Thursday, March 05, 2015

Missing the Point

You know, I thought - no, make that hoped - that Hollywood had finally run out of old TV and movie properties they could do awful remakes of - then I saw the trailer for that Man From UNCLE film.  I know we really shouldn't judge films by their trailers - then again, the trailers frequently cobble together all of the film's highlights into two minutes, so maybe we should judge a movie by its trailer - but Jesus, it really looked like a heap of shit.  Then I saw the second trailer: even worse.  Not only does it not look or feel anything like the sixties TV series, but it seems to entirely miss the point of that series - it was a reasonably light hearted spoof of Bond-type spy movies, (unfortunately, by series three it had gone beyond light hearted and tumbled over into self-parody, viewing figures likewise tumbled and, despite a return to less spoofy stories, it was cancelled mid way through the fourth series).  OK, I know that, arguably, the film is being made for a different generation of film goers who will not be hardcore UNCLE fans or even have any knowledge of the original series, but nonetheless, what is the point of taking an established property and making it unrecognisable?  You could just as easily come up with an original script and characters. 

However, I suspect that, as with those recent Star Trek films - which are superficially linked to the original series via character names and the designs of uniforms and spaceships but are really just generic space operas bearing little resemblance to the series - the new Man From UNCLE film is simply using the classic series and its name recognition with audiences, to sell a generic spy movie which otherwise wouldn't have found an audience.  But, as it turns out, this isn't the worst remake on the horizon.  I was dismayed to read the other day that Antoine Fuqua was slated to direct a remake of The Magnificent Seven with Denzel Washington in the Yul Brynner role of Chris.  Now, the casting isn't the thing I have a problem with.  I certainly don't have a problem with a black actor playing Chris (in reality, a large proportion of cowboys in the Old West were either black or Mexican, something written out of history by Hollywood), and in the increasingly ropy sequels to the original he was played by far less suitable actors than Washington in the form of George Kennedy and Lee Van Cleef (both perfectly good actors, but completely miscast in the role).  The first of my problems is Fuqua, a director none of whose films I've found satisfactory and who has a track record for pointless revisionism (just look at his awful King Arthur, for instance).  The plot details of this proposed remake just confirmed my fears: small town taken over by mining company, widow of murdered man who opposes them hires bounty hunter (Chris) who then hires six more gunfighters to help him fight the mining company.  In other words, a generic western which seems to be an amalgam of plot elements from several, better, movies.  By eschewing the Mexican setting of the original, it completely misses the point of the story.  But hey, who cares? Everyone knows the title and it still has seven gunslingers protecting a small community - so it must be the same, mustn't it?

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Portable Sleaze

I can't decide whether it's because I'm getting old or simply because my life is otherwise bereft of excitement that last weekend I found myself getting so enthusiastic about making The Sleaze mobile-friendly.  Maybe it was a combination of the two as, in the cold light of day, it is obvious that it was a surprisingly time-consuming and repetitive task involving very little actual creativity or problem solving.  One of the advantages of The Sleaze being Wordpress-based these days is that virtually any kind of modifications or improvements in functionality can be achieved via plugins.  The key is finding the right plugin amongst the plethora offered via the official Wordpress site.  Eventually, I narrowed it down to two possibilities for creating a mobile-friendly version of the site:  WP Touch and Smart WP. 

In truth, the latter had more and better-looking mobile templates in its free version and was simpler to set up, but I ended up using WP Touch instead.  The clincher was that Smart WP simply didn't report usage stats properly - when the site was viewed with a mobile device my tracking services simply showed a generic page title - 'thesleaze' - regardless of which page was being viewed.  This would have rendered my site stats meaningless, as knowing which pages are the most popular and the paths visitors are following when reading the site are key pieces of information.  WP Touch, by contrast, gave full details of the pages looked at by visitors using mobile devices.  So I installed their plugin.  Which is ironic as I'd previously removed it from the site after my last attempt, several years ago, to make it mobile-friendly, due to the fact that, back then, the plugin kept 'breaking' the stats codes, rendering them inoperative and thereby rendering mobile visitors invisible to me. It seems that this problem has been addressed in more recent versions of the plugin as mobile visitors have been fully visible since installing it.

Not actually owning a smartphone myself, I had to do all my testing using online mobile phone emulators - a truly tedious task.  However, the upshot of all this is that if you now view The Sleaze via mobile device (excepting tablets, as the regular template displays OK for such devices) you should see it in a format more suited to such media.  You might well ask why this sudden desire to make the site mobile-friendly?  Well, it all comes down to the Great God Google whom we all must appease or risk being forced off of the web, which has decreed that those sites it decides aren't mobile-friendly will be penalised in search results.  Hence the installation of WP Touch.  Hopefully, this will only be a stop-gap solution until I'm able to find a suitable fully responsive template, which will be able to provide a suitable display for any type of device it is viewed in, for The Sleaze.

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Monday, March 02, 2015

You Can't Get the Staff...

Russia's President Putin has condemned the killers of prominent political opponent Boris Nemtsov, saying that they had been told to make it look like suicide.  "You just can't get the staff anymore," he allegedly raged during an interview with top Moscow journalist Igor Blimey.  "Ever since the disintegration of the Soviet Union all of the best ex-KGB operatives have gone freelance and get better pay days working for rogue states and organised crime!  We're left with the incompetent dregs!"  Former KGB chief Putin has vowed to hunt down Nemtsov's killers and punish them severely for their ineptitude.  "I ask you - shooting him in the back multiple times - how were we ever going to pass that off as suicide," Igor Blimey claims the exasperated Russian leader told him.  "I distinctly remember telling them that hanging or an electric fire in the bath - I saw that in a Bond movie - would be far easier to sell to the public and press as suicide!  Obviously, people would still have been suspicious, but they wouldn't be able to pint the finger directly at me!"

This isn't the first time that the bungling of Kremlin assassins has left Mr Putin red faced, as he explained to Igor Blimey.  "Let's not forget that business of the bloke in London they poisoned by sticking radioactive isotopes in his tea," he supposedly said.  "For God's sake, who was ever going to believe that was anything else other than an assassination?  Nobody was ever going to believe that it was a health and safety issue at the place he bought the tea.  Not even English cafes are so unhygienic that they have radioactive isotopes lying about in their kitchens to be confused with the milk!"  The Kremlin has subsequently denied that President Putin had ever spoken to Igor Blimey and maintained that the Russian leader had absolutely nothing to do with the murder of Mr Nemtsov or any other dissidents.  "Obviously, if he were to assassinate someone, as a former KGB man, Mr Putin would be able to ensure that it looked like natural causes and that there was no trail liking him to the death," a Kremlin spokesperson opined.  "Not that he ever would be involved in such activities.  Obviously."

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Friday, February 27, 2015

Most Illogical

I'm working on some more movie-related material for future posts and was hoping to have ready to roll for today.  However, not only do I not feel ready to go with it yet, but after another stressful week at work has left me too exhausted for anything other than a brief update. Obviously, I couldn't let today pass without noting the death of Leonard Nimoy who, as Mr Spock, was a huge part of my childhood and, indeed, a huge influence on me.  The older I get, the more I admire Spock's devotion to basing his decisions upon logic rather than emotion.  An admirable trait which many of the people I'm forced to interact with on a daily basis would do well to emulate.  In fact, a greater application of logic on the part of politicians, journalists, the police and others would benefit is all greatly - all too often they rely upon crude emotional appeals in order to influence people, instead of constructing good, logical, sound arguments.  Increasingly, I try to follow Spock's example and attempt to eliminate emotion and sentimentality when making important decisions, or assessing situations.  It's done me a power of good.

On a completely unrelated note, I'm glad to see that Google has backed down over its proposals to make any blogs on its Blogger platform which it considers to be 'pornographic' private and viewable by invitation only.  Whilst I doubt very much that this blog would have been affected, Google seemed pretty vague as to what constituted 'pornographic content'.  Although all their public statements focused on nudity in photos and videos posted on blogs, they wouldn't give a straight answer as to whether 'erotic' written content would be censored.   As sites with such allegedly 'explicit' and 'offensive' content were already labelled 'adult' and placed behind warning pages, it's difficult to see what Google were trying to achieve with this move.  If it had gone ahead then many sites which weren't pornographic but included images containing nudity - such as those reviewing classic exploitation films, for instance - would have effectively been banned.  Which would have been a travesty.  But, Google being Google, I wouldn't be surprised if they don't try to resurrect this idea in some form or other further down the line.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Discrediting the Past

Back in the old days, if you wanted to discredit a rival, you'd accuse them of witchcraft.  All sorts of investigations and trials would ensue.  Even if the victim was exonerated, the whole lengthy process would have left them tainted and probably broken, not just mentally, but physically as well, thereby removing them as a credible rival.  Nowadays, the way to cast doubt upon someone is to imply sexual impropriety - allegations of groping are enough to undermine someone, rape or peadophilia will destroy them - even if the claims are disproved, their reputations will never fully recover in the eyes of the media and public.  Now, many of these claims will turn out to be true, but even if they are, should they completely discredit the guilty party and all their works?  I only ask because the latest prominent figure to be accused sexual harassment is the head of the UN's climate change panel, the allegations forcing him to stand down from his position. 

It's clear that in some quarters, there's a feeling, hope even, that if this leading proponent of climate change is discredited, then, in some way, the whole idea of man made climate change is somehow compromised - even though the allegations against him are to do with his personal, not his professional, conduct.  You know the attitude: 'I'll be damned if I believe anything a sex criminal says - especially about global warming'.  Hell, I'm guilty of this sort of thinking myself: when Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the then head of the IMF, was accused of rape in New York a few years ago I tried to use this to discredit the IMF and its policies: 'I'll be damned if I'll be lectured to on economics by an organisation headed by an (alleged) rapist!'  Indeed, I did it again when Strauss-Kahn was recently on trial for  pimping: 'I'll be damned if I'll be lectured on economics by an organisation which used to be headed by a pimp!'  It's always tempting to think that something discreditable in someone's private life completely invalidates their entire life's work.  Look at the way all of Rolf Harris's paintings have been taken down from public display, (although that might just be because they are shit).  But just because it is revealed that, say, a singer was once guilty of domestic violence, should we boycott all of their albums?  Are the two things inextricably linked?  Does their entire canon, which you previously enjoyed, retrospectively become evil when their misdemeanour is revealed?  With increasing numbers of 1970s media figures being accused of various sex crimes, the question is becoming ever more pertinent - after all, if we reject all of their historical work because of their crimes, we'll be in danger of losing a huge chunk of our cultural past.



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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Storage Addict

My name is Doc Sleaze and I'm an addict.  That's right, I'm addicted - to those bloody storage auction shows on TV.  It's hard to explain how it happened, I'm not really sure myself.  All I know is that last Autumn I found myself watching four repeated episodes of Storage Wars on ITV4 when they were shown back-to-back early on a Saturday evening.  I'd been through all the channels, looking for something undemanding to watch while I first did my ironing, then ate - I alighted on Storage Wars. I'd been aware of the series and its various rivals and clones, but hadn't ever really paid much attention to any of them.  Yet here I was, watching four episodes in succession.  Worst of all, I came back the following Saturday for another dose.  Indeed, I found myself looking forward to my next multi-episode viewing of Storage Wars, as I found myself drawn increasingly into the world of California storage locker auctions, trying to second guess the bidders as to what was in the lockers, wondering what weird (and surprisingly valuable) shit Barry would fortuitously find this week at the back of the locker he'd clearly overpaid for. 

But I quickly found that there just weren't enough episodes of Storage Wars to satisfy me - so I found myself watching the inferior rip-off Storage Hunters on Dave.  Damn it - I even watched Storage Hunters UK which exchanged sunny California for the exotic cloudy skies and drizzle of places like Reading and Leicester.  But even that wasn't enough - I discovered Baggage Battles repeats on Quest, then new episodes on the Travel Channel.  It isn't as good, but it fills a gap in my craving for more auction-based reality action.  Lately though, even the combination of all these shows hasn't been enough to sate my desires and I've found myself branching out and sampling non-auction based reality shows.  In particular, I've found myself watching episodes of Lizard Lick Towing.  Jesus!  I'm telling you, that series really is the hard stuff when it comes to these kind of shows - all rednecks, repos and aggression.  OK, I know that they're all, to one degree or another, faked, but that's not the point - they are entertainment shows and should be enjoyed as such.  Indeed, that's reason I favour Storage Wars over the others - there's less faked violent confrontations between rival bidders (as there are in Storage Hunters) and more focus on the actual contents of the lockers and their value and provenance.  Ultimately, despite the various rivalries, it's all pretty amiable and less obviously contrived than either Storage Hunters or Baggage Battles.  But neither of those shoes is as blatantly rigged than Lizard Lick Towing, with its fantastical situations (hillbillies in their red one piece long underwear and armed with shotguns and crossbows chasing the protagonists, for instance) and multiple camera angles apparently provided by a single camera crew. 

Perhaps its the challenge of spotting the artifice in these supposed reality shows which attracts me to them.  Or maybe its because, at a time when I seem to be increasingly stressed out and trying to deal with a seemingly never ending series of problems both at work and home, they represent a degree of formulaic certainty absent in my own life.  After all, we all know that none of the bidders on the auction shows are actually going to go bankrupt and lose their homes if they over pay for a storage bin which turns out to be full of worthless junk, (it's in their contacts), just as we know that nothing bad will really happen to the redneck repos guys at Lizard Lick.  It provides me with a form of reassurance that, somehow, everything will turn out OK.  Which is probably why I need ever bigger fixes of them as some aspects of my life (mainly work) get ever shittier and stressful.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Tomorrow's Headlines, Yesterday

"Malcolm Muggeridge - Malcolm Buggeridge!"  I opened a story over on The Sleaze last year with those words.  Written at the height of the celebrity sex offender media feeding frenzy, the story focused on the desperate attempts by newspapers to identify new targets for their salacious stories, preferably dead celebrities as they wouldn't be able to sue.  Muggeridge becomes such a target (in the story) simply because his name rhymes with 'buggeridge' which sounds a bit like 'buggering'.  However, the editor character in the story concludes that pursuing Muggeridge as a celebrity sex offender would be pointless as, these days, nobody remembers who he was.  Now, it turns out, Muggeridge might actually have been a sex offender, with new allegations that he and other BBC heavyweight 'intellectual' presenters, including Hugh Weldon, had spent the seventies groping female staff.  And those who didn't grope were bust being sexist: Robin Day allegedly asked Joan Bakewell whether the men she interviewed were looking at her breasts, (to be fair, bearing in mind that Bakewell was touted as the 'thinking man's crumpet' back then, that could have been a serious question - without knowing the context it is impossible to tell whether he was simply being a perv or not).

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is, in part, as another example of just how prescient The Sleaze can be.  We aren't just smut peddlers and we don't just parody the news which has already happened - we also predict the headlines of tomorrow!  I'm also bringing it up to put down a marker reminding people that I was the one who came up with the 'Muggeridge - Buggeridge' thing before someone more famous and media-connected than me tries to claim it as their idea.  After all, there is a sitcom currently running on BBC4 which shamelessly rips off our Assange Exposed story from a while ago.  Indeed, not only did we describe a sitcom based on Assange's enforced stay at the Ecuadorean embassy in London, but I'd also floated the idea in a post here at Sleaze Diary some time before that.  It's pointless me trying to claim that Asylum plagiarises my story - I'm just a nobody and the BBC would doubtless claim that any similarities were merely coincidence.  I take solace in the fact that Asylum is on BBC4, which means that it will be seen by fewer people than have read the story on The Sleaze. Whilst I'm prepared to let that one slide, I'm giving fair warning: I'm drawing the line at 'Muggeridge - Buggeridge'  - plagiarise that at your peril!

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Away From the Daily Grind

I hadn't realised how much work has been stressing me out of late until I took today off.  Since going back to work after Christmas I've been feeling worse and worse: aches, pains, poor sleeping patterns and just a general feeling of uneasiness.  Every day I found it more difficult to find any motivation for getting out of bed and going into work.  Obviously, all of my recent problems with the leaking hot water cylinder pouring water through my kitchen ceiling and causing all sorts of damp problems at the back of my house didn't help either.  But despite resolving the cylinder problems last week, my feeling of being generally unwell and unhappy continued.  However, when I woke up this morning, knowing that I didn't have to go into work again until Monday, I found that all of my aches and pains had vanished and I actually felt happy and optimistic.  Which just reinforces my belief that work lies at the root of my current malaise.  After all, when you look back at the working week and realise that the highlight was talking to a cat I encountered, it should be obvious that something is wrong.

But I didn't just take today off to get away from work.  For one thing, it's my birthday tomorrow and, whilst I don't actually plan to do anything, I thought it might be nice if I didn't spend the day still feeling stressed out after a week of work - a day off would provide some insulation from the daily grind.  I also needed to do some cleaning up in my kitchen after all that water had poured into it from the ceiling - it all looks a bit cleaner and a lot tidier now.  That said, until the walls and ceiling dry out completely (which will take a few weeks) it's pointless attempting any redecoration (the whole room needs a thorough repaint, both walls and ceiling).  Changing the subject completely, as an addendum to yesterday's Eastenders-related post,  I was hoping that tonight's live episode would see Ian Beale have Bobby secretly committed to a private mental hospital in order to cover up the fact that he murdered his sister.  Then, in ten years time, on the soap's fortieth anniversary, Bobby could have broken out and returned to Walford, pursued by a gun-toting psychiatrist who looks like Donald Pleasance.  Masked figures lurking around Albert Square threatening a spate of serial killings would be just the cheery way to celebrate another milestone anniversary on the show's history. 

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Soaped Up

So now we know who killed Lucy in Eastenders - and didn't they take their time getting there?  Having recently re-watched Cutter's Way (as my DVD is titled, although I believe it was originally released in the UK under its original title of Cutter and Bone), I can't help but feel that they should have had the investigation conducted by some horribly maimed Afghan vet pal of Lee Carter.  He could have limped around Albert Square in a permanent alcoholic stupor, badgering Lee into admitting that he had seen the murderer on Good Friday and that they needed to blackmail them into a confession.  It could all have climaxed with him crashing through the window of the Vic during Ian's wedding reception and trying to shoot the killer.  But then I also thought that when Pat was on her death bed she should have seen a spectral Frank, clad only in that spinning bow tie and sporting angel's wings, saying "Pat, Paaat, move towards the light!", and that Dirty Den should have been revealed to be a Cyberman in a Doctor Who crossover.  I'm afraid that my ideas for soap opera plots are just too advanced for the current crop of TV producers.

They cling to the idea that soap operas should be realistic and reflect real life.  Except that in tonight's episode of Eastenders we had, for the second time (third if you count Nick Cotton's faking his own death) a character returning from the dead.  How many times has that happened in your street?  Then there's the fact that yet another murderer has just been unmasked - how many is that now?  Homicide rates in the UK simply aren't that high - if there had been that many murders over a thirty year period in a real residential street then I'm sure there would have been a government enquiry, for God's sake.  Let's not forget all the arson attacks, car crashes and accidental deaths - I've lived on the same street for more than twenty years and, apart from the odd bit of scraped paint in a parking incident - there have been no car accidents, or fires.  The only two deaths I can recall were of natural causes and neither was unexpected, (one was in her eighties and the other had long-standing health problems).  So Eastenders - in common with other soaps - certainly isn't portraying real real life.  Obviously, if they did, it would be bloody boring - you might as well watch a feed from a camera set up on a real street: hour after hour of nothing dramatic happening.  Instead, they try to give the impression of realism, relying upon the fact that, as long as they don't go too far - the avenging ghost of Lucy Beale turning up to shout 'Murderer!' at her killer, for instance - our suspension of disbelief won't be broken.  In common with all dramatic genres, soap operas have rules and conventions and as long as producers stick to them, then they can get away with murder, plotwise.  But introduce the supernatural (which belongs in a horror film) or Alex Cutter (who belongs in a crime drama) and the audience's suspension of disbelief will well and truly be broken.  So any number of soap murders are acceptable, just so long as they don't involve the supernatural or one-armed, one-legged , one-eyed war veteran detectives.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Time Express


Short-lived TV series fascinate me.  Having some idea of what is involved in just getting a TV series commissioned, let alone actually getting it on air, it must be crushing for those involved when it doesn't get recommissioned after a single series.  But at least, under those circumstances, the makers would have seen a reasonable number of episodes air.  Far worse must be those instances where a series is pulled only a few episodes into a run.  Sometimes this results in unaired episodes being rescheduled to a graveyard slot, shunted to another. lesser, network or, worst of all, shelved indefinitely.  Even worse are those situations where networks executives must have made a decision to cancel a series more or less as soon as it has started its run. 

Such a scenario seems to have befallen the 1979 US TV series Time Express, of which only four episodes, including the pilot, were ever made.  The format was very similar to the much more successful Fantasy Island, with Vincent Price using his time-travelling train to take the various guest stars back to key moments in their lives in order to set right wrongs, repair relationships and all the other things people used to do on 1970s network television. Quite why Fantasy Island was a long-running success whilst Time Express was axed before it ever really started is a mystery.  I can only assume that it had disastrously poor ratings from the off.  Maybe Vincent Price was the problem - audiences tended to associate him with camp horror which might have given them false expectations for Time Express.  Whatever the reason, and despite the star power of Vincent Price and Coral Brown (although they only tended to appear at the beginning and end of the episodes), the series ground to a halt after four episodes.  But that didn't stop it turning up on UK TV, with the BBC showing all four episodes, of which I recall seeing at least one.  I can only assume that they acquired the episodes as part of a package deal for other, more popular, series from the same producers and decided that they might as well screen them.  If I remember rightly, they showed them late in the evening, after the news.  I don't recall them ever being repeated.

Despite being used as a short-term schedule-filler by the BBC, something about Time Express lingered in my memory.  Over the years I forgot any of the details of the series, even the title - I misremembered it as 'Time Train' - but the image of Price and his train remained somewhere in the back of my mind.  These memories were stirred last year when PQ Ribber started talking about Supertrain, a contemporaneous US TV series which lasted a bit longer, (US TV networks clearly had trains on the brain in the late seventies), on his Quequaversal Satellite podcast.  Then, quite by chance, earlier this year the title sequence turned up in the 'suggested videos' column on You Tube when I was watching something completely unconnected.  Watching said title sequence was itself like travelling back in time with its typically seventies TV theme music and roster of guest stars (not to mention special guest stars) who were familiar TV faces in 1979 but are mostly forgotten now.  So there you have it, another TV memory.  Maybe Time Express isn't worth remembering, bearing in mind its meagre run.  Certainly nobody has tried to hail it as a lost TV classic or proposed 'reimagining' it for cable TV.   But somebody thought it a good enough idea to pitch to a network and some executive there clearly thought it could be a hit as they commissioned it for a series.  Who knows, there might be a parallel universe where it was a ten season success whereas Fantasy Island didn't get past a pilot. 

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