Oh dear Apple Macintosh. You’ve changed.

Where once you sold the brand on emotion and an innate understanding of how the Mac unlocked creativity, like this…

…you now do it like this….

What a load of pompous PC-like tosh.

“This is what a pioneer looks like.”  she says smugly.

“The only way I could do this was with a  mac.” says Moby.

“All artists are like this.  You give us a new paintbox we go crazy.”  (Whereas mac users used to just BE crazy.)

“Truly worldwide democratisation of creativity.”  

Oh please.  How many macs per head will you find in these countries?

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Recent reading. Stoner by John Williams


I only picked this book up because of a series of quickly glanced and actually somewhat disingenuous reviews at the end of last year as 2013’s best books were revealed.

“The undiscovered classic” the reviews shouted, but actually John Williams was far from undiscovered having won the National Book Award for another of his books, Augustus, in 1973.  Far from being un undiscovered classic it is perhaps a forgotten one and certainly, until 2013, an uncelebrated one.  But it’s no longer all that forgotten given that the Vintage paperback that I read was the 30th Edition.

But these are all distractions.  Forgotten, undiscovered, below the radar.  Whichever is the truth, for some reason it rose to prominence in 2013 and I for one am very glad that this novel from 1965 fell into my hands.

The opening page  says it all.

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It’s a profoundly unremarkable opening to a book, about a profoundly unremarkable man leading a profoundly unremarkable life.  It’s not autobiographical it seems, but most certainly it’s acutely observational given John Williams’ career

The novel charts the life story, from rags to moderation, across 65 years of a university professor. Sixty-five years in which he endures two world wars, although he fights in neither, a ludicrous marriage and a career so undistinguished it’s almost as if it never happened.

You’d want to slap him, if you could get past comforting him.

You’d shake him, but he might break.

You crave him growing some balls to stand up the absolute bitch that marries him, who sucks his lifeblood away, but that would only upset him.

At every turn he’s trampled upon, walked over, overlooked, ridiculed, cheated and lampooned.

And yet, amidst a life of bitter anticlimax after bitter disappointment, something about this everyman fills you with deep abiding empathy.

Respect almost.

How Williams achieves this is down to writing of the very highest order.  Never is a scene overstated.  Nothing is overly dramatic and yet it’s completely riveting throughout.

It begins in a period where manners and protocol were everything.  They collude to stifle Stoner’s life unbearably but his sense of propriety stops him challenging all that is happening to him.  The only victim of this painful reticence is Stoner.

Again, and again, and again.

Stoner’s is a life that singularly disappoints.  He is shat upon by all but two people that he comes across; his long time college buddy and Dean of the Faculty and, almost unbelievably, his lover.  These two luminous characters make Stoner’s life worth living and it is their presence in it that saves it from one of utter despair.

Perhaps this makes the novel seem depressing but far from it.  It’s too well written. Too beautiful.

In writing about the Great American depression of the 1930’s this stunning passage grabbed me.

“He saw good men go down into a slow decline of hopelessness, broken as their visions of a decent life was broken; he saw them walking aimlessly upon the streets, their eyes empty like shards of broken glass; he saw them walk up to back doors, with the bitter pride of men who go to their executions, and beg for the bread that would allow them to beg again…”

It’s this sort of elegant prose that turns a life so ordinary into a read so extraordinary, so that whatever kind of classic this book is belatedly described as; lost, found, undiscovered,  it IS a classic.

You must read it.

The Wolf of Wall Street. A master at work.

One of the tamer scenes from the Wolf of Wall Street.

One of the tamer scenes from the Wolf of Wall Street.

Misogynistic, homophobic, a little bit racist, heightist, sexist, uber pro-consumerism, violent, abusive, scandalous, a significant put down to the American working classes, at times almost soft porn and certainly not in the least sympathetic to any of its female characters.

What’s not to like about The Wolf of Wall Street?

Marti Scorsese has either taken leave of his senses or decided that there’s a time and a place to just let rip and have a bit of good old fashioned fun.

Mark Kermode certainly doesn’t agree.  He spluttered all ‘Old Liberal’ into his green tea as he let rip in his Guardian review that this was essentially overlong, vacuous sensationalism.

I couldn’t agree less.  It’s an absolute blast from frame #1 to frame #4,475.

Clocking in at 179 minutes you might expect this to be turgid and variably paced, but ace veteran editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, makes sure it keeps cracking along.

It’s Scarface meets the Goodfellas in an extended Bacchanalian orgy of sex and drug-taking that Joanna Lumley must have mischievously approved of, given her amusing cameo role.

Has DiCaprio ever been better?

Well, he was very good in The Departed, Revolutionary Road and The Aviator but this is surely his greatest (fourth time Oscar nominated) role in which he dominates the screen with a highly enjoyable supporting performance by Jonah Hill.

The tale is about a stockbroker, DiCaprio as real life trader Jordan Belford, who begins his career on the day of the 80’s Wall Street Crash and earns his nickname, and the movie’s title, soon after in a Forbes Magazine article when the journalist profiling him names him such for his outrageous duping of America’s working classes (“Postmen, why are they always postmen.?”) selling them worthless penny shares on the promise of unimaginable wealth.

Far from exposing him, as the journalist hoped, it opens a floodgate of demand, not just from investors but from wannabe stockbrokers too.

The movie is electrifyingly shot and edited.  DiCaprio is a man possessed and Scorsese is on absolute fire with a hugely beefed up Greek Chorus of baying and howling trading floor macho-men whooping and cheering every one of his (Tom Cruise in Magnolia-like) pep talks, come training sessions. (Complete with naked brass bands, dwarf throwing competitions, female head shaving, orgies, and drugs aplenty.)

Nudity is never far away.  All of it female and most of it full frontal, including that of DiCaprio’s Trophy second-wife, New Yorker Naomi , bravely played by long time “Neighbours” cast member Margot Robbie who really couldn’t have made much more of a career leap.  She’s great.

At 71 Scorsese has never had more fun.

And the movie, throwaway as it is in many respects – it has no ‘message as such ‘other than ‘this is bad’ – takes its place near the top of his ‘best of’ CV, alongside the Departed, Cape Fear, Goodfellas, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver.  Not because it has the sheer weight of these incredible movies but because it is made by a master in total control of his work.

He ekes out a horrible, unsympathetic but spellbinding performance from one of Hollywood’s most starry actors.  This is something for DiCaprio to be proud of.  Indeed, he may yet pick up his first best actor award at the Koodak Cinema in March (but, of course, there’s Christian Bale and Mtthew McConnachie to contend with).

Sadly, I think Scorsese will have to settle for an outrageous ninth losing nomination as best director as he graciously applauds a fellow director (this time Steve McQueen) the same night.

That’s as maybe.  Put your PC sensitivities to one side for 179 minutes and just enjoy the ride.

It’s an absolute blast.

John Grant video lays it all before us.

The history of homosexuality in a complex and absorbing timeline set to his spectacular song “Glacier ” from his latest album.  The song is something of a call to arms to Gay people (male and female) the world over to help them deal with the prejudice that threatens to engulf them, like a glacier.

A great piece of work

You just want to live your life the best way you know how
but they keep on telling you that you are not allowed
They say you are sick, that you should hang your head in shame
They are pointing fingers and want you to take the blame

There are days when people are so nasty and convincing
they say things beyond belief, that sting and leave you wincing
And to boot, they say their words come straight down from above
And they really seem to think that what they’re doing counts as love

This pain, it is a glacier moving through you
and carving out deep valleys
and creating spectacular landscapes
and nourishing the ground
with precious minerals and other stuff
so don’t you become paralyzed with fear
when things seem particularly rough

Don’t you pay them fuckers as they say “No, never mind”
They don’t give two shits about you. It’s the blind leading the blind
What they want is commonly referred to as theocracy
and what that boils down to is referred to as hypocrisy

Don’t listen to anyone, get answers on your own
even if it means that sometimes you feel quite alone
No one on this planet can tell you what to believe
People like to talk a lot, and they like to deceive

This pain, it is a glacier moving through you
and carving out deep valleys
and creating spectacular landscapes
and nourishing the ground
with precious minerals and other stuff
so don’t you become paralyzed with fear
when things seem particularly rough

Oh, oh, oh
This pain, it is a glacier moving through you
and carving out deep valleys
and creating spectacular landscapes
and nourishing the ground
with precious minerals and other stuff
so don’t you become paralyzed with fear
when things seem particularly rough

12 Years a slave. A landmark cinematic achievement.


Steve McQueen, the actor, all steely ice blue eyes, furrowed brow and golden locks was a Holywood legend, “The King of Cool”.  His filmography is impressive (The Great Escape, The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, Papillon, Magnificent Seven and Towering Inferno) yet the Academy only recognised him with a single nomination for his leading role, in the lesser known 1966 movie The Sand Pebbles, which he failed to convert.

No lifetime achievement awards either.  Nada.

And yet his name pervades popular culture as toweringly as the inferno he escaped from.

Fast forward to 2008 and and his namesake and former visual artist, (he was the official Iraq War artist in 2003) makes his feature movie bow.

By then McQueen already has an OBE (2002)  to his name, for services to the arts, before he even sat in a director’s chair -he won the highly prestigious Turner prize in 1999.

In 2011 he added a CBE to his honours.

Today he may be on the cusp of eclipsing the achievements of his illustrious predecessor.

McQueen honed his craft by making no fewer than 20 shorts before emabarking on Hunger; his breathtaking debut feature that tells the story of Bobby Sands and the “Dirty Protests” in Belfast’s Maze prison, with his, so far, ubiquitous right hand man, Michael Fassbender.

Shame, in 2011, continued his elevation to directorial greatness in a shocking tale of sexual addiction.

For me, it is something of a surprise that neither Hunger, nor Shame, were recognised in the best movie categories of either the BAFTAs or The Oscars, but that is all about to change with 12 Years a Slave.  Indeed it already has 10 nominations at the BAFTAs and surely chief amongst them is McQueen’s.

Whatever you may think of the movie itself it’s the point of it that deserves most attention and applause.  Now, that sounds worthy but it shouldn’t be seen as such because it is not just a monumental piece of filmmaking, but one with purpose, vision and bravery.

The first EVER feature film about slavery.  How can that be?

The politics of America that’s how.

Sure, Tarantino made a brilliant pastiche of slavery last year with Django Unchained, and for those of us of a certain age Roots long lives in our memory (but that was a TV series).  So too, Lincoln focussed heavily on the issue, but not the experience.

This, however, is a full on cinematic release described by one reviewer as the “greatest film ever made” that unswervingly captures the experience of one man kidnapped from a life of freedom, of privelage, in 1841 New York and transported to the sweltering cotton and sugar cane fields of the deep south.

What follows is almost two hours of unremitting injustice, backache, torture and frustration as the aforementioned Solomon Northup tries to prove his status as a free man, fighting injustice when he can but more often than not having to suffer in silence to protect his very existance.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, in the title role, is on screen throughout, sweating like no actor I’ve ever seen, in the oppresesive Southern heat and humidity.

His performance is both proud and defiant and as the movie progresses increasingly moving.

Once again Fassbender commands the screen as evil plantation and slave owner, Edwin Epps, but at times scenes are stolen by his super-evil wife played by Sarah Paulsen.

Brad Pitt scoops an important cameo role, perhaps thanks to his role as Executive Producer and, by all accounts, he is one of the main catalysts for the movie to happen.  It’s only fair that his character is a catalyst for the resolution of the movie.

Benedict Cumberbatch also puts in another fine cameo performance as the one “good guy” plantation owner and initial “owner” of Solomon Northup.  The counterpoint between him and the rabid plantation overseer Paul Dano is excellent.

Other supporting roles are well played but this is essentially Ejiofor and Fassbender’s movie.

No, it’s not actually, it’s McQueen’s.

This is a masterclass in direction with foot perfect cinematography and a very good score by Hans Zimmer.  The movie’s perfectly paced, with just the right amount of lingering mood and tense action.  One scene in which Fassbender’s concubine is whipped to within an inch of her life is truly appaling.  You flinch at every stroke. By contrast the scene where Northup simply turns his head right to left, up and down, as if to say “help” is breathtaking in its simplicity and resonance.

It WILL go down in history as an important document of America’s deepest guilt that festers even today, and McQueen WILL win both his first Oscar and a Knighthood.

Above all else though, it is a great, really great, movie.

She had a dream

Margaret Thatcher loathed the benfit driven leeches that she perceived Scotland to be.

But, we never elected her, just like we never elected David Cameron and his cronies.

Cameron is too scared to even debate independence with Alex Salmond because he realises AS OUR LEADER he a) has no mandate b) we loathe him c)In his own admissions he is too posh.

It’s interesting then, that in between the 70’s and teenies Independence pushes, Thatcher was an unwitting advocate of the outcome of independence.

By paraphrasing the quote below she was saying “We don’t want this lot.  We want to break them.  We want rid of them.”

Well, let’s grant her her wish posthumously; shall we?

I am indebted to James Mclaughlin for the inspiration for this poster idea, but please forgive the shocking art direction and general cobbled togetherness.

It’s the thought that counts.


A stunning visualisation of WWII

Clearly this has been gathering some momentum, with over 1.5 million views on Youtube, but I only just discovered it.

In the year that we commemorate the beginning of the first Great War here is a moving infographic that shows what happened to the balance of powers between the Axis countries (Germany, Italy and Japan) and the Allies with the Norwegians and The USSR adding further complexity on a day by day basis from the start to the end of WWII with a moving soundtrack underscoring it.

The blue represents the Allies and the brown the Axis countries; those in white remained neutral and you can see when the Italians and Russians turned Allied as the video progresses.

It is an outstanding piece of work by EmperorTigerstar…

If you like this there’s a lot more here

American Hustle. Some of this actually happened.

Not a foot wrong.  By any of them.

Not a foot wrong. By any of them.

“Some of this actually happened” is the opening title, there are no credits, on the most pitch perfect movie since Argo and before that Magnolia.

It’s a mob movie with grifters.

The ensemble cast is led gloriously, no miraculously, by Christian Bale  (really?  Christian Bale?) in perhaps the most astounding physical transformation since De Niro in Raging Bull.

And what an ensemble.  Bradley Cooper is hilarious throughout, not least because of his Starsky-esque tight perm and outrageous swagger.

Amy Adams is simply electrifying – in so many movies she is brilliant but in this she is radiant.  (Surely she will win at the Academy Awards at the fifth time of asking in the Spring).

Jennifer Lawrence is gearing up to win as many awards as Meryl Streep as she glides effortlessly from franchise movie to big American Drama via the odd arthouse number.  She is wonderful.

And then there is the unsung star; Jeremy Renner who plays an important leading subplot character role as the mayor of New Jersey.

Maybe it’s not surprising that the ensemble works so well because this cast has been Oscar nominated no less than 17 times; Cooper (once) Adams (4 times) Bale (Once and won for O’Russell’s The Fighter) Renner (twice) Lawrence (Twice with one win) and in a supporting role De Niro (seven times winning twice).  By the time March comes that will be at least 20.

And then there’s O’Russel, who is on fire.  In my opinion he is now as good as PT Anderson with Oscar nods for this (surely), Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter; his last three movies.

It’s a film you never want to end with a plot that twists and turns like a mongoose in a sack with a cobra.  So it’s impossible to plot spoil because it’s so complex.  But the writing is nailed on in every scene so that you are carried along on a wave of gasps and belly laughs (it really is very funny indeed).

The camerawork (Linus Sandgren) is beautifully evocative of time and place (late 70’s New York).

One scene in particular sees Amy Adams just about have actual real life sex in an ecstatic Studio 54 washroom trap, to the thudding soundtrack of “I Feel Love”.  It had me open mouthed.  Indeed she achieves this effect more than once.

In another,  late in the film, Lawrence kisses Adams on the mouth so hard that she leaves all her lipstick behind.  Spraying her territory.  Marking Adams’ cards.  It’s brilliant.

(The kiss of a spiderwoman.)

“You’re nothing to me until you’re everything.” says Adams’ character, Sydney Prosser, to Cooper’s FBI agent.  And this is possibly the central thought in the film.

It’s all about possession; of power, of women, of money.

And it’s what blinds the foolish and drives them to make wrong, ill thought out decisions that can have, and do have, monumental implications.

The moral is; don’t play with the big boys unless you’ve got your wits about you.

Christian Bale most certainly has his.

A resounding 10 out of 10.