Monday, 30 November 2009

For your entertainment, or not

Pop quiz hotshot. What's worse - love for men or violence against women? If you're having to think about the answer you're probably reading the wrong blog. Maybe you should try Richard Littlejohn instead. Still here? Good, then I'll continue.

Over in the States there's been a big kerfuffle this last week thanks to Adam Lambert's 'shocking' performance at the American Music Awards. On the eve of his debut album's release he treated TV audiences to a performance that looked more like an out-take from Showgirls. It was all girls in leathers, boys on leashes and more faux-rock posturing than the national Air Guitar championships.

In amongst all the PG-rated depravity, Glambert stuck his crotch in the face of a male dancer and then sucked face with his male keyboard-player. Shocking stuff? Maybe if this was 1983 or the launch of a Billy Graham book tour. But in the world of modern world of rock 'n' roll it was about as edgy as a low-fat bran muffin.

Unfortunately, this is the US we're talking about. And even though Adam's performance aired at 10.45pm, disturbed viewers were soon clogging the phone-lines to register their disgust at Adam's gayness.

In total, 1,500 complaints were made, along with statements made by people like the ironically named 'Liberty Counsel' who argued that "ABC should have to pay a hefty penalty to the FCC for assaulting its viewers with a debased performance." Nothing says liberty like censorship and retribution.

Worse was still to come for the lambasted Lambert, as he was promptly disinvited by the producers of Good Morning America. Understandably concerned that Adam may start rubbing himself all over the weatherman, they ditched him from their line-up claiming he was an "unpredictable performer" - as though that could be anything but a good quality in a rock star.

Adam's response was right on the money shot: “I think that there’s a double standard going on in the entertainment community right now. Female performers have been doing this for years — pushing the envelope about sexuality — and the minute a man does it, everybody freaks out."

Making matters worse, however, was GMA's decision to replace Adam Lambert (whose only crimes are a falsetto that can worry dogs and a skip full of used mascara brushes) with Chris Brown. In the eyes of network television executives, domestic violence is much more acceptable than some light leather-clad frottage. Now that's really 'distasteful'.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

No X please, we're musicians

With two weeks left to go before the new X-Factor champ is crowned in a flurry of glitter and bombast, it's time to start thinking about life after X. Viewers have a four-week respite before switching over to ITV2 for the next series of American Idol, and this year's contestants will be knuckling down for a grueling 52 date tour.

But what about life after that? Irrespective of who wins, several of the final 12 will release albums in the next twelve months which will likely follow the same inauspicious path of Eoghan Quigg, who must have set a land-speed record in his rush to the bargain bin.

That's the problem with the X-Factor - it's a soap opera rather than an effective A&R strategy. Viewers get caught up in the drama, they vote for their favourites, and they boo the cartoon villains. But they never actually express a desire to buy the musical output.

The true measure of whether or not someone has the X-Factor, lies in the audience's willingness to support the acts outside of the glare from Simon's teeth. Thankfully, one ex-factor alumnus has a plan to help contestants cope with the post-traumatic stress of anonymity. Ben Mills, the gravel-voiced rocker who was beaten by both Leona (understandable) and Ray Quinn (unforgivable), intends to open a 'sanctuary' for the show's runner-ups.

Like Windsor Safari Park with a mixing desk, the rehab-meets-recording studio concept will be "somewhere that people who have been on a show like X Factor could come...and talk about what they've been through." I guess the first step towards recovery is admitting that you're not very good.

Ben's intention is to look after reality TV contestants who are "struggling with their fame". Or lack thereof. He's even planning to have "some llama and a few kangaroos." Seriously, I am not making any of this up. 

But what about the rest of the music industry? How will it cope in a post-X-Factor world? Not well, if The Guardian is to be believed - pop music is dying as a result of Simon's ratings juggernaut. In an article filled with loftily arrogant statements about the idiocy of the masses, various commentators come forward to condemn both the format and its audiences. Alan McGee who signed Oasis and managed the Libertines, claims "If you are stupid enough to watch it that is what you get, you deserve it. I have no pity for you."

The rest of the article rehashes the same old arguments - pop music as commodity versus indie music as art, singer-songwriters being inherently more worthy than vocalists. But popular music doesn't have to be high art. And no-one ever dismissed an orchestra for only ever doing cover versions of other people's compositions.

The most annoying quote, however, comes from Jon Savage who wrote England's Dreaming, a history of punk. He describes X-Factor viewers as "people who aren't passionate about music. And there's always been a huge market for people who weren't passionate about music." Maybe you're not authentically passionate about music until you've stood in a Camden basement watching Amy Winehouse bleeding from the toes.

If nothing else, the X-Factor is now the last format standing for getting music artists in front of a mainstream audience. With no Top of the Pops, no Chart Show and no CD:UK, this is the only music-specific TV show left. Even if the audience wouldn't know 'real music' if they fell over it. 

The pearl necklace brigade strikes back

Three glamorous women, using their feminine wiles and keen intellect to fight crime, and looking fabulous throughout. Sound familiar? Don't worry, McG hasn't drunkenly staggered back onto the Charlie's Angels set to make another multi-coloured abomination. It's none other than Gloria Hunniford, Jennie Bond and Angela Rippon - teaming up to tackle the evils of 'Rip-off Britain'.

But who needs high-kicks and catsuits, when you've got three matronly journalists who can ask tough questions even as they're fishing in their handbags for a boiled sweet? With a combined age greater than most National Trust properties, they've been around the block enough times to know the difference between right and wrong. In fact, they were around when the block was still fields. Now they're determined to get justice for the down-trodden masses, or as Gloria calls them, "the 'little' people".

Unsurprisingly, my preferred newspaper is touching itself with delight, at the prospect of two of its favourite things coming together in one show - post-menopausal Middle-Englanders and 'fat cats' executives hauled over their coals. It's a marriage made in Tunbridge Wells.

Sadly though, as is so often the case, the majority of innocent victims featured in 'Rip Off Britain' have only their own ignorance to blame. The first rule of investment is - don't invest it if you can't afford to lose it. But still there are countless people out there willing to gamble their life savings in the hope of striking it rich.

Similarly, utilities companies often make mistakes when calculating bills, so customers have be diligent and question anything that seems disproportionately expensive. But rather than take responsibility, it seems much easier to wait for these three to come to the rescue in a lavender-scented blur of beaded twinsets.

So what credentials do these 'rottweilers' have in bringing corporate Britain to its knees? Well Gloria once received an overestimated gas bill and she took no prisoners in ensuring that justice was done. Rather than strap herself into an explosive jacket and hold the CEO of Centrica to ransom, she "hit the phone and stayed on it until the bill was reduced." Here's hoping the producers of the A-Team movie are taking notes. 

Like Woodward and Bernstein in mumsy drag, the post-hormonal probers are rightly proud of their new show. As Jennie Bond says "...we've worked as hard-nosed journalists for years and covered all kinds of stories. I think that this could be our most important television work ever." Compared with such televisual heights as tap dancing with Morecambe and Wise, lying in a coffin full of rats, or providing hungover students with spiritual whimsy, that's high praise indeed. 

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Camilla vs Beyonce

After years spent avoiding the limelight (rather wise, all things considered), Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall has been out and about, meeting her public and getting involved in social 'issues'.

This week involved a trip to the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre in Croydon, where she took part in a discussion with some victims of sexual abuse. Making her best empathy face (which, like every other expression in her repertoire, looks like she just gulped down the lemon slice in her gin) Camilla listened in as the women talked about their traumatic experiences.

Popular culture soon found its way into the dialogue, with conversation turning to the depiction of sex and violence in music videos. It didn't take long for Camilla to get her old-lady M&S knickers in a twist about modern pop music, in the process condemning Beyonce as part of the problem.

Having accidentally stumbled upon the new video for Lady Gaga's 'Telephone', the bark-faced blue blood weighed in with her informed opinion, commenting "a lot of these videos are terrifying..." Although they're not nearly as eye-wateringly horrific as they would be if it was Camilla herself depicted in a see-through plastic corset.

"It has happened too quickly, values have changed so much..." the Duchess (and notorious home-wrecker) claimed. Apparently, she's concerned that today's videos offer up too much inappropriate content and contribute to the problem of sexual violence.

It doesn't exactly help her argument that one of the women she spoke to has spent the last 30 years attempting to confront the demons triggered by her rape at the age of 17. Given that pop videos didn't really exist in the late seventies, one can hardly blame the format for situation.

Unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail is slavishly following in Camilla's lavender-scented wake, implying that Beyonce's eroticised video appearances are, in some way, responsible for the number of sexual attacks taking place. In their world, such logic is easy to swallow - why address the issues in society when we can blame the popstars instead? Their hair is too shiny, their legs are too long and they all make far too much money. It's all their fault.

Ultimately, it's hard not to feel sorry for the Daily Mail, with its hopeless coverage of this story which they've even illustrated with screen-grabs from the wrong video. In the article, they keep referencing Beyonce's 'Video Phone', but the images they reproduce are from Lady Gaga (featuring Beyonce)'s 'Telephone'. Not that any of the Mail's readers would be expected to know the difference. For most of them, it's enough to have someone to blame.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

An overcoat sensation

In our modern media-saturated world, the concept of celebrity has expanded to the point where the word itself is no longer specific enough to describe the subject in question. For instance, Lauren Bacall and Kate Lawler are both celebrities, but there's a spectacular gulf between the two of them.

There's an urban legend that eskimos have countless words for snow. It's all bullshit of course, but the principle behind the metaphor is sound. As a culture obsessed with celebrity, we need an extended vocabulary to encapsulate the sliding scale of status - something more relevant and specific that the A, B and C-list. Especially since some of the celebrities clogging up our list are so far off the regular latin-based alphabet that technically we need to start introducing special characters into the mix.

Case in point - here's Wang Zifei, the unfortunately named but strikingly attractive 'ampersand-lister' who has shot to international fame thanks to her talent for disrobing behind world-leaders. Some people have to sing for their supper, others spend ten weeks in a Carphone Warehouse sponsored-asylum in order to secure their fame. However, this violin-playing, TV-hosting actress 'unwittingly' transformed herself into Little Red Riding Hot, by slowly taking off her eye-catching crimson coat right behind Barack Obama as he spoke about internet rights in China.

Reminding people of the little girl in Schindler's List, or the spooky ghost child in Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now, Wang's bright red overcoat overshadowed everything else in the room, like Liz Hurley at someone else's wedding. As a consequence, she's now become an overnight sensation, with China Daily reporting that a Google search for 'Obama girl in red coat' turns up nearly seven million results.

The unwitting internet star has taken to her her blog to defend her actions, and downplay suggestions that she was attention seeking. Addressing accusations of self-promotion, the pretty student argues that anyone looking for fame would want greater longevity than the momentary notoriety that comes from wearing a loud jacket.

Ultimately, the idea of someone becoming a globally recognised face for little more than her choice in outerwear is preposterous. But it's still refreshing to know that, in a world where Jodie Marsh is a household name, some women can command the world's attention without needing to show their landing strip.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Not a girl, not yet a woman

A couple of weeks ago, you may have noticed the headcount in your office dropping suddenly. But this wasn't a bout of seasonal affective disorder brought about by enough rain to have Noah reaching for the Ronseal. Nor had all those doom-mongering prophesies about a widespread H1N1 pandemic finally come true.

Instead, this mass
work-avoidance programme was inspired by the launch of a new computer game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Offering its players a variety of blood-thirsty scenarios to twiddle their RSI-addled thumbs at, the game's release was so eagerly awaited that even the Rapture will seem like an anti-climax by comparison. Obviously, the opportunity to infiltrate a terrorist organisation and wipe out an airport full of civilians proved too much for some people to miss, so they booked time off work to spend time with its gaming goodness.

Taking a week off to play a computer-generated soldier may seem a little excessive, but it's nothing compared with SAL9000 (presumably not his birth name), a Japanese blogger who has
married his virtual girlfriend Nene Anegasaki. 

It's a story we've all heard a million times - man meets collection of polygons programmed with rudimentary artificial intelligence in online game, falls in love and gets married in Guam. Somewhere, the ghost of Barbara Cartland is kicking herself that she didn't think of it first.

The wedding was streamed live on the web, with a proper reception to follow in Tokyo at a later date. Apparently a Pentium Processor will be giving the father of the bride's speech and the honeymoon will be two weeks in Second Life. I'm guessing that consumation of the happy couple's union will involve a
Wii Fit exercise mat and a couple of Nunchuks

It's all good for a laugh, and the blogosphere is buzzing with countless stories (much like this one) revelling in the chance to make jokes at the expense of those wacky Japanese early-adopters. But if I'm honest, it all feels a little too much like an easy PR story seeded to publicise the Nintendo DS game Love Plus, which is where SAL9000 met and courted his perky pixelated paramour. 

Or maybe I'm just a cynic who thinks that true love is more than just the modern equivalent of an end-of-level boss

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Attack of the couch people

Daytime TV presenters are a curious bunch. Bland, unthreatening and largely pointless, like the human version of a sugared almond, they spend their entire lives empathising with overweight women and soap opera stars from the safety of a chenile couch.

Occasionally, they'll remind their producers of their 'serious' journalism background, and will be thrown a conciliatory bone, such as five minutes to grill Ed Balls on educational reform. Usually, these asinine interrogations are like watching Jeremy Paxman with his hands tied behind his back and a mouth full of peanut butter.

But in the last week, a couple of these pastel people have tired of half-hearted interviews with craven book-wavers and pissed-off pensioners, and decided to bare their fangs. Their inspiration? Queen of the Divas, Mariah Carey.

First up was Philip Schofield, a man so soft and cuddly he comes with a tog rating. Poor old Phil grew tired of waiting for Mariah to show up for the pre-recording of her interview with This Morning, and took to Twitter to vent his frustration. In a series of whinging updates he complained about delays caused by Mariah's late arrival and indecision about what outfit to wear, before poking fun at the size of her entourage.

Although Phil probably felt that he was playing the role of acerbic social commentator, he really just ended up sounding like a yokel describing his first (and only) encounter with showbiz royalty. Presumably This Morning's usual calibre of guest would arrive in a minicab and eat a Boots Shapers sandwich whilst applying their own make-up.

This week, it was GMTV presenter Kate Garraway's turn to take a pop at La Carey, with another tedious tale of Mariah's high maintenance lifestyle. Breathlessly recounting the mesmerising details, Garraway claims "I've heard a lot of rumours about her being a diva over the years and guess what? It turns out it's all true! While Mariah was very nice, the amount of people she had in her entourage was hilarious."

Directly contradicting her promise of 'hilarity' Kate's exasperating expose amounts to little more than the fact that Mariah's image is extremely well managed. Her stylists ensured that her dress wasn't crushed when she sat down, others made sure she was filmed from the right angle, and here's the doozy - she brought her own toilet paper. If I was a multi-millionaire, I'd make sure that certain basic home comforts were always taken care of. And let's face it, there's no way Mariah would take any chances with low-fi loo roll tarnishing the plushness of her pudenda

Interestingly, Kate wasn't even present when the 'hilarious' japes took place, she just picked up the crew's gossip when she clocked in later. Which makes her attempt at creating a showbiz exclusive even more lazily inappropriate. Of course, reports of Mariah's diva-esque demands are plentiful, but there's something particularly redundant about these toothless wonders sharpening their gums and going after such an easy target. Especially when both of them have to grudgingly acknowledge the fact that Mariah was both pleasant and personable. 

Monday, 23 November 2009

If I could turn back time

This is Diane Sawyer. For those of you who don't know your Sean Hannitys from your Anderson Coopers, Diane is one of the most recognisable news anchors in the US. As well as being amongst the thirty most powerful women in America (according to the Ladies' Home Journal), she's also 63. That's not a typo. She'll be 64 on the 22nd December.

I don't know what Diane's secret is. Maybe she eats her 'five a day', or perhaps she bought some glowing purple potion from Isabella Rossellini. Either way, she does not look her age. Or any age for that matter.

She's one of an alarming new generation of older women who have managed to unwrite all the rules of nature, with their lineless faces, feathered hair and aerobicised bodies. Whether they're forty or sixty-five, there's no way to tell how old they're supposed to be. And it's creepy.

Even more creepy is a story that ran in the Guardian today, that suggests the gruesome lengths that some people will go to in order to halt the passage of time. It's been alleged that a gang in Peru has been killing villagers and draining the fat from the corpses for use in cosmetics. The story broke when two suspects were arrested in Lima carrying bottles of liquid human fat which, they claimed, were worth around £36,000 a gallon.

Police were acting on a tip-off about a thriving trade in fat that was being shipped to Europe and sold as an anti-wrinkle cream. Suddenly, the scene in Fight Club where Brad Pitt steals from the bins outside a liposuction clinic to make his own brand of designer soap, doesn't seem quite so preposterous

Although medical
experts agree that human fat can help keen skin supple, they're dubious about the idea of a black market in something that is so readily available. However, the implications are astounding - think how cost-effective it would be to have the fat sucked out of one end and pumped into the other.

It's like the BOGOF of plastic surgery, with patients emerging thinner and younger-looking from a single visit. Surely it's only a matter of time before canny Channel 4 producers get Gillian McKeith and Myleene Klass together to host a mash-up of 'You Are What You Eat' and '10 Years Younger'.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The sliding scale of gay

Some people are never happy. After years spent bemoaning the lack of out gay pop stars, we finally get one and all anyone can do is bitch about it. 

Tomorrow sees the release of 'For Your Entertainment', the long-awaited debut CD by American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert. In the build up to the album's proud unveiling, Adam's guy-lined face has been everywhere in the US, including the cover of Out Magazine as part of their 'Class of 2009'. 

But although they were happy to help maintain Adam's profile with a front-cover portrait, the editor of Out had a bone to pick with the fledgling star's management. Writing an open letter to Adam, Editor in Chief Aaron Hicklin expresses dismay that Adam's record label and management are limiting his self-expression.

Writing about Adam's appearance on the cover alongside Cyndi Lauper (amongst others), Hicklin comments "It’s only because this cover is a group shot that includes a straight woman that your team would allow you to be photographed at all—albeit with the caveat that we must avoid making you look 'too gay'."

To show that there's no ill-will towards Adam himself, Hicklin congratulates him on being "a pioneer, an out gay pop idol at the start of his career", but cautions that "we just hope it’s a path that’s honest and true and that you choose to surround yourself with people who celebrate your individuality." It's all so well-meaning that it gives you a case of the warm fuzzies. 

Except that there's a fundamental flaw in Hicklin's logic. After all, Adam's first big post-Idol interview was a cover story with Rolling Stone where he publicly declared his sexuality. Given that 19 Management will have been the ones who lined up that exclusive, they can hardly be accused of downplaying their new star's sexuality.

And then there's the album cover itself. 

When it was first revealed a couple of months ago, the internet practically imploded as commentators rushed to condemn the airbrushed abomination as the gayest thing in the entire world. Not only does it seem to have been painted directly onto crushed velvet, Adam looks as though he'd be right at home hosting bingo night in the Black Cap. There's so much early eighties androgyny on show here, even Pete Burns would think twice before putting his name to it. 

If Adam's management are concerned that he not look "too gay" in Out Magazine, they must have been asleep on the job when this beauty got the all-clear. But then again, what does "too gay" even mean? Similarly, would Hicklin and his team have preferred Adam to look more gay on the cover of their magazine? Perhaps they were hoping that he'd recreate a classic Mapplethorpe (NSFW!).

When it comes to sexuality, there's no such thing as too much or not enough. It simply is what it is. Adam's openness and unapologetic attitude is exactly what the music world needs. It shouldn't matter whether he's wearing a three-piece suit or Cher's hand-me-downs. 

Hicklin complains of an 'apartheid' that separates gay magazines from more mainstream media, but what about the prejudice that a gay artist should constantly have to wear their sexuality on their immaculately-tailored unisex sleeve?

Saturday, 21 November 2009

I'll do anything...

Tonight was the night we've all been waiting for, as the jungle dwelling celebrities had to gulp down some of Australia's foulest foodstuffs. Best of all, it was the latest chapter in Katie Price's ongoing penance at the hands of the unforgiving British public.

The last time Katie spent time in the jungle she was trying to raise her profile, having spent several years appearing in the kind of calendars that you might find hanging in a KwikFit garage. Audiences were surprised to discover that behind the face that's gone through more changes than Optimus Prime, was a steely determined business woman with a refreshingly take-no-prisoners approach. She even managed to snag herself a husband, in the form of Peter Andre a man so unthreatening that a newborn lamb could bully his lunch money out of him.

A lot of botox has dribbled under the bridge since then, in which time Katie has managed to squander almost all the goodwill she's built up over the last few years. In a last-ditch attempt to resurrect a career which consisted mostly of phoning the tabloids on a daily basis to tell them what she'd found in the toilet, she decided to return to the show that made her name.

So here she is once again, almost as though the last four years never happened. Except they did, because now she looks as though she's going undercover in the Australian outback disguised as a platypus. She's also having to win over the rest of the gang who are understandably disgruntled about he fact that Katie got an estimated five times their fee for taking part in the show.

Still, her lesser known (bordering on anonymous) campmates are having the last laugh, as the audiences at home insist that Katie tackles every single bushtucker trial. Although she's no stranger to being debased in public, it's usually on her own terms, so it's no wonder that she's getting a little frustrated. But there's no point looking for sympathy in the camp, since the other contestants are wise to her publicity-seeking ways.

'How Clean Is Your House?' star Kim Woodburn, who resembles a doll's face resting on a pile of mashed potatoes, has already laid into Katie, accusing her of being a publicity seeker. To be fair to Katie, such condemnation seems a little rich coming from someone willing to chew a kangaroo testicle on TV to maintain her own media profile.

Kim's accusation clearly struck a chord with Katie, who admitted that she used to love the publicity but had come to the jungle because she "wanted some peace". Maybe the guesthouses in Bognor were all booked up and a TV show filmed on Australia's Gold Coast was the next best thing?

But for all Katie's protests, it's rather telling that she's now being lined up to appear on the US version of I'm A Celebrity... At this rate, she's going to be a staple of the format, like the platter of witchetty grubs, the bemused Caiman in a fish tank, and the tree-top studio. Next time she complains that she's had enough and is thinking of leaving, check the schedules - it could just be that she's due to start filming the show for another broadcaster. 

Everyone's a critic

After 24 hours on release, the next installment in the Twilight saga, New Moon, is breaking all kinds of records. There's even talk of the sensual sequel beating The Dark Knight in its opening weekend.

But although the fans are turning out in droves to get their fill of virginal vampire action, not everyone's over the moon (sorry) about the latest installment of the popular franchise. The critics have been predictably harsh about it, describing it as "tedious, long-winded" and "lamely unconvincing".

Fortunately, movies like this are as immune to criticism as Edward Cullen is to sunlight. Instead of bursting into flames like a traditional vampire should, the pouting hair-do simply glitters and sparkles like he just woke up under a drag queen. Likewise, the film's producers, Summit Entertainment, can sit back and watch the cash roll in as a result of all the free publicity.

So it's unlikely that anyone will lose any sleep over the latest negative review to hit the headlines - even if the critic in question is speaking on behalf of the Almighty himself. Displaying an incisive understanding of cinema second only to the inimitable Paul Ross, the Vatican has condemned New Moon as a "deviant moral vacuum".

Speaking on behalf of the Pontifical Council of Culture, Monsignor Franco Perazzolo claims that he's concerned about the film's reliance on the "age-old trick... of using extremes to make an impact..." Which sounds an awful lot like he's got an issue with the depiction of good and evil, although I can't imagine his boss would agree with him.

Ironically, the Catholic church may be dismayed by the series' lack of morals, but many other people are switched off by Twilight's 'over the clothes' approach to teenage sexuality. Written as a non-too-subtle metaphor for teenage abstinence, the books and subsequent movie adaptations revel in surging hormones and chaste romance. In author Stephenie Meyer's world, it's fine to fraternise with werewolves and vampires, as long as you keep your knickers on.

The problem is, modern teenagers aren't well-versed in the interpretation of metaphor and subtext. As a result, the overriding memory they'll take away from New Moon, is countless scenes depicting the buff boys of the Quileute tribe bursting out of their denim cut-offs to reveal their hairy animal side. If the movie's lead characters make a virtue of tearing off their pants at the earliest opportunity, what's to stop the impressionable audience following (birthday) suit?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Nicolas Cage loses his National Treasures

Does anyone have a fiver they can lend to Nicolas Cage? Only he's a bit strapped for cash at the moment - so much so that he's already had to take the unfortunate step of selling off one of his three European castles.

I know, your heart just bleeds for him. Especially if, like me, you've ever sat through one of the National Treasure movies, an experience not unlike having someone bellowing a Dan Brown novel at you through a loud-hailer.

Then again, noisy, explosive movies make up more than half of Nicolas' eclectic filmography, with the rest of his output involving introspective, downbeat dramas about the frailty of the human condition. No prizes for guessing which half brings in the big bucks - clue: his last big movie saw him providing the voice of a vengeance-seeking Guinea Pig.

But even the multi-million dollar paycheques don't seem to be sufficient to sustain the kind of spendy lifestyle that would make Michael Jackson look like Scrooge McDuck. In recent years, Cage has shown about as much consideration for his purchases as he has for his film roles, splashing his cash on 15 huge houses, four yachts, an island in the Bahamas, a Gulfstream jet and 22 cars. And barely a penny on a decent haircut.

Despite the fact that he brought in an estimated $40 million last year alone, Nicolas is now looking at the poorhouse (although for once, he's not viewing it as an investment property). And like any self-respecting celebrity, he's not prepared to be held accountable for his shopping addiction. Instead, he's suing his former business manager for $20 million in damages for sending him "down a path toward financial ruin".

The lawsuit all sounds convincing enough, using phrases like 'breach of contract', 'constructive fraud' and 'breach of fiduciary duty'. But there's a big difference between the careful siphoning off of funds and willingly signing on the dotted line to buy an island in the Bahamas, or $7million on a Bavarian castle.

With the wolves at the door, Nicolas must now be weighing up every offer that comes his way in the hope of clearing his debts. Maybe we'll finally get to see that sequel to Leaving Las Vegas we've all been hoping for, where a hopeless shopaholic relocates to Nevada committed to spending himself to death. Instead, he meets a whore who is happy to cash his cheques, and they both live happily ever after, watching QVC and flicking through old issues of the Betterware catalogue. I smell another Oscar...

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Dollies, rocked

In the back-stabby, bitch-fighty world of girl bands, it’s customary to compare each new genre arrival to the group that came before.

Girls Aloud were originally considered the poor man’s Sugababes, The Saturdays were the poor man’s Girls Aloud, and Girls Can’t Catch were the poor man’s Saturdays. By that logic, the Dolly Rockers were pitched at the man lying in a pool of his own piss outside Ladbrokes.

Haven't heard of the Dolly Rockers? Hardly surprising, given that they've so far achieved a level of fame that makes Kandy Rain seem like Destiny's Child. Their first official release was modern pop classic Je Suis Une Dolly, which displayed the kind of Gallic sophistication that we haven't seen since Kylie's 'Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi' (music by Stock/Aitken/Waterman, lyrics by Jean-Paul Sartre).

They followed that with a proper debut single, Gold Digger, which scaled the heady heights of number 46 in the charts. With a limited marketing budget to work with, they had to rely on a more ingenious publicity strategy, which mostly involved slagging off The Saturdays in the press.

Their sharp-tongued demeanour, combined with outfits that looked like they'd been acquired from a fire sale in Victoria's Secret, didn't win them many fans, with the Saturdays retaliating by describing them as "chavs". The public were even less impressed, raising a collective eyebrow of indifference in the girls' general direction.

Now it seems that they've been dropped by their record label EMI, although the Dolly's maintain that their career is alive and well. According to their Twitter account, "We haven't been dropped or split up. Our A&R is changing labels and we are going with him." For the unfortunate A&R man, that must be a little like turning up for a new job with halitosis that could anaesthetise a racehorse.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Mariah says "I'll Be There"

The Daily Mail today announced that Mariah Carey has had her slot filled by the Jersey Boys. As unappealing a prospect as that may sound, fear not - there's no sex tape on the horizon for Mimi. That's Jennifer Lopez's nightmare instead

The Mail was, in fact, referring to Mariah's 'unprofessional' decision to pull out of an appearance on this Saturday's Strictly Come Dancing, leaving the BBC scrambling to find a last-minute replacement.

Now it seems as though the long-simmering rivalry between the two Saturday evening juggernauts is threatening to boil over into all out war. According to the tabloids, the owner of the least-appealing chest in pop, had pencilled in an appearance on the sequins-and-slap kitch-fest, only for Simon to entice her back to the X-Factor instead. 

Although it can't have been too hard a decision, given the choice between an awkward chat with Dermot, or standing around as Bruce Forsyth tries to retell a joke he first made 67 years ago.

Actually, "entice" is probably the wrong word, since reports suggest that Cowell told Mariah's management that he wouldn't stand for her appearing on both networks. His petulant ultimatum paid off, so now X-Factor viewers will need to reach for the mute button on Sunday night, or risk losing half their glassware and their dogs' sanity.

Mariah has already recorded her performance of ' I Want To Know What Love Is' (yes, that one) - after spending several hours arguing over the kind of car in which she wanted to be transported to the studio. She wanted a Rolls-Royce Phantom with stencilled butterflies on the windows, as you do. Because Mariah is used to getting what she wants, much like Simon himself.

But not everyone is so keen to accept one of Simon's double-edged invitations. Having slated the X-Factor as "appalling" and nothing more than "televised karaoke" (inarguable logic if you ask me), Sting found himself on the receiving end of a loaded invitation to come on the show and "impart his knowledge". Which is a little like a restaurant giving someone food poisoning then apologising with a voucher for a free meal on their next visit. 

Unsurprisingly Sting has RSVP'ed in the negative through his spokeswoman Regine Moylett, who told the Daily Star that "Sting has probably said everything he wants to say about The X-Factor." Sadly, the same can't be said for the rest of the media, as this report (featuring a quote from yours truly) clearly shows. Still, at least this means we'll be spared Jedward's inevitable fusion of 'Every breath you take' and 'I'll be missing you'. 

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Bad movie, worse poster

Movie studio Universal is in trouble today, for being a little heavy handed with the clone tool. Some eagle-eyed movie fans have noticed that cast members Faizon Love and Kali Hawk have been unceremoniously dumped from the posters for new comedy Couples Retreat
Although the film follows the misadventures of four couples on a tropical island, it seems that there was only room in the ads for six people. According to the rather embarrassed publicity team, efforts had been taken 'to simplify the poster to actors who are most recognisable in international markets'. That meant dropping the African-American couple from the line-up, and playing up Malin Akerman and Kristen Bell's A-list profile instead.
Having said that, the US original wasn't much better, with Love and Hawk so far in the distance it looked as though they'd been washed out to sea. 
However, on close inspection it seems that this new poster may not be the work of an unforgivable racist after all. Instead, it could just be that the artworker in question suffers from OCD and couldn't help 'tidying' up the poster. After all, the characters' leis and floral accessories have also been removed, as have all the tidemarks on their clothes. 
Interestingly, most companies usually get into trouble for manipulating people of colour into publicity materials, to make up for their lack of diversity, not taking them out. The Onion even ran an alarmingly accurate story back in 2000 on the subject, headed 'Black Guy Photoshopped In'.
Ultimately, the real issue here is just how bad movie poster artwork has become. This once noble artform has now been replaced with lazy studio photography and basic Illustrator work. I guess Taschen's long-running series of Film Posters books will have to end with the 1990s

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Keeping it real with Rambo

Action movie fans are breathing a sigh of relief today, safe in the knowledge that one of their favourite franchises isn't about to jump the shark after all.

It turns out that Sylvester Stallone has had second thoughts about his plans for the next installment in the Rambo series, and decided to ditch the rumoured 'sci-fi' angle.

The writer/director/actor/
California Raisin was emboldened by the success of Rambo's long-awaited comeback last year, and was keen to maintain momentum with another chapter in the story of the unkillable Vietnam veteran. 

Having bought the rights to a novel called Hunter by James Byron Higgins, Stallone was hoping to merge the sci-fi story with the ongoing adventures of the world's oldest bandana-wearer.

In Sly's mind, the next Rambo movie would have seen the iron-jawed hero battling a genetically altered mutant. But someone pointed out that it was a bad idea, perhaps out of concern that the audience would have trouble differentiating
one from the other.

Instead, the 63-year old will battle villainous Mexicans in a "violent city where many young women have vanished", helping to maintain the franchise's commitment to
verisimilitude. After all, the last thing we need in a film series that once depicted one-man army bringing down the Afghan military by shooting a gunship with a bow and arrow, is a preposterous sci-fi element.

Jesus loves her - it's a start

Carrie Prejean has been back in the news recently, promoting her rush-released autobiography that pitches her as a modern day Jeanne D'Arc, a heroic young woman persecuted for her faith. Carrie first thrust herself into the public consciousness when she inadvertently painted herself as the slutty poster child for the 'traditional marriage' movement in this year's Miss USA contest.

Carrie had originally been crowned Miss California, but lost her glittery title for alleged breach of contract. However, the perky pageant princess argued that she was being discriminated against on religious grounds and filed a libel suit against the contest organisers. Although she was happy to portray herself as the victimised innocent, Carrie was also quick to leverage her time in the spotlight into a semi-permanent media role as a spokesbimbo for the groups wishing to outlaw gay marriage.

Pageant officials weren't too happy about being sued by a woman whose funbags they'd paid for, especially one with all the likeability of Uday Hussein, so they countersued to recoup the costs of Carrie's augmented assets.

Last week the case was finally settled out-of-court, as it emerged that the pageant officials had a copy of a sex tape featuring the imbecilic ingenue. According to those who've seen it, and not jabbed their eyes out with knitting needles, the video features Carrie giving a solo performance that was intended for her boyfriend at the time. Reports suggest that there are also other 'materials produced by her in the same period that were similarly erotic in nature'.

Clearly, Carrie's adventures in auteurship don't do her 'holier-than-thou' reputation any favours, which explains why the lawsuit was dropped quicker than a blind juggler's balls. Still, Carrie has a book to plug, which explains why she appeared on Larry King Live holding up a copy of 'Still Standing' like a guest presenter on QVC.

Larry clearly hadn't read the handling notes that came with his guest, and made the mistake of interviewing her instead of simply turning the camera on and instructing her to sell hard. Carrie was so incensed by Larry's probing (her video proves that's something she prefers to do for herself) that she repeatedly called him "inappropriate" and attempted to unhook her microphone.

Sadly, she wasn't smart enough to realise that 'storming out' involves leaving one location and traveling to another. Instead, she sat at the interview desk smiling like a lunatic and pretending she couldn't hear Larry's questions.

But not all interviews are so unpleasant for the sanctimonious strumpet. She was much happier to be interrogated by the nice folks at Christianity Today, who asked how she reconciles her cosmetic surgery with her traditional beliefs. Her informed response: "I don't think there's anything wrong with getting breast implants as a Christian. I think it's a personal decision. I don't see anywhere in the Bible where it says you shouldn't get breast implants." Oddly enough, the Bible also made no mention of gay marriage, but that didn't stop Carrie using it to condemn the concept.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Pop quiz hotshot

Who won this year's Big Brother? You know, that show on Channel 4? You used to watch it? Big house in Hertfordshire? Screeching woman standing outside in the rain? Nope, me neither.

Well anyway, apparently the victorious housemate was Sophie Reade. She's very blonde, and quite pretty in an 'advertising chatlines at midnight on a cable channel' kind of a way. Best of all, she's always happy to leave her bra drying on the radiator any time there's a chance of having her picture taken.

But the world of celebrity moves pretty quick, and if you want to remain in the glare of the flashbulbs, you need to be creative. Especially since this year's housemates were about as memorable as a KFC on the way home from an all-day drinking binge.

Thankfully, Sophie's the kind of girl who thinks on her heels, which is why the papers are full of pictures today of her and a friends swapping saliva in the street outside Movida.

Maybe she and her classy-looking pal are genuinely exploring the sapphic side of their sexuality, having read about Ellen DeGeneres declaring her undying love for Portia de Rossi in O: The Oprah Magazine

On the other hand, she may have been inspired by all the publicity generated by the latest episode of Gossip Girl, in which Hilary Duff, Jessica Szohr and Penn Badgely proved that three's more than just company. Their tripartite lip lock managed to increase the flagging show's ratings by twenty percent.

By that reckoning, Sophie can also expect to become twenty percent more famous thanks to her pavement pash. Which might even put her on a par with Joe Pasquale. Live the dream Sophie.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Overheard today

This year's big digital phenomenon has been the explosion of Twitter, which took the least useful bit of Facebook and built a whole social media platform around it. But as well as giving Lindsay Lohan a handy forum for ranting inarticulately at her ex, and allowing regular mortals to detail their every tedious move, the website has also unearthed a few gems. 

One of the best is '
Shit My Dad Says' - a Twitter account which has amassed over 700,000 followers and become the stuff of internet legend. It's the story of a 29 year-old guy who lives with his 73 year-old father, a man so profanely cantankerous that he may well be evidencing the early stages of dementia.

Given the venomous vitriol spouted by his father,
Justin Halpern would be forgiven for looking into flights to Switzerland. But instead, Halpern captures his dad's comments and posts them on Twitter. Ordinarily, this soul-destroying commentary on the foibles of modern life would become unbearably oppressive, but presented in bite-sized pieces of 140 characters or less, they're slightly more tolerable.

Choice quotes from Halpern Senior include:
“You look just like Stephen Hawking…. Relax, I meant like a non-paralyzed version of him. Feel better? Fine. Forget I said it.”
"Why the fuck would I want to live to 100? I'm 73 and shit's starting to get boring. By the way, there's no money left when I go, just fyi"
"I wanted to see Detroit win. I've been there. It's like God took a shit on a parking lot. They deserve some good news."

Now it seems as though Hollywood wants in on the action. CBS has commissioned Justin to write the pilot for a new sitcom, based on his tweets, that will be produced by Will & Grace creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick. 

In the past, we've had movies and TV shows based on books, plays, songs, poems and even toys. But this will be the first to be inspired by a Twitter feed. Still, if a Twitter account can get a development deal, maybe there's hope for Lindsay's career after all.