Thursday, 5 March 2009


Directed by Clint Eastwood, the story of Christine Collins is a pretty harrowing affair. Angelina Jolie stars as Collins in a film apparently based on a true story.

It's March 1928 and Collins is unexpectedly called out to work. She's a telephone supervisor. On roller skates. Stay with me. It's 1928. They probably did those kinds of things back then. Anyway she returns from her shift to find her son 9-year-old son Walter has vanished.

And so begins a relentless pursuit of the truth behind Walter's disappearance. At every turn there is a development which offers hope to Collins, before ripping it away in the cruellest of ways. At a certain point you find yourself thinking that no woman could possibly have endured this much false hope followed by such crushing disappointment, yet at no point does he lose faith that she will find her son.

The corrupt Los Angeles Police Department are less convinced, and so hatch a plan to convince Collins that her ordeal is over. The plan is simple enough. They just find a boy that looks more or less like Walter, and hand him over. Collins' protests at being re-united with a boy she has never met before (if that is possible) spark a chain of events that would seem even less plausible were we not remembering that all of this is true. Apparently.

Forced incarceration, electro-therapy, fingers in private orifaces. It's all here as Collins feels the full force of the LAPD's determination to exhibit her as a psychiatric case study, and thus continue to revel in the glory of having 'found' Walter. The handling of Collins' transformation from worried mother to cuckoo's nest in-patient could have been handled a little smoother.

Some of the acting is unconvincing, especially Jeffrey Donovan's portrayal of police captain J.J.Jones. We're hearing him give the reasons why he thinks Collins would deny the new boy is hers, but the sane among us are not believing a word. Also, and without giving too much away, the performance of young Eddie Alderson as the boy who unlocks some (but crucially not all) of the secrets of Walter's disappearance is decidedly shaky. Even for a child.

The best performance in the film is probably Jolie's, although points are knocked off for a shower scene which shows us absolutely nothing of interest. A monumental waste of potential I'm sure you'll agree. On a similar theme John Malkovich is slightly under-used as the reverand pastor who helps unravel the LAPD's web of lies, and provides support for Collins during some very dark moments. Yet the most interesting performance in a film is often that of the villain, and the same is true here as Jason Butler Harner has you believing absolutely in the simple-minded madness of the man responsible for Walter's abduction.

I'm not a parent but I found it difficult not to be moved by the plight of Collins. I should imagine that anyone sitting at home watching this film with the little ones tucked up in bed upstairs will feel the emotion several times more intensely.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The BRITS 2009

Tonight's BRIT Awards show on ITV has just finished. And Jesus Christ am I glad.

Now I only caught the last 45 minutes, so please forgive me if I have misunderstood. The first 75 minutes could have been a musical triumph. It's just that the section of the show that I had the misfortune to see was anything but.

Imagine waking up from an unscheduled forty winks to find yourself being introduced to possibly the most ill-conceived collaboration since Noel Edmonds met Mr Blobby. That was what lay in store from me when an incrediby badly dressed and quite sinister looking bloke introduced me to The Ting-Tings and Estelle.

'Shut up and let me go' wailed the singer of the talent-defficient former, while the latter marched on stage determined to take the performance on a different course. Yet all attempts to rescue it from ruin were scotched when Estelle gave us 'American Boy'. Frankly these two tracks (such as they are) fitted together like milk-shake and orange juice. The inevitably curdled result was as stomach-churning as it gets.

Eventually the pair arrived at the same page with a well-intentioned but catastrophic version of 'That's Not My Name'. Quite apart from this song's pointless monotony, the clash of styles reminded me of Coventry City's Chocolate Brown away kit from the 1970's which I believe featured yellow markings. We're all starting to feel a bit queasy by now.

Before we wretch it is back to the sinister man (who it turns out stars in the much-loved but utterly abject Gavin and Stacey) alongside Kylie. Now Kylie might be Australian but she qualifies as a national treasure. Yet here she was being made to body-pop, as by now the sinister bloke's fat and equally rubbish mate had joined them on stage. At this point there were calls from my sofa of a return to the days of Fleetwood Mac and Samantha Fox. Anything but the direction we were seemingly heading.

Think it can't get any worse? Guess again, as on comes Gok Wan to present an award (I neither know nor care what it was). Without wishing to be homophobic, Wan should almost certainly be shot. What is more, he should be shot while being made to wear clothes that he does not like. I long for the day when television executives realise that the ability to sneer at how other people look is simply not enough to secure a top presenting gig. Nor is being as camp as is humanly possible without actually bending over The Ting-Tings drum-kit. 'Who looks good naked?" he enquired of us. Not fucking you, you talentless boil on the arse of British culture.

It wasn't long before Wan was joined by that other uber-gay moron Alan Carr. In his defence, and for all his annoyances, Carr does at least possess the endearing ability to say something witty now and again. That said, a highlight of the whole sorry affair came when he remarked that he might wet himself in anticipation of the upcoming performance by The Pet Shop Boys. More of whom later. Had Carr actually made good on his leaky bladder suggestion it might well have been worth sitting through what was to come.

And I'm talking about YOU, Girls Aloud. Inexplicably, these five tedious women picked up the gong for Single Of The Year for 'The Promise'. All of which gave yet more unwarranted air-time to Cheryl Cole, whose march towards blanket coverage on all UK networks gathers yet more pace. Quite what the nation's obsession with this pointless individual is will I suspect remain beyond me until they dig me a hole to rest in. Perhaps people feel sorry for her because Gobshite Ashley did the dirty on her. Maybe they like that she now enjoys the noble duty of promoting the next generation of pop-stars on X Factor. It simply can't be the singing, all of which is deathly dull and mostly done by her mates in any case. And don't get me started on the equally tiresome Sarah Harding.

The Pet Shop Boys were there to pick up the award for lifetime achievement, and as is tradition to close the show with a set of their best music. We all saw that coming. What was less obvious was the reason why Chris Lowe (the one who never speaks, moves, sings or dances) played out the entire performance in a pink wig. It put me in mind of a Coronation Street character from my youth named Phyllis Pearce. Phyllis had a voice which sounded like it was being impaired by a throat-full of sand and mud, aswell as a bizarre but touching devotion to local busy-body and all round pain in the Harding Percy Sugden.

I can't see Lowe having the foresight to pay comic tribute to a soap star of yore, so there must have been more to it. Pink is a colour often associated with cancer charities, and particularly those which affect women. I can only hope that this was some sort of show of solidarity or effort to raise awareness to the cause. If so it is highly commendable and I am willing to forgive him and Neil Tennant for playing a large video of themselves in the background to their entire performance. Were they singing live or not, then? Who knows, but if Tennant can't talk about knocking down chairs in a restaurant without the aid of a pre-recorded soundtrack then perhaps he might like to think about returning his award.

Cole (sorry, we're back on her momentarily) told us that her earlier award had been the 'cherry on the cake'. She was wrong. The aforementioned fruit on the gateaux was the appearance of Killers front-man Brandon Flowers alongside the PSB's. PSB's? Makes them sound a little too much like a bank though it would surprise nobody if either Tennant or Lowe decided to take their careers in that direction. In any event, Flowers' contribution to the set was infinitely more successful than Estelle's earlier Ting-Tings Thing Thing, or at least it would have been had both Tennant and Lowe not looked faintly embarrassed throughout. Joining in was a scantily-clad blonde woman who I am sure I am supposed to recognise but don't, and whose aim was to produce a reasonable stab at the Dusty Springfield role in 'What Have I Done To Deserve This?'.

Which, aptly enough, was exactly what I was asking myself as the credits rolled.

By Stephen Orford

18 February 2009

Friday, 13 February 2009


I don't like Big Brother. No. I hate it. In my view it reaches depths of pointlessness previously unknown. What is there to like about a bunch of no-name morons jabbering away about their inconsequential little lives? I have an inconsequential life of my own to jabber on about, thanks all the same.

However, much as I loathe the thing that has become known as BB, and all of it's bastard spawn reality shows, it has rather raised a serious issue in recent months.

You don't have to spend your Friday evenings in front of the television waiting for Davina to tell you who has been evicted to know that one former Big Brother participant, Jade Goody, is suffering from an aggressive form of cervical cancer. Tragically, the prognosis for Jade is extremely grim. From giving her a 40% chance of survival doctors have now had to inform her that her disease has spread to her liver and elsewhere, giving her only a miniscule chance of living to tell the tale.

Yet however much of that tale Jade will be able to relay to us is currently in the process of being captured entirely on film. Despite being stricken with this awful disease, Jade continues to allow and indeed encourage camera crews to follow her every move in her latest reality series. I'm afraid I don't know the name of it. It's not the issue.

The issue is whether or not this is morally correct. Is such a harrowing fight for life suitable viewing for an increasingly voyeuristic public? At what point do we draw the line and say 'no more'? Let this woman deal with her diabolical circumstances in private. She is a 27-year-old woman, about to be struck down less than a third into what would have been her natural life. She is also a mother. A more devastating set of circumstances is difficult to envisage, and yet here we are peering through the window at her in anticipation of well........goodness knows what.

You can't blame Jade. She might be annoying, crass, less than intelligent and a generally undeserved television star. Yet she is equally underserving of such a depressing fate. Her quest to get one final pay day to make sure that her children are looked after when she is gone is arguably the likely response of any young mother placed in that situation. No. The media are to blame for this vulgar peep show. Though Jade does little to discourage them, the television executives and producers should feel shame at even conceiving of the idea to put her plight so brightly in the spotlight.

In short, we should not know anything about this. Jade, may she be blessed by whatever sick power is up there, should not be famous. Famous people sing, dance, act, make people laugh, perform feats of sporting excellence. They do not sit on a sofa giggling inanely and rabbiting on constantly about themselves. Having made the mistake of thrusting Jade into the public eye without good reason, the money-mad television people are simply compounding that error by following the poor girl through what looks to be her final ordeal.

If any good is to come of this sorry episode it could well be in the response of young women who can relate to Jade. If even one young girl decides to go for a potentially life-saving smear test because of seeing Jade on the television then perhaps we should feel thankful. Yet do not let those responsible for her fly on the wall account of battling cancer take any plaudits should that happen. This is not the way forward. We must use the education system and other approaches to broadcasting to get the message across about how important an issue this is. We should not have to witness the apalling demise of a young woman at such close quarters in order to raise awareness and save lives in the future.

For all the negatives in this piece about Jade I should like to point out that I hope with every inch of my being that she defies the odds and wins her fight. Seeing her make a full recovery would inspire me and thrill me in equal measure. At that point she can make all the reality television she likes and good luck to her.

Just don't expect me to watch.

By Stephen Orford

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The Wii Experience

Now some people might say that at 33 I am a little old for computer games. They can go fuck themselves. Alternatively they might like to review their ageist stereotpyical views on what is and is not a fit source of entertainment for the modern adult.

Emma and I bought a Wii about five or six months ago. For those of you still trying to work out how to switch on your Acorn Electron let me explain that the Wii is unlike any of it's predecessors in the gaming market. That is because rather than sitting motionless and getting sore thumbs from some joypad/joystick contraption in an effort to control the game, the Wii demands that you get a bit more active. If you are playing tennis you swing the remote like you would swing a tennis racket. If it's golf you swing it like you would swing a golf club. If it is swinging, you just swing. I haven't got that game yet.

What I do have is an unhealthy addiction to this new, fandangled piece of kit. On your average Saturday morning I can be found in front of the television in a state of rigid concentration, convinced that I am in fact Tiger Woods. It is rare for Tiger Woods to finish outside the top 100 in tournaments that even I had not heard of in the pre-Wii days, yet this does not deter me from my mission. Nor in fact does inexplicably missing a put from less than a metre away because the console has decided that it doesn't like you. Or because the grass on the greens at New England is a little longer than that at St.Andrews so that the ball is more likely to stick and you have to therefore hit it a little harder. But then if you hit it harder it bounces out of the hole like a space hopper launched at a pot-hole from 500 metres.

All very frustrating so I turned to Wii darts. You have shrewdly guessed what is coming next, which is that you use the Wii remote in a throwing motion not dissimilar to that applied to throwing a dart. The main difference appears to be that normally your average dart thrower can be relied upon to release said dart at some point. The Wii dart player can expect to effect four or five dart-throwing motions before the flighty fettler finally agrees to part company with your dart players hand. Timing is everything, which is perhaps why I lost a best of 21 legs match by a score of 11-0, that after losing a best of five-set match by only 3 sets to 2. To suggest that PDC Darts on the Wii is temperemental is a little like suggesting that Justin Lee Collins is annoying. It's kind of a given.

And so to the most befuddling thing about Wii games. They hurt. And yet I play on regardless. Emma is a few degrees warmer than me in the brain department it seems, because she has refrained from participating in games where pulled muscles are the norm such as Wii boxing, whereas I continue regardless. Over seven rounds against such mighty Wii animated opponents as Kevin, Keith and Simon, I managed to all but lose the use of my right arm entirely. The refusal to lie down and die of Kevin and company leads to a breathless and seemingly endless frenzy of right jabs aimed at the general direction of the television set. And all of this performed in the centre of my living room with the passing world able to access a full and unrestricted view of my bizarre antics. It reminds me of when the two girls who live opposite my mother used to dance in the top bedroom window. But we won't go into that.

Sooner or later I will become the greatest Wii golfer/tennis player/boxer/dart player/Asterix at the Olympics player but at what cost? Any more of this manic Wii-ing and I will be admitted to the emergency room before you can say 'Communication with the Wii remote has been suspended, press any button when connection is re-established'.

That means you need to charge the batteries, by the way.

Stephen Orford

11 February 2009

Thursday, 22 January 2009

The Karaoke Experience

Ok, so it is Thursday night. I have just been down to my local for a bit of Karaoke. Is that supposed to have a capital K? Who knows? Who cares?

Anyway, there are some observations which need to be made about this. First of all it is always the same people who sing. Namely me, and about three or four other people under the misguided notion that they can carry a tune any more than they can carry Gary Barlow up the M6 on their backs.

Why is it always ABBA with these people? And if not ABBA then that God Awful Buttercup song from Something About Mary. The worst thing about local Karaoke's is that when I get up and do an incredibly average turn the people there think I can sing. All of which leads to me getting up there four or five times until by the end I have shattered the myth that I can sing and ended up just as bad as everyone else. The awful truth is that I would love to be a good singer, but I'm not. There are many things I would love to be that I am not, and in most cases I just accept it and give up. Why can I not equate that to Karaoke?

The secret to my success at Karaoke would of course be to quit while I am ahead. Uncle Kracker's Follow Me? Yep. easy peasy. Everyone thinks that goes down a storm. Angels? Yep, everyone enjoys that too. My Way? Still OK. The older clientele really appreciate this. I don't know why. If I was old then a song about death would make me feel a tad depressed but they seem to lap it up. Words by Boyzone? Ok, we are wavering now. Can't do the first line of the chorus, never will be able to. Yet every time I enter a licensed premises I convince myself that maybe I can. Finally we get down to Wherever You Will Go by The Calling and it goes completely tits up. Why is it that I can't hear myself when I am singing that song on Karaoke? Play it to me in the car or on my walkman and I can belt it out with the best of them, but take away my backing and I sound like an X Factor freak show who has been hand picked to make the viewers laugh. Like Chico

What worries me the most about all this is that at some point I am going to get drunk enough and placed into a situation where I sing in front of my new work colleagues. Now my old work colleagues thought it was great because I knew my limitations and everyone went home before I got to the shit bit. But with this mad lot they are out until they drop sometimes, and that can only lead to an incredibly strained version of Always by Bon Jovi or James Morrison's Wonderful World. Why haven't any Karaoke people got The Chokin' Kind by Joss? I'm brilliant at that in my living room. Oh, yes. It's different, right?

Anyway this particular blog (I hate that word) is a bit crap. But that is what you get when you write it at 11.30 on a Thursday night having just come in from the Elephant Karaoke at which you got progressively worse with each song. I can only apologise. Work tomorrow and I can only hope that I get through it in one piece.

Until next time, loyal reader.

By Stephen Orford

22 January 2009