterclass of timing and dialogue.

"What's it to you where I'm from friendo?"

Tommy Lee Jones' measured melancholia is the perfect antidote to Bardem's all encompassing madness. As the old man in the films title Jones has a hard time accepting that the world is going to hell in a handcart. His old fashioned values are completely at odds with the rampaging menace he is tracking down. On the verge of retirement he is always that one step behind the killer but is resigned to the fact that despite his experience he is totally unprepared to tackle this force of nature.

I didn't realise at the time but the film's virtual lack of musical score inadvertently creates a really tense atmosphere where you are forced to pay attention to all the elements that pass you by in standard films such as creaking doors, traffic noise etc. This is obviously a deliberate ploy to focus you on the details and creates a heightened sense of reality. There were a few occasions where a jumped out of my seat, not something I'm inclined to do very often.

Roger Deakin's deserves special praise fine cinematography showcasing one of the few forgotten corners of the U.S. in all its stark majesty. A no man's land where law and order does not always have the upper hand.

Despite the many positives the film isn't perfect. It does drag on a tad too long in its efforts to be as faithful to the novel as possible, Tommy Lee Jones southern drawl is at times unintelligble and the ending is anti-climactic and leaves you wondering where the missing reel went.

8 out of 10

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

TV Review - Louis Theroux: America's Most Dangerous Pets - BBC2 Sunday

Louis has been getting a bit serious lately. First of all there were stray bullets avoided in his foray into Israel to meet the ultra-Zionists, then back for a return visit to God-Hates-Fags zealots and lastly a trip to Miami Mega Jail to socialise with sociopaths. Fascinating documentaries one and all but hardly a barrel of laughs. Perhaps keen to avoid turning into the thinking man's Ross Kemp, Louis goes back to the light hearted formula that made his Weird Weekends so successful, namely focusing on the incredibly rich seam of eccentric loonies that populate America.

This time Louis looks at America's fascination with killer pets. Tiger and primate ownership is legal in certain states and owners go as far as piercing monkey’s ears and pushing them around in buggies to humanize them. Capturing the zeitgeist, the documentary comes in the wake of the story about a woman in Connecticut who had her face ripped off by a pet chimpanzee and a man in Ohio who killed himself and released his menagerie of tigers and lions as a final "fuck you" to the authorities.

Louis visits the owner of GW Exotic Animal Park, Joe Exotic, a gay redneck (if that is not a contradiction in terms) with a peroxide mullet, handlebar moustache and more tattoos then Amy Winehouse. His heart seems to be in the right place as all his animals are rescued from the growing number of owners who find they can't look after the animals when they grow from cute cubs to 600lb man eaters.

However, money worries and a running battle with PETA about his supposed cruelty to animals, of which we see no evidence, mean he has to supplement his income by breeding some of the animals and taking them on a trashy mall road show. Sad to think that most Americans will only take an interest in nature if there is a Taco Bell within waddling distance.

Despite Louis best attempts to dig up some dirt the worst accusation that Louis can throw at Joe is whether his animals would have a better life in the wild. Well, duh? It's like asking a wheelchair bound war veteran dragged to safety whether his life would be any better if he could walk. Sometimes life is a choice of the lesser of two evils. As Joe pragmatically points out

"Its a choice of a small cage or a smaller box"

If Joe fails the oddness test fellow animal lover Tim was a bit closer to the loony enclosure. In Tim's own private zoo, funded by his extremely patient wife, we see him boxing a mountain lion and casually strolling into his bear enclosure

"I don't care if I don't come back out again"

His bears do seem oddly wary of him like they had been molested on a drunken night out but had subconsciously blanked it out.

"I don't trust or respect any humans...not even my wife"

he declares, in front of his wife. She has a sad air similar to those poor bears in the enclosure.

In a display of machismo that probably hints at some deficiency in the penis department Tim wheels out a massive Siberian tiger on a chain which is way too strong for him and manfully pretends everything is under control

"We should probably have talked this through"

implores Louis retreating to the safety of the house.

There is more discomfort for Louis in a scene reminiscent of The Simpsons when he is given Tatiana, a female baboon to hold with a faraway look in its eye and a bright red arse.

"I don't really want to touch her bum"

Louis seems convinced the baboon is about to bite his nose off as it clings on to him and picks through his chest hair for nits.

"Is it safe?"

whimpers Louis. The assurances he gets aren't very convincing so you can understand his reticence.

Louis caution is at odds with his normally gung-ho attitude to danger and it sounds like he his research has got the better of him. At the start of the programme, Joe gives him some sound advice about not underestimating the chimpanzees

"Chimps will lure you in and get ya!"

Louis visits another family with pet chimps who worryingly seem to be using them as surrogate children feeding them Doritos and Mexican food and having them wash in their shower.

" my eyes he seems like a tiny, hairy, energetic child"

Another older chimp is given a pep talk before meeting Louis and is threatened off camera to be shown "the bang bang" a reference to the shock that can be given from his collar. Regardless of the talking to, the adolescent chimp comes bounding out of his enclosure and in his excitement promptly puts his hand throw the patio window that Louis is cowering behind

“I think we have what we need,”

Sadly, Louis is the victim of his own success and whilst still entertaining this wasn't a memorable as his previous efforts. Louis has the knack of uncovering unreported or niche areas that have not had the oxygen of publicity but there are few revelations to be uncovered here. Neither extreme or quirky enough to qualify as whimsy and not enough dirt to qualify as a expose the show hangs limply between the two like a lachrymose orangutan swinging on an old tyre.

You can watch it again today on BBC2 @ 23:30 or on the Iplayer for the next 5 days

Friday, 28 October 2011

TV Review - The Future State Of Welfare - BBC2 9pm

Dole scroungers are a contentious issue these days now the recession has forced everyone to buy value beans from Aldi and wrap themselves in kitchen foil instead of turning the heating on. The Government is seeking to slash its spending on the welfare system and those on benefits are rapidly discovering we are not all in this together.

From the outset it was clear that John Humphreys, despite his best attempts at neutrality, was struggling to hide his distaste for career claimants behind a fixed smile and a slightly patronizing tone of questioning.

First of all Humphreys takes a trip down memory lane to his old stomping ground of Splott, Cardiff, and appropriate onomatopoeic description of a shit-hole if every I heard one. He chats to old neighbour about the good old days where the guy on the corner was treated "like a pariah" because he never held a job. He wistfully laments that the stigma of unemployment has been relegated to the dustbin of history and benefits are a viable alternative for today's generation.

Next stop Middlesborough where 1 in 8 people are unemployed, Humphreys scours the streets looking for layabouts to interview like some latter day SS commander. Understandably the people milling about with their shirts off by the corner shop are reluctant to chat about how much they sponge off the system but Humphreys finally gets the scoop from a couple with three kids who get £1600 a month in benefits.

Back at their tastefully decorated residence he tells Humphreys that it doesn't pay to work 40 hours a week for a few quid more then the state offer and that he'd prefer to stay at home so he could see more of the kids. Let's just say he likes his work-life balance as 100% to 0%. I have to say I can't fault the guy's logic but it is a wake-up call to those foolish enough to still think the current system encourages people to work. It seems to do the exact opposite.

We have come a long way since economist William Beveridge introduced his Social Insurance and Allied Services report in a ravaged post WWII Britain with the aim of banishing the five evils of Want, Ignorance, Squalor, Disease and Idleness. Purely as a safety net the Welfare State is a great concept for a civilized society. You pay into a pot and when you lose your job you are given a helping hand. Problem is that the idleness the bill was supposed to eradicate is now a driving force behind many of the claimants it sought to protect. You can forget about paying in as well as there are many examples of two or even three generations of a single family who spend their entire lives on benefits and never pay in a penny.

Despite its flaws the public still has an appetite for the welfare state and in a specially commissioned Ipsos/Mori poll 92% of those asked believed in the safety net but only 23% thought it was working properly.

But what are the alternatives? Humphreys takes a trip to New York to see the Workfare system which makes a mockery of our laissez fare approach to finding work. Claimants have to work, either in the community or in entry level jobs before they are eligible for "top up" benefits. It is supposed to break the cycle of poverty and the "something for nothing" culture building confidence and skills for people to work their way up the ladder. It sounds great in principle and initially reaped rewards but the recession has meant that the amount of jobs has dried up and the top up isn't enough to live on. Humphreys documents the proliferation of soup kitchens and food banks that even the ranks of middle class unemployed have been forced to use. Workfare is not the "magic bullet".

Back in the posh London suburb of Islington, Humphreys visits an Ecuadorian family who has migrated here via Spain and is claiming £2300 housing benefit a month to live in millionaires’ row. We are told there is a lack of sustainable housing means unscrupulous landlords are charging the going rate to council tenants and tax-payers are footing the bill. They greet Humphreys dressed for the opera and are undoubtedly hard workers but the patriarch’s lack of English means he can only perform menial jobs and relies on a subsidy. Should the tax-payer fund these extortionate rents or should those on benefits live in cheaper areas? It's a tough call. Who will clean the banker's luxury apartments if all the plebs leave for Sunderland?

Surely we have to be looking at a system that rewards work rather then encouraging the status quo. I think it has to be a combination of carrot and stick. Perhaps we could have a free childcare for all single mothers willing to go back to work? How about increasing the minimum wage and decreasing benefits so works starts to pay? How about limiting unemployment benefit to 2 years?

We need change and we need it quick as there is a growing resentment from the working population forced to fund a ballooning £5.5 billion welfare bill for a section of society which has no intention of working and prefers a life of no obligations and an ingrained sense of entitlement. This has dovetailed neatly into the Coalitions need to cut expenditure and means that times are about to change for those on benefits.