Saturday, 26 June 2010

Build it and they will pay

It's one thing to play a hero in the movies, another thing entirely to try it in real life. Most Hollywood stars won't even pick up their own skinny soya latte for fear of scorching their palms, so it's always refreshing to see a movie star willing to step up and save the day.

Harrison Ford may spend his days terrifying journalists with his 'world's grumpiest curmudgeon' schtick, but he's actually a good guy - often turning out in his Cessna to rescue dehydrated hikers in the California hills - well it beats the Kessel run I suppose.

But now there's another A-list silver fox doing his bit for the common man, and it's shot him back into the headlines for the first time in years.

Looking back, it's hard to believe that for a good few years in the 1990s, Kevin Costner was the world's number one movie star. It didn't matter to audiences that he played Robin Hood like he was the new temporary teacher at Beverly Hills High School, or that his hard-edged criminal in A Perfect World was about as threatening as a gift box from Krispy Kreme.

It's been a good few years since Kevin did anything interesting, unless of course you count the 'disgusting sex act' he performed in front of a Scottish hotel masseuse. But now he's eating up the headlines like Beth Ditto at a buffet table, thanks to his canny investment in his brother's water filtration technology.

Several years ago Kevin ploughed $20 million dollars into a water-oil separating "dream machine" designed by his scientist sibling Dan, setting up a company with the touchy-feely title of Ocean Therapy Solutions. It turns out, Dan's clever contraption is a particularly effective solution for mopping up oil spills.

So far, BP's efforts in the gulf have been about as effective as hanging over the side of a speedboat with a handful of kitchen roll, so it's no wonder that they've snapped up a truckload of Costner's innovative centrifuge. Especially since no-one knows more about oceanic disasters than the star/producer of Waterworld.

In a melodramatic press conference in South Louisiana, the one-time box office champ declared "At its core, my dream, this machine, was designed to give us a fighting chance to fight back the oil that has got us by the throat." Having recently testified that he's been blocked by bureaucratic red tape for the last 17 years, he's just happy to finally be putting his machine to good use.

Although Dan Costner is getting the credit for the invention, maybe Kevin is being a little too humble about his own role in its development. As anyone who sat through Waterworld (all 17 of us) will remember, the movie opened with Kevin's Mariner pissing into a clever machine that turned his micturition into quaffable Evian. Life imitates not-exactly-art I guess...

Thursday, 24 June 2010

iPhoning it in

The advent of the home computer, combined with widespread internet access, ushered in what became known as 'the information age'. Now, thanks to facebook,Twitter and the blogosphere, we live in the 'too-much-information age'. Everybody loves to share...

The upside of all this, is that consumers are now more empowered than ever before to celebrate the brands they love and denigrate the ones they don't. So it's in that spirit that I choose to change the direction of this blog for the day, and share my feelings around a negative brand experience. If this sounds dull, feel free to go read Digital Spy, and check back again tomorrow for the latest update on Lindsay Lohan's SCRAM bracelet.

A few weeks ago, I proudly blogged from the queue outside the flagship Apple store at Westfield, Shepherd's Bush. It was my first experience of the launch-day hoopla that tends to surround the release of any new Apple product. Although I'm generally averse to standing in line (not very British I know), I was willing to make an exception to be part of a rare social phenomenon.

As a result, when Steve Jobs made his keynote address several days later to announce the imminent arrival of iPhone 4, I realised that I'd caught the early adopter bug. Three weeks ahead of the launch, and I was already consulting my diary to see if I could wangle a late start on the 24th to enable me to stand in line with my fellow devotees. After all, a new Apple launch inspires the kind of worshipful pilgrimage usually reserved for South Americans when someone spies a likeness of the Virgin Mary on a partially cooked tortilla.

Actually, 'early adopter' doesn't quite cut it, when it comes to describing Apple products. The term is usually reserved for those brave souls who are willing to weather the teething troubles and embrace fledgeling technology before it catches on with the mainstream. With Apple, it's an altogether different mindset - more like the woman who signs her prospective children up for private school before her husband has even taken his pants off.

So anyway, there was I trying to calculate my best option for snapping up the shiny new iPhone on launch day, when I received a call from Carphone Warehouse three days ago. They told me that I was a 'priority customer' and as such, was eligible for an upgrade - would I like the new phone delivered on launch day? That's a little like asking Katie Price if she'd be willing to do it in front of a TV crew.

Today was the big day. My friend Drew spent five hours outside the O2 store in Islington, waiting to buy his phone in person - apparently the queue moved so slowly that at one point, a woman realised she'd left her wallet behind, walked home, found the wallet, and returned to take her place in the queue. It hadn't moved.

Meanwhile, I sat at work, checking the clock in the hope that my childish impatience would inspire the DHL delivery people to speed my package on its way. At 2pm I called Carphone Warehouse to double check that my order had been correctly processed. The customer service agent not only reassured me that my phone was en route, he even took the opportunity to up-sell a package of screen protectors.

By six o'clock Drew had finally arrived at work, blooded but unbowed, and displaying his prize like Conan returning from the battlefield. Unfortunately, my iPhone was nowhere to be seen. After half an hour of being passed around like a joint at an after-Prom party, I was finally told that I wouldn't be receiving my iPhone today. A clerical error had meant that a number of iPhones had not been dispatched from the Carphone Warehouse warehouse.

Now, I know that, in the grand scheme of things, this is not a major issue. There are fingerless orphans making the iPhones who have much bigger issues to contend with than the late delivery of their latest consumer durable.

However, the real issue here is that I was denied the true joy of being an Apple-apostle. The queuing, the banter, the palpable excitement, the body odour - it all contributes to the sense of occasion. By opting for the convenient shortcut, I denied myself the true Apple brand experience. And I lost out.

If you want to be part of the brand, sometimes you have to learn the hard way. And if you want your phone to arrive on time, don't ever order it from the Carphone Warehouse. Now, share this story with as many people as possible so that I can feel like I accomplished something with my immature sulking...

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

I'm not gay, I just look, talk, dress and swish that way...

The ex-gay movement is a depressingly familiar fixture on the interweb, with videos, testimonials and conversion guides regularly popping up to encourage homosexuals to reject their hedonistic lifestyle and embrace the all-condemning judgement of Jesus.

I'm all for freedom of choice, so if people want to live a solitary life of self-loathing and furtive, angry masturbation, I say "good luck to them". The biggest problem I have with the concept is that not one of the advocates of this biblically-enhanced brainwashing has ever proven that homosexuality can be cured.

Sure, with the right amount of coercion and guilt, you can force someone to turn their back (figuratively, of course) on that side of their life. But it doesn't take the gay away, it just buries it under a pile of dirty laundry. Sooner or later, that teal chemise is going to be hanging back on the line for all to see.

The latest proponent of this ridiculous 'reclamation' rhetoric is Adam Hood, a man so swishy he could actually be used to harness wind power. He features in a hilariously ill-advised video on YouTube wearing a sparkly gold ascot that John Humphrys would have thought twice about.

Hissing his way through more 'S's than a cartoon snake, he dramatically proclaims his views on the abomination of homosexuality and rejoices in his rebirth. Sadly, his argument is undermined by the fact that he seems incapable of constructing a sentence without betraying how he really feels.

He talks about how God lays down his judgement, claiming "God can do it in a gracious loving way, he can also do it by cracking a whip…" and remembering a time when "I saw myself outside of myself in a cage…" giving viewers some idea of the lifestyle he enjoyed when he was a prominent party boy on the San Francisco scene.

It also doesn't help that his hissy speech patterns make it sound like he's saying something very different when he adds "I always pray over the homosexual community..." Better bring an umbrella when Adam's in town.

There's a longer video online, if you can handle even more sparkly insanity, in which Adam fondly remembers his 'heterosexual' wedding night. He proudly recalls the moment he deflowered his bride, screaming Jesus' name at the point of orgasm. Because every woman wants to hear the name of the pool-boy when her husband climaxes.

He may consider himself cured, but everything about his frame of reference suggests that homosexuality is never far from his mind, or other parts of his anatomy for that matter. The moral of the story here is that, despite what we've been told, it's fundamentalism that's a lifestyle choice.

Monday, 21 June 2010

What difference can one man make?

As Kermit once sang, "It's not easy being green". Those words are probably ringing in the ears of BP Chief Exec Tony Hayward right now, as he struggles to oversee the massive clean-up operation in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP might have a lovely green logo and a big section on its website about 'environment and society', but so far, its attempts to resolve the disastrous oil spill are about as effective as a prison guard cleaning up a dirty protest with nothing more than a KFC moist towelette.

Thankfully, even as the Deepwater Horizon oil field continues to spew forth more toxic sludge than Courtney Love's Twitter feed, help is at hand from a most unlikely source.

This week, a team of dedicated environmental activists in the Castro area of San Francisco did their bit to raise money for the gulf wildlife relief effort, the only way they knew how.

A bunch of well-intentioned gay men stripped down to their underwear and staged a series of wrestling matches, slathered in canola oil. As they got to grips with each other's slippery surfaces on top of a large mattress covered in a plastic sheet, they were cheered on by supportive onlookers, clad only in a clump of strategically placed leaves.

As well as fundraising for the gulf, the "Crude Boys Oil Wrestling" matches were part of a week-long exhibition designed to raise awareness of America's dependence on the black stuff. Not only is canola oil believed to be one of the healthiest cooking oils available, it's a promising source of biodiesel fuel. Of course, it also looks a lot hotter than crude oil when drizzled all over this kind of 'wildlife'.

OK, so it all seems vaguely ridiculous, and little more than excuse for some gratuitous nudity, but it's still a hell of a sight more effective than would-be Vice President Sarah Palin's ideas for solving the problem. The folksy fantasist declared on Twitter that, since nothing else seemed to be working, we should rely on divine intervention instead.
If God was too busy to ensure that his pick for VP made it to the White House, what makes her think that he's got time to hose down a flock of brown pelicans?

You're showing your age

Everyone knows the first rule of etiquette - never ask a lady her age. Problem is, in these modern times, where whole world's your gynaecologist (especially if Perez Hilton's on the case), age is the least of your worries.

Nonetheless, some folks in Hollywood are getting hot under the collar about the fact that audiences might get wise to the chicken neck it's hiding. As a consequence, one of the world's most popular websites,, is coming under fire for showing artists' birth dates.

Performers and behind-the-scenes talents are up in bingo-winged arms about their true ages being revealed, not only to fans but also other industry bigwigs. It's a fair point - Lancome might be able to make Julia Roberts look younger than her niece Emma, but it's much harder to airbrush a birth certificate.

In essence, sites like IMDb are holding up a figurative mirror to these glamorous stars, and they don't like what they see in it. Interestingly, the Huffington Post chose to illustrate their coverage of this story with a screen grab of Demi Moore's page on IMDb - which lists her birthdate as '1962'. Although it's not clear whether that's BC or AD.

Age discrimination legislation is now commonplace around the world, and was introduced to safeguard workers against agist hiring policies. Technically, employers aren't supposed to ask prospective employees their age, and candidates are advised to leave their birth date off the CV.

According to the various film-making guilds, Hollywood's workforce suffers from an industrial prejudice that favours 25-year olds. The way they see it, listing someone's age on their profile page exacerbates the problem and makes it easier for unscrupulous producers and casting directors to disregard talent that's the wrong side of forty.

It's a particular problem for writers, who are expected to convincingly convey the lifestyle of people several decades their junior. One writer, Paul Levine, commented "Not that anything ever overt was said, but not one time was I interviewed by my someone my own age. I was always interviewed by people 20 to 30 years younger. It could be a problem if a show runner or his or her first lieutenant has scripts piling up, and they were trying to figure out who to interview. Looking at a credit list, if one writer is 35 and the other is 52, they're going for the 35 year old."

Unfortunately, the talents could get their own way and have their birth date expunged from IMDB, but it won't really change the underlying problem. They say you're only as good as your last job, and if your last job involved Abbott and Costello, you're going to be hard pressed convincing anyone that you're still in your flirty thirties.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Walk a mile in her stripper heels

Scientists are a noble breed - devoting long hours in the laboratory attempting to unravel nature's greatest mysteries and, in the process, enhance the lives of millions around the world.

However, not all lab-coat-wearing boffins are dedicated to solving the inexplicable complexities of modern life. Instead, they spend their days attempting to define and categorise facts that require no further elaboration.

In fact, there's a whole scientific sub-genre focused on explaining things that are already accepted as common wisdom. Take Dr Christine Stanik of Michigan University, for example. She's conducted an extensive study into women's reproductive habits to deduce that bimbo's aren't quite the airheads we take them for.

Anyone who's ever had an argument about Katie Price (or is that just me) and has had to listen to the stories about what a great business woman she is, already knows the gist of Stanik's argument. It turns out that, although they may act like they have the IQ of a Marks & Spencer's prawn sandwich, these 'bimbos' are shrewd enough to plan for the financial future of their offspring.

It's scary to think that we live in a reality where the WAGs and Paris Hiltons of the world can be considered 'shrewd', but facts are facts. And unless you have a clipboard and a flip chart full of calculations, who are you to argue?

Apparently it's "only natural" for women with an underwhelming education and crappy career prospects to try and bag a wealthy husband. The Daily Mail's coverage of this story uses the example of Anna Nicole Smith to illustrate the point, reminding readers that she was dismissed as a "gold-digging blonde bimbo" when she married a billionaire 63 years her senior.

In typically sexist fashion, the Mail's article revels in the opportunity to dismiss sluts and career women in one fell swoop. Women are either avaricious whores or emasculating, power hungry monsters living "frantic lifestyles that [are] badly suited to stable relationships". Brilliant.

Still, in light of the revelation that these 'bimbos' are smarter than we give them credit for, we finally have conclusive proof that Kerry Katona is the stupidest woman on earth. Rather than "wooing a man who could provide a stable financial future", she opted for a Westlife-evacuee, Mark Croft, and now a white van man. It's nice to know that in these complicated times, there are certain immutable truths on which we can rely.

Friday, 18 June 2010

What shall we do with the Vuvuzela...

The World Cup is now in full swing. It seems as though every ad campaign in existence has found a way of involving Terry Venables (curious to see how Tampax and Toilet Duck work him into their concepts) and watercoolers around the country are besieged with people lamenting England's outdated adherence to the 4-4-2 arrangement.

Our boys may be playing with all the enthusiasm of a care home resident prodding his pudding with a plastic teaspoon, but strangely, the biggest source of anxiety so far is the African equivalent of the football rattle.

The vuvuzela (or lepatata if you speak Tswana) is an elongated plastic blowing horn which emits an annoying buzzing noise, and is a standard accessory at most South African football matches. I'm sure the occasional short burst wouldn't be too bad, but 90 minutes of incessant buzzing is sufficient to make you worry that you're either developing a new strain of tinitus or about to be attacked by a swarm of hornets.

In fact, the only sound more annoying that the constant humming of 40,000 vuvuzelas is the mindless droning of the commentators, who manage to make Megan Fox sound lucid and informed.

The BBC has been inundated with complaints about the annoying plastic horns, prompting sound engineers to investigate whether it's possible to deliver an alternative sound feed of the matches with the honking and buzzing muted out. Presumably, suggesting that viewers locate the volume switch on their remotes would be too simple a solution?

Anyway, the Telegraph reported that help may finally be at hand from a most unusual source. Neil van Schalkwyk, who first cottoned on to the idea of mass producing vuvuzelas for football matches, is now attempting to atone for his sins by manufacturing earplugs to drown out the incessant humming.

This 'hearing protection' is called "vuvuzela unplugged" and enables fans to block out the noise and protect themselves from permanent hearing damage. Even better, the industrious ex-plastics factory worker now plans to export the vuvuzelas and ear-plugs once the World Cup is over.

Suddenly, all those conspiracy theories about companies like Symantec and McAfee creating viruses to keep their PC security systems in demand don't seem quite so preposterous. I'm sure it won't be too long before Sir James Dyson starts manufacturing 3kg bags of household filth.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Katy should shut the smurf up

Everyone knows the first rule of publicity - do something controversial and everyone will talk about you. Katy Perry knows all about that, after all, she's engaged to Russell Brand and he can't blow his nose without giving Daily Mail readers an aneurysm. Then again, she's no stranger to shock tactics herself, thanks to her faux-lesbian antics in 'I Kissed a Girl' and her homophobic debut single 'U R So Gay'.

As the daughter of a pair of ministers, Katy grew up singing in church and attending Christian summer camps. Although she started out singing gospel, by the time she was ready for the big-time, Katy had ditched the religion (as well as her real last name) and was courting a decidedly secular audience. Hardly surprising given that she grew up delighting in rebelling against her parents' conservatism.

Unfortunately, she may have discarded some of her inhibitions but she decided to hang on to the hypocrisy of fundamentalism. A couple of weeks ago she took to Twitter to critique the new Lady Gaga video, commenting "Using blasphemy as entertainment is as cheap as a comedian telling a fart joke." Apparently not everyone approves of videos that equate religion with fascism.

As soon as the news media picked up on Katy's condemnation, she promptly backtracked, telling an interviewer that people think she's "a very hypocritical person ... Spirituality and sexuality are two separate things. When you decide to put it into the same subject, it gets interesting for some people. Everyone knows... I've said 100 times on my Twitter: I'm one of the biggest Lady Gaga and Madonna and Russell Brand fans..."

Of course, the interesting post-script to all this talk of controversy is the fact that Katy has also managed to upset people this week, with the debut of her new video for California Gurls. Katy may dance around in the video in a ridiculous cream-cake bra, but it's one particular guest appearance that seems to have people upset with the blue-haired banshee.

Katy is joined by a troop of dancing Gummi bears, a couple of whom decide to flip her the bird - perhaps they had to sit through one of her live performances of 'Waking Up In Vegas'. The brand manager for Trolli (who make the chewy ursine characters) issued a statement saying "Those are definitely not Trolli Gummi bears in the video because Trolli Gummi Bears would never be that rude. Trolli bears would extend their chubby little arms and give Katy a big old bear hug and whisper, 'Everything is going to be alright'." He may think that sounds cute, I think it's pretty creepy.

Having already perverted people's memories of those lovable Gummi bears, it'll be interesting to see what impact Katy will have on the similarly themed Smurfs when the movie adaptation hits screens later this year. As she told MTV: "My mother thought that Smurfette was a little bit slutty, being the only female in the village. And now I've shown her. I called her up and said, 'Guess what, ma? I'm Smurfette!'" Maybe mother had a point...

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

She likes it but she gonna put a lid on it

Oh dear - looks like it's the end of an era for lovers of modern dance routines. It's been reported today that Beyoncé Knowles has grown tired of her iconic dance routine for 'Single Ladies' and is considering dropping the bootylicious bop from any future live performances.

It's hard to believe that the now legendary video is only 12 months old. It used to be said that Superman and James Bond had achieved such global fame that you could visit the most remote village in the world and the people there would recognise the fictional characters. Beyoncé's video is a little like that. I'm sure there are isolated tribespeople living in Terra Indigena Kampa e Isolados do Envira who have already mastered the sassy routine.

Despite Kanye West's belief that Beyoncé "made one of the best videos of all time" - it's still deceptively simple. A plain white set, three women in heels and a camera that shifts around like a dog trying to find the most comfortable position on a cushion.

The problem with great ideas though, is that they're so easy to imitate. As a result, anyone with access to a pair of heels, a leotard and a video camera has made their own version of the clip.

Justin Timberlake, Joe Jonas, even Liza Minnelli's had a go. They might not be able shake their ass like they're strapped to the agitator of an out-of-control washing machine, but most of them give it a good go.

Unfortunately, Beyoncé doesn't want to be part of the joke anymore. Digital Spy quotes a source as saying "Beyoncé loves the fact the video and the routine have been so huge and has really enjoyed performing 'Single Ladies' live but that’s it now, she's moving on. She doesn't want to be part of a long-term joke..."

Sad faces all round, since it means the end of amazing virals like this:

But maybe it was always destined to be this way. As the lady herself sings in the song - "Cuz you had your turn, but now you gonna learn what it really feels like to miss me..." Beyoncé, we already do...

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Schock tactics

Cast your mind back to GCSE English (or O-Levels if you're of a 'certain age') - remember the oxymoron? It refers to the a pairing of two contradictory words that have no business being together, like 'bittersweet' or 'living dead'. More recently however, another oxymoron has slipped into common parlance - hot politician.

There was a time when you knew where you stood with your elected representatives. They were either stern, matronly women who looked like they could whack you with a temperance spoon at a moment's notice, or curmudgeonly patricians, with eyebrows could keep a topiarist in gainful employment for the foreseeable future.

Not anymore. Now we've got people like the Miliband brothers who, whilst unlikely to trouble the naked issue of Cosmopolitan anytime soon, are decidedly more attractive than most of the people you've seen interrogated by Jeremy Paxman. Even Nick Clegg has been known to arouse a few trousers in his time.

Over in the States it's even more confusing, with Huffington Post recently naming their 'Hottest Congressional Freshmen' - a bipartisan investigation into the loin-lifting lawmakers of DC. The winner of the poll, proving that even the left-leaning HuffPo has to occasionally admit the the Republicans get something right, was 27-year old Aaron Schock from Illinois - the first member of the U.S. Congress to be born in the 1980s.

If you like your political news coverage to be stuffed with eye-candy, you really need to get out more. But you should also be thankful for young Aaron - who looks like he should be trading fish eyes for immunity on a Potomac edition of Survivor, rather than debating abortion in Congress.

Unfortunately, Aaron may have the body of an Adonis, but he has the soul of Jesse Helms. They say beauty's only skin deep, and Aaron's aesthetic barely scratches the epidermis. He's resolutely opposed to any kind of progressive or inclusive social policy, and has managed to win the favour of many 'old school' conservatives on Capitol Hill.

But it's not all work-work-work for the pretty politico - one of the biggest issues he's currently facing is the accessibility of the House members' gym which he attempts to visit every day. Little wonder, then, that a photo of him in a clingy pair of wet swim shorts managed to cause something of an internet meltdown when it appeared on TMZ.

It's important that he keep in shape - after all, he's now the only one of his siblings not married with children. And as he points out: "I had a group of five or six guys, and we hung out and traveled—ski trips and stuff. They slowly got picked off—married, married, married." Shame.

Maybe Aaron's simply too busy focusing on his career to settle down. Or perhaps he hasn't met the right girl yet. Just as long as no-one suggests that he might be one of the boyz.

Over the weekend, Gawker posted a lovely picture of Schock at a White House picnic that caused a flurry of speculation. Maybe it was the fuscia checked shirt. Or could it have been the jaunty teal belt? Either way, Aaron didn't just look gay, he was so flaming that even Red Adair would have had trouble putting him out.

Not to worry - Aaron dealt with the lazy speculation the way anyone with nothing to hide might react. He burned the offending accessory and tweeted the news, just to be sure.

Way to go Congressman. I'm sure no-one suspects a thing...

Monday, 14 June 2010

Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Compton Street?

We all know that Twitter is de rigeur for any celebrity wishing to air their dirty laundry in public. Courtney Love famously begged her daughter for a reconciliation in a rambling series of 140-character missives. Lindsay Lohan documented the end of her adventures in Lesbeteria on the micro-blogging site. And Tila Tequila - well, the less said about that train wreck the better.

So it was interesting to see the blogosphere all abuzz this week with the news that a household name has taken to Twitter to announce their status as an out gay man. If you thought the news about Ricky Martin was the entertainment industry's least surprising revelation, this one will have you wondering why it was ever considered a secret in the first place.

Over the weekend, Bert, one of Sesame Street's long-term residents made the announcement we've all been waiting for, in characteristically oblique fashion:

Given that he and his perennial 'roommate' Ernie have been sharing a bedroom for over forty years, the clues were always there. Whereas Ernie is the playful, mischievous one, Bert has always been more conservative and reserved - which makes it all the more shocking that he would be the first of the two to announce that he's a 'mo. Perhaps he's a member of the muppet branch of the log-cabin republicans.

Likewise, whilst Ernie spends most of his time in the bathroom (playing with his rubber duckie - euphemism alert!), Bert is so unconcerned with personal grooming that he's allowed his monobrow to have full run of his forehead.

The makers of Sesame Street have always denied claims that the fuzzy fellas were more than just good friends, pointing out that Bert even serenaded his 'girlfriend' with a song. The fact that it was called "I want to hold your ear" simply confirms that Bert has been dealing with intimacy issues for some time.

Despite their denials, the Children's Television Workshop should be applauded for their commitment to progressive representations of modern life on the show. After all, Cookie Monster has struggled with substance abuse for years, and Big Bird experienced gender disclocation decades before Chaz Bono went under the knife.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Better in time

Here's something a little different for all you p0pvulture regulars - a concert review. Yesterday I received no small amount of stick for stating on facebook that I was going to miss England's first World Cup match because I was at the O2 watching Leona Lewis' first arena tour.

As it turns out, I had the far better deal, since the game sounded about as enjoyable as trawling around the B&Q paint department with a handful of swatches, asking the 'paint technician' to colour-match a batch of emulsion, taking it home and painstakingly redecorating the entire house, and then watching it dry.

Meanwhile, I got to see the full effect of three years of 'stagecraft' training on possibly the best singer to ever be discovered on a TV talent show (apologies to Michelle McManus who was pipped at the post, because she ate it).

There were snorts of derision when Leona's tour was first announced. Not because they thought she couldn't handle the live vocals - that's one element that she had in the bag - but because she had, to date, shown all the flair and dynamism of a soiled hospital gown.

Given her reputation as a balladeer, it was fair to assume that the most she'd need in the way of props and set-dressing would be a box of tissues, a half-bottle of chardonnay and a duvet. But no - we had sets, dancers, aerialists, lasers, hydraulics and some pretty cool projections, as well as Leona herself stomping all over the stage in some thigh-high pleather boots (she's a vegan) and throwing herself into the choreography.

According to the ridiculously expensive programme (priced as if Leona herself was painstakingly hand-printing them on an old piece of Letraset kit) the show was inspired by her favourite movie - Jim Henson's Labyrinth. Thank goodness she's not a big fan of The Killing Fields.

It's hard to identify exactly where the influences from Labyrinth took hold, aside from the Bowie-esque leggings on some of the male dancers, but the show hung together pretty well. It was divided into four themed sections - gothic, spacey, forest glade and disco - which technically made it more 'Crystal Maze' than Labyrinth, but now I'm just being picky. It also meant that there was a handy transition period between each segment, allowing Leona to change into an increasingly elaborate series of outfits.

Of the 18 songs which she performed, only four or five could really be considered ballads - the rest had been cleverly reworked into more uptempo numbers. As well as giving the dancers something to do, it also meant that the audience could get on their feet and shift awkwardly from side-to-side.

But above it all there was that voice. An amazing instrument, breathtakingly controlled and awesomely powerful.

Unfortunately, it was often drowned out by the over-zealous backing singers, a mixing desk controlled by Marlee Matlin, and Leona's annoying habit of turning her mike on the audience and commanding them to "sing along". I hate it when that happens, it's like going to a restaurant and the chef asking if you wouldn't mind julienning the carrots.

Nonetheless, she didn't miss a note all evening, and when she sang The First Time Ever I saw Your Face there was an audible 'ping' as 23,000 pairs of arms erupted in goose-pimples. With everything else that was going on, it was easy to forget just effortlessly she tackles those enormous notes and elaborate runs.

It would be churlish to expect her to compete with Lady Gaga or Madonna in terms of a stage show, but she pulled out all the stops to give her die-hard fans something they weren't expecting. Starting with a glimpse of some personality.

There are much worse ways of spending an hour and a half. And over the next few weeks I'm sure I'll be experiencing them first-hand. England vs Algeria anyone?

Friday, 11 June 2010

Ding dong at Number 10

There are few things more annoying than when your neighbours throw a party. They might stick a conciliatory note through your letterbox to pre-warn you of the festivities (along with a half-hearted invitation to 'drop by if you're free') but you still know that you're going to be pacing the floor at three in the morning wishing they'd turn the music down.

So spare a thought for the inhabitants of Downing Street, who must be regretting the arrival of their newest neighbours, with the news that David Cameron is planning a big gay bash to court 'the pink vote'. Here's hoping they don't mind Hazell Dean and Madonna remixes blasting out until the cock crows.

It's a little belated, given that the general election was six weeks ago, but Dave's hoping that his new 'hug a homo' policy will convince voters that he represents the new caring, sharing Conservative party. It's been a long time coming, given that his Tory predecessors at Number 10 would happily have burned gays at the stake if they'd been able to get their hands on enough wood.

Still, progress is progress, and this is in many ways quite a breakthrough for the shiny-cheeked PM. No news yet on the planned activities for the party (Pin The Tail on The Porn Star is always a hit), but the guest list is likely to include "a host of prominent gay figures", as well as other Tory and Liberal Democrat ministers.

It's to be hoped that there'll be plenty of alcohol on offer (with low calorie mixers, natch) since conversation is likely to be stilted at first. The official Downing Street statement claims that the reception will be a "celebration of the achievements of gay equality campaigners", which loosely translates as "celebrating all the times they managed to overturn Draconian and inhumane Conservative policies". Awkward.

Cameron seems to be pretty committed to his mission to evolve the Tories' reputation on gay issues - he wrote a lengthy piece in the Pink News back in April answering a range of questions from concerned readers and, in most cases, seemed to say what they wanted to hear.

However, he's not yet ready to confirm his attendance at Gay Pride on July 3rd. Maybe, like many of the gays, he's just waiting to see which music acts they book - no point getting excited over Jocelyn Brown, half of Scooch or David Van Day's Bucks Fizz.

Judging by the way the readers of the Daily Mail have responded to the news, Cameron still has his work cut out if he's going to shift the opinions of conservative Middle England. Robert from Leicester (who seems somewhat profligate in his use of quotation marks) comments "Discrinination! Why only Homosexuals? If heterosexuals had a party excluding Homo sexuals there'd be an outcry from the "Gay" lobby. What a silly idea. Cameron trying to be "with it" again."

Nonetheless, it's a brave man who throws open his doors to a crowd of homosexuals just weeks after moving into a new house. Let's just hope that he and Samantha have got their soft furnishings and colour schemes in place.

Good morning, beautiful

It's always nice to get a reminder that those glamorous Hollywood stars are just like the rest of us. They still have to separate their rubbish for the recycling bins, their skin occasionally flares up, and they even get parking tickets when they leave their hazard lights on to nip to the shops.

Now, diehard star-spotters can add another perfunctory moment of ordinariness to their list of celebrity-doings: the walk of shame.

Don't pretend you don't know what it is - skulking home in the early morning, looking like you just lost a hair-pulling fight with Diana Vickers. Still wearing last night's outfit, your breath smells like an ashtray full of cocktail umbrellas, and your underwear is stuffed into your handbag/back pocket (delete as applicable).

Because no-one really goes out expecting to pull. It's just a nice surprise at the end of the evening - even better than finding an empty taxi rank or a KFC that's still open at 3am.

Unfortunately, it means that even though you might have spent the night before looking a million dollars, you come home resembling the loose change down the back of the sofa.

That's a pretty accurate description of how January Jones looked this week, when she was papped clambering out of a cab at 10.30am, following a glittering night out at the perplexingly-titled Oceana World Oceans Day Party. The disheveled mess arriving home the morning after looked nothing like her character Betty Draper, Don's troubled wife in Mad Men.

We all know that the hit AMC show is a triumph of art direction - in the last couple of years Betty has weathered a difficult pregnancy, the death of a parent and a nervous breakdown, without even smudging her lipstick. But the sight of the glacially impeccable Betty Draper, staggering up her lawn with a black bra poking out the back of her cocktail dress, shows us just how much work must go into the show. It's no wonder they clean up whenever the awards season rolls around.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Boris gets in a muggle

When they're not busy claiming duck houses and moat cleaning services on expenses, politicians can always be counted upon to weigh in on the issues that matter. So even though Britain is teetering on the brink of an economic disaster that's set to make Dickens-era London look aspirational, Boris Johnson knows what we're really worried about - the new Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios in Florida.

Oh Boris! The man elected to the Mayor's office because half of London thought they were nominating a new Dean for the Clown's College. Apparently, he's got a real bee in his barnet about the forthcoming 'Wizarding World of Harry Potter' - the $265 million attraction that opens next week in Orlando.

Promising an authentic recreation of Diagon Alley, and a variety of exciting thrill rides that drop visitors straight into Hogwarts (the most dangerous secondary school outside of Hackney), the Harry Potter experience has been meticulously created by the production designers who worked on the movies. They've even got fake snow on the roofs of Hogsmeade, even though Florida hasn't seen a white Christmas since it was part of the same land-mass as Africa.

But Boris isn't happy, because he thinks that the theme park should be here in the UK. Writing in The Telegraph, he argued that the attraction is the "crowning insult" to the loss of British intellectual property, and should have been built in London instead.

He's clearly read the books - he even gets worked up about the preferred entry point to the Ministry of Magic (through a phone box if you're interested) - and identifies with the quintessentially British boarding school environment in which they're set.

It shouldn't really come as any surprise that Boris is all caught up in Harry Potter's fictional world - he's about as grounded in reality as Spongebob Squarepants. He even urges readers to write to Warner Bros in order to "bring Harry home" by relocating the attraction. Not sure how Universal Studios would feel about Warner Bros requisitioning their property, but anyway...

The real issue here is that Boris thinks that building a Harry Potter attraction in the UK would be a good idea. The last time someone tried to open a theme park in the UK, we were given a muddy car-park, a collapsible gazebo and a couple of diseased reindeers. People paid £25 for the privilege of wandering around it and complaining to the press about what a shit day they'd had.

The Orlando attraction cost a quarter of a billion dollars, and that was really just giving a Harry Potter-facelift to existing rides. Imagine how much it would cost to build it from scratch, and how much fun we'd have complaining about the astronomical ticket prices.

Sorry to say it, but the 'Wizarding World of Harry Potter' is too good for us. No candy floss, no mistreated donkeys, no sewage outlet pipes - that's not what we expect from a Great British holiday. If only Boris understood what really makes the common people tick.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

If you have a problem, and no-one else can help...

The only thing better than the fuzzy glow of nostalgia, is having everything you ever enjoyed remade so that you don't have to waste precious brain cells trying to remember it.

So our thanks go to those generous Hollywood moneymen who think nothing of ravaging our childhood like a Vermont priest (see yesterday's post) to save them having to come up with an original concept. In terms of fondly-remembered TV properties, few score higher than the A-Team, which is conveniently the latest TV show to be fed through the film industry's sausage machine.

The story of four wrongly imprisoned Vietnam veterans, the A-Team was everything a child of the eighties could wish for. Improbable action, cunning disguises (that usually involved a bushy grey moustache) and enough impromptu engineering to give Isambard Kingdom Brunel the horn.

Despite living off the grid to avoid recapture (the opening credits voiceover doubted anyone's ability to find them), the A-Team were regularly called upon by comely young ladies to protect their farms against ruthless developers with their own private militia. Every week the gang would show up, bicker and flirt, then get locked in a barn and have to devise a way of breaking out by cunningly building a cabbage-firing tank that could blast a jeep 18 feet in the air.

Although the show's concept has been updated to reflect modern reality, with the team now Iraq war veterans, director Jo Carnahan has promised to keep things light-hearted, claiming "You can … make a film that reflects on the real world without losing the great sense of fun and the velocity of action in a classic summer popcorn film."

Although fan-boy anticipation is understandably high, the movie's imminent release has been soured somewhat, thanks to a few thoughtless remarks made by Ultimate Fighter Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, who is following in Mr T's jewellery laden footsteps.

When the Los Angeles Times visited the set, Jackson stated that “Acting is kind of gay. It makes you soft. You got all these people combing your hair and putting a coat over your shoulders when you’re cold. I don’t want a coat over my shoulders! I’m a tough-ass!"

Before anyone even had time to pity the fool, critics were calling him a homophobe and insisting on a boycott of the film. Since then, the beefy Bo Selecta-looking action star has been forced to retract his comments and issue a rather rambling apology on his personal website.

He's fine with gays, as long as they don't touch him, buy him drinks or 'hound' him. And besides, as Rampage points out, "MOST straight fans act GAYER than any guys that was at this gay bar that I visited." So as long as gays don't do anything too gay, like looking or acting gay, he's fine with that.

But, see, now I'm wondering whether he actually intended to go to that gay bar in the first place. Maybe he was ranting about "I ain't going in no damn gay bar, no fool ain't getting me in no gay bar." Then Hannibal gave him a glass of milk, he blacked out... You see where I'm going with this?

Monday, 7 June 2010

Caught in the act

Remember the interrogation scene in Basic Instinct? If you weren't momentarily distracted by a flash of Sharon Stone's raw talent, you may recall a moment when she shot down the suggestion that she might have been involved in the ice-pick murders.

Snapping through a cloud of (verboten) cigarette smoke, the knickerless suspect argued: "I'd have to be pretty stupid to write a book about killing and then kill somebody the way I described it in my book. I'd be announcing myself as the killer. I'm not stupid."

I'm reminded of Catherine Tramell's ingenious alibi, having seen the front cover of the new edition of Vermont Catholic magazine (obviously I never miss an issue). Someone obviously thought it was a good idea to show a priest cradling the head of a young man kneeling before him - it's called Ordination apparently.

If your eyebrows aren't already levitating over the top of your head like Penfold discovering his wife in bed with another mole, then consider recent events in Vermont. Only last week the diocese agreed to an $18 million settlement to be divided amongst 26 plaintiffs who had been abused as altar boys over the last 30 years.

Adding insult to internal injury is the fact that this particular issue of Vermont Catholic even features a letter from Bishop Salvatore Matano, aplogising for the scandal and attempting to lay the matter to rest. He's probably wishing he'd waited until the Summer issue to post that particular piece.

As the Catholic church continues to weather the storm of the ongoing child abuse scandal, this cover must come as a real blow to the powers that be. The editors might protest their innocence (much like the offending priests themselves), but it's all a bit much to swallow. Too easy?

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Tricks of the trade

Everyone knows that Hollywood is the world capital of recycling. Anything that isn't nailed down is chopped up, rehashed and re-served like a Turkey Twizzler. These days, the 're-imagining' of a film is already in pre-production before the original hits DVD shelves.

But it's not just the ideas that keep getting reused. For instance, if you listen carefully, whenever someone in a movie gives their phone number, you'll notice that it always begins with an area code '555'. It makes sense really, since nobody wants to be inundated with crank calls from stupid viewers dialing the number they saw in a movie.

It's nothing new - the Wilhelm scream is the stuff of Hollywood legend. A one-size-fits-all sound effect of a screaming man, it was first used in 1951 for a film called Distant Drums, but since then has turned up in everything from Star Wars to Indiana Jones.

Now a Picassa user with way too much time on his hands has unearthed yet another example of Hollywood using the same old props and it makes for quite a cool photo gallery.

Apparently, it's more fuss than it's worth trying to find a newspaper or magazine for characters to peruse, since rights have to be negotiated and headlines have to be checked with the legal department. Instead, canny set-dressers use the same newspaper time and time again, making Mrs '3rd Brightest But Hard To See' the biggest TV star of the last decade.

Check out the images - she's been in almost every hit show in recent memory. And for once, there are no stories about what a bitch she is to work with, or how she doesn't get on with all the other women on set.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Lighting the touch-paper

OK, I admit it. I suffer from road rage. 90 percent of the time my temperament is about as mild as a lukewarm cup of herbal tea, but stick me behind the wheel and in a matter of minutes I'm swearing like a Tourettes sufferer being audited by the Inland Revenue.

I've often argued that it's cathartic to have the occasional outburst (it's an argument that usually falls on deaf ears) - however, Giles Coren has written an article for the Daily Mail making the exact same case. Apparently, scientists at the University of Valencia have found that the occasional outburst can increase blood flow to the pleasure-points in the brain.

This must come as a great relief to readers of the Daily Mail, since the paper goes out of its way to trigger their anger receptors as often as it can. Everything about the paper, from its editorial style to its typeface, seems expressly designed to needle and agitate, leaving its loyal readers in a constant quivering state of annoyance - ready to blow at the merest infraction.

Coren, however, attempts to distance himself from that mindset, claiming that he's been mischaracterised as Mr Angry: "Not that I’m an angry person myself, I should say. I am a man of great phlegm and restraint. Until provoked. When goaded, I will admit, I can fly off the handle ever so slightly. But not over anything minor. It takes something big."

I'm not sure how this correlates with his 1000-word rant to the sub-editors at the Times who foolishly tinkered with one of his articles. Although only one word had been changed, Coren raved on as though someone had set fire to his house, only for the fire service to then have to smash his car windows to reach the hydrant.

He also got into trouble earlier this year when he tweeted that his neighbour's 12-year old son was annoying him by playing his drums incessantly. Rather than phone the council to complain to the noise pollution team, Coren theorised about raping, killing and burning the boy. Which is surely a perfectly reasonably response.

It's Coren's belief that most of what's wrong with 'Broken Britain' can be directly attributed to our attempts to be more civilised and empathetic with one another, leaving us mired in a "world of cowering, timorous individuals mired in a culture of greed, terror and dismal dead-end jobs, call-centres, wars, stupid blasted iPads for dopey morons to play rape-and-murder video games on the way to work, and pointless anger-bleeding-management courses".

That's the problem with anger - when the red mist descends, logic and reason fly out of the window. As a result, Coren's article leaps from one mindlessly aggressive attack to the next, without a trace of cohesion or relevance. He takes pot-shots at 'paella-munching boffins', 'so-called kebab shops' and 'clipboard bashers' amongst others, without ever managing to connect any of the dots.

Anger is good, he says. Anger is what makes us human, and helped overthrow the great evils of modern civilisation - Apartheid, Communism and the Poll Tax. And you'd better believe that those other blights on modern life will follow, just as soon as we all connect with our inner Hulk. Giles' targets? The hunting ban, bendy buses and one-way traffic systems. Well, he is writing for the Mail after all.

Or maybe he forgot where the article was going? Because after raving about the fact that scientists can't agree on whether anger is healthy or harmful, a Mail sub-editor has helpfully added links to two other stories on the paper's website. Their headlines? "It's official: Anger really CAN kill you" and "Getting angry is good for your health".

Honestly, it's enough to make you lose your rag all over again.

Friday, 4 June 2010

I can see your Cox

After all the chatter on here about gay dating websites and fast-food hook-ups, it's nice to see a straight dating site hitting the headlines for a change. Miami Living magazine (your guide to everything pastel) has found itself in hot water for unwittingly running an ad with 'adult' content.

The new spring/summer issue features a full-page ad for dating service, a relationship site which claims to connect "ambitious and attractive girls with successful and generous benefactors to fulfill their lifestyle needs". A whore by any other name and all that.

They say there's someone out there for everyone, and this site proves that men whose wallets are as bulging as their pants can easily find a willing young trollop to play house with. As long as they're not too concerned about finding their next ex-wife on Dial-A-Sugar-Daddy.

However, it's not the site's core offering that's causing controversy, it's the ad's somewhat creative use of Photoshop. At first glance, it all seems so innocent - two comely young lasses in lingerie, reclining seductively and giving their best 'come hither' glances.

But what's that looming over them? Could that be the shadow of an erect penis? Saints be praised - it IS an erect penis, in glorious silhouette.

Of course, the magazine's editorial team is shocked that they could have let a penis slip into their publication without them realising. Editor-in-Chief Vanessa Pascale told Fox News "This was just now brought to our attention. Miami Living magazine would like to apologise for not noticing the image. We hope that our audience recognises that we were just as surprised as they were to find this out. I myself have looked over the magazine dozens of times..." Hmmmm, I bet she has...

Making matters worse is the fact that the the phantom phallus found its place in what's been dubbed as the 'Cox Issue' thanks to its front-cover feature on ex-Friends star Courtney Cox-Arquette.

I'm sure the advertising team at are slapping themselves on the Hugo Boss-clad back for staging such an amazing coup, even though the ad is somewhat disingenuous. If they really wanted to represent what young women get out of the arrangement, surely they would have Photoshopped in the shadow of a money clip.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

When the shirt hits the fan

There's always been a tang of homoeroticism to the celebration of football successes. The crying, cartwheels and somersaults are one thing, but when players lie down on top of each other, or race around the pitch with their colleagues legs wrapped around their waist, it can set tongues wagging.

When questioned, players are keen to stress that it's simply the excitement of the moment, and the kisses don't mean a thing. This then sends a signal to the fans that they can emulate their heroes' behaviour. That's why the view from the stands is often much like the view from your average mardi gras float.

With the World Cup now just days away, the merchandising machine is in full swing, with every competing country rolling out all manner of branded tat to ensure that the fans at home can feel like they're part of the experience.

This year's award for most innovative product comes from the Netherlands, where the fans are being encouraged to go the whole hog when it comes to celebrating the big moments. With the players' faces printed upside down on the inside, these bright orange shirts enable Dutch footy fans to really get caught up in the moment.

Although it's a great idea, it's worth exercising a little caution. After all, the fans don't always have the same sculpted abs and perky pecs as the players they're following.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Now I know why Ronald McDonald's always smiling

Here in the 21st century, we're fortunate to have so many places where gays can congregate - nightclubs, bars, the public toilets at Kings Cross. But if you really want to be where the boys are, there's a new venue to pencil into the back of your Spartacus Guide - and it's marked by a pair of golden arches.

According to a bold new ad running in France, McDonalds is the latest gay hotspot, inviting you to 'come as you are' - giving a vital clue as to what goes into that special sauce.

The ad features a handsome young man mooching over a class photo and whispering sweet nothings into his mobile, as his Dad buys them both lunch. Returning to the table, Dad reminisces about his school days as a ladies man, and laments the fact that his son goes to an all-boys school. Zing.

It's a bold move for a company which represents the ne plus ultra of American big business, and one which might encourage other corporations to take notice of the fact that gays use their products and services too.

More excitingly, it offers a tantalising glimpse into the potential for a new hanky code - enabling fast-food-favouring gays to send subtle signals about their sexual proclivities using harmless menu items.

Just looking for a quick, no-frills hook-up? That'll be a Big Mac. Like them young? A McChicken sandwich it is. More than one at a time? Gotta be the McNuggets. And chubby chasers can content themselves with a Quarter Pounder.

Gym bunnies can go for a garden salad, and bisexuals can opt for the Filet-O-Fish. On the other hand, if you order the Chocolate thick shake, you're letting everyone know that you're into the kind of depravity seldom seen outside of Ancient Rome.

One thing's for sure, everyone's going to say yes when given the opportunity to 'go large'.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Reid between the lines

Time to break open the Bollinger and line up those body shots, everyone's favourite party girl is back on the scene. And she's flashing the flesh like there's no tomorrow.

Although technically listed as an actress, Tara Reid is a one-woman wrecking ball who somehow manages to make Lindsay Lohan look like the model of sober professionalism. After a reasonably successful start in films like The Big Lebowski, Urban Legend and American Pie, Tara discovered she was more interested in mojitos than method.

Tactfully described by the US press as a 'Party Girl' (generally considered to be a euphemism for 'drunken slut') Tara likes to raise a ruckus when she goes out - she's been on more table tops than a napkin dispenser.

It's an image she's battled hard to dismiss, complaining that "I think I’m just so misunderstood as a person…It’s like every time you see me out they’ll only show a picture of me, like, with a cup in my hand. They won’t show all the benefits I’m involved in with children. They never show anything positive." Which isn't really fair, since by the time the photographers catch sight of Tara, the cup has been drained, along with the complimentary perfumes in the bathroom and the bar's drip tray.

Actually though, Tara's problems run deeper than the fact that collapses like a camping table. She's also had a troublesome history with plastic surgery, showing off a pair of poorly augmented breasts that looked like the goggly eyes on fairground stuffed toy.

Not that she meant to show them off, one of them just happened to slip out at P Diddy's 35th birthday - "I didn’t see [my dress] fall down, so I’m smiling like an idiot, not even knowing that it’s there.” But the paparazzi knew it was there, and went to town on her botched, blotchy boobs.

Since that incident made the papers around the world she's been struggling to rebuild her shattered confidence. However, that all changed this week as she proudly unveiled her new 'bikini body' at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, she seems to have borrowed it from Joan Rivers.

She may be "a young woman with confidence" (as she told Playboy in December), but someone needs to point out that she looks as though she's been stitched together using the contents of a bag of beef jerky. And if these are the new and improved breasts, she really needs to crack open the Webster and look up 'improved'.