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Thursday, June 28, 2001

Dumbing down to move up - TV stars doing movies

In a ‘Friends’ episode not so long ago, Bruce Willis dances around in his underwear; this may or may not be an image to set your pulse racing, but it showed one thing very clearly - you can be a film actor or a TV actor, but you can’t be both.

Bruce looked constrained and uncomfortable throughout his appearance as Ross’s girlfriend’s Dad, and during this comedy pay-off he just looked ridiculous. And not in a funny way

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Posted in • Square EyesTelevisionFilm
Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Giving up TV

I recently spent a week away from television, which might not seem the ideal preparation for writing a column of this nature, but it gave me time to consider how worthwhile it is to become embroiled in the latest soap storylines, or to be able to argue the toss over the another reality show. To ponder, in fact, whether TV is worth it. 

First I must distinguish between watching TV programmes, and ‘watching TV’. There are two televisions in the house I was staying in, but my host chooses not to watch them, except for the honourable exceptions of ‘Frasier’ and ‘Father Ted’. So she watches some programmes, she just doesn’t watch TV in that way most of us do - the ‘I’ll just sit down for half and hour while I have a cup of tea’ approach.

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Posted in • Square EyesTelevision
Thursday, June 14, 2001

TV - Too Good to Lose

There are bad books and really bad books, but this doesn’t mean that reading books is a waste of time; and so it is with television: just because you’re watching ‘Family Fortunes’ doesn’t mean that others should be denied the pleasure and reward of watching ‘Channel 4 News’.

This might seem an obvious point, but when it comes to discussing the merits of this medium reasoned debate can sometimes go out the window. TV brings us art and community, and should be valued for it.

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Posted in • Square EyesTelevision
Saturday, May 26, 2001

Hype Springs Eternal - the coming of The Lord of the Rings

It’s now less than a month until the first film in The Lord of the Rings trilogy opens here, and the amount of attention it’s getting is staggering.

Last weekend, pretty much the whole of the Sunday Times magazine was given over to an analysis of the film and the books, with interviews, plot synopses and a Middle-Earth A-Z to help those who have forgotten the differences between Faramir and Boromir, and couldn’t tell Weathertop from Helm’s Deep.

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Posted in • Square Eyes

Temples of Film

Sometimes the cinema is more memorable than the film: last week I watched ‘Pearl Harbour’ in a run-down seaside cinema in Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex (don’t ask what I was doing there). It had clearly not been renovated since the 1960s, and as I bought my ticket (for ?2.50) the guy taking my money said, ‘The last film’s not quite finished yet. If you’d like to take a seat.’

Sure enough, the foyer boasted a row of seats. It was beginning to feel more like a doctor’s waiting room than a movie temple, but I figured that the seats were merely window dressing - when all the other Essex filmistas turned up, people would be milling around with their popcorn and drinks, just like anywhere else.

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Posted in • Square EyesFilm
Friday, May 25, 2001

Bowled Over - TV sport

My summer is shot to pieces: just when I thought I was regaining some control over my time with the end of the football season, televised sport has claimed me entirely again with the knockout combination of cricket and cycling. These events go on all day, for weeks - I am so screwed.

It’s my curse to be fascinated by sporting events that take a long time - sometimes I wish I was more into the 50m freestyle. First there’s cricket. I know this is something of an acquired taste - for example, try telling an American that the games last five days, have frequent tea breaks and can still end in a draw - but it’s something I was born to.

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Posted in • Square EyesTelevisionSport
Friday, May 18, 2001

Reheated Leftovers - The Dish reviewed

Early on in ‘The Dish’, the lads running the radio telescope start playing cricket actually in the dish, and I realised I’d already seen the film.

It was called ‘Local Hero’, or ‘State and Main’, or was it a TV show called ‘Northern Exposure’, or ‘Hamish Macbeth’ or ‘Ballykissangel’? Either way, it was clear that I was being manipulated in a pretty crass way, and I settled down in my seat knowing there weren’t going to be any surprises from here on in.

For all those working on their own similar gentle comedy screenplay, here are a few elements to include.

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Posted in • Square EyesFilm
Friday, May 11, 2001

The real deal - Faking It reviewed

There was a great moment in this week’s ‘Faking It’ (Channel 4, Tuesdays), when Alex, the frightfully posh, 5’6”, gay student from Oxford University, looked straight to camera and said in his new bouncer brogue, ‘I AM a doorman’. He wasn’t faking it any more.

The format is brilliantly simple - take an unlikely candidate, give them four weeks’ training in a new discipline, then set up a competition where experts try and spot the imposter. So we’ve had a classical musician taught to be a club DJ, a painter and decorator taught to be an artist, and the fey student taught to be a bouncer.

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Posted in • Square EyesUKTelevision
Friday, May 04, 2001

Those who can’t - Teachers reviewed

Earlier this week Tony Blair announced to the world that he needed glasses for reading, and would be wearing them in public from now on. He explained when it was he realised he couldn’t go on bluffing in his speeches any more. 

In one address he had got to a line which went, ‘There’s been a huge increase in problems of drugs, social exclusion and crime amongst teenagers.’ But instead of ‘teenagers’, he said ‘teachers’. He doesn’t need glasses - he’s just been watching Channel 4 on Wednesday nights.

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Posted in • Square EyesUKTelevision
Thursday, April 26, 2001

Build your own TV station

TV schedules, who needs them? Shouldn’t I get to decide when I want to watch my favourite programmes? In the last week, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing and it’s been great.

Using the rather low-tech method of an aging VCR, I’ve been creating my own schedule, working my way through series one of ?The Sopranos?, plus all my current favourites whenever I felt like it. Need a bit of Tony S to start the day? I got your episode right here, buddy. Want to watch Simon and Jenny in the ‘Teachers’ stationery cupboard instead of Richard and Judy? Go right ahead.  I don’t think I’ve watched a programme in its own timeslot all week. I feel liberated and in control of my addiction.

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Posted in • Square EyesTelevision
Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Forever England - Bridget Jones’s Diary reviewed

What are the hallmarks of an English person? Ask the English and they might say a stiff upper lip, a sense of fair play and a gutsy determination to get the job done. Ask other people from around the world, and you might get hypocrisy, bad food and imperialism. (Here, in the interests of full disclosure I must tell you that I was born and raised in England, but I’m feeling much better now).

But as the film version of ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ shows us, the real attributes that describe the nation are embarrassment, understatement and friendship.

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Posted in • Square EyesFilmUK
Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Forgive us our trespasses - review of State and Main

In an early episode of ‘The West Wing’, a character remarks, ‘There are two things you don’t want to see being made - laws and sausages.’ It’s a nice line, but I’d add a third thing - films.

David Mamet’s ‘State and Main’ is a satire on movie production, and he shows us underage sex, rampant egos, bribery, towering hubris, incompetence and more scheming than the average GAA Congress.

Of course, this is Mamet’s territory (the nastiness, not the GAA), but his story of a small Vermont town overrun by a Hollywood film is also surprisingly warm and tolerant. There is the usual rapid-fire dialogue and spiky characters, but we also get a sweetly natural romance and more compassion for people’s faults than you might expect.

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Posted in • Square EyesUSAFilm
Friday, March 23, 2001

sex, lies and mobile phones - UK advertising

An approachably handsome young man sits on a tram in a snowy city. With a friendly English accent he tells us that in Helsinki it gets very cold (no shit, Sherlock- he’s wrapped up nice and warm, anyway). 

Finns embrace new technology, he continues, and HP are working on a wireless system that will let people know exactly when their tram is coming so they don’t have to wait outside in the cold (we cut to a bunch of blond kids checking their mobiles indoors).

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Posted in • Square EyesUKTelevision
Thursday, March 15, 2001

Celebrity Confusion - UK reality TV

If ordinary people are on TV, does that make them celebrities, or just the subjects of documentaries? What about famous people doing ordinary things? Or people that start out ordinary and become famous?

It’s been quite a time for celebrity confusion. First ‘Popstars’ showed us ordinary folks being turned into celebrities with dramatic success, culminating in their number one single in the UK over the weekend. Then ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ sought to turn famous people into ordinary folks by allowing us to see what they looked like in their dressing gowns.

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Posted in • Square EyesUKTelevision
Thursday, March 08, 2001

Touching Evil

It’s a staple of the police drama on TV that the hero has some flaw in him - he drinks too much, his marriage has broken down, he’s jaded by the crap he deals with every day.

But in the end he gets the job done, and in doing so acts as a necessary buffer between polite society and the more disturbing world of crime. He might be tainted by the work, but it’s a dirty job and someone’s got to do it.

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Posted in • Square EyesUKTelevision
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