Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Prick n' Mix

In this world there are two types of gameshow. The first is knowledge-based and built primarily around the simple conceit of answering questions - Mastermind and The Weakest Link being two examples. The second kind requires a limited use of intelligence and in many examples actively discourages it. They are the anti-logic.

This article is about the latter.

There are of course many shows featuring egotistical tit-ends whose only value is their serving as a permanent reminder that when the sun finally engulfs our planet 5 billion years from now, it may not be such a bad thing. Golden Balls for instance is a sort of poker for idiots which gathers together four of the most misanthropic individuals imaginable to determine who is the least likeable person in the Western hemisphere; then rewards them with a cash prize. Meanwhile, the deadly serious marketing campaign for ITV’s The Cube is laughably anticlimactic when, following a montage of bullet-time effects all set to an orchestral theme, the final result consists of little more than a fat bloke playing swingball in a box. However, even these are minor offenders compared to a show responsible for more human rights violations than the People’s Republic of China and whose egoism, greed and sheer stupidity I am compelled to address. 22 boxes. A quarter of a million pounds. Just one question: Deal or No Deal?

"Greed is good." Deal or No Deal is actually based
on Oliver Stone's capitalist classic.
Whereas even the most serendipitous of quizzes entail a modest degree of intellect (or at the very least a basic aptitude for mathematical probability), Deal or No Deal is entirely random. This in itself wouldn’t be such an issue if those who participate were themselves aware of the fact, yet these cognitively challenged nitwits remain blissfully unaware, attempting instead to influence the final outcome with their own unique strategy. The order of their selections are often determined by the most absurd means, with systems based around anything ranging from prime numbers to the ages of Myra Hindley’s victims, which is admittedly an awful lot of effort to achieve a result that could just as easily have been obtained from a blind man’s lucky dip. In fact, so wafer thin is the central premise that one may just as well pick boxes 1-22 in numerical order, a process which would take all of five minutes and leave the remaining forty to be filled with scenes of gratuitous violence enacted on all those involved in this car crash of a show. Unfortunately, those drawn to this type of program are inevitably narcissists savouring their moment in the spotlight and as such they deliberate over that single question as if it were Sophie’s Choice (1982).

As is often the case on Deal or No Deal, this
contestant struggles to decide which is worse.

In actuality, it isn’t so much the game of chance that annoys me but rather the individuals who partake in it. At the start of each episode, the chosen contestant gives us a peak into their ‘tragic’ past which more often than not sounds like the blurb of a Marian Keyes novel. Once the obligatory photographs of dead relatives are out of the way, a brief explanation is required as to how this simpleton will attempt to beat the banker. The redundancy of constructing a plan in order to evade mere fluke is usually attributable to said moron’s belief in fate/mind-reading/the supernatural/wizards/giants and anything else one may find in the Bible or an episode of Colin Fry. Meanwhile the psychic clings doggedly to his or her belief in extra-sensory abilities right up until the very end, even daring to claim that upon picking the wrong box they just knew that was going to happen. Oh really? Then you should have had the foresight to stay at home and do something more productive with your powers; like invite possession by a demon with a more interesting personality.

In an ideal world...

The whole thing is so disgustingly sycophantic. Should the opener of the box reveal a low amount, the player will offer their thanks as if they were somehow responsible for the result. If it’s a high number, attempts are made to boost morale through rapturous applause like this will influence the contents pre-determinately placed there an hour before by a runner named Kev. Not that the audience is much better, cheering on these vainglorious fuckwads as they saunter round the room, lapping up attention and contemplating the contents of each box with all the philosophical profundity of a Schrödinger experiment. It isn’t so much a quiz as a pantomime, replete with a villain in the form of the nefarious banker who in all fairness really isn’t that bad – I can say with absolute confidence that at no point in my local Santander have I ever been offered money in return for unfastening brightly coloured containers.

Currently hosting the
Serbian version.

The final third of the show is arguably the most horrific thing you’re ever likely to experience on daytime TV. Half of all those present are reduced to tears over what is essentially a glorified version of Minesweeper and if the player accepts an early offer, he or she continues through the game to reveal what could have been. It’s a testament to how greedy our society has become when £1,000 can be seen as a disappointment; in one instance, Noel Edmonds actually called a woman brave for her optimism when it was discovered that, had she persevered through to the end, the prize would have been considerably  more substantial than the trifling twenty grand she actually received. No, that isn’t brave; bravery is risking your life to save others. In fact, the next time one of these misguided dipsticks allows their gluttony to take precedence over rational thinking, their only reward should be a bullet-proof vest and a one way plane ticket to Afghanistan. On second thoughts, forget the vest.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The Other Guys (12A)

Remember when Will Ferrell was a big deal? It wasn’t so long ago that you couldn’t swing the proverbial feline without hitting one of his movies. Unfortunately, for every Anchorman (2004) there’s a Semi-Pro (2008) and audiences have become extremely cautious, albeit unjustly. Why? It isn’t that he lost his gift, just the plot; with a glut of star driven vehicles behind him whose plots feature as little more than a foot note, The Other Guys then may be seen as an attempt to put things right. And for the most part, it succeeds.

Not that you should be expecting anything less than the highest of high concept comedy. It sticks rigidly to the dogmatic buddy/cop formula and what plotting there is actually appears convoluted, rearing its head only on occasion to sit contritely alongside the fun. Still, what stops this from becoming another Ferrell talent show is the decision to ground him in a pairing. Arguably Ferrell is in the driving seat, but this being a buddy flick guarantees he never hogs the limelight. The casting of Wahlberg is a strange one and perhaps isn’t quite the genius idea that it surely looked on paper. His Mel Gibson-in-Lethal Weapon (1987)-inspired caricature (which is done far better by Emilio Estevez in Loaded Weapon 1 (1993)) initially shows promise – such as a recurring preoccupation with drug-related crimes – but it doesn’t take long before he becomes the obligatory straight-man. That being said, it is at least refreshing to see him take on a role that shows he can take a joke. Meanwhile, Steve Coogan and Michael Keaton provide additional laughs to pad out the rather humdrum scenery, although the exact purpose of Eva Mendez (beyond setting up a few punchlines) remains to me a mystery.

Evidently director Adam Mckay has a fondness for quirky comedy and here he leaves his indelible mark across every inch of celluloid. Straddling a delicate balance between Step Brothers (2008) (hilarious) and Talladega Nights (2006) (not so hilarious), he demonstrates to the generic Hangover (2009) generation how it’s really done. Coming from the Apatow school of filmmaking, Mckay trades in the traditionally accepted set-up & punchline routine for something more free flowing and altogether harder to classify. He is undoubtedly an auteur of comedy, staging brilliantly bizarre scenarios – a scene in which a whispered argument followed by a silent brawl occur during a wake is a highlight, and the way in which he subverts and mocks film conventions is almost Zucker-esque.

It isn’t a polished picture and certainly the second half suffers from having drastically fewer jokes than the first, but as comedies go you could do a lot worse.


If you enjoyed this you may also like...

Pineapple Express (2008) ****
Starsky & Hutch (2004) ****
Step Brothers (2008) ****

Monday, 13 September 2010

We'll Always Have Florence

When I was 17, I visited Florence as part of a college trip. I avoided the sites with all the eagerness of a xenophobe, choosing instead to get lost on a regular basis down the city’s many labyrinthine walkways. (Think Don’t Look Now (1973) but without the sex). The nights I spent topping up my blood-alcohol level and basking in pure inebriated joy before pouring vomit down my jumper (courtesy of my mouth) and collapsing beside the bathroom toilet wearing nothing but underpants; me, not the toilet.

One of the bars we frequented was Spleen, a rather classy cocktail establishment where I first experienced the childish joy of asking for a drink with the word sex in it. Actually, the place wasn’t that classy; a group photo taken by my friend revealed, on closer inspection, a daring young cad proffering his organ into an unsuspecting woman’s ear. NB: Jokes regarding the cochlea are more than welcome at this point. Anyway, during my final night in Mussolini’s country, it was at this location that I was approached by a group of American girls. I had shared a drunken conversation with one of them the previous night and she had returned, friends in tow, with the specific purpose of seeing me, ignoring those around me like a Jewish application to a country club. Being quite the Yank-ophile, I felt extremely honoured to be the focus of attention for this bevy of young beauties. They were all charmed by my English eccentricity, particularly the black girl from Alabama who initially mistook my pale face for a white hood. There was an undeniable chemistry between us and had I not repeatedly called her by her slave name I’m almost positive we would have hit it off.

An artist's impression of me back in 2003

They invited me to tag along with them so naturally I complied. A drunken hop, skip and a trip later we arrived in an American bar where I began each conversation with the line, “Wasn’t 9/11 terrible?” By the end of the evening, having apologised to all present for the revolutionary war, I was ready to leave when the girl from the night before begged me to stay out. Now, I should probably explain that our first encounter ended with her requesting me to walk her home; an offer I rather stupidly declined. So, 24 hours later here I was being offered a second olive branch, only replace olive branch with intercourse. And what did I do? Politely excused myself and returned to my hotel to make a curfew.

So, instead of losing my virginity to an American, here I am 7 years later – still a virgin with less sexual experience than a picky monk. Still, at least I didn’t end up with a knob in my ear.

If you have been personally affected by the issues raised in this blog or would like more information, call this number: 08456 060 234*

*NB: This is actually the number for the Job Centre.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Hidden Gems: Lilo and Stitch (2002)

*After the scene in which Lilo buys Stitch, they walk past a restaurant called Mulan Wok.

*Lilo has a Dumbo (1941) soft toy in her bedroom.

*She also has a picture of Mickey Mouse on her wall.

*Lilo’s sister Nani has a Mulan (1998) poster on her wall.

*During the ‘Suspicious Minds’ montage, a postcard with a picture of DisneyWorld can be spotted.

*When Stitch scares everyone from the beach, the last two people to run past Bubbles are caricatures of the film’s directors, Dean Deblois and Chris Sanders.

*A113 appears on two licence plates.
The first is the fire truck which goes to Lilo’s house.

*The second is the gasoline truck which Stitch stops during the finale.

*The icon which appears on Gantu’s screen is Spaceship Earth from Epcot at Walt Disney World. Although I hate to get into listing hidden Mickeys, there are two in this shot to the left and right of the centre screen.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Hidden Gems: The Wild (2006)

*The Lion King Musical is advertised in Times Square.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Hidden Gems: Tokyo Mater (2008)

*The Buy n Large logo from Wall-E can be spotted in the background.

*When Mater loses control and goes skidding through the restaurant, the name on the sign is Japanese for Harryhausen's, the sushi restaurant from Monster’s, Inc. (2001).

*This is further backed up in the following shot, wherein the car versions of Mike and Sulley can be spotted inside.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Hidden Gems: The Princess and the Frog (2009)

*A113 appears on the front of the tram during the opening song.

*Also during the opening song is a woman beating a rug out on a balcony. It’s actually the Magic Carpet from Aladdin (1992).

*I’m not entirely sure about this one but it seems far too similar to be mere coincidence. It would appear that animator Eric Goldberg has snuck in a little homage to Madam Mim from The Sword in the Stone (1963) in this scene.

*When Madam Odie performs her song, she throws a series of items across the room, one of which is the Genie’s lamp from Aladdin.

*During the Mardi Gras parade, there are two floats which reference the directors’ previous films.  The first is modelled on King Triton from The Little Mermaid (1989)...

... and the second is based on Jafar from Aladdin.

*Also appearing in this sequence are caricatures of the writer/directors, John Musker and Ron Clements.

The band which Louis joins at the end is called The Firefly Five Plus Lou. This is a reference to The Firehouse Five Plus Two, a jazz band formed by members of the Disney animation department back in the 50s. The guy sat at the piano is a caricature of Frank Thomas, a legendary animator who was the band pianist.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Hidden Gems: Chicken Little (2005)

Okay, I don’t want to spend any more time on this film than is absolutely necessary so let’s just get it out of the way and move on with our lives.

*During the opening when Buck Cluck is considering possible introductions to the film, one of the options is the beginning of The Lion King (1994).

*There is a Mickey Mouse drawing on the pinboard in the classroom.

*One of the aliens at the end of the film has an extraterrestrial Mickey Mouse watch.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Hidden Gems: Finding Nemo (2003)

*The A113 code reappears on the scuba diver’s camera right before Nemo is taken.

*The photo beside the fish tank is a caricature of Pixar employee Ralph Eggleston receiving an Oscar.

*When Gill is describing the escape plan, a Pizza Planet truck can be seen whizzing across the road.

*'For the birds’ is written on the back of one of the boats in the harbour, named after the 2001 Pixar short of the same name.

*There is a certificate in the dentistry office given by the Pixar University School of Dentistry with the alien from Toy Story (1995) as the emblem.

*The ship at the bottom of the fish tank features a mermaid at the front. It’s the same mermaid from the Pixar short film, Knick Knack (1989).

*One of the boats in the harbour has the name ‘Jerome Ranft’ written on it. This is a reference to Pixar employee and voice of Jacques, Joe Ranft.

*See that mobile hanging from the ceiling? It’s the same one Sulley tries to flush down the toilet in Monsters, Inc. (2001).

*There is a photo of the newly constructed Pixar building on the dentist’s cupboard.

*There are numerous toys in the dentist’s waiting room, including: Buzz Lightyear and the plane from Toy Story, the Luxo ball and Boo’s teddybear from Monsters, Inc.

*There is a child in the dentist’s waiting room reading a comic about Mr. Incredible, star of The Incredibles (2004).

*The waiting room also features a book entitled “M is for Monster” in reference to Monsters, Inc.

*When the fish escape the tank at the end of the film, Luigi from Cars (2006) drives past.

*Mike from Monsters, Inc. swims by during the credits.