Monday, January 31, 2011

Scenes from Croydon: Lower Addiscombe Super Fun Park

Concrete has never been more colourful or delightful. It's a park that appeals to all ages. Well mostly older kids. Teenagers; they particularly enjoy that bus shelter thing... and cigarettes.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

RIP Nathaniel Boothby Featherington-Smythe II

Oh poor Nathaniel. Once you were healthy, leafy and beautiful. First adopted late Summer 2009, you boasted pretty purple leaves, bright and cheerful. You were a little temperamental, your stems drooping rapidly when deprived of water. But once nourished, your colour and strength would rapidly return, and your stems and flowers would cunningly ease aside the broken office blinds to feed your lust for sunlight.

I cared for Nathaniel dutifully, and of all the content room plants, you were the boldest, the one that thrived most. But alas, I could not care for you all the time. During my absence in India, the content office was taken down to create an open plan office*. On my return, I found my team decamped to the office kitchen downstairs, sat on temporary desks while the refurbishments were taking place.

You were tragically crippled by this move. Stuck in the dark and dim kitchen, deprived of natural sunlight, your beautiful petals were malting and discoloured; your stems drooping across the counter. I scorned my writers for this shameful neglect. I quickly found you a new spot in the sunlight, somewhere safe for your recovery. But I knew, even then, that you would never be the same again.

As the months went on your colour came back and you started to grow again. But your growth was always flat, your stems bent down towards the ground. Your leaves grew large, they soaked up the sun, but you were never able to stand tall. You managed, bravely, to grow a new flower or two. Never more than one though, you didn’t quite have the strength. Despite many promising new sprouts, few came to prominence.

You seemed your healthiest in many months but as autumn drew near, it would always be a difficult time. A move into the centre of the office, well away from the windows, helped neither. Your last flower fell in October. It helped not that your were being overwatered, the foolish and unsympathetic cleaner, emptying half the unfinished cups of water from the office over you.

Your large leaves began to lose their colour. I could see that you were suffering, and I restored your place in the window. It was too late though, your leaves dying, and going unreplaced; your time had come.

In your youth, your beauty was unparalleled. You were the bright light in a career that often seemed so full of darkness. It would have been wonderful to have taken you to my new job, but I suppose as this chapter of my life closes, I too should leave you behind.

*F**king modern barbarism

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Agony of Indecision

So you’ve been in a job awhile. You’ve had some ups and downs. There was a time when it seemed like a land of promise, where you thought you could become indispensible and able to pitch for lots of money. But those days are long gone; financial cutbacks and some short term thinking devalued your work and you found yourself prevented from doing your job well, and constantly under fire from those who prevented you from doing it. You felt trapped, unable to improve your situation, and resented by those who work for you, those who depended on you to try to improve their lot.

Then came what seemed like the final insult, the removal off most of your responsibility and the disbanding of your time. You knew it was coming, the company had been reorganised recently, but it was as if all your effort had come to nothing. So you settled into new role, got back to doing the regular, daily writing, which is in truth what you do best. And the pressure is off, you can relax a little more and your new manager treats you well and gives you some more challenging work to do.

But you’re still getting your old wage, even though you’re not a manager, and it’s a lot more than the average employee gets. Sure, your company is doing well, but what happens when belts need tightening again? You feel bitter too, alienated from the team you once had, all your ambitions and intentions thwarted. It feels like time to move on.

You do some applications; you get some interviews and asked to do some tests. You don’t quite get what you want (to add insult to injury, someone who used to work for you got a job you yourself applied for) but finally, as Christmas approaches, leads come in abundance. Interviews are suddenly arranged, one for JML Direct, one for Totaljobs, could this be your way out after all?

Life, alas, never goes as your expect. A week before Christmas you are pulled into the office for what seems like a mundane meeting with your manager, but the director shows up and suddenly it’s getting serious. They want to know how you feel about the job , and ask you up front whether you’re looking for work, because they know about the job you didn’t get that went to the guy who used to work for you. You tell them the truth as close as you can, still not sure where this is going.

They surprise you. Say that they’re very pleased with the work you’re doing and results you’ve been getting. They want you to know that they consider you to be an essential member of staff and want to secure your ongoing commitment. They make you an offer, a very good offer. It’s the kind of offer you were hoping to secure months ago. It all sounds good; work’s near where I live, it’s challenging without being too difficult, and it would be very comfortable to stay.

So you decide to stay. But of course, you must contact those recruiters to tell them that you’ve decided to stay. You’re not specific about what position you accepted; you don’t want to tell them you’re staying after how much you said you wanted to leave. It’s difficult to turn down potential opportunities, jobs that could deliver a number of interesting possibilities. You never know what might’ve been; sorry Experian I won’t be available to interview, apologies Totaljobs, I won’t be able to come into the interview on Tuesday.

JML... Well, that’s difficult. They do everything in house, from naming new products, to creating the packaging, the instruction leaflets, the marketing campaign and even the TV and radio commercials. Quite a unique position; the sort of thing that would go on in a big agency, and across many departments, not just all in one small organisation. No, you can’t quite bring yourself to turn this one, down. After all, what’s the harm in checking it out? Nothing may even come of it.

You smile through another meeting with the director on Monday, trying to be honest without giving anything away. You go to the interview on Tuesday, seems to go well. Quite a tough test, but luckily you happened to watch one of their videos about a new fancy kitchen knife set, so bit of a stroke of luck when that’s what you need to write about.

In some ways you hope that you don’t get offered the job, that way you can take the easy decision and stay where you are for the money. Of course, nothing’s ever easy. You are offered the job the next day.

Oh what to do. All Christmas is spent trying to decide what’s best. Sure, JML is a much more interesting job, and it’s unique, and I have had plenty of issues with my current job. But the money is so good; you can do a lot with money, and in these difficult volatile economic times, having a bit of cash to hand is no bad thing.

So you decide that the best thing to do is ask JML if they can up there offer. It’s expensive to commute after all. It’s really awkward, you literally clam up, you’re so nervous asking for this. They seem responsive, but they can’t confirm until the office reopens in the new year. And you’ve got a couple of days in the office before new year. And as your boss tells you about all his plans for the new year, and about the new team member who’s starting who’s going to work for you, you feel the pangs of guilt. You want to just tell him you’re probably going to leave, but you know you can’t just in case there are any issues.

Your resolve begins to waver. You see all these news stories about rising prices and problematic economic forecasts. Do you really want to turn down the big money? JML finally call you back. They’re going to meet your offer. You feel relief, joy – but know you must face the music and come clean with your boss.

It helps not that they take time to send you the paperwork and that your boss is away for days ill. The time finally comes, and you sit before him like a naughty school child confessing to a headmaster. He’s disappointed, actually says “ where am I going to find someone as good as you?” You feel guilty, but also immense relief. You’ve done the right thing and it’s the right time to move on.

So yeah basically I’m going to work for JML Direct next month. My Viagra writing days are behind me at last!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

December Film Highlights

The 50 Word Film Reviews blog has changed domains, and is getting a bit more attention now.

Tron: Legacy (2010) Jeff Bridges, Garret Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen, Bruce Boxleiter. Dir: Joseph Kosinski.

Years after his computer genius father disappeared, a boy is absorbed into an artificial computer reality. Design – superb; effects – dazzling; soundtrack – excellent; plot – predictable; characters – bland; dialogue – terrible. Worth-seeing, actually yes, it’s pretty good fun, despite its obvious faults.


The Killer Shrews (1959) James Best, Ingrid Goude, Ken Curtis, Gordon McLendon. Dir: Ray Kellogg

A group of people are trapped on an island surrounded by genetically engineered giant, poisonous shrews. No amount of exposition is going to make shrews scary, and neither is taping some shaggy carpet to some dogs. Would be hilarious if it didn’t mostly consist of people standing around being boring.


The Shop Around the Corner (1940) Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan, Felix Bressart. Dir: Ernst Lubitsch

A shop clerk develops a relationship with a pen-pal, little realising it’s his rival, the junior clerk. A cosy Christmas film, with very sweet comedy and a few surprising dark moments. The pacing and dialogue sweeps by so smoothly, and the romance, two romantics living mundane lives, is very enchanting.


Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) Michael Douglas, Shia Lebeouf, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin, Frank Langella. Dir: Oliver Stone.

A broker seeks revenge on those who ruined his mentor, by seeking advice from his fiancee’s father, Gordon Gecko. Starts off well, but peters out and reaches an unconvincing conclusion. Focuses on personal relationships without making a clear point about today’s financial world, which is surely why it was made.


Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelly, Stephen Collins. Dir: Robert Wise.

Kirk takes control of the Enterprise again as a dangerous unknown entity plots a course for earth. Boldy goes nowhere, very slowly. It wallows in its own budget, attempting to create awe, but merely becoming tedious. Slim characterisation and a thin plot don’t help either. Thankfully, better was to come.


The Old Dark House (1932) Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Ernest Thesigner, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart. Dir: James Whale.

A group of travellers take refuge in a house of sinister eccentrics and their alcoholic neanderthal butler. Not really a horror, but a dark comedy about a family of insane inbreeds. Karloff is wasted, but Theisigner and the other cast are great and Whale develops a wonderful atmosphere.


My Summer of Love (2004) Natalie Press, Emily Blunt, Paddy Considine. Dir: Pawel Pawlikowski

An aimless young village girl and an empty wealthy middle class girl develop a relationship to escape their loneliness. A tender coming of age drama, but one with an unsettling conclusion. Both Blunt and Press put in endearing natural performances and Constantine scores highly as phony born again Christian.


Forbidden Planet (1956) Walter Pidgeon, Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis, Jack Kelly. Dir: Fred M. Wilcox

A space crew track down a missing doctor and his daughter, but are attacked by the monster that killed his colleagues. Slow starting, but still provides a visual treat with superb art direction and colour. It boasts an intelligent and intriguing concept even if the leads are a tad dull.


Saturday, January 01, 2011

Top 5 Films of 2010

I would be lying if I said I'd seen huge amounts of new films during 2010, but I've seen a fair a few and below are my five favourites. This is based on films released in the UK in 2010, at least one of these was first out in 2009, but not over here, so I couldn't have seen it. It was a tough job, several films almost made it onto the list* but these 5 superlative effort are the one's I feel stop out for me the most.

5) Four Lions

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Arsher Ali, Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak, Adeel Akhtar. Directed by Chris Morris.

A comedy that’s hilarious, but really isn’t very funny. For the first hour we can laugh at the wannabee jihadists incompetence and their ridiculous half-baked ideology, but when they descend on London for the final part, strapped to explosives, their antics become truly frightening. It’s an intelligent and insightful film, which makes a convincing argument that the threat comes less from terrorists, but from more familiar outcasts of society. Just ones with explosive ambitions.

4) Inception

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Hardy, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy. Directed by Christopher Nolan

A rare example of the intelligent summer blockbuster. Dark, mysterious and complex; it combines spectacular effects with thought-provoking concepts about our perceptions of reality and the sanctity of our own thoughts. It sweeps you up with a formidable pace, and yes, it’s very convoluted, and there may be too many layers to the puzzle box, but excitement and intrigue by far win out.

3) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Haber. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev.

A thriller par-excellence. A case of a powerful, incestuous family, with dark secrets is not especially original, and could’ve been given a rather mundane treatment. But the success of the books is in its characters, the formidable morale crusader Blomkvist, and more interestingly, Lisbeth Salander, the goth-computer hacker with a disturbing past and a determination never to be defeated. Nyqvist and Rapace evocatively bring both characters to life, and the icy cold cinematography and careful pacing makes this one of the most exciting and tense mysteries to hit the screen in many years. It was such a hard act to follow that the second and third parts of the trilogy had a tough time competing. And by default, the prospects for the American remake already look bleak.

On a personal note, seeing this film also gave me one of my own personal all-time favourite cinema moments. During one particularly tense scene, one revelation gave a member of the audience such a shock that he literally jumped out of his own chair, and threw his hands up in the air, resembling a solo, spontaneous Mexican wave.

2)The Illusionist

Directed by Sylvain Chomet.

One of two films that left me emotionally drained (see the other below) the Illusionist is the belated second feature animation from Sylvain Chomet, director of Bellevue Rendezvous. It’s based on a never-produced script from French director and comedian Jacques Tati and it follows a stage musician who finds his act going out of date during the sudden cultural upheaval of the 60s. His search for work takes him all the way to Scotland, where in a village he meets a young girl who believes in magic, who then becomes his travelling companion.

The film is melancholy when at its most jolly, and absolutely tear-jerking when at its most tragic. The magician’s life is saved when he meets this young girl, while his contemporaries are not so fortunate. Their careers over, they turn to alcoholism and suicide. The music halls close, and the theatres fill the bill with new beat combos, and our leads future continues to look uncertain. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel for those left behind at the cost of the changing times; their long practiced arts suddenly devalued and rendered obsolete. And the animation is stunning; the streets scenes of old Edinburgh are so gorgeous. A downer, but a beautiful one.

1)The Secret in their Eyes

Starring Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Javier Godino, Guillermo Francella, Pablo Rago. Directed by Juan José Campanella

It’s hard to know where to begin with a film that just has so much going on. To summarise the plot, an Argentinean detective returns home after many years away, planning to write a novel based on an old rape case. Although nasty, the case itself does not immediately appear to be exceptional, but then of course, much more is going on. The detective was in love with the young prosecutor on the case, and their meeting years later rekindles old feelings. And the case turns out to have been far from easily resolved.

This is a film that never quite reveals its full hand. Even when you think you have the full story, it still manages to produce a surprise from nowhere. And although it eventually delivers a happy ending, it’s far from sugar coated. It’s rich with symbolis:, love, loss, regret, corruption, revenge, action, intigue – it has it all, and never feels overcrowded, overblown, contrived, or earnest. The blend is perfect, and the film more than deserved it’s Oscar. Simply one of the best films I’ve ever seen.

* oh Human Centipede, you were so close.