Monthly Archives: February 2012

Death of a Superhero

I’m in Dublin for a weekend, primarily to see Rammstein do their first ever concert in Ireland.  This visit coincided with the end of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (JDIFF) and when my better half looked at the listings, she suggested going to the Closing Gala Film in town called “Death of a Superhero“.

The film is about Donald, a 14 years South Dublin boy growing up with all the problems of adolescence.  His parents don’t understand him, he rages against the world.  He has found he has a talent for drawing comics and fills them with sketches featuring his strong, silent hero battling against The Glove, a supervillain with syringes for fingers.  Donald is confused about the opposite sex and is afraid he will die a virgin.

And he will die, because Donald is terminally ill with cancer. He doesn’t have long left and appears to be a on a cycle of destruction.  Skipping school, drawing his artwork on buildings, standing in front of trains.  Exasperated, he is taken to a series of psychologists, until eventually he forms a bond with Dr Adrian King and his true reasons for his anger start to come out.  In the meantime, he meets Shelly, a streetwise spirit at school and the pair begin to fall for each other.

I’ll not go into things too far, as I’m rubbish at revewing films. (Here is one from the Toronto International Film Festival.)  Suffice to say that “Death of a Superhero” is a wonderful, wonderful film.  It mixes the awkwardness of adolescence like the best John Hughes movie, with the down to earth realism of Dublin. The performances are top notch, Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Donald is superb (you will recognise him from Love Actually, or the Doctor Who Family of Blood two-parter), Aisling Loftus as Shelly and Andy Serkis for once without CGI as Dr King.  There are moments of absolute hilarity and absolute heartbreak and the film does a superb job of walking the line between tragedy and comedy.  The audience was in floods of tears, alternately at the tragic situation of cancer and the hilarious antics of Donalds idiot brothers, who’ll do anything to get him laid.

“Death of a Superhero” is doing the rounds of film festivals at the moment and hopefully it will pick up a wider distribution deal.  It deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.

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Jenny Powells Left Breast

Now there is a title to interest the search engines. This happened as a one-off in 2003, so some of the details might be off and the rest hazy, but I figure it is an interesting story.

I was clearing out my computer room today and among the bits and pieces I found was a piece of breast padding.  I don’t know the proper technical term, because I’m a bloke, but the sort of thing that women shove inside their bra in order to give themselves a bit of an uplift.

The thing about this one is, it belonged to – and I am 100%, totally, completely genuine about this – ex-Wheel of Fortune hostess, and all round TV presenter Jenny Powell.  Her, on the right.  Now I fully admit to having a bit of a crush on her when she presented a show called No Limits on BBC2 in the mid-80s, just as I was 14 years old, getting into music.

Anyway, fast forward a number of years and I’m doing stand-up around Manchester.  The Comedy Store had a monthly Gong Show called King Gong – standard Gong Show format, get up, try to last five minutes against the audience who could vote you off at any second.  It was sometimes a bearpit, sometimes a car crash.  I won once, got kicked off a few times, sometimes unfairly.  It wasn’t much in the way of fun but anyway that is by the by.

Powell was filming a TV show called “Stand Up Jenny”, where she would attempt to – with the help of professional standups – become a standup and do five minutes at the Comedy Store King Gong.  Normally I would have had great respect for someone having a crack at standup, especially at something like King Gong and it seemed an interesting idea.  However, Powell or the producers, I don’t care who, began to rile the various comics with some of the pre-publicity.  Quotes like “I was on a beach on holiday and I thought “I know, I can try being a standup comedian.’  So I rang up the producers at Granada and they agreed it would be a great thing to film.”

If only it were so fucking easy for the rest of us to get a telly gig.

Anyway with sufficient publicity from the TV show the crowd was going to be quite large at the Store, swelled by a number of comics who were there to see the potential car crash.  (By the way, any comedian who says they aren’t interested in watching another comic die is a liar.  I’m not saying that comics want other comics to die and are completely unsupportive but there is a certain “there but for the grace of God go I” interest in proceedings.)

Aside: I never died much, but one night I had an horrific time.  It was the Circle Club and at the time my material consisted of 20 minutes of taking the piss out of Z-list celebrities.  Problem A was the crowd largely consisted of Z-list celebrities and their mates.  Problem B was that when I realised this, I also realised I had no backup material to switch to.  I struggled in front of the lights and felt the loathing and walked off stage early, just wanting to curl up in a ball.  I got back to the Green Room where the great Justin Moorhouse who was MCing the night and I had a brief exchange.

Me: Sorry about that Justin.  I was supposed to do 20, but I came off early.
Justin: No worries mate, it happens to us all
Me: Yeah…
Justin: Besides… it felt like 20

Still makes me laugh now.

Back to the story.  Normally at a Gong Show the participants sit in the audience, as befitting the idea where anyone can get up and have a go.  However, being a TV star, Miss Powell was in the dressing room with the pro acts. Powell had brought a sparkly dress with her.  Seymour Mace was one of the warmup acts and bet Powell £20 that he should do his set wearing the dress.  So the crowd were treated to the sight of an unkempt Geordie in a sparkly dress who shuffled up to the microphone and said “Helloooo…. my name is Beyonce.”

Local legend Neil “Spider” Smith was on – I seem to recall him deliberately trying to get Gonged off as fast as possible.  I went on, lasted about three minutes.  Normally the running order was fairly random, but it was arranged that Powell would get a sort of warm-up, as the reliably funny Dave Ingram was to go on before her – he was a very good comic and could easily win a crowd over.  Ingram did his bit – don’t think he lasted the five and then from backstage came Ms Powell.

Her opening gag wasn’t actually all that bad.  Some telly personality had been in the news for some sex scandal.  Powell had been this blokes ex, so her opening line was “I know what you are thinking – I bet [TV Personality X] has ripped the fucking arse off of that” which I thought was nicely self deprecating.  Then she had a couple of gags and then a terribly pre-planned moment.  She pretended to respond to a heckle from the crowd “You what? Get your tits out?  OK then.”  At which point she put her hand down her top, pulled out the breast pads and threw then into the crowd.

They landed right next to where Spider and I were sitting.  We immediately grabbed them and two thoughts went through my head – 1.  “Fuckin’ EBay!”  2.  “Still warm…”  Spider offered to take my one and make the pair but I refused.  Powell continued, I seem to remember her doing some material about working in telly which was supposed to sound like just a chat down the pub, but the problem is the crowd don’t all work in telly so they couldn’t relate.  The heckling grew louder and eventually she was Gonged off.

The rest of the show happened, we did the usual post-match pint and a laugh and then home with my prize.  For some reason, my better half wasn’t impressed.  I put it on a shelf and there it has stayed for eight and a bit years.  The opportunity for EBaying is long past, besides I can’t prove its provenance as I can’t even find the clip on YouTube.  And yet I still can’t decide whether to chuck it away.

After all, most people would have to settle for a photo on a mobile phone.

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iTunes UK gets so near and yet so far

A few months ago, I got tremendously addicted to Castle, a crime series that has been broadcasting for four seasons on ABC in the States.

Castle poster

Diagnosis: Author

The show itself is a sort of Murder He Wrote.  Nathan Fillion plays Richard Castle, a successful writer of crime novels.  After killing off his hero character, he is searching for a new muse.  Due to the sort of plot contrivance that only happens in telly, Castle ends up working with Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) as a consultant on the Murder of the Week.  Shakespeare it is not, but the show succeeds due to the sheer sense of fun that exudes from everyone involved.  Fillion and Katic spark off each other as the relationship between Castle and Beckett grows, and the supporting cast flesh out their characters.  It is fluffy stuff, but perfect for watching on a train journey to or from work, as the cast mix wisecracking dialogue with some fun plots as they pinball around figuring out whodunnit.  (Never the most taxing of questions, Poirot would usually have found the killer in three seconds flat.)

Anyway, I’ve often complained that due to the stupidity of the music, film and TV industry, that fans of a show sometimes have to jump through in order to watch the shows they love.  In fact, if you want to watch a show here in the UK, it is sometimes easier to turn to torrents and illegitimate means to keep up with the broadcasts.

It is precisely this sort of hoop jumping which led to me getting an iTunes US account.  Not a difficult thing, but even though I’m paying real money for iTunes US cards, it is probably technically illegal.  I did this, among other things, in order to buy episodes of Castle and catch up.  The US is currently on Season 4, yet the show has not really been shown properly in the UK.  Season 1 was broadcast on Five last summer and I think the show pops up on Alibi or one of the other channels in the less popular regions of the Sky EPG.  I’m not going to shell out for a Sky subscription… well ever, so I happily forked over some money and watched them on my iPod.

However, some bright spark has done the thing that I’ve been pleading for for a long time – put episodes of a show on iTunes UK at the same time as they appear on iTunes US and preferably immediately after broadcast.  All episodes of Castle, up to and including Season 4 are now available for download on iTunes UK.  Not only are they available, they are ready for download immediately after broadcast in the US.  This is brilliant news and I can only hope that the trend continues.  It is the sensible thing, because fans of a show are happy to pay real money to watch it and only turn to the high seas when they can’t get their fix.

But there is a catch.  There is always a catch.

The price for Castle on iTunes US and iTunes UK

That table is the price for each season of Castle on iTunes US and iTunes UK.  The US prices show a progression as you travel down the timeline.  The UK starts off comparatively sensible for the season already broadcast here but starts going bananas for the unaired (on terrestrial) episodes.

The important thing is to take the exchange rate into account.  So, after a quick visit to xe.com

Prices adjusted for exchange rate

We can see that for the older seasons, UK fans are paying either almost 60% or 125% more for the same episodes of the same show.  The pricing settles down a bit for the later series but on pure exchange rate alone the UK is paying at a minimum a quarter more for the same thing than the US.

The usual excuse is VAT, which runs at 20% and that is only if the US version is untaxed – because the price quoted for the the US Season Pass is the price paid – the receipt doesn’t add sales tax on top.  (I assume that the US transaction isn’t untaxed in some way shape or form.)  There is no real argument for higher distribution costs – the shows are likely to be hosted on the same servers no matter where you purchased them from.

This puts me in a bit of a quandry.  I’ve long argued that customers shouldn’t be able to dictate price or use it as an excuse.  (The oft-heard cry of the pirate – “But if it wasn’t so expensive, I would buy it”.  Because the simple fact is that for these people, the price point at which they would buy the product is usually zero.)  But here we have a case where people in the UK are getting stung for, as far as I can see, no reason other than “because they can”.

I want to buy my TV shows through the iTunes Store.  For convenience there is nothing to match it – I rarely watch broadcast TV these days and the one click and download system works perfectly.  But what I do object to is being gouged for the privilege.  Economies of scale should have kicked in and made the download version cheaper no matter where we are in the world.  Rights issues with broadcasters must have been hammered out or else it wouldn’t be available – and if Alibi or others are taking a slice for losing viewers on broadcast, I’d ask why the hell should they?

I’ve enthused about Castle to friends, and because they are excellent and correct people, they have heeded my advice and taken the plunge – so why should they get punished for catching up?  I’m not arguing for discount, I’m asking for equivalence.

Hopefully Castle will get a Season Five.  But I’d have to have a real think whether I want to buy it from iTunes UK or iTunes US.  Someone out there hasn’t noticed that even on iTunes customers can have a choice. This is yet another missed opportunity from an industry that has missed so many in the past that it seems deliberate and wilful.

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The plot of Pirates of the Caribbean

I’ve just finished watching Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At Worlds End.  Yeah, look at me, on the cutting edge.  The reason it has taken me so long is that after loving the first film, the second was so bloody dull I couldn’t be bothered to see how it all ended.  The second film is a holding pattern, an exercise is spending time getting from point A to point A.

Anyway, this post contains spoilers if you haven’t seen the films.

The entire trilogy is 463 minutes long  (143 + 151 + 169).  That is 7 hours, 43 minutes.  And at the end nothing has changed.

At the start of POTC1, Jack Sparrow is looking for the Black Pearl, his ship which has been stolen from him by Captain Barbossa.  Barbossa is risen from the dead and is leading the crew in a search for a magical item which will allow them to live forever.  Sparrow, however, has a magical compass which shows him the way to where the item is.

Meanwhile Orloondo Bland is pining after Ikea Knightley, whom he is in love with by due to class divide cannot actually be with.

At the end of POTC3, Jack Sparrow is chasing after the Black Pearl, which has just been stolen from him by Captain Barbossa.  Barbossa has risen from the dead for a second time and is leading the crew in a search for the Fountain of Youth, which will allow them to live forever.  Sparrow, however, has a magical map which shows him the way to where the Fountain of Youth is.

Meanwhile, Orloondo Bland and Ikea Knightley are pining after each other, because they are in love but they cannot actually be with due to him only being allowed to step ashore for one day in 10 years.

7 hours, 43 minutes of explosions, coincidences, deaths, rebirths, fights, yo ho hos, all to get back to precisely where they started.

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