Wednesday, January 31, 2007

But a good point all the same

The short-lived (17 episodes) Darren Star sitcom Grosse Pointe finally came out on DVD, and my copy arrived on Saturday. Grosse Pointe is a witty parody of shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place. Like The Comeback and Entourage it deals with the entertainment industry and how celebrity affects people. Unfortunately, because it has a cute cast and superficially fluffy subject matter, I suspect that it was a little bit too intelligent and cynical for its own good and had difficulty securing a fanbase, which is a shame.

A lot of the comedy is down to the vast gulf between the actors' personalities and the characters they play on the cloyingly trite teen drama Grosse Pointe. Fans of BH90120 will immediately recognise prototypes of the main characters. The actor who plays the bad boy hunk is approaching 30 and is terrified that the public will find out that he wears a wig. The "nice" female character is a psychotic shoplifting bitch in real life. And the straight A student is a brainless himbo whose lips move when he reads. The guy who plays his father is also in love with him in real life and continually trying to engineer situations to get him naked. The writers of the show know that they are producing rubbish, and spend most of their time trying to manage the tantrums thrown by the backbiting cast members who are continually trying to steal screen time from each other. My favourite character is neurotic Marcy, loosely based on Tori Spelling, who obsessively calorie counts, repeats positive affirmations like "When I go into a room people are pleased to see me!" and has an unrequited crush on Johnny the himbo (played beautifully by Al Santos). The bitchy girl, Hunter is also great, getting most of the good lines, for example, she "consoles" her "best friend" Marcy by telling her "No matter how much America despises you I won't let it affect my feelings for you" and "You are so great on the show... even if the fans don't agree." When Hunter has to gain weight for an Oliver Stone film, she turns nice and everyone realises that she wasn't a bitch, just really hungry all the time.

If you didn't catch this when it aired on tv, it's worth getting hold of. Even my fella, who normally gets annoyed at Darren Star stuff, like this.

Friday, January 26, 2007

You have a 29% chance of surviving a zombie attack

At Dessie's recommendation, I've been reading "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War" by Max Brooks. I haven't enjoyed any other books as much in a long time. It's basically a collection of short interviews with people who survived a fictional worldwide zombie outbreak in the near future. Lots of these stories could function as the bare bones of standalone movies themselves, like the story of the little girl who's family sensibly decide to head north to the frozen parkland of Canada at the first sign of trouble. They survive the zombies but then have to cope with a freezing winter, starvation and the breakdown of society as murder and cannibalism become rife in their settler's camp. Or there's the reality tv show with the rich and famous living in a Big Brother type house, being interviewed 24/7 about their reactions to the zombie crisis. "What are you feeling right now? What are you wearing right now?" When their fortress is invaded, it's not who they were expecting. Or the Japanese computer nerd who spends every waking hour "researching" the zombie crisis on the internet, while the city around him is destroyed. It's only when there's a power shortage and his PC stops working that he's rudely pulled out of his virtual existence. And there's the story of Paul Reddeker, the only man in the world who has a workable plan to combat the zombies - although it's so amoral that implementing it drives him insane. Apart from the Romero trilogy and a couple of other things, zombie films are often derivative, stupid and gratituous. The best ones, like Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and 28 Days Later actually tell us something about the human condition, about the psychology of society. That's where Brooks has excelled in his book. Sure there are chapters which mainly focus on weaponry and battles, but there is so much political and social analysis in there - the irony of Cuba becoming a super-power for example, and the way that pharmaceutical corporations try to cash in on the crisis by selling fake vaccines to prevent you from becoming a zombie. It's worth a read, if you can stomach it.

You can carry out your own simulation of a zombie attack on a panicked population here. Or here's another one, where the humans try and fight back.

And over at the website of the book you can hear some excerpts from the book and do a quiz to calculate your chance of surviving the Zombie War, if it ever happens. Mine is 29% (I have no survival skills, don't know how to grow food, can't fire a gun and live on the ground floor of a city). How comforting.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

15 is a difficult age

I started keeping a diary in 1988, aged 15. Today I took it out of the loft and read through it. In a lot of places it was unintentionally hilarious. I kind of feel a bit guilty for laughing at my 15 year old self. But here are some of the choice excerpts.

March 27th 1988

I think I am turning into a poser, I keep looking in the mirror all the time and brushing my hair. I am quite pleased with the way I look actually.

March 29th 1988

This town is a dump. We haven't even got a proper roof on our house. I want to get drunk.

March 30th 1988

I wish something would happen.

April 7th 1988

The kids in our street are really rough, one of them was banging another's head of a car bonnet this morning. If I had children of my own I would forbid them to have anything to do with the horrid little urchins who populate our square.

April 30th 1988

I would like to stop a foxhunt and be arrested. It's something students are always doing.

June 8th 1988

I have decided to embark on self improvement... keep clean and eat everything which is healthy.

September 7th 1988

"Staying in" is a disease. Take this warning. Never stay in night after night. It will destroy you.

November 11th 1988

In English Lit.. we had a conversation about Yazz. I am glad that I am making some friends.

November 25th, 1988

I am staying up until 2.00 to watch Mommie Dearest, a brilliant film in which Faye Dunaway is Joan Crawford. It is a cult movie, whatever that means.

December 23rd, 1988

I seem to be the only one who remembers that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. I may make a speech about it on Christmas Day.

April 19th 1989

I want a hobby that's outdoors and cheap, basically.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Lazy youtube post

Suffering from January blues? Some clips that have cheered me up over the last couple of weeks.

They're not gay (NSFW)

Jake Gyllenhaal acknowledges his "unique" fan base.

America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) Ignored after winning a Golden Globe:

Gina Gerson as Fabia (parodying Donatella Versace) on Ugly Betty: "Stupido!" (She's due to make a return next month - hurrah!)

TR Knight from Gray's Anatomy, getting emotional on Ellen over Isaiah Washington's "faggot" slur:

The Frank Popp Ensemble: Hip teens don't wear blue jeans.

Brady Bears

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

5 useless facts meme thing

Old Cheeser has tagged me to reveal 5 useless facts. I thought all the memes had died out... anyway here goes.

1. Samantha from Sex in the City sometimes "advises" me, in the same way that an imaginary Humphrey Bogart talked to Woody Allen in the film Play it Again Sam.

2. I am addicted to coffee, tea, yoghurt, Alpen and Innocent Smoothies.

3. My previous jobs have included: shelf stacker, restaurant pianist, writer for a trashy gay magazine, census enumerator, care assistant and creator of a web-based soap opera with Barbie dolls (don't ask). My favourite one was the last one on the list.

4a. I've had six books published in the last five years, just finished writing another one and have contracts to write two more. When my first book was published I went to Waterstones, found my book and put it on one of those tables with all the popular books. It only took 30 seconds for a store clerk to spot it and move it back to the shelf where it had come from. The second time I wrote a book, I went into a bookstore and told the clerk "thanks for stocking my book" and ended up signing copies for them. Now, when I'm sent the brand new copy of my book, I don't even bother looking at it.

5. I once wore blue nail varnish as a fashion statement. It was the mid 90s.
Pretty pretty

This advert blows me away. The music is a version of Passage D by The Flashbulb, from the album Kirlian Selections.

The ad's inspired quite a few parody or copycat versions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

I guess we all know that models are given makeovers and photoshopped, but it's nice to see the process in such gloriously cynical action. I wonder if any of my readers are willing to take up the challenge of applying Photoshop to a picture of themselves so they too could be beautiful enough to appear on a billboard. Send me your "before" and "after" shots and I'll make you famous, baby!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Coming out in the 1980s

I've been listening to this a lot recently. It takes me back. It has an innocence about it which reminds me of my own sexuality in the 80s, when all I had to go on were similar cartoon cut-out fantasies about what things could be like.

Annual social attitude surveys show that British society as a whole hated gay people the most in recent years in about 1988. We can probably blame Margaret Thatcher's conservative government for that, along with hysterical, hate-filled "gay plague" media responses to the HIV virus. Growing up in a small working-class town, in one of the least fashionable parts of the country, I often felt like a Midwitch Cuckoo. The words "gay" and "homosexual" were not in my vocabulary until I was about 16. Instead, everyone I knew called them "puffs". It was an unpleasant word, despite its softness, it was often spat out dissmissively "Oh, he's a puff, didn't you know?". The word always implied deviance and effeminacy (if male). It wasn't cool to like Bronski Beat or Marc Almond. There was a particularly gross rumour about Marc Almond that I heard at school. Neither Almond or Summerville were traditionally good-looking and both fit the "puff" stereotype, yet they were hints to me that an alternative option was open to me. Although I was one of those quiet, studious, non-sporty boys, I made more attempt than most to present a heterosexual "normal" identity to my classmates, having 2 girlfriends and enjoying the attention that came with it. I didn't have to keep pursuing girls. Although it was going to be difficult. Either way, it was going to be difficult.

I came out to my parents in 1988. There were tears all round. My father had known all along and didn't care much. I got a lecture about avoiding public toilets (he'd had gay friends at work who'd got into trouble) and that was the end of the matter.

My mother, on the other hand, didn't take it very well. At first she thought it meant I was a transvestite (she didn't get out much). I remember at the age of 10 being allowed to stay up to watch a documentary about sex. When the obligatory bit about gay men came on, my mother said to my Dad, "But what do they do?" He replied "They put it up each other's bums." "Oh!" she said. And I also filed that little piece of information away.

So when I came out, my mother worried about what the neighbours would say. When we had decorators in, I was made to take down a postcard of a bare-chested hunk that I had put up in my bedroom. We had a big row about it. She also freaked out because I turned up at her work wearing a smart jacket I'd bought at Oxfam (apparently the jacket made me obviously gay even though it was the sort of thing you see 50% of students wearing). Once she said to me "You should try sex with a woman, it's less messy than sex between two men". But gradually, with the help of a parent support group, she got over it. She then went through a period of politicisation where she started obsessively writing to the media (she particularly targetted problem pages and tv guides), demanding that gay characters were written into her favourite soaps (Coronation Street and Emmerdale) and that she would not rest her campaign until gay people should be able to walk down the street hand in hand. We were both interviewed for the Independent magazine about my traumatic small-town "coming out". As an example of her "journey" from complete ignorance to liberal wisdom, I remember having a conversation with her about the morality of being promiscuous a couple of years after I came out. She said "as long as you don't hurt anyone, have sex with who you want." Revolution complete.

Years later my mother admitted she liked having a gay son because it wouldn't mean she'd have to negotiate any sort of relationship with a daughter-in-law (that she had already decided she wouldn't get on with - female rivalry etc). But she loved my partner, who charmed her with smooth talk and presents. For 15 years he's been Mr Perfect to my entire family. I sometimes think she likes him better than me.

Despite the shaky start, and picking the worst year ever to come out, I think I was quite lucky really.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Effie we all got pain

Dreamgirls was the film I surprisingly enjoyed most while in the US (so much so that I bought the soundtrack and saw it twice). It's a past-paced musical loosely based around the story of the Supremes, with Beyonce Knowles playing the Diana Ross character and American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson as poor ousted Florence Ballard (the character is called Effie in the film). Hudson didn't do too well in American Idol - she wasn't voted to the final round and was only put through as a "wildcard" choice by one of the judges. Once in the finals, she got low votes at the start and was the 6th finalist to be voted off. The public just didn't get her.

However, from the "you go girl!" responses of the viewing audiences of Dreamgirls, they certainly get her now. As Effie White, a sassy plus-size diva who has the strongest voice and personality in the group, she has to endure the humiliation of being made to sing in the background and her jealousy and unprofessional behaviour eventually get her kicked out of the group, where she ends up in single-parent squalour. At a key point in the film, the entire cast turn on her in an "intervention" bust-a-move diva-power-battle that's set to music. My favourite exchange is:

Michelle: Now you watch your mouth, watch your mouth, Ms. Effie White. 'Cause I don't take that talk from no second-rate diva, who can't sustain.

Effie: I'm not feeling well. I've got pain.

Everyone: Effie, we all got pain!

It's one of those hyper-dramatically camp scenes that's worth learning by heart and reciting at every available opportunity (as with Glenn Close's "ceruleum" speech in Devil Wears Prada). The recording is here:

And kudos to this group of friends who've done the whole thing in their living room in one take, with no music (or wigs) at all:

Hudson has the plum role in the film. She gained 20 pounds in order to play Effie, and auditioned along with over 750 other actresses to get the part (including that year's American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino). An Oscar nomination is expected.

Someone should really be making a musical of Hudson's life.

Friday, January 05, 2007

A Chat with Chad

Arrived back in the UK today. I am hoping there will be no jetlag as we didn't sleep on the plane. The slightly mad, over-friendly, frizzy-haired woman on the airline counter took a weird liking to us (despite not realising we were a gay couple) and we were recalled back to the desk to be upgraded, which was nice.

The thing I will miss most about America is the casual extroversion and lack of self-consciousness which every single person there seems to have (relative to me). People care so little about what others think of them, that they talk to themselves in public, almost all the time. Walk down any street, and someone's having a little chat to themselves. (Frankly, it's a bit scary, and I suspect might be more to do with mental illlness or drugs than anything else). However, most of the time, the confidence is disarming, and after a few days of complaining about them, I eventually adapt and start talking to complete strangers, in a way I'd never do in the UK.

By far the weirdest encounter happened at the NYC gym on the 15th floor of the hotel I was staying in. The gym is a massive place, in the heart of Broadway, with its fair share of showqueens (lots of perky cute little guys doing squats). I was going through my own routine, trying not to make eye contact with anyone, when a very attractive male instructor suddenly came up to me, grabbed my hand, shook it vigorously and said "HI, I'm Chad! And I just want to say congratulations on your lunges! Most people don't do them right but you did them PURRRRFECT!" In 14 years of going to British gyms, I've never had an instructor come up and talk to me. And so I didn't know how to respond. I eventually said "Thankyou" and looked embarrasssed. The conversation ended there. Hopefully my British accent was shorthand enough for "socially deficient".

Later on, trying to figure out what just happened, I could only surmise that in American gyms, instructors must be made to talk to people and be encouraging, so patrons feel good about themselves and don't end their memberships, it's all that advanced capitalism that they do. I've had them validate my clothes choices in Banana Republic before. I know what they're up to. They're probably especially told to single out anyone who looks a bit weird or out of place.

Either that or he was hitting on me.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Crime sometimes does pay

One thing I've noticed about big multiscreen cinemas in various countries is how sometimes halfway through a film people will walk in. It seems that once you've paid your ticket and you're inside, although you're not supposed to, you're pretty much free to wander from screen to screeen. There doesn't generally tend to be a ticket checker for each screen, so the cinema relies on honesty for patrons to see the film they paid to see and then leave.

Except does the cinema really care? It would probably be more expensive for the cinema to employ lots of people to check everyone's ticket at each door. And these errant cinema goers have to eat, so the cinema makes more money from the concessions stand. You can bet that if one cinema started enforcing a "one ticket-one film" policy, then people would simply go to the cinema across town that didn't. So the cinema would lose custom.

So it seems to be one of those unacknowledged loopholes that no-one talks about. Buy a ticket, see as many films as you can stand. I (almost) did it myself yesterday. The film I wanted to see had already started so I couldn't buy a ticket from the electronic ticketmaster machine. There was an enormous queue for the human seller, so I simply bought a ticket for another film from the machine and then went to the film I wanted to see, feeling slightly guilty, even though it wasn't technically a crime.

However, the lax policy kind of worries me because it's giving out an implicit message that crime does pay. And if people can get away with something like that, it might prompt them to wonder what else they can get away with. In the book "The Tipping Point", much is made of the fact that once graffiti was rigourously scrubbed off Manhattan subway trains every night, overall subway crime rates fell - because little things can lead on to bigger things. Bad behaviour in cinemas is a small example of this. People answering phones during films, people fighting with each other, people recording the films... With electronic projectionists and a distinct lack of law or norm enforcement, cinemas, with all their dark expanses, can be potentially scary places.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Party Pooper

While an estimated one million people saw in the New Year outside my hotel window last night, I stayed in my room, watching a particularly awful 1970s British suspense film called "And Soon the Darkness" (and there wasn't even any darkness in it!) From about 10pm until 4am the crowd sounded like an aeroplane taking off. With a 5 hour jetlag problem to deal with and an impending cold, it was an effort to stay up until midnight (I fell asleep on and off during the film though that was because it was so tedious). Now the streets around Times Square look worse for wear - the rain has not washed away the confetti but turned it into party sludge. I'm afraid the most exciting thing I did today was go and see Night at the Museum. My mind was elsewhere during most of it (although I didn't miss cowboy Owen Wilson's subtle nod to Brokeback Moutain). As much as I enjoy the holidays, there's always the downer of returning to work afterwards. Oh well, only a few more days to go. Must enjoy them!