Kanye West and the Diamonds of Doom

Review of Kanye West at the Hammersmith Apollo, 23rd February 2013

Pic by baradar85

Poor old Kanye. An acclaimed music career that shows no sign of slowing down, a blossoming relationship with a little babby on the way, and so very much money that he can afford to slag off corporate sponsorship now – and yet he’s still so alone and so cold. At least, that’s what we must assume when we see him, a solitary figure in white pacing a vast, bare stage like an aggrieved polar bear while projections of icebergs and blizzards and cold seas play behind him.

It’s beautiful, minimal staging. He was surrounded by writhing, body-painted women the last time I saw him, but today there’s no-one to get in his way as he lopes around his empty square in what could be either a strait-jacket or a mummy’s wrap. Sometimes he covers his face completely, singing from behind a bird mask or, most alarmingly, a sewn-up ski mask completely encrusted in diamonds – the close-ups on the giant screens make him a disturbing, abstract monster. Meanwhile on the backing track Shirley Bassey’s diamond fetish gives way to Rihanna’s and some sort of circle is closed.

Kanye’s own favourite numbers seem to be his robo-despair epics, and he milks Say You Will and Runaway for all they’re worth and more. But the dreamlike atmosphere persists even as he makes his way through the big hits, and the design choices are thrilling throughout. When the all-white-everything section has gone as far as it can go – with an outbreak of snowfall over the stalls while Kanye mopes in an icy forest – the Apollo erupts in sudden, dazzling colour for Flashing Lights and All Of The Lights. It’s a well-timed middle section that offers some relief before the icebergs return to finish him off and Kanye trudges away towards them. Poor old thing.

The Foxscars 2013

Never mind the Oscars. This year I’m launching my personal alternative to the Academy Awards – the FOXSCARS.

BEST UNSEEN JOURNEY: Doctor Who Magazine‘s The Watcher recently enthused about the great unseen journeys in Who but Bond and M’s desperate drive from Westminster to Scotland in Skyfall takes the biscuit. “It’s not very comfortable, is it?” says M, settling into the Aston Martin. “Are you going to complain the whole way?” counters Bond. And then the most extraordinary elision.

M Judi Dench Skyfall lodge scotland

Google Maps suggests just over 8 hours for a trip from London to Glencoe. That’s a long trip even if you knock off an hour or two for Bond’s reckless speeding, and M’s a septuagenarian who’s just spent hours cooped up in an inquiry. So this grim, relentless flight for their lives must have had at least one comfort break along the way. I picture M rushing into the service station toilets, cashmere coat tails all a-flap, calling out to James who’s in the queue at the shop “Get me a Twirl, Bond! Or if they haven’t got a Twirl, a Topic!”

BEST IRONIC SURNAME-BASED CASTING: Liz White IS The Woman In Black.

BEST GUYLINER: Lenny Kravitz’s gold lids in The Hunger Games. You would, wouldn’t you.

Kravitz as hot as anything

BEST MOUTH: If you make a film expecting your audience to spend almost the entire running time staring at your heroine’s half-lit face as she stumbles through horrors in the dark, it had better be a good one. And Silent House is a beautiful, beautiful film where extraordinary technical challenges behind the scenes [it is contrived to appear as a single 90-minute shot] are matched by Elizabeth Olsen’s brilliant expressive face. I spent ages scouring the disc to get the best screenshot of her mouth opening up in atavistic terror, and realised afterwards I’d landed on the same still as is used on all the promo materials. Well there you go.

Silent House

BEST LEGO: The telekinetic teenagers in Chronicle hone their skills with some truly awesome Lego action.

BEST BREATHING:  Kristen Stewart is already famous for acting out emotion purely through the medium of languid sighs and gasps, so it was a treat that in her first scene in Snow White And The Huntsman she immediately got to blow a candle out.

BEST MONSTER IN AN OTHERWISE TERRIBLE FILM: The spider-thing made out of mannequin parts in Silent Hill: Revelation

spider mannequin

BEST IMAGINARY MUSICAL VERSION: There’s a moment in the excellent My Brother The Devil when Fady Elsayed says to James Floyd “I’d rather have a brother that’s a bomber than a homo!” Every time I’ve seen it I’ve been willing him to say “bummer” instead of “homo”. Because then it would be the perfect opening lyric to the lead song of the musical version that’s in my head.

My Brother the Devil

BEST 3D: I didn’t think I liked 3D, but Life of Pi changed my mind, so well done everybody.

BEST OPTIMISM IN A POSTER PULL-QUOTE: Quartet

Quartet poster

BEST PUNCTUATION: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2

BEST FINGERS: Not to get all spoilery, but there’s a point in Prometheus where Noomi Rapace has just gone through some of the most intense physical and mental trauma that you can imagine. And how do the ship’s crew wake her up? Five sharp raps to the face with the back of the fingers. In marigolds. Makes me laugh every time.

Prometheus fingers

BEST GRATUITOUS NUDITY: Nick Sagar suddenly being forced to strip naked in the street in Ill Manors had absolutely no plot justification or character relevance at all. Plan B, we salute you.

Nick Sagar, as fit as a butcher's dog

BEST INTER-SPECIES NECROPHILIAC FRENCH KISS: Always a hotly-contested category, but this year Cabin in the Woods just edged it.

kissing in the cabin in the woods

The Project Manager’s guide to Doctor Who: The Mark Of The Rani

forest face

“I doubt the Rani ever does ANYTHING at random,” says the Doctor. But is her project management sense really as strong as her fashion sense? Let’s find out.

1. SET A CLEAR GOAL

Manic miners

In The Mark of the Rani we see a classic example of a fix-up project. A larger strategic project has gone wrong – in this instance, the Rani’s experiments on her planet Miasimiah Goria have heightened her slaves’ awareness as planned, but lowered their ability to sleep – and an offshoot tactical recovery project is initiated. Wisely, the Rani stages her subsidiary project offsite in Victorian England, where her activities will cause no disruption to the mother portfolio. Her metrical objective is to collect enough brain fluid to restore the balance at home, and from everything we see of her I’m confident in assuming she’s planned out her milestones and set a clear endpoint. A great start.

2. ESTIMATING AND PLANNING

bathhouse

Most establishments would charge you extra for this sort of thing

The Doctor’s surprised to see the Rani’s volcano screen-print as he reckons her tastes are sterile. But in fact all the indicators on her balanced scorecard expose her as a fun-lover. Her chosen methodology revolves around milking miners, for a start. And there’s an element of cosplay to the whole thing, with her man-slaves adorned in fetishwear and her own time spent dressed up as an old lady watching rugged Geordies getting naked. (Is the Doctor into that too? “When we went past the bath house that instrument of yours reacted!” squeaks Peri at one point.) She might claim she sees everyone as just “walking bags of chemicals” but I’ve heard better excuses.

Most excitingly for a Doctor Who villain, the Rani actually understands marketing too. We see her sending a child running off to the tavern with a penny and instructions to tell the men there’s still a bit of hot water left if they hurry. Crafting scarcity into your call to action is a time-honoured technique for driving footfall.

So her skillset includes attention to detail AND flair. And on learning she’s been doing this sort of thing undetected on Earth for centuries, even the Doctor has to concede she’s a brilliant tactician.

3. CONTINGENCY

glitter

Peri gets glitterfaced and shafted

Theres a consequence to her removing chemicals from miners’ brains of course.  One minute they’re enjoying a friendly spot of post-bath towel flicking, the next they’re kicking potatoes everywhere and smashing machinery to pieces. But she’s factored for this resultant aggression and keeps well out of the way when the lads are getting lairy.

There’s nothing to suggest the Rani’s project wouldn’t have successfully delivered had she been left to her own devices. But even so, she’s well prepared for any eventuality with a state-of-the-art remote-controlled TARDIS, the insanely camp touch of a glittery pellet bomb built into her bracelets and of course – lying around just in case – mines that turn people into trees! Well you never know.

tree

“Hoist up your skirts, Peri, off we go!”

4. MANAGING THE TEAM

She’s definitely not a team player by choice, and the Rani’s plans are only spoilt when the Master turns up, purely to see what’s going on and what trouble he can cause. He obviously fancies her too – “Anything connected with you would undoubtedly be fascinating!’ he gushes on arrival. Sure, he goes on about some grand plan to upset history but he’s clearly just making it up as he goes along.

So she’s forced to work with someone she hates and who keeps getting in the way of her iterative dependencies. It’s basically an Industrial Revolution Apprentice special, and it’s surprising we don’t get a glimpse of Alan Sugar selling an early version of his difference engine in the town square.

sweetmeat

“Luke, I want you to swallow this very special sweetmeat” – the Master’s repertory of Victorian chat-up lines in full play here

The Master’s the worst kind of team member to be accountable for too, and spends the whole story pissing on the Rani’s baseline – threatening to break her machinery, stealing her hard-won brain fluid and her mind-controlling maggots, and even bringing the Doctor there so she’ll have no choice but to join forces. The Rani’s critical chains are completely disrupted.

5. TRACKING, STATUS REPORTING AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT

dinosaur

The Doctor uncovers the Rani’s sideline as a researcher for the value meat industry

With the Master and the Doctor in town, the Rani MoSCoWs the hell out of the earned value to date, deciding that the only sensible course is to abandon the project entirely and salvage what she can. It’s a brave choice for any project manager, but absolutely the right one. She maintains a cool sense of priorities while prevented from leaving, spying on the Master at every opportunity and commenting acidly on his own lack of business prowess: “What’s he up to now? It’ll be something devious and over-complicated. He’d get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line.”

When the chance comes she’s even able to give him a face-to-face appraisal: “You’re unbalanced – no wonder the Doctor always outwits you.” Such is her own composure that we don’t doubt her. Finally, with her deliverables in tatters thanks to the Master, she takes a well-earned opportunity to knee him in his own deliverables. “I don’t make mistakes,” she’d claimed earlier. And she’s right.

DEBRIEF

  • The project’s measurable goals were well-established
  • The proposed methodology combined creative flair with metrical precision
  • Every contingency was fully risk-managed
  • The project manager was forced under duress to induct additional team members, which enabled catastrophic chaos creep to the scorecard
  • The key deliverables were unsalvageable, and it is recommended that the project manager works entirely in isolation in the future
rani

Project FAIL

Martine McCutcheon’s Perfect Cheese Moment

Martine McCutcheon Cheese Moments

The other week in ITV’s Midsomer Murders, poor Martine McCutcheon was killed to death by massive cheeses. How cruelly ironic that Martine, who’s spent so many years tirelessly promoting Activia yoghurt on British screens, should meet such a vicious dairy-related death. Here’s that perfect moment in full, soundtracked at last by her biggest hit.

Celebrity Families: The Carters

International superstar Beyoncé has caused quite a stir by adopting her husband Shawn’s name for her forthcoming “The Mrs Carter Show” tour. We asked her about the reasoning behind it.

carters

“It’s a powerful name. It’s a name of power,” Beyoncé tells me as we sit over cocktails and a plate of scotch eggs in a pop-up artisan cafe on the deck of a Dover-Calais P&O ferry that’s moored in uptown Beverly Hills. “For a good few years while Jay [Shawn’s “rap name” is Jay-Z] was growing up, his mum [TV’s Lynda Carter] was Wonder Woman every week on tv and his dad [Jimmy] was president of the USA. And that’s exactly the sort of drive and ambition my solo career encapsulates.”

It must have been quite a childhood, I say. “Hell yes!” spurts Beyoncé, waving at the waiter for prawns. “He used to get teased something awful at school. ‘Show us your magic bracelets!’ ‘Negotiate a peace with Cuba!’ All that sort of thing.” She sighs wistfully.

Just then we’re joined by Beyoncé’s aunt Helena [Bonham Carter, best known for her role as Don Johnson’s love interest in Miami Vice] – they briefly brush each others’ hair in greeting before settling down to tell me more. “When I had my kids they were always over at Lynda’s wanting to play with Jay-Z,” confides Helena in an outrageous Cockney accent. “My eldest Dwayne [Carter, best known today as musician Lil Wayne] has quite the rivalry with Jay these days but they were so friendly once. They used to do raps together over Sunday lunch!” Did they have beef, I ask. “No, chicken usually,” says Helena.

Beyoncé’s thoughts turn to the lost members of the Carter clan, as a regretful breeze ripples across her perfect skin. “Jay hardly sees anything of his uncle Chris these days,” she moues. “He went a bit wild with his conspiracy theories about twenty years ago, it was all ‘the truth is out there’ and ‘trust no-one’ and ‘aliens are in the jelly’ and that sort of thing. He and his kids the Backstreet-Carters have been shut off ever since. Poor Nick and poor little Aaron.”

“They wanted it that way,” spits Helena bitterly.

Still, happier times lie ahead, I venture, drawing Beyoncé’s attention back to her forthcoming tour and the reason for our interview. “Yes, and perhaps now you appreciate a little of the wonderful Carter legacy,” she says with a sweet, winning smile. “With all that rich history behind the name I’d be a fool not to adopt it for promotional purposes.” And the loss of the Knowles name? “My father Nick will be devastated. But with the money from the tour he’ll finally be able to do up his house.”

Is The Hunger Games a shot-for-shot remake of a 1979 episode of Grange Hill?

A lot of people are quick to claim that The Hunger Games is some sort of rip-off of Battle Royale. But Suzanne Collins claims she’d never heard of the Japanese book and film before her own became a success, and who are we to argue? Especially when, somewhere between Connecticut and Shikoku – here in South East England in fact – there’s another source so close as to be uncanny. Could a Grange Hill school trip to Beaconsfield really have inspired the adventures of the Panem tributes? Let’s take a look…

Once a year, selected children are taken out of their ordinary lives by a woman in a remarkable hat and suit

Once a year, selected children are taken out of their ordinary lives by a woman in a remarkable hat and suit

On the way there they must learn to respect their mentor

On the way there they must learn to respect their mentor

alliances

Alliances are soon formed in the wilderness

But the gang are in pursuit, and our heroines must flee!

But the gang are in hot pursuit!

Lost in the woods, will the odds be in the girls' favour?

Lost in the woods, will the girls find the odds are in their favour?

The man who could save them waits in a rose garden, but how will the story end?

In a rose garden waits a man who could save them, but will he?

What happened with the bigger boys

(By Bert, aged 4.0)

My mum was going out on speed dating because it was Valentine’s Day and she left me on my own and I said I would be bored and she said shut up and why didn’t I read my chicken book. I like my chicken book but I have read it a lot and I know how it ends – on the front it is very colourful and the chickens look nice and on the back there are smaller pictures of the chickens and it tells you about the meal deals and it has the phone number.

Screen Shot 2013-01-08 at 00.02.58

Out the window I could see that the bigger boys from down the road were getting dressed up for skiing but it is weeks since there was any snow so I ran outside to warn them.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 23.25.39

The bigger boys laughed at me and they said they just like dressing up in lots of different outfits because then they get lots of girlfriends and they put on their sailor clothes and they looked stupid and I wanted to laugh at them back but I did not because I am scared of Louis.

Screen Shot 2013-01-08 at 00.05.02

Louis made me sit on the front of a car while they drove it around the block and I pretended I was in a film because then it was less scary and I thought Niall would help me because he is the gentlest one from the bigger boys but he was showing off because he just wants Louis to like him and I do not like Louis.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 23.17.24

Some of the other bigger boys were riding a motorbike and they were all very grown up and they were talking about all the tattoos they had got and about all the girls they would like to kiss and about how they did not mind if she was fat or ugly and I wondered if my mum was doing well at the speed dating.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 23.22.47

But it turned out the bigger boys were not driving properly and the police made them go to prison and I had to go too but only to tell them which were the boys that had been bad to me and I thought about all the girls who would be sad if the bigger boys had to stay in prison and I did not tell the police anything and I got to go home and my mum was still not back but I looked at the pictures of the chickens and I went to sleep.

The biggest jigsaw shop in the world – a review

We were in the Lake District recently and happened across this place:

Barney's News Box Jigsaws

They’re very modest on the sign. “Probably the largest selection of jigsaws in the world” they say. Probably! And it does look like an ordinary shop from the outside.

downstairs

This is the sight that confronts you on the ground floor. Impressive. Still, you’ve perhaps seen bigger jigsaw displays elsewhere. But then you go upstairs:

upstairs

This is the view from the top of the stairs, and the point at which things get a bit overwhelming. With jigsaws piled high from floor to ceiling you might struggle to make out that narrow opening on the right there. What’s through the rabbit hole?

rabbit hole

Here I am at the centre of the cardboard cave. A place where the walls themselves are towers of terrifying puzzles and distance is as meaningless as direction. A person could lose themselves forever here. And what did I find in the furthest corner of the labyrinth? This:

Downton Abbey jigsaw

A classy extension of Downton Abbey’s brand identity there. So which other cultural forces have taken jigsaw form in this brave new world?

Twilight jigsaws

It’s Twilight’s Edward and Jacob, in Puzzleball form! £6.99 each – a bargain. Finally Bella can have both! Who else is here?

hannah montana jigsaw

It’s Disney’s Hannah Montana of course! “Made in 2D, Displayed in 3D” – will Miley Cyrus EVER be able to move on?

jigsaw names

Here’s a selection of the generic jigsaws. The size and scope of the industry that keeps crazed fans in a constant supply of fresh puzzles had never occurred to me before. What evocative names.  Blooming Cart. Proud Peacock. Gotta Love Snow! Yes, you gotta. Is there anything a bit more racy though? Well…

naughty dots jigsaw

Oh this is the stuff. Really Really (Really) Naughty Dots – Explicit Jigsaw Fun For Adults Only. It’s the future our forebears fought for. It even comes with a special pen! Mind you, how many stages of frustration do you want to put yourself through? You’ll spend hours doing the jigsaw, and then you have to do the dot-to-dots, and finally you’re supposed to get some sort of erotic thrill out of a phallus you’ve drawn yourself with a wipe-clean pen.  I suppose for some people the anticipation’s everything. Here’s something a bit gentler for a happy finish:

young farmers

Carry On Urbanka

carry on urbanka

What happens when you take Doctor Who‘s single most innuendo-laden story and reduce it to its purest form by taking out everything but the smut? A mildly amusing YouTube edit of Four To Doomsday is what happens, and here it is:

2012: A review in subtitling disasters

In my similar round-up last year I explained that our telly automatically turns subtitles on when muted, which often then get stuck when we change channels. With hilarious consequences!

The year began with a nasty cold snap, and the BBC Weather Department started to get frustrated at the public's apathy

The year began with a nasty cold snap, and the BBC Weather Department was getting increasingly frustrated at the public’s apathy

And it was a year of austerity measures, with stern advice given daily on the news

And it was a year of austerity measures, with stern advice given daily on the news

Columbo had one last question for Underdog

Columbo had one last question for Underdog

June brought the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, and Fiona Bruce got carried away with some of the terminology

June brought the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, and Fiona Bruce got carried away with some of the terminology

On the Enterprise-D, Beverley was furious that Picard's special nickname for her had become common knowledge

On the Enterprise-D, Beverley was furious that Picard’s special nickname for her had become common knowledge

The Olympics! And Gary Lineker was spoiling for a fight

The Olympics! And Gary Lineker was spoiling for a fight

But it was the achievements of Team GB that really made the nation proud

But it was the achievements of Team GB that really made the nation proud

Over on the X Factor, one advertiser spotted a celebrity sponsorship opportunity during the early stages

Over on the X Factor, one advertiser spotted a celebrity sponsorship opportunity during the early stages

And as the weather turned cold again, one forecaster lost the plot altogether

And as the weather turned cold again, one forecaster lost the plot altogether

Never, Fiona. Never.

Never, Fiona. Never.