Tuesday, 30 March 2010

When "fudge" is just enough

Here's an interesting moral conundrum - is it appropriate for children to appear in a movie meant for adults only? As long as there have been films with adult themes, there have been key roles portrayed by young actors not old enough to see the finished product in a cinema.

From Jodie Foster as a 12-year old hooker in Taxi Driver and Linda Blair as the demon-hosting schoolgirl in The Exorcist, right up to Natalie Portman as a pint-sized assassin in Léon and Isabelle Fuhrman as a murderous Orphan - Hollywood has never shied away from depicting kids in child-unfriendly scenarios.

The latest tabloid-troubling teen is Chloe Moretz, who plays the 11-year-old Hit Girl in Matthew Vaughn's graphic novel adaptation Kick Ass. Decked out in a skin-tight costume and a fetching purple wig, the young actress is portrayed shooting people in the head and using the C-word.

Outraged moral guardians have been predictably quick to condemn what they've decided (without seeing it, of course) is an "offensive and inappropriate" film.

As for Chloe herself, she seems pretty well-adjusted about the whole thing, telling The Sun: "Obviously a little girl can't beat up and kill huge, heavy men. It is a controversial role, but it was a role I wanted to do. If I said a sixteenth of the words I say in that movie at home, I would be grounded for the rest of my life for sure." That's because Chloe, like Jodie, Natalie and Linda before her, has parents who make sure she understands the difference between what she's portraying on film, and what's acceptable in real life.

With that in mind, it's interesting that another 'innapropriate roles for kids' controversy has erupted in the last couple of days over a viral film that's currently doing the rounds.

Posted by a woman called cindymomof6, the youtube clip is of Cindy's son Jaydon's performance in a surprising school play. Rather than a traditional nativity with tea-towels and Tiny Tears, Jaydon's school apparently decided to re-enact Brian DePalma's classic drugs 'n' guns epic Scarface.

Some might say that it's a little strange that they picked a modern-day gangster classic, especially one with 226 uses of the f-word. In fact, Scarface's famously foul mouth isnpired a series of Swear-A-Long screenings - like Sing-Along-A-Sound of Music, if Julie Andrews called each of the Von Trapp kids a motherfucker.

Don't worry, the kids' version has been carefully rewritten to replace every f-bomb with the word 'fudge'. The bowl of cocaine is a dish of popcorn, and none of the guns fire live ammo.

Nonetheless, people are still up in arms about the school's choice of performance material, with comments posted along the lines of "Jaydon's school and teacher should be sued. This is just toooo wrong. What have we become. Shamefull" and "Its just wrong,the school needs help and so do the American people,to teach this at any age,no wonder they shoot each other in the street."

What's most worrying about this whole debacle is that fact that anyone thinks for a second that this video is the real thing. Everything, from the careful crafting of the script to the surprisingly adept camerawork, suggests that this is a joke. That and the fact that it's clearly supposed to be funny. Anyone who's ever sat through, or appeared in, a school play knows they're about as entertaining as an omnibus edition of Cash In The Attic.

It doesn't take a genius to discover the story on TMZ confirming that it's the work of an LA-based production company that's made videos for Lady Gaga, Bowling For Soup and Adam Lambert. What's not yet known is the purpose of the film itself, other than to give the easily disgusted a bit of a work-out.

And that's the problem - when exactly did we become so hungry for outrage that any sense of credulity went out the window? Does our sense of moral indignation mean more to us than any semblance of curiosity or rational thought?

Oh, and one more thing. For all of the outrage over kids re-enacting mobster movies and shooting each other with toy guns, it's worth remembering that Alan Parker did this 34 years ago in Bugsy Malone. And the only troubling thing to emerge from that was the career of Scott Baio.

Enjoy your stay

After what seems like the longest, most depressing winter on record, it's hardly surprising that people's thoughts are turning to holidays. A chance to get away from it all and soak up some much needed R&R.

But with the recession still biting like Edward Cullen with the munchies, many people will be forced to take their vacations a little closer to home. So it's depressing to see, based on a couple of high profile news stories, that English guest-houses can't always guarantee a warm welcome.

Michael Black and John Morgan had planned on a nice Friday night away when they booked a double room at the Swiss B&B in Cookham, but when they came to check-in, the greeting they received was less than cordial.

The B&B's owner, Susanne Wilkinson, turned the middle-aged couple away because it was against her Christian beliefs to allow a gay couple to stay in a double room. Speaking to the press, Wilkinson argued "They gave me no prior warning and I couldn't offer them another room as I was fully booked."

Presumably, when she studied the Bible she missed the bit where an over-subscribed innkeeper found lodgings for a couple with an unborn illegitimate child.

Indignant at the fact that the gay couple reported her law-breaking discrimination to the police, Wilkinson argued "I don't see why I should change my mind and my beliefs I've held for years just because the government should force it on me. I am not a hotel, I am a guest house and this is a private house." Her delusion runs deeper than the fact that she thinks she is a 'guest house' - she also seems to think that her personal preferences (or lack thereof) overrule matters of law.

Sadly, she's not alone in her misplaced sense of 'injustice'. Private hoteliers Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang have also fallen foul of those pesky progressive politics. Apparently, these days you can't even hurl religiously motivated invective at a paying guest over poached eggs without the moral police getting involved.

The Vogelenzangs have been charged with using "threatening, abusive or insulting words" after they had a heated conversation with a Muslim guest at the Bounty House Hotel near Aintree. The woman's crime? Having stayed at the hotel for four weeks whilst receiving treatment at a local hospital, she came down to breakfast on the final day of her stay wearing a hijab.

The fact is, she could have entered the dining room dressed as Colonel Sanders and it would have been no-one's business but her own. And yet somehow, "pass the ketchup" quickly devolved into a 'debate' that ended with the hospitable hoteliers suggesting that "Mohammad, the founder of Islam, was a warlord" and that the unnamed guest's choice of outfit was "a form of bondage." Checkout's at noon and let us know if you used the minibar.

Of course, the Christian couple argue that they were simply defending their beliefs and deny the allegations, despite the fact that they are, by their own admission, "fully aware that a robust exchange had taken place and the woman had been perhaps a little offended". At the same time as fighting the prosecution, they're facing up to the fact that their bookings have dropped by 80%.

Apparently, the local hospital which had previously referred outpatients to the hotel felt that it was an unsuitable venue for convalescence, given the management's vocal take on personal faith. Now the self-righteous couple may have to sell the hotel to make ends meet - a handy way of turning the story back on Islam, which should always be the villain in the story.

In both instances, personal religious beliefs have crept into the workplace and ultimately resulted in discriminatory conduct. These 'wronged' hoteliers might defend themselves with cries of "religious freedom" but their first obligation should always be the provision of services to the guests.

Just like the registrars who refuse to officiate over civil ceremonies because of their faith, they're ultimately failing to fulfil their role. More importantly, they're hiding behind a wilfully misinterpreted belief system in order to validate ugly bigotry and intolerance.

In these enlightened times it's easy to look back at racist TV shows from the 70s, like Love Thy Neighbour, and laugh at their primitive take on modern life. But have we really progressed that far from an era when guesthouses often featured signs that said "No blacks, dogs or Irish"?

Monday, 29 March 2010

Forgiven, but not forgotten

Anyone who claims to truly love movies has a special place in their heart for cinema's most egregious errors. We've all laughed at Faye Dunaway's infamous wire coathanger breakdown, or shuddered as Elizabeth Berkely danced like she was having an epileptic seizure in a whorehouse.

But for my money, the hotly contested title of worst movie ever has to go to the spectacularly sucky Battlefield Earth. Bankrolled by John Travolta's scientology pals, the sci-fi epic almost defies categorisation.

P0pvulture was fortunate enough to attend the UK premiere of this remarkable film back in 2000, at a screening introduced by JT and director Roger Christian. Premieres are supposed to be celebratory affairs, but following the film's appalling showing at the US box office, the movie-making pair couldn't have looked more nervous if they'd been named in the Hague Conventions.

As the film wore on, the audience became increasingly restless - even the Hollyoaks cast members in attendance looked as though they had better things to do with their time.

Every frame of the film was shot with a Dutch tilt. This isn't an obscure sex act involving a Grolsch bottle-cap, it refers to setting the camera at an odd angle. Christian's intention was to highlight the 'otherworldliness' of the action. In actuality, it just meant that half the audience needed to see a chiropractor by the time the credits rolled.

During its 118 minutes' running time (shortened to 57 if you ran all the slow-motion scenes at regular speed) the film staged a remarkable assault on logic and the acting profession as a whole. Chief amongst the film's many highlights was a scene where a rag-tag group of post-apocalyptic savages take some flight manuals out of the library and teach themselves to pilot a fleet of still operational (after 1000 years) jump jets.

After a decade of being everyone's punching bag, Battlefield Earth finally won a much-deserved award - worst film of the noughties at this year's Razzies. Now, with the tale of Psychlos and man-rats back in the public's consciousness (like the filmic equivalent of repressed memory syndrome), its writer has issued a public apology for his involvement in the debacle.

Writing in the New York Post, J.D. Shapiro alleges that he originally wrote a screenplay that was "darker, grittier and had a very compelling story with rich characters". He argues that studio interference "changed the entire tone" and ultimately killed the movie. Given that J.D.'s previous career high-point was the 'hilarious' Robin Hood: Men in Tights, I'm not sure that I believe him.

Whether or not Shapiro's original draft could have become the first great sci-fi movie of the century is largely irrelevant. What matters is the fact that he's happy to acknowledge his complicity in making the film happen: "Now, looking back at the movie with fresh eyes, I can't help but be strangely proud of it. Because out of all the sucky movies, mine is the suckiest."

This latest burst of infamy for the film is unlikely to trouble its producer Elie Samaha, who publicly stated that even bad reviews and Razzie awards gave the movie "free publicity". In his mind "the more the critics hit Battlefield Earth, the more DVDs it sells. It is the kind of film that makes a movie legend and we feel we have enough staying power to last long after the critics have quieted down." One day, Earth will be nothing more than the kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland depicted in Battlefield Earth - then, and only then, will this magnificent folly receive the recognition it deserves.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

What 'good old days'?

With the economy still looking about as healthy as a consumptive Brontë heroine, everyone's trying to find ways to stimulate their local economy.

Over in Florida, this has taken the form of a proposed tax credit for TV and film producers, designed to attract entertainment jobs to the sunshine state. However, the $75 million dollar incentive package comes with a catch - hardly surprising given the fact that it was proposed by the state's Republican house majority.

This would be a "family-friendly" tax credit, designed to encourage the production of wholesome entertainment with nothing more controversial than the occasional "Oh phooey" or a glimpse of shapely ankle.

Orlando-based representative Stephen Precourt spoke articulately about the proposed bill, saying "Think of it as like Mayberry. That's when I grew up — the '60s. That's what life was like. I want Florida to be known for making those kinds of movies: Disney movies for kids and all that stuff. Like it used to be, you know?"

Like most conservatives, Precourt sees life through revision-tinted spectacles. So he wants films to be made in Florida that would be 'suitable for a 5-year-old' with 'cross generational appeal' and 'a responsible resolution of issues'. You know, just like real life.

If Precourt had his way, producers handling material that includes smoking, sex, nudity or swearing would need to find somewhere else to shoot, since this content is defined as 'obscene' in the eyes of Florida law.

But here's where it gets a bit sticky - 'family values' only relate to certain kinds of families. More specifically, Precourt doesn't want anything that portrays 'nontraditional family values' to be shot in his backyard. He argued that he wasn't targeting the gay community with this rather specific wording, but when asked if a TV show with gay characters would qualify for the tax credit, he replied "That would not be the kind of thing I'd say that we want to invest public dollars in."

Thankfully, not everyone in Florida is quite so enamored with Precourt's proposal. Ted Howard heads up Florida Together, a coalition of 80 organisations that advocate for equal rights, and he's unhappy about the way that this bill will make some Floridians feel: “Real-life families come in all shapes and sizes. Marginalizing single-parent families, gay families and other non-traditional families by instituting 1950's-style movie censorship does nothing to support real-life families or help Florida's struggling economy.”

The biggest problem with all of this, is that the tax incentive is based on the desire to depict a reality that never actually existed. As Gary Ross's underrated 1998 movie Pleasantville argued, the TV shows of the 50s and 60s were entirely unrepresentative of the world in which they appeared. The real world might not always be pretty, but it sure beats the hell out of sticking your head in the sand and pretending you're one of the Brady Bunch.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Sins of the fathers

I blame John Hughes. The recently deceased recluse spent the best part of the 1980s giving the world a plethora of pro-teen movies that depicted sluts, jocks, dweebs, nerds, geeks and wastoids all enjoying their day in the sun.

Don't get me wrong - it would be nice to think that every underdog ultimately has its day. The boy from the wrong side of the tracks gets the rich girl. The nerd teaches the jock bully a lesson. The prissy cheerleader learns to unhook her own bra and discovers the joys of The Cure and heavy eye-liner. Unfortunately, real life usually turns out somewhat differently.

Technology may have advanced beyond all recognition, but teenage life is no better than it was twenty five years ago. Don't believe me? Just ask Derrick Martin, who's been thrust into the spotlight purely based on his choice of prom date. As well as been cursed with a dyslexic's spelling of his name, Derrick has had to deal with the fall-out from his declaration that he wants to take a boy to senior prom.

This is a big issue in the States right now, with two different teens hitting the headlines for their same sex preferences. Just last month, Constance McMillen was in the news when her high school prom was cancelled to prevent her from bringing her girlfriend to the dance. Since the story broke, McMillen has worked the talk-show circuit like a pro, and garnered over 400,000 fans on facebook thanks to the support of the ACLU.

This week, it's all about Derrick, who has been fighting to bring his boyfriend Richard Goodman to the prom. The difference is, Derrick actually won his argument, with Bleckley County, Georgia, allowing Martin to attend prom with his chosen date.

Since this decision was made, Derrick's parents have thrown him out of the house, arguing that he disrespected the family by allowing himself to be interviewed by local news crews: "I know they had the right because it's their house. Now I just want to get an apartment and then go to college."

If Derrick was a notorious trouble-maker or attention-seeker, it might be a little easier to understand how his own family could turn their back on him. In fact, he's already scored a scholarship to Georgia Southern University, and spends his spare time tutoring at-risk third, fourth and fifth grade students.

But Derrick's parents aren't the only ones making his life difficult. His classmate Amber Duskin has been keeping busy organising a rally to protest his attendance at the prom. She argues that it's not about homophobia - she's protesting because she didn't want her little home town thrust onto the evening news.

Apparently, Amber and her friends don't want Cochran to "be known as a pro gay town". They're concerned about the fact that this story is "bringing all this attention" to the biggest night of their lives. Still, Amber can't quite help herself, adding "I don’t believe in going up there and dancing with gay guys like that."

Is it really Amber's fault though? A little bit of digging (i.e. one simple Google search) reveals that the actual organiser of the protest was Amber's dad Bobby, a 'worried father' who claimed “I'm going to speak out. Because I’m a father, and I’m proud to be a father and I’m going to look out for my kids no matter what and I’m going to stand up for them no matter what.”

You know, maybe I was a little unfair. Perhaps it's not John Hughes' fault at all.

He may have spent his time conjuring up wish-fulfilment fantasies that depicted the downtrodden enjoying their moment of victory, but there was another message at the heart of his work. Hughes' real contribution to popular culture was his incisive understanding of the role that domineering parents play in their children's lives.

He understood the pressures that teenage kids have to face, and where those pressures often come from. They may be lining up on either side of the protest lines, but I'm willing to bet that Amber and Derrick actually have more in common than they realise.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Thank you for the music

Those naughty scandinavians certainly know how to tease. Ten years after turning down the GDP of Ghana to reform for a world tour, Sweden's finest exports (after Volvo and hot blondes) are umm-ing and ahh-ing about a potential reunion.

It's almost thirty years since ABBA trudged morosely out of limelight, leaving a harmonious hole in all our hearts. They may have gone, but they were not forgotten, with enough remasters and reissues to keep subsequent generations of music lovers happy.

Over the intervening years their astonishing ouevre (excluding Bang-A-Boomerang and Dum Dum Diddle) has been reappraised with the kind of loving attention to detail that makes Michaelangelo look like a marketplace caricaturist.

At the time, ABBA was easily dismissed as the pinnacle of Eurocheese - like BabyBel with a knack for complicated harmonies. Unfairly lumped in with Baccara and Boney M, the complexity and finesse of their output was easily overlooked.

To the uninitiated, the songs are little more than formulaic pap - catchy melody and predictable structure: verse chorus verse chorus bridge key change chorus fade. But if it was really that simple, music journalists would be busy discussing the musical legacy of Steps and S Club 14.

Now, it's a different story, with musicians as diverse as The Edge and three different Brians (Eno, Higgins and May) stepping forward to doff their white sombreros in ABBA's direction.

When Mamma Mia was developed into a (record-breaking) West End musical, Benny and Bjorn spent months in the studio with original audio engeineer Michael B Tretow, trying to figure out how the hell they made the records sound so good. The harmonies were so dense and complicated they actually had to be forensically deconstructed to give the musical's cast any hope of capturing the signature ABBA sound. It's also the reason why ABBA-week on any music talent show is about as enjoyable as reaching into a faulty garbage disposal unit to rescue a wedding ring.

ABBA's unique selling point was the way they brought together a triptych of talents - songwriting, vocals and production. There are countless groups that can manage two out of three, but the Swedish superstars were the only ones to successfully nail all three.

For decades now, the fans have had a dream of seeing the Swedish sixty-somethings squeezed back into those unflattering spandex outfits and recapturing the melodic magic once again. Sadly, two whole generations have had to settle for ironic Australian cover bands for their fix of the live ABBA experience.

Finally, it seems as though there may be a glimmer of hope that the fab foursome may be on the verge of reuniting. In a new interview with The Times, Benny and Bjorn have hinted that a reunion is not out of the question: “Yeah, why not? I don’t know if the girls sing anything any more. It’s not a bad idea, actually.”

OK, so it's hardly an effusive confirmation, but it's better than flat-out refusal. The pop landscape is a pretty uninspiring place right now, dominated by plummy electro-tarts, dull bedsit rockers and ten-a-penny reality TV stars. Here's hoping that ABBA can finally reconcile their pasts and find a way to come together. Let's face it, it's a richer man's world thanks to songs like this:

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Do my moobs look big in this?

Pity the modern man. He's been manscaped, emasculated and metrosexualised past the point of rescue. Anyone would think that we're just moments away from spontanous gender realignment, like those frogs in Jurassic Park.

Mindful of our ever-diminishing masculinity, a few bold pioneers have done their bit for the men's movement. Pepsi was kind enough to give the world Pepsi Max, since 'Diet' seemed a little too femme. The way Pepsi saw it, men were concerned that drinking Diet Pepsi was like being caught parading round the house in your wife's underwear.

Nestle had similar ideas with Yorkie. Chocolate had, for too long, been seen as a feminine indulgence, like shoe shopping, flower arranging or doing better in school. This, on the other hand, was the chocolate so masculine that women weren't even allowed to eat it.

Here, at last, was a chocolate bar for big, beefy men, with hairy chests and sweaty, oil-covered muscles. A bar that "recognised that men needed places to be, in a simple sense, men." However, they may have overshot the mark somewhat - the campaign itself was so homoerotic that the Yorkies might as well have been moulded into the shape of a giant fist.

It's strange how much of this gender warfare is fought in the largely sexless area of food and drink. The latest development aims to show lady-loving lads that it's OK to ditch animal products from their diet.

Scared that men are put off by the label 'vegan', a new movement is attempting to introduce the word 'hegan' to our already over-abused vocabulary. According to a news story in the Boston Globe, the ultimate hegan is the preposterously masculine Rip Esselstyn, a veteran firefighter and triathlete from Austin, Texas.

He was concerned about the high cholesterol of the men in his fire department, and so created the "plant-strong" Engine 2 diet to help them fight the flab. Since then, he's popped up on the talk-show trail to make the point that veganism isn't "for yuppie, tree-hugging, emaciated weaklings."

Rip might believe that "real men eat plants" but this is just another case of 'protesting too much'. These shallot-sauteeing tough guys might be able to tear a phone book in half with their bare hands, but the moment they boast that they “make a great avocado Reuben sandwich" or can whip up a batch of vegan cookies at a moment's notice, the illusion is shattered.

The fact is, nobody is confusing veganism with vagina. They just don't fancy an all-vegetable diet. And no amount of gender-specific redefinition will change things. Here's another noble idea that ought to be swiftly consigned to the herstory books.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Don't be a player hater

The designers of Need For Speed and Gran Turismo will be busy developing a new curb-crawling option, with the news that the world's oldest profession has been given a 21st century makeover for the gaming generation.

Aimed at teenage boys with callused hands and overworked joysticks, exciting new online service GameCrush offers users access to a wide variety of 'attractive females' willing to accompany them for ten minutes on Xbox Live.

Now they can spend hours locked away in their darkened room, playing Halo or Modern Warfare 2, safe in the knowledge that they're developing their social skills with the opposite sex.

'Players' (as the site's users are called) are able to browse the archive of 'PlayDates' and can choose their preferred companions, provided they're willing to pay around $8 for the privilege. To help gamers choose their Soul Calibur-mate, the girls have uploaded flattering pictures and a list of their 'turn ons', which presumably include pasty skin and unwashed hair.

If the play date is a success, users of the service even have the option of leaving a tip at the end of the session. Which is a little like leaving a bundle of Linden dollars on the night-stand.

In a world where the consumer is king, it's nice that 'players' can also rate the service they experienced. How long will it be before real world escorts feel compelled to adopt a similar approach? Look for user reviews grafitti'd onto a street corner near you.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

That'll be the Day

Spare a thought for poor old Darren Day, who continues his inexorable slide from West End legend to washed-up has-been. Today, he appeared in court in Edinburgh Sheriff Court for being in possession of a kubotan.

The small but deadly weapon was designed in the 1970s for 'close combat control' by members of the Los Angeles police, but is readily available in martial arts shops and magazines. Although it looks more like a particularly pointy butt-plug, the kubotan can do some serious damage even in the hands of an "untrained person". I'm guessing that several years of modern tap and dance classes don't count as 'training' in this instance.

Still, there's a delicious irony to the fact that Day is officially being charged with "being in possession of an offensive weapon." Given that he's been through more West End actresses than Les Miserables, the highlight-headed heart-breaker is now more famous for his offensive 'weapon' than he is for the musicals he starred in.

In fact, his name is now so readily associated with the term 'love-rat' that he could give James Herbert enough material for another book.

Although he's done nothing to endear himself to the British public, other than irritating the shit out of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson on I'm A Celebrity..., this does seem unnecessarily harsh given the widespread availability of kubotans. Especially since, as Day's defence pointed out, a pen or set of house keys could be just as dangerous when used correctly.

It's also worth remembering that Darren may well have been carrying the weapon for protection. With a love 'em and leave 'em reputation like his, he can hardly be short of enemies.

Monday, 22 March 2010

It's getting hot in herre

Forget Cheryl Cole, Victoria Beckham and Colleen Rooney. Footballers' wives are old news. In the run-up to the impending general election, it's all about the PWAG.

Given that the three main party leaders have all the approachability of a hospital bin full of used needles, they're all dragging their wives out of the woodwork. Having seen the impact that Michelle Obama's poise, style and formidable upper-body strength had on the world's media, they're all keen to appeal to the masses by using their better, prettier halves.

Gordon Brown is sitting comfortably, safe in the knowledge that his unassuming wife has already done her bit to boost his reputation. Interestingly, Sarah is the UK's most popular Twitterer, with over 700,000 followers, overtaking Stephen Fry late last year. Rather worryingly, Mrs Brown has almost five times as many fans as the Labour Party's official feed.

Over in the Liberal Democrat camp, things are a little less encouraging. Despite Nick Clegg making a decent attempt at coming across as a regular guy on ITV last night, the Daily Mail is keen to point out the incontrovertible Spanishness of Miriam Gonzalez Durantez (AKA Mrs Clegg). They love the fact that she's unable to vote in the British elections because she's not a British citizen, and the not-so subtle reference to her 'stealing' Nick from one of her friends helps to portray her as a deceitful harlot.

But we can't expect them to show much interest in Sarah or Miriam, when that leggy icon of loveliness Samantha Cameron is around. In the least convincing display of "Oh gosh, how terrible I had no idea those pictures would ever come to light" since Pamela and Tommy went sailing, some early modelling shots of young Samantha have 'emerged'

Loosen your blazers boys, we've got a hot one right here.

Posing like an uncomfortable giraffe that's been rifling through Antonia De Sancha's wardrobe, Samatha's 'youthful modelling shots' manage to capture all her ravishing natural beauty and effervescence. Don't focus on the white tights (which belong on a Ricki Lake makeover segment) or the damson lipstick that makes her look like she's been chewing on a broken pen, just check out those gams.

In an uncharacteristically complementary article, Amanda Platell practically frigs herself into a coma over the conservative coquette's "enviable long legs" but interestingly makes no mention of her equally lengthy visage. I guess it's a case of horses (face) for courses, since what Amanda describes as "alluring" is more reminiscent of a drugged-up debutante waiting for her driver to turn up.

If nothing else, Platell should be ashamed of misleading viewers with the promise of a "risque fashion shoot" given that the pictures are about as sexually provocative as a recipe for bread and butter pudding. And any erstwhile smut-seekers are going to be very disappointed with the Google Image search results for 'Samantha Cameron shows pussy'.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Breast in show

Hollywood blockbusters have never been synonymous with realism. Whether it's the convenient parking space outside city hall, or the helpful phonecall telling you to switch on the news before the relevant report has even started - suspension of disbelief has always been the order of the day.

So let's give three cheers for Disney, which has finally stepped up to the plate on an issue that has ruined many a movie for me. The House of Mouse is currently casting the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie (trilogy shmilogy) and they're being very specific about the type of actress they're looking for.

Although this is a family-friendly franchise, the young wannabes hoping for a break-out role in POTC: On Stranger Tides had better be prepared to bare all. Not in the film - that would be unseemly, this nudity will all be taking place behind the scenes.

This may be a film series with ghostly pirates, squid-faced demons and a monstrous kraken, but the makers are going for absolute authenticity in the human cast. So they're looking for "beautiful female fit models. Must be 5ft 7in-5ft 8in, size 4 or 6, no bigger or smaller. Age 18-25. Must have a lean dancer body. Must have real breasts. Do not submit if you have implants."

Although that may have limited their talent pool by about 75% this is an interesting development. And they're taking it seriously, with director Rob Marshall promising to hold a 'show and tell' day when the actresses will need to pass a test designed to finger the falsies.

Of course, if they were really interested in historical accuracy they wouldn't stop at the boobs. Clear complexions, aerobicised bodies, dental veneers are all rather anachronistic in a film about pirates.

Still, no-one should really be surprised that the film-makers are rejecting augmented boobs - they're not to Jack Sparrow's taste. Everyone knows pirates only have eyes for booty.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Look away now

OK, so you're sitting in the lounge watching a good movie with the family. The DVD cover said that it was rated 18 for explicit violence, drug use, sexual swearwords and graphic nudity, but still you're shocked when confronted with a scene where a bunch of foul-mouthed, crack-addicted strippers burn an orphanage to the ground. Oh, now the lead stripper is making out with the Mother Superior who runs the children's home. This is just awful.

If only there was some way of shielding the children (and the mother-in-law) from this wanton depravity, whilst still enjoying the director's original vision. You can't afford to pay people to stand behind the couch and place their hand over the kids' eyes every time something offensive happens, so what's the next best thing?

How about ClearPlay? It's a revolutionary new filter system that automatically edits out "potentially offensive scenes" leaving you to enjoy the movie with the peace-of-mind that your little ones won't be corrupted by all that adult content.

Using patented technology integrated into your DVD player, the system can "skip and mute content based on seven categories that can be set to meet viewing preferences" including "violence, blood, nudity, sex, swearing, blasphemy and offensive content." So, all the good stuff basically.

Although the system isn't released in the UK until July, it's already up and running in the US (big surprise there). But although lots of families are delighted about the opportunity to chop out all the good bits from a movie, the film studios are somewhat less enamoured with it. Eight years ago, when the technology was first developed, the Directors' Guild of America and a cabal of Hollywood film studios sued ClearPlay, alleging that its software violated studio copyrights and misrepresented directors' finished films.

The people who run ClearPlay believe that most films have a higher rating on account of a handful of scenes which can be easily edited without spoiling the rest of the film. But, once you get into broad areas such as 'offensive content' and blasphemy, all bets are off.

There are a number of popular websites in the States that review 'secular' movies from a Christian perspective. Giving people an idea of a film's content is one thing, but the list of things that might 'cause offence' borders on the laughable. According to sites like 'Christian Spotlight on the Movies' and 'Childcare Action Project' films as innoffensive as Harry Potter and Avatar score some harsh reviews thanks to their depictions of magic and Gaia spirituality.

If ClearPlay had their way, a blockbuster like Jurassic Park would only be about fifteen minutes long. Take out the dinosaur attacks, the smoking, the severed limbs, the gunfire, the mild language, Laura Dern's exposed arms, the lawyer hiding in a toilet and any reference to evolution, and what have you got left? A fat IT consultant who can't drive, some kids eating jelly and a conversation about a flea circus. They'd be lining up around the block for that...

For the record, I agree with the DGA and the big studios - this is ultimately disrespectful to the people who put months (even years if you're James Cameron) into crafting a film. Why bother getting Thelma Schoonmaker or Michael Kahn to edit your movies, when the audience at home prefer to let a downloadable patch reconfigure it automatically?

However, there is a silver lining to this particular cloud. As Marie Antionette may or may not have said - "Let them eat cake". If people are too stupid to realise that there's an off switch built into every TV, Sky and DVD remote, let them pay ClearPlay a pound a week to make their viewing safer. Perhaps that way, the rest of us will be allowed to get on with enjoying our movies the way the directors intended, without the BBFC (or MPAA) sticking their nose in.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Your secret's out

This has not been a good week for celebrities indulging in a little extra-curricular activity. Sam and Kate's relationship hit an iceberg when it emerged that he's been getting 'close' to actress Rebecca Hall.

Just days later it was Sandra Bullock and Jesse James taking their turn in the limelight. The tabloids loved the idea that whilst Sandra was busy earning her Oscar on the set of The Blind Side, her rough-around-the-edges hubby was dipping his tattoo needle in some seriously grotty ink. Michelle 'Bombshell' McGee may have grown up Amish, but she made up for lost time by transforming herself into a human park bench - covered in graffiti and offering tramps a bed for the night.

We were even treated to an update on Tiger's ongoing trauma, as porn star Joslyn James launched a website dedicated to the texts Tiger sent her - from one pro to another. The golfing God has always seemed like the strong but silent type, which is just as well, considering the quality of his chat-up lines - "I would love to have the ability to make you sore." Hope she stocked up on Canesten first.

But my favourite celebrity sex revelation of the week was Karl Lagerfeld's announcement that he likes to pay for his boy-toys. The desiccated designer believes that sex in a relationship never lasts, so he prefers to leave his money on the dresser.

For someone known for his plain-speaking opinions, it's a little surprising that Karl opts for the age-old euphemism 'high-class escort' rather than 'rent boy'. For the record, 'high-class escort' is an oxymoron. If they give you a blow-job and change, class doesn't come into it. Chances are, it just means that you're paying over the odds.

Kind-hearted Karl also pointed out that, although prostitutes are a viable option for the rich, for everyone else there's always porn. And he has a lot of respect for the performers who work hard for the money in films like 'Harry Squatter' and 'Dawson's Crack'.

As Karl says, "I also think it’s much more difficult to perform in porn than to fake some emotion on the face as an actor." He's right, you can't fake most of the things that end up on a porn actor's face.

Since Karl doesn't believe in gay marriage (he thinks it's all rather bourgeois, and he prefers to be 'different'), it looks as though Karl will have to keep paying for it. Which is just as well, since I can't imagine that looking like the Crypt Keeper gets Karl too many offers.

I'm sure he'd be the first to admit that true love is priceless. And for everything else, there's Mastercard.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Surfing the crimson wave

Stephen King's debut novel Carrie (and its subsequent film adaptation) opened with a sixteen year-old girl getting her first period and freaking out. Raised by a religious fanatic, the late bloomer has been kept in the dark about her 'curse' and thinks she's dying. Her kind classmates help her out by screaming, jeering and throwing tampons at the poor, confused wretch, - much like an editorial meeting run by Paul Dacre.

It's easy to look at Carrie and laugh that someone could be so naive and misinformed about her own body's development. But actually, it's not such a stretch when you think about it. The ongoing debate about sex education in schools, combined with a neo-traditional obsession with teen abstinence, means that there must be thousands of teenagers suddenly contemplating their mortality in bathrooms across the United States.

The thing is, menstruation makes people squeamish. Blood and body parts are fine on CSI, but not when it comes to women's bodies. As a result, advertisers on both sides of the pond have spent decades finding all kinds of euphemisms and analogies to sell sanitary products.

Using words like comfort, freedom and freshness, the ad campaigns have grown increasingly oblique, making it hard to tell whether they're supposed to be selling tampons or Febreze. We see footage of women roller-blading and dancing, or laughing with their arms around their friends for a group photo. We don't see them rummaging in their handbags, gorging on Toblerone or tapping a colleague on the shoulder and asking for a 'favour'.

After years of evasive language, ad agency JWT has thrown in the sanitary towel. They've had enough of slow-motion and white linen trousers. Arm-in-arm with tampon brand Kotex, they've decided to tell it how it is, making the bold assumption that women are capable of thinking for themselves.

But not everyone agrees. Their first attempt was a straight-talking ad that had women talking about their vaginas. Cut to a scene of a lot of very puzzled, and slightly uncomfortable TV network executives. "You can't use the 'v' word" they cried, despite the fact that more than half the population have one.

When their second attempt used the ridiculous euphemism "down there" (where is that exactly, Mexico?) - they still weren't happy, with two networks refusing to run the ad. So the agency channeled their frustration into a great new campaign that pokes fun at people's 'ick-factor'.

Rather than telling the truth, the new ad is a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek lie, that portrays the kind of non-existent airheads that other agencies have in mind whenever they ask the props department for a beaker of blue liquid.

As Richard Adams pointed out on the Guardian website today, UK 'sanitary' brands are a little more more uninhibited - Mooncup recently launched a new website called loveyourvagina.com However, even here there's still a fascination with euphemisms, inviting visitors to tell everyone what "you lovingly call your lady garden, fru fru or coochie."

These may be small steps in ad land, but they're giant leaps for womankind. And if anyone has any objections, allow me to suggest where you can stick them.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The bitch is back

Imagine Jan Moir's frustration - a handsome young gay TV presenter wanks himself to death and she can't say what's really on her mind. Having famously blamed Stephen Gately's death on his lifestyle, rather than the congenital heart defect that actually killed him, here was the perfect opportunity for the poisonous podgester to resume her one woman crusade. But unlike the arsonists who can't resist returning to the scene of their crime, Jan managed to bite her forked tongue and let this auto-erotic escapade pass by.

The problem is, ugly sentiments like hate and malice will eventually bubble to the surface. And poor old Kate Winslet is bearing the brunt.

Today Jan published a breathtakingly cruel attack on the Oscar winning actress, simply because her marriage to director Sam Mendes has failed. There's nothing like kicking someone when they're down.

With a metaphorical deerstalker perched on her fat head, Moir sets about picking apart the ruins of Winslet's relationship. In the absence of any incriminating weapons, Jan has to resort to the age-old technique favoured by crooked cops everywhere - planting evidence.

Jan's Jessica Fletcher-instincts were first triggered when she saw Kate at the Oscars, looking "a little glum" and "clinging to Jeff Bridges" when presenting an award. She even imagines an alternative scenario where Kate and Jeff wrestle on the floor of the auditorium. It's enough to make Columbo squint.

At first, it almost seems as though Jan is genuinely sad for the once-happy couple's loss. She even describes them as the seemingly perfect couple, grounded, talented and attractive.

But like all the great detectives, she's just lulling people into a false sense of security by pretending she's on their side. Jan thinks Kate and Sam looked too alike for the marriage to work, commenting "It would take sonar imaging to fathom the daily depths of narcissism they must have experienced as they once devotedly looked into each other's eyes."

As for Kate, well, she's no better than the council mums that Jan likes to take occasional pot shots at - "How has girl-next-door Kate Winslet found herself, at the age of 34, with two divorces already on the charge sheet and two children to care for... Despite her professions of normalcy, Kate is an ultra-glam Hollywood film star... yet even she cannot keep a man, or make a marriage work."

Is it normal for someone to express quite so much glee in someone else's misery, especially when children are involved and there's no evidence of foul play on either side?

The way Jan sees it, Hollywood marriages have no chance of working. The stars live in a "gated community of celebrity life" where they develop warped sensibilities and "grow used to being the magnetic north in any social or work situation."

Kate Winslet has never presented herself as anything other than an ordinary girl from Reading who has been fortunate enough to pursue her career with some success. That's more than enough ammunition for Jan to accuse her of not having the aptitude or ability to work at her marriage. Painting in broad brushstrokes, she suggests that all famous people "grow weary, dabble in casual treachery, give in to temptation, fail to respond to any situation where they are not the centre of attention."

More specifically, Jan doesn't believe that Kate is interested in anything but herself: "don't you think that there was always something rather phoney about old bangers-and-mash Kate? Only someone who believes that she is secretly marked out for an extraordinary destiny would protest about her ordinariness so much."

As well as presenting a thorough deconstruction of La Winslet, Jan even speculates on the next likely casualty of the curse of female Oscar winners, naming 'poor Sandra Bullock' as her next target.

Sadly, just hours after Jan's article was published, the tabloids were filled with scurrilous rumours that Sandra's husband has been cheating on her with a tattoo model. This evening the UK premiere of The Blind Side was cancelled due to 'unforeseen personal reasons'.

The Mail may claim to be pro-marriage, but it seems that no-one is happier than its writers when another once-happy couple bites the dust.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

No dick but plenty of balls

Back in 1983, Michael Jackson single-handedly (along with a troupe of 30-or-so zombified dancers) transformed the fledgeling music video format into a viable art form. Constructing a mini-movie around the concept of a fourth wall-breaking horror film, Thriller engaged the entire world in a discussion about the convergence of pop music and film. And he turned into a cool lynx-cum-werewolf.

Today's pop music landscape is almost unrecognisable when compared with those more innocent times. Back then, when people wanted the latest music they had to sit by the radio with their fingers poised over the record button on a tape recorder. Nowadays, they just head to a bit-torrent site or rapidshare to download it before it's even released.

We don't listen to music, we consume content. And that makes it so much harder for genuine visionaries to find an audience. So Madonna-be-praised for Lady Gaga, standing proud as the last remaining outpost in a pop cultural wasteland, with a giant polystyrene telephone on her head.

Those who don't 'get' Lady Gaga see her as a fame-hungry oddity, strutting through airports dressed as a giant rubber hornet as she attempts to flog her tacky post-modern disco trash. However, those who've 'seen the light' understand that she's an artist in the truest sense of the word. Don't believe me? Just check out her new video for Telephone.

With a convoluted narrative, more costume changes than the Sex and the City movie, and plenty of envelope-pushing raunch, Gaga's new video is certainly hitting the headlines.

Within four days, the video had already been viewed on YouTube 17 million times, breaking all kinds of internetular records. More importantly, it also inspired more interpretive readings than the works of Herman Melville.

For the Daily Mail, it was like Winterval and Richard Littlejohn's birthday all at once. A sleazy, subtext-heavy video full of trouser-twitching imagery that allowed them to transcribe every flick of hair and thrust of boob, accompanied by enough screen-grabs to render the actual video itself redundant. Tired of giving away Bryan Ferry and Simply Red CDs, the Mail has now invented the flip-book pop video. Just cut out and keep the pictures, and away you go.

Reactions on the other side of the pond have also been depressingly predictable. Fox News aired a segment yesterday where two women, who talk as though they haven't had 'marital relations' since Bush Sr was in office, took it in turns to decry Gaga's excesses in a thinly-veiled attack on homosexuality. Speaking to news anchor Megyn Kelly, Culture Campaign President Sandy Rios said "And then we've got Beyonce and Gaga - gay, lesbian lovers? It's disgusting Megyn...This is just poison for the minds for our kids, and for our minds for that matter."

Conservative reactions aside, the video itself is a genuine masterpiece, challenging convention and replaying a ridiculous range of influences in its nine minutes of shiny pop glory. Where else would you find 'Caged Heat' lesbian prison drama, Quentin Tarantino crossed with Fried Green Tomatoes, Thelma and Louise, plus a dance routine about making sandwiches?

But there are some other critical voices adding their disdain to the mix, and they're not doing themselves any favours. The transgender community is up-in-chiffon-encased-arms about Gaga's self-deprecating joke about her rumoured hermaphrodite history. In the video, she thrusts her naked groin against the bars of her jail cell, prompting the cross-dressing prison guard to comment "I told you she didn’t have a dick."

Transgendered blogger gudbuy t'jane believes that Gaga is continuing her "gender essentialism, slipping in a 'no dick = not a tranny' joke at about a minute in, before the song even begins to play. That she’s using trans women and drag queens to exoticize her videos doesn’t defer from the cissupremacist stance that women = vagina, and trans women are therefore not real women. Her anxiety at being seen as trans is clear, and her response is typical of cis privilege and trans marginalization: We’re supposed to wipe our brows and sigh relief that she’s actually a real woman. This is transmisogyny."

Answers on a postcard if anyone can explain what cissupremacy is. Anyone? Perhaps someone should explain to the blogger (non-gender-specific terminology chosen deliberately) that there's a difference between transgenders and hermaphrodites.

Funnily enough, when Michael Jackson made Thriller, his Jehovah's Witness beliefs compelled him to add a disclaimer to the start of the video that read “Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult.” I'd love to see what Gaga might have pre-emptively apologised for.

Anyway, enough talk. Watch and learn:

Monday, 15 March 2010

Ke$ha prote$t$ too much?

Whatever happened to Joss Stone? One minute she was the saviour of blue-eyed soul, and the next she was a tie-dyed nightmare with an accent that would make Loyd Grossman break out in hives.

The good news for fans of inauthentic urban music, is that Joss's continued absence from public consciousness leaves room for the equally irritating Ke$ha. Her last single Tik Tok managed to keep the new 'We Are The World' off the number one spot in the US, thanks to its reckless party vibe and glisteningly current production.

It's all a million miles away from her quiet, folksy Nashville upbringing. But she'd rather we forgot about all that, since she's determined to prove herself the "walking celebration of fuck off irreverence and youth and fun."

Every time she's interviewed she goes to ridiculous lengths to prove how original and natural she is: "OK, you think it's all an image - well that's so not true. I get drunk and I like to dance to vinyl records in my room with my friends." See - all you cynics out there - she even listens to 'vinyl records', so she must be the real thing.

When she's not researching 'whiskey' on Wikipedia or practicing her gritty vocal drawl, she's usually putting the finishing touches to her 'screw the soap, where's the sheep dip?' appearance. Just as long as you don't think she's another fame-hungry starlet. She may have gained early notoriety by vomiting in Paris Hilton's closest, but she's keen to stress that she's not a party girl "in the 'vagina hanging out of my skirt' kind of way".

Faced with temptation at every turn, Ke$ha depends on her spirituality to keep her focused, telling The Times that she is "into energy". That's why she wears her own placenta around her neck - to give her second sight. And maybe to draw attention away from the rest of her 'dragged from a dumpster' ensemble.

By now, you may have got the impression that Ke$ha has been studying the Megan Fox Guide To Saying Anything For Column Inches, but nothing could be further from the truth. She knows who she is and she's proud of it - "I like getting drunk and partying but not in a gross way, I'm more like a pimp. More like a dance commander. Especially in America, 'party girl' is not a good image."

Self-awareness is a rare commodity in the world of celebrity. So maybe we should be thankful for Ke$ha. After all, it takes an enormous amount of chutzpah for someone so inane to release a single called 'Blah blah blah':

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Thin may be in...

Seven years ago, Channel 4 ran a documentary that had almost as significant impact on popular culture as the BBC's seminal 'John's Not Mad'. But rather than focusing on the difficult life of a Glaswegian teenager with Tourettes, 'Fat Girls and Feeders' portrayed precisely what it said on the tin - gigantic women, and the men who glaze their donuts.

With the media constantly reveling in shock stories predicting an obesity epidemic, there was nothing inherently surprising about a bunch of women who need planning permission to change their outfit. What was revelatory, was the notion that these women are, in their own way, sexually desirable.

The 'feeders' are usually the boyfriend or husband of these titanic temptresses, who encourage irresponsible eating habits because they find undulating folds of fat a turn-on. I guess the thinking is - 'Why settle for two breasts, when you can have eight?'

Channel 4's show may have aired back in 2003, but the phenomenon seems to be going from strength to strengthened floorboard. So please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle as you wave hello to Donna Simpson, a rhomboid redneck who is on a single-minded mission to become the world's fattest woman.

It turns out that Donna's partner Philippe is "a real belly man" and would like it if she was even bigger - he obviously wants a girlfriend he needs an HGV licence to ride.

Donna's doing all she can to grant his wishes, but unfortunately, there's one small problem - it costs Donna $750 a week to keep her looking like something the Montgolfiers might invent.

Not one to rest idle, Donna's found a clever way of making money. If the internet has taught us one thing, it's the fact that men will masturbate to pretty much anything.

So we should hardly be surprised that there's a 'specialist' website for men who get off watching enormous women eating fast food. Anyone want to guess how Donna makes her money?

"'I love eating and people love watching me eat. It makes people happy, and I'm not harming anyone" says the big-hearted (amongst other organs) 42-year old.

Her goal is to weigh 1000lbs, but if she's going to achieve that, she needs to avoid exercise wherever possible - "It might be hard though. Running after my daughter keeps my weight down." Thankfully, the mobility scooter she uses to get around should help her with that.

Donna actually has a point (just the one though, since the rest of her is noticeably rounded) - she isn't hurting anyone. And if she can afford all those burgers, then bon appetit.

A thoughtful reader commented on the Mail's coverage of this story: "I know it's harsh but when she falls down with a heart attack, I hope nobody elses money is wasted trying to save her." Since Donna lives in the US, where there's no such thing as universal health care, it's safe to say that no money will be 'wasted' at all. Except maybe the cost of the pavement repairs.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Now for the news and weather where you are...

How times have changed.

It's not so many years ago that the most exciting thing you could expect to see on the evening news was Jan Leeming in a polo-neck. Those were the 'good old days', when sex looked like Moira Stewart, and the only chance anyone had of getting wet was if Ian McCaskill predicted an April shower.

But modern TV audiences are a more demanding bunch. We're so used to having our media 'sexed up', even news broadcasts start to feel like they could do with a little TNA to spice things up a bit.

Back in 1999, the Naked Broadcasting Network launched NakedNews.com, figuring that viewers would find a constant parade of depressing bulletins more engaging if it was delivered by a team of strippers. It's still going strong today, although it looks more like a soft porn film shot on the Channel 5 news desk.

Without the benefit of a pay-per-view revenue stream, conventional news broadcasts have to maintain a more professional demeanour - but that's not to say that some of the presenters haven't found other ways of showing they're up for a good time.

The problem is, they really ought to get the newsroom's approval first, as Chloe Everton and Tomasz Schafernaker found out.

The latter is a BBC weatherman, who obviously grew tired of keeping his rock hard abs under wraps, and wanted to show off his warm front in a gay health and fitness magazine. It was actually a pretty discreet photoshoot - no sign of his Schafernakers - but his rippling torso was still enough to get BBC bosses hot and bothered.

According to an 'unnamed source' who spoke to the press when the story first broke, "'Eyebrows were raised big time. The boy was transformed into a swan. Let's just say that everyone is seeing Tomasz in a different light now. But we are worried that when people are watching the weather when Tomasz presents they will not be able to concentrate on watching the symbols."

Aside from the Hans Christian Andersen-troubling mixed metaphors, the fact of the matter is that there wasn't much of a controversy at all. Even the news report itself described Tomasz's position as 'minor hot water' - and that was only because he neglected to inform his bosses before slipping into those little satin shorts. It's doubtful that this localised high pressure lasted for too long.

Over on Sky Sports News, glamourous reporter Chloe Everton got her own telling off, for writing a 'racy' Twitter feed that Sky executives thought was too suggestive. Fearful that it would damage Sky's reputation as a quality broadcaster (cough), Chloe was instructed to take down her tweets.

The offending messages themselves read like dialogue from a long-lost Carry On movie:
'Rory Delap is using a towel to mop up some of the wet ready for those long thrusting balls into the box.’
'Golf today. Played with three boys. I came first, must have been down to good length.’
‘The sign on the ticket machine I am at says: “slot out of action”. I know the feeling.’

Chloe's Twitter account now boasts one solitary, meaningless message that was posted back in December. Thankfully, fans of the smutty sportscaster will be happy to know that her website is still up and running, with a biography that warns "if you're easily offended, best stay away..." Although it's hard to imagine anyone being offended, unless they're disturbed by cheap, low-res photography or deathly dully blogs about football.

Maybe it's the lowest common denominator in me, but I'm all for the sex o'clock news. With a general election looming on the horizon, just imagine how much fun Newsnight could have with Peter Snow's all-new, all-nude swingometer.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Oh Mickey, what a pity

There's always been something of a double standard when it comes to gender issues. Sexually aggressive women are all too easily dismissed as sluts, whereas men are proud to declare their propensity for promiscuity.

So give it up for Mickey Rourke, whose Lazarus-like comeback continues, with the announcement that his superstar virility saw him bed 14 different women in a single night.

Despite the fact that his ill-advised foray into boxing and a hunger for reinvention have resulted in him resembling a partially defrosted meatloaf, Mickey knows how to attract the ladies, and has a voracious appetite for the 'nasty' that would put Caligula to shame.

Just let those numbers sink in for a minute. 14 women - one night. Chances are, they were lined up outside his hotel room, like supermarket customers proudly brandishing their deli-service tickets.

I'm prepared to bet that it wasn't quite the night to remember for most of them. In the words of Evelyn Waugh, the last few to be serviced by the Kwik-Fit of sexing would be lucky to end up with a 'handful of dust'.

There was a time when Mickey Rourke was a thing of beauty, with a dark, brooding sensuality that practically leapt off the screen. But a self-destructive streak that made Robert Downey Jr look like Chris Martin got the better of him and he spent the best part of a decade making direct-to-video movies, hitting his lowest point in a TV movie about Shergar.

Thankfully, directors like Robert Rodriguez and Darren Aronovsky saw past the bloated face and stretched features that made Mickey look like a bad Sky News reconstruction of himself. Now he's riding high on a different kind of reinvention, having bagged a plum role as the lead villain in Iron Man 2.

Although Mickey may have the constitution of an ox, and the genitals of the Duracell Bunny, even his appeal has its limits. It turns out that glamour model and, erm, I'm not sure what else to describe her as, Abi Titmuss, found that the word "no" was in her vocabulary, when she rejected the lumpen-faced lothario's advances.

Still, let's just be glad that there's currently no Mrs Rourke. Because, as Mickey himself recently admitted, even "WAGs get an easy time - they should try living with Hollywood hellraisers." Cheryl and Toni, let that be a lesson to you.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Scream if you wanna go faster

The horror genre, more than any other, is a constantly evolving beast. Over the years it's seen more facelifts than Cher's bathroom mirror, as it adapts to reflect the fears of each successive generation.

In the fifties it was all about atomically mutated monsters, and in the sixties it was the breakdown of society, whilst the seventies tackled America's fears of its own rural heartland. By the time the 21st century rolled around, film-makers had embraced a new sub-genre, lovingly entitled 'gorenography', which took 'body horror' to torturous new extremes.

Although most of these films enjoyed a shorter shelf-life than warm mayonnaise, the Saw franchise combined economically low budgets with a labyrinthine mythology that kept fans coming back for more. With a never-ending supply of unlikeable characters to brutalise, decapitate and disembowel, the films consistently test the boundaries of what passes for entertainment.

If you haven't ever seen a Saw movie, just imagine Channel 4's classic 'Crystal Maze' - where unsuccessful contestants have their heads smashed with blocks of ice, instead of being locked inside an unconvincing Incan hut for half an hour. And replace Richard O'Brien with a cackling ventriloquist's dummy on a creaky tricycle, which shouldn't be too much of a stretch.

Now, as the series producers put the drippy finishing touches to the seventh (3-D) instalment, a new brand extension has been launched which promises to keep audiences shuddering for a good few years to come.

Anyone who's ever considered sawing off their own foot to escape a manacle, or crush their wrist bones to unlock a door, is in luck. Thorpe Park has proudly unveiled its newest attraction - Saw: Alive - a maze-style experience to supplement Saw: The Ride (modestly described as the world's most terrifying roller-coaster).

Once you've faced a 100ft drop that's 'beyond vertical', you can bravely make your way through a variety of vignettes, featuring actors recreating some of the most squirm-inducing tortures from the never-ending film series.

Still too tasteful for you? Then consider the fact that the park's owners recently ran a competition to find the visitor with the stinkiest pee, to help them develop a signature smell for the new ride. They even offered dietary tips to help people develop more pungent piss.

With Saw: Alive up and running, the tabloids are 'slamming' Thorpe Park for the grisly nature of its latest attraction. They're concerned that teenagers might be disturbed by the gruesome torture scenes, even asking clinical psychologist Dr Angela Wright for her expert opinion: "Violent films can cause aggression in children. The link may be stronger with this interactive experience."

The problem is, gruesome displays have always been a staple of visitor attractions. The London Dungeon has been turning stomachs and emptying pockets for almost 35 years, encouraging guests to revel in the delights of Jack The Ripper, Sweeney Todd and the great plague. In fact, one of the Dungeon's newest features is described in one review as the "hilarious noose drop ride". Try telling that to Ruth Ellis.

In the end, there's nothing wrong with a little fear and loathing in the name of entertainment. Terrifying thrill rides, like all the best horror movies, encourage us to contemplate our mortality and delight in the fact that we, unlike the films' unlucky victims, live to fight another day. Which is why so many people come straight out of the exit and rejoin the queue for another go-round.