5 books which need to be made into movies, like, immediately


Invisible Monsters – Chuck Palahniuk

Jennifer Lawrence at the 83rd Academy Awards crop

Any excuse to have a photo of J.Law. Sigh.

This book is the business. It’s Fight Club with drag queens. It’s a modern twist on the age-old story of boy meets girl, girl gets lower half of face shot off in drive-by, boy dumps girl, girl befriends drag queen and boy, girl, drag queen and boy travel around the US going to open houses, taking on new identities and stealing enough painkillers and hormone pills to fill the Grand Canyon, something something wedding house fire, something something secret sex change, something something gonorrhea, the end.

It won’t be an easy adaptation; ‘unreliable narrator’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. I think it can be done – I see the story as being shot as if we are seeing the world through the narrator’s eyes, Peep Show-style. MacLaren Productions Inc. acquired rights to the novel four years ago, but a film has never materialised. All they’ve got is a sad little website, Facebook page and Twitter account asking fans to ‘demand’ an Invisible Monsters movie (not even a Kickstarter campaign).

Dream director: David Fincher

Fantasy casting: Channing Tatum as the narrator’s ex Manus Kelley, the Speedo-clad dirty cop who goes deep undercover (a bit too deep, if you catch my drift) to catch gay men trying to solicit sex in public parks; Jennifer Lawrence as the Queen Supreme, Brandy Alexander (although if J.Law ever played a drag queen, I would be worried about the internet imploding under the weight of all the gifs).

The Worst Date EverJane Bussman

John Prendergast

Hunky UN activist John Prendergast

This book is the business. It’s Bridget Jones’s Diary with African war lords – and it’s a true story. It’s a modern twist on the age-old story of girl meets Ashton Kutcher, meeting Ashton Kutcher makes girl re-evaluate entire life so far and decide she never wants to spend time with people like Ashton Kutcher ever again, girl reads about hunky UN activist (John Prendergast, pictured) in magazine, girl stalks hunky UN activist all the way to war-torn Uganda, girl struggles to find a way to bump into hunky UN activist, girl gets job teaching impoverished African children and learns a thing or two about how not to be a selfish arsehole, girl meets Joseph Kony, girl finally gets to meet hunky UN activist, girl writes Broadway play and everyone lives happily ever after (except for the impoverished African children, who are still impoverished). Fact: I read the latter three quarters of this book in one sitting, and even cancelled a night out so I could finish it. I laughed out loud more than I ever have at any other book before, and cried when it ended.

Dream director: Jane Bussman

Fantasy casting: Sally Hawkins as Jane Bussman; George Clooney as John Prendergast (the two are even friends in real life); Don Cheadle as Joseph Kony; Charlie Sheen as Ashton Kutcher.

The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten – Julian Baggini

Eddie Murphy Shrek Shankbone 2010 NYC

Eddie Murphy, one of the leading donkey-portraying actors of our time

Fact: I stole most of my morals and opinions from this book. It’s non-fiction, but that didn’t stop Mean Girls (based on Queen Bees and Wannabes, Rosalind Wiseman’s self-help book for teenage girls and their parents) becoming a hit.

J.Bagg takes us through a series of ‘thought experiments’, many of them inspired by movies, including Minority Report, Total Recall and An American Werewolf in London, using vividly drawn dilemmas to help the reader examine their true beliefs about subjects like terrorism, corruption and abortion.  A film could work well as a series of Waking Life-style animated vignettes.

Dream director: Richard Linklater

Fantasy casting: John C Reilly as the pig that wants to be eaten; Vince Vaughan as Dick, the guy who ends up chained to another man on life support for nine months against his will after a night of drunkeness; Eddie Murphy as Buridan’s Ass.

House of LeavesMark Z. Danielewski

Charlize Theron (6852646838)

Any excuse to have a photo of Charlize Theron. Sigh.

Another book whose adaptation would make Being John Malkovich look like Two and a Half Men, House of Leaves is the story of a couple falling in and out of love, their homicidal house and a young drug addict who is driven insane reading their story. The title describes the book itself – a sprawling labyrinth of mulitple narrators, multiple languages, acres of footnotes, passages written forwards, backwards, upside down, books within books within films within books and over a thousand pages worth of sleepless nights. Danielewski has apparently turned down several offers for the rights to bring the novel to the big screen. I don’t know how anyone could do it, but I would love to see them try.

Dream director: dare I say David Lynch?

Fantasy casting: Will Smith as Pulitzer Prize-winning photo journalist Will Navidson; Charlize Theron as his wife, former model Karen Green; Evan Peters as Johnny Truant.

A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

Zach Galifianakis at the Hangover II Premiere 2011

Any excuse to have a photo of Zach Galifianakis. Sigh.

Seriously. It’s been 33 years. Just bloody get on with it.


Golden rules for auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent


On today’s Guardian online, Stuart Heritage asks ‘Has Britain’s Got Talent been faking it?’:

After more than a decade of reality TV talent shows, we’ve become inured to this, haven’t we? Every year, audiences are expected to endure at least one story about an act that already has a record deal, or has a lucrative cruise ship career, or was brought in as a ringer by the producers. I mean, how long has that dancing five-year-old from Saturday’s show been in the business? Two decades? Three? And, frankly, I’ve yet to be convinced that Pudsey the dancing dog wasn’t just a kid with a rug taped to him all along. By this point, all the backstage jiggery-pokery should just wash over us, so why am I still bothered?

I know why I’m bothered.

Here are the three golden rules for auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent:

Practice is for suckers

If you weren’t born with the kind of once-in-a-generation talent that could reduce David Walliams to hysterical tears, forget it. Your skills are basically worthless unless you fell out of the womb a fully-formed Cheryl Cole impersonator, Pavarotti-level opera singer or breakdancing border collie.

When it was revealed that Paul Potts, the winner of the first series of BGT, had received professional vocal training and had previously performed in front of 15,000 people, his victory was called a ‘sham’. To some people, apparently, mobile phone salesmen who just happen to be blessed with world-class talents that they have done absolutely nothing about for 36 years are more worthy of praise than mobile phone salesmen who worked 13 hour days in a job they didn’t like very much so that they could save up enough money to take six months off work to go to opera school in Italy.

The only exceptions to this rule seem to be street dance crews and teenage boy choirs, and even then practice is mostly just a way to keep you off the drugs for a couple of hours.

So is having actually embarked upon your dream career before, and having a decent level of professional success

One of the strongest contenders in this year’s Britain’s Got Talent competition is Francine Lewis, who sailed through to the semi-finals after performing solid impressions of Katie Price, Stacey Solomon and Cheryl Cole.

Backstage before her audition, she told Ant and Dec “I started doing impressions when I was about six, and then back in the nineties I entered a talent show.  I came second to a puppet. I carried on for a little while, but never got to the level I always dreamed about, but then I came out of it when I got pregnant.” She confided “I love being with my kids, I really do, but I wouldn’t die happy if I didn’t pursue what I feel I should be doing.”

When David Walliams asked her “do you have a day job, Francine?” she replied “well I’m a mum, a mum of two, so I do my impressions to entertain everyone when I can.”

When she says “I do my impressions to entertain everyone when I can”, I think this implies that she occasionally manages to squeeze in the odd Stacey Solomon “OHMAGAAAWWWDDD” in between nappy changes and school runs to make her kids giggle. I don’t think it implies that she recently did her impressions on a comedy show watched by over a million viewers, as Francine Lewis did in Channel 4’s Very Important People. She also didn’t mention that she has previously appeared on Time and the Place, Pebble Mill, The Big Big Talent Show, 5’s Company, Bushell on the Box, Fully Booked, Big Breakfast, Generation Game, This Morning, Loose Women and the Ian Wright Show. She does on her website, though.

This is why I like The Voice more than Britain’s Got Talent, in spite of the incessant ‘denim-on-denim’ jokes from Jessie J, the fact that they wear the same clothes in the obviously pre-recorded Sunday evening results show (smelly) and the impossibly small-scale set that makes Countdown look like the Superbowl. If Sean Conlon from Five and Cleo Higgins from Cleopatra had auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent rather than The Voice, they would both have had to pretend to be stay-at-home mums who thought an octave was a type of wild boar.

Confidence is gross, especially on a woman

Ideally, you should be a young mum who whispers Katie Price impressions under your breath to yourself as you drain off tinned carrots for Lily May’s tea, letting a slight smile spread across your lips as the nasal squawk echoes off the metallic hollow of the kitchen sink, thinking maybe, just maybe, one day, you might pluck up the courage to audition for Britain’s Got Talent. Don’t be silly! you tell yourself. You would never have enough confidence to stand there and perform in front of all of those people!

Ideally, you shouldn’t have recently done your Katie Price impressions in four episodes of a comedy show watched by over a million viewers, like Francine Lewis.

Another talent show contestant who has been hitting the headlines this week is Alice Fredenham. Here is Alice, a 28 year old beauty therapist from Hertfordshire, belting out The Lady is a Tramp for The Voice judges and receiving a unanimous ‘no’:

Another talent show contestant who has been hitting the headlines this week is Alice Fredenham. Here is Alice, a 28 year old beauty therapist from Hertfordshire, wimping out My Funny Valentine for the Britain’s Got Talent judges and receiving a unanimous ‘yes’:

What happened there? What happened to the confidence, the sassiness, the killer cleavage, the shimmying, the retro styling, the supportive family on standby? I’m not even going to ask what’s going on with her hair, and ask why it looks like she’s about to have half a head of highlights put in, because it makes me sad (I think she’s possibly going for the SuBo effect).

The official line is that after being rejected by all four Voice judges (and having Will.I.Am ask her whether she was a trumpet), it knocked her confidence so hard that she didn’t want to invite her family along to watch her again. Do we believe it?  I don’t.  Not really.  Sounds plausible enough, but this is Simon Cowell world – a place where even walking egos like X Factor UK‘s Katie Waissel have to simper and shake their way onto stage like all they want to do is release this pent-up monster of a voice that is clogging up their throat and not have to deal with this pesky fame part – like she couldn’t think of anything more dreadful than making interactive online reality shows about her life sponsored by Sprite, or allegedly trying to sell kiss and tell stories on Apprentice contestants (both of which Katie did before auditioning.)

Quoth Francine: “I’ve been out of it for quite a while, and I just lost all my confidence. Coming back in front of such a big audience, it’s very nerve-wracking – I’m not gonna lie. I just feel so lucky to get this second chance today.”

I’m really happy that Francine has finally found a platform from which to show off her talents to over ten million people. After all of her hard work, she deserves it.

“But how’s it going to end?”


Riley Schmidt - Rubber Man

I have recently started watching American Horror Story, and I love it. It contains everything that’s good in the world. Aliens! Haunted houses! Hotties! Lesbians! Nuns! I prefer Asylum to Murder House – my tastes are much more Vertigo than Shining, and the campier the better. Most of all, I love the format – each season has a completely new setting, story and characters, but with many of the same cast members playing different roles.

What a revelation! I find it liberating – no more battling through series I hate in the misguided hope that it will all be worth it in the end. I watched whole seasons of Lost and Desperate Housewives before I realised that I wasn’t actually enjoying them. I was so focused on getting to that incredible ending – the one that shines a whole new light on the entire series while also making all the bizarre twists and turns fall into place – that I hadn’t even noticed that watching them had become a chore. When you would rather spend four hours reading crackpot fan theories on TV Tropes than spend 40 minutes watching the actual programme you’re supposedly obsessing over, something is wrong.

It has made me more cautious about embarking upon new series – and I think I’m not the only one. Plenty of shows – FlashForward, Revolution, The Event, Alcatraz – have tried and failed to be ‘the new Lost’. When I watch an episode of Mad Men, or Game of Thrones, I enjoy it, but I don’t know whether I want to commit myself to a full seven seasons. To watch Lost in its entirety would take you 86.9 hours, or 3.6 days. The idea of that bothers me, and I have seen all 10,387 or so ‘cycles’ of America’s Next Top Model.

Can you dip in and out of a show like Game of Thrones, or Mad Men, or The Walking Dead? After eight years or so, if we finally discover that Game of Thrones is actually a game of Dungeons and Dragons being played by a teenage boy/Dick Whitman died in Korea/Larry David is Jesus in Purgatory, will it all have been worth it? Or will we still be shocked and thrilled by that final hour even if we haven’t been with them every step of the way?

It’s the reason why Twin Peaks has been gathering dust in my download folder for several months now. The general consensus is that the first season is incredible, but that it goes downhill in the second and never recovers. If only they had done an American Horror Story and wrapped up all of the murdered teens, log ladies and backwards-talking dwarves into a neat bundle within one season. A girl can dream.

The implication is that an ending that we don’t enjoy can ruin our memories of what came before it, while a great twist ending can make even the dullest story worth persevering with. It’s why we as a culture treat M Night Shyamalan like that cheap tart we picked up one night who gave us the ride of our lives, against our better judgement. I was way more disappointed than I had right to be by The Prestige, with its muddled and saggy twist, when up to that point I had been completely engaged in the story of two magicians driven insane by rivalry. On the flipside, I can’t handle the thought of a Mulholland Drive without that unforgettable twist ending, even though without it, it would still be a moving tale of a naive young ingenue trying to make it in Hollywood and falling in love with a mysterious amnesiac. Would The Sixth Sense still be a good movie if it was an About A Boy-style tale of a a troubled child teaching a totes-not-dead child psychiatrist a few valuable life lessons, which help him fix his broken relationship with his wife? Sure, why not?

The only ending more unpopular than a bad one is an uncertain one. Scriptwriters know this. It’s why Zodiac ends triumphantly, after a decades-long murder investigation, with a key witness identifying the killer from a row of photos, only for the screen to go blank and a couple of paragraphs of text to flash up on the screen, in the world’s smallest font, which reveal that, erm, sorry, the guy that was identified most likely isn’t the killer, and they still haven’t found who did it. It’s why they trust us to assume that nearly all romcoms end with the two people we have just seen bickering and deceiving each other for ninety minutes living happily ever after, even though she’s really young and moving to a different part of the country/she’s emotionally scarred and the dynamic of their relationship is hideously unbalanced/she basically raped him once.

Having never seen an episode of The Sopranos (I know, I know, I should have my blogging licence revoked), I have read about how it ends, and that people were unhappy with it. It has put me off watching it, even though I’m sure every hour of my life I would give over to it would be filled with thrills, and gasps, and laughs. I can appreciate such an open ending on an artistic level, but I can’t bear the thought of anyone trying to pull a stunt like that with Walter White.

“But until then, who’s in charge? Me”: cancer and Breaking Bad



To hell with your cancer. I’ve been living with cancer for the better part of a year. Right from the start, it’s a death sentence. That’s what they keep telling me. Well, guess what? Every life comes with a death sentence, so every few months I come in here for my regular scan, knowing full well that one of these times – hell, maybe even today – I’m gonna hear some bad news. But until then, who’s in charge? Me. That’s how I live my life.

When writing about films and TV shows, I am often torn between analysing it from a critical perspective, or obsessing over it like a fan. It’s the difference between saying ‘Walter White’s cancer is a metaphor for the evil inside him’ versus ‘Walter White’s cancer is a convenient plot point which drives the story forward while also encouraging the audience to sympathise with him’ versus ‘I think Walter White’s cancer is making him crazy’.

Lots of people get cancer. Schoolteachers, drug dealers, husbands, dads. But this is TV land – a place where all actions cause reactions, bad guys get caught out and villains get what’s coming to them. A place where letting your friend’s girlfriend choke to death can have ramifications for your whole city.

From a plot point of view, it’s a powerful catalyst to to turn an ordinary guy who is happy to be blown around by the winds of fate and turn him into an unpredictable nightmare who kicks life in the balls and shoves a homemade explosive up its arse. Whichever way you slice it, it allows us to explore our feelings towards this incredibly common disease and the people who are affected by it.

Walt and his cancer: what does it mean? Is his diagnosis of inoperable cancer a death sentence, or the start of a new life as the man he’s always wanted to be? Why do we struggle to understand how bad things can happen to good people? What does it mean to face death with dignity – to go silently into the night with a faint smile, or to look it square in the eye and refuse to go down without a fight? Who’s the danger now, Cancer?

For me, probably one of the most intriguing moments in Walter’s journey is the way that he reacts when he finds out that his cancer is not as bad as originally thought. He isn’t happy.

Um… well, it’s kind of funny. When I got my diagnosis – cancer – I said to myself, y’know, ‘Why me?’ And then the other day when I got the good news, I said the same thing.

One explanation is that his condition no longer provides him with an excuse to do really awful stuff all of the time. Another would be an exploration of the just-world hypothesis – the theory that good things happen to good people, and that bad things happen to bad people.  When he was a ‘good guy’, he was upset that such a terrible thing had happened to someone who never did anything wrong.  Who among us can’t relate to that?  Now that he’s a bad guy, the reverse seems true: it’s as though he became evil to validate the poison eating away at his core.

In his recap of Season 5’s ‘Fifty-One’, Matt Zoller Seitz from Vulture writes:

Walter White doesn’t just have cancer. He is cancer. His cancer diagnosis doesn’t just describe a physical illness. It’s a metaphor for the evil inside Walt: the mix of arrogance, greed, intellectual vanity, and male insecurity that drove him to kill the old Walt and replace him with Heisenberg. It was always there, even if others, including Walt, couldn’t see it.

Zoller Seitz cites how his evil has spread, or ‘metastasised’, to everyone around him: turning Skyler into an accessory to murder, assault, drug dealing, tax fraud, and money laundering, and Jesse from a small time crook into… well, you know the rest. It makes total sense, but clearly, this has unfortunate implications.

Does Walt’s cancer diagnosis make us feel sorry for him, no matter what he does? I think it tests the limits of our sympathy. After five series, I can still listen to Walt claim that he’s only in the meth business so that he can make enough money for his family to live on after he dies without throwing my TV out of the window – but only just.

Sometimes I feel like I never actually make any of my own. Choices, I mean. My entire life it just seems I never…you know, had a real say about any of it. Now this last one, cancer… all I have left is how I choose to approach this.

But that’s Walt’s opinion. Do we agree with it? I don’t. He chose to leave Gray Matter impulsively, seemingly for emotional reasons. Nevertheless, the cancer transforms him. He has a new name now. He continues to shave his head long after his chemotherapy treatments have ceased. He looks almost unrecognisable from his old self. Walt’s cancer has given him an opportunity to right past wrongs – now our hero is an internationally renowned mega millionaire chemist, just like he would have been if he never left Gray Matter and sold his shares for $5,000. He gets the chance to build an empire and think about the legacy that he will leave behind him – a scorched mark on the desert earth, writing ‘Walter White was here… bitch’ in letters so big maybe even his apathetic maker could see them. Perhaps this character’s greatest success will be getting to choose his own ending.

4 reasons why I’m not 100% psyched about a potential Mean Girls musical



1. Because Mean Girls is ours now.

If you were a teenage girl when you first watched it, it’s part of who you are now.  It’s in your head, it’s in your heart.  It’s in your heavy flow, and your wide-set vagina.  The stories it told you and the lessons you learned course through your blood, weaving their way through our culture and our shared history and tying knots in your mom’s chest hair.  It whistles down the wind in the distant hum of a big yellow school bus.  It’s in the cackle of a baby prostitute.  It’s at Barnes and Noble, where you had diarrhea that one time.  Trying to capture the spirit of Mean Girls as it lives and breathes in the real world and put it back into the bottle won’t be easy.

2. Because my Mean Girls and your Mean Girls are different

In the years post-Mean Girls, personally, I think ‘make fetch happen’ has been overdone as a meme.  Seriously.  Stop trying to make it happen.  Glen Coco?  Three out of five for you, Glen Coco, you go home Glen Coco.  Buzzfeed has tired you out.  What if the whole film just becomes a Fetch-and-Glen-Coco fest, at the expense of all of the other grool quotes that are still as fresh today as when they were first spat out?

3. Because it’s going to be different from the movie, and the movie is perfect.


4. Because seriously, nothing could be as awesome as a Mean Girls musical sounds.

A Mean Girls musical, written by Tina Fey with songs by her husband Jeff Richmond, that is an improvement on the original film would be like finding out that Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream doesn’t contain any fat or calories, can cure cancer and prevent global warming.

Fantasy casting the Gone Girl movie


Reese Witherspoon 2009

So, as the Gone Girl superfans among you will already know, they’re making a movie. Reese Witherspoon, who has bought the rights to produce the film adaptation, has apparently said that she won’t be playing Amy, in contrast to what was previous reported.

I have so many questions. Will it be amazing? Will they keep in the controversial ending? Why does Gillian Flynn have to keep reminding us that Desi’s mum smells of vagina? (It’s not just her, either – with it’s richly evocative and incessant descriptions, this book is like Chocolat for people who enjoy the scent of ladyparts). Will they find a way to work that obviously integral piece of characterisation into the script?

But most importantly, who should be in it?

Andie (beautiful young student who [SPOILER ALERTS] with [SPOILER ALERT])

Emma Stone 2011

Safe choice: Emma Stone? Kat Dennings? Ellen Page? Ellen Wong? Vanessa Hudgens? Aubrey Plaza? Shay Mitchell? Amber Heard?

Intriguing unsafe choice: Sexy? 20something? Large breasts? Lots of freckles? People still really like her and really root for her, even though she does really horrible things all of the time? I can think of a very famous actress who fits that description, but unless her latest bout of rehab goes spectacularly well, John Goodman has a better chance of getting cast as Andie than she does (and a very fine job he would do of it too).

My choice: John Goodman.

Margo (Nick’s twin. I actually wrote ‘identical twin’ several times while drafting this blog post, which should be proof enough of how good I am at fantasy casting – that I think Zooey Deschanel and Ryan Gosling could play identical twins)

Zooey deschanel

Safe choice: everyone’s hipster twin, Zooey Deschanel.

Intriguing unsafe choice: Greta Gerwig. If you aren’t familiar with the work of Greta Gerwig, she’s basically Chloe Sevigny if Chloe Sevigny wore normal-people clothes, actually moved her face when she spoke and had never performed le art of fellatio en camera for les reasons artistiques.

My choice: at 40, Selma Blair is possibly a tad too old to be playing the twin of someone like Chris Pine, but she is exactly how I picture Margo, and she rocks.


Matthew McConaughey 2011

Safe choice: smarmy yet charming? Charmy yet smarming? Can do comedy and drama equally well? Bradley Cooper.

Intriguing unsafe choice: McConaughey. He’s a surprisingly versatile actor. I would love to see him bring his unique brand of southern-fried craziness to the role.

My choice: McConaughey.

Rand Elliot (Amy’s dad)


Safe choice: Christopher Plummer? Alan Arkin?

Intriguing unsafe choice: Bryan Cranston. He’s only 57, so much too young, but he’s such a good actor. As a matter of fact, Bryan Cranston could play Nick.  He could play Amy. And, just like that, I’m now fantasising about a version of Gone Girl where Bryan Cranston plays all the characters like Eddie Murphy in The Klumps.

My choice: Cranston got this one in the bag, yo.



Safe choice: Witherspoon. She’s said that she’s not going to take the part, but who is Amy Dunne if not a grown-up Tracy Flick?

Intriguing unsafe choice: Paltrow. Sickeningly perfect blonde exposes that her life is a sham? People either love her or hate her? “Your wife’s pretty head”-level plot twists?

My choice: Aniston. America’s sweetheart?  Beloved only child with a challenging relationship with her famous parents? People still think she’s a bunny boiler, despite a neverending barrage of evidence to the contrary, so I would like to see how Jen would play a genuine wife from Hell.


Ryan Gosling 2013

Safe choice: plenty. There are several all-American hunks in their early to mid thirties who I could imagine in this role. Chris Pine? Ryan Reynolds? Charming Potato? 

Intriguing unsafe choice: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is probably too New York sophisticated to play someone who grew up in the Deep South and has a huge chip on his shoulder about it, but I would be interested to see him try.

My choice: GOSLING. Think about it. He’s adorable. Everyone loves him. He could steal your fiancee, hang off the top of a ferris wheel and threaten to commit suicide if you don’t go out with him, or straight-up murder you in an elevator, and you would still happily take him home to meet your mum. He and Eva Mendes enjoy what is probably the least-documented A-list relationship of all time, because no-one wants to read about them and be reminded of the fact that, 1) HE ISN’T GOING OUT WITH YOU and 2) THE NOTEBOOK ISN’T REAL. For Gosling to play a man who people don’t like would be the greatest acting challenge of all time. One can picture him now, hearing his name called out for the Academy Award for Best Actor, shuffling and wheezing his way up to the stage, having gained 257 pounds worth of awful douchebag for the role, while Carey Mulligan and Russell Crowe dab their eyes with silken handkerchiefs at such a courageous and inspirational display of self-sacrifice in the name of art.

5 pieces of pop culture that helped me through hard times


Persepolis (2007)

Of all the scenes in the film adaption of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, the one that made the biggest impression on me was when the teenage Marji takes to her bed after she discovers her boyfriend has cheated on her.  She is upset that he betrayed her, upset that she ever loved him, and upset that she’s upset.  She is distraught that, after a life of hardship, spending her adolescence escaping the shadows of oppression and tragedy – the Iran/Iraq war, being separated from her parents in her early teens, the torture and murder of her favourite uncle – breaking up with some spotty twerp has driven her to attempt suicide.  Among the lessons that Persepolis helped teach me is the realisation that our emotions don’t react in predictable ways.  It is easy to imagine that that day you experience a tragedy is as tough as it gets, and each day after that is a little easier.  It doesn’t work like that.  You can fight through a war and let teenage heartache knock you for six.

So What – Pink

I can’t imagine how hard it must be to tell everyone you know that you’re splitting up with your husband after only a couple of years of marriage.  I especially can’t imagine how hard it must be to tell everyone who knows you that you’re splitting up with your husband after only a couple of years of marriage when you’re one of the most famous pop stars in the entire world.   With that in mind, it takes gigantic ladyballs to not only release a song about it (with the opening line ‘I guess I just lost my husband, I don’t know where he went…’) , but also to release a video for that song in which you sing it to said husband and mime strangling him (and also appear naked from behind while doing some sort of T-Rex dance?  And have a 1990s Nicholas Cage doppelganger set fire to your hair?  Whatevs, it’s a weird video.)  One time when I was feeling very low, I put this song on repeat for about an hour and a half and told myself that I’m still a rockstar too goddammit.  Bonus awesomeness: they’re now married again, and have a baby together.

Beginners (2011)

I watched this film for the first time on New Year’s Day, 2012.  Having had a few friends over the night before, I spent the day alone, hungover and tired, eating re-heated leftover mozzarella sticks in a filthy apartment, thinking about New Year’s Resolutions and all of the uncomfortable self-questioning that comes with them.  That evening, I downloaded this wonderful little movie about an elderly man (Christopher Plummer) who comes out as gay after his wife of 44 years passes away, and chases love with all the energy and enthusiasm of a man a quarter of his age.  The film is based on director Mike Mills’ own experiences of his father coming out at the age of 75.  Watch it next time you’re feeling inadequate about what you have achieved during the short time you have been on this earth.

Invisible Monsters – Chuck Palahniuk

‘”Now,” those Plumbago lips say, “You are going to tell me your story like you just did.  Write it all down.  Tell that story over and over.  Tell me your sad-assed story all night.”  That Brandy queen points a long bony finger at me.

‘”When you understand,” Brandy says, “that what you’re telling is just a story.  It isn’t happening anymore.  When you realise the story you’re telling is just words, when you can just crumble it up and throw your past in the trashcan,” Brandy says, “then we’ll figure out who you’re going to be.”‘

I want that whole passage tattooed inside my eyelids.

Peep Show

This British sitcom is perfect for when you have done something you regret and need to put it into perspective.  Next time you do something awful and/or embarrassing, you should try what I shall call ‘The Jez Test’: assessing your actions against those of Jeremy from Peep Show to see which is worse.

The Jez Test:

  • Have you tried to run over your girlfriend’s lesbian fiance accidentally on purpose?
  • Have you accidentally killed your girlfriend’s dog, set fire to it to dispose of the remains, and eaten a bite of its charred leg in front of her?
  • Have you bested a love rival by pooing in the pool of the gym he works at, and blaming it on him?

No?  It’s probably fine then, you shouldn’t worry about it.

Why aren’t you a superstar already? John C. Reilly edition


He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Chicago, and has appeared in basically every film ever since the beginning of time (Boogie Nights! Chicago! Gangs of New York! The Thin Red Line! The Hours! The Aviator!), but I still have to say “you know, the guy from Step Brothers who isn’t Will Ferrell” every time I mention him, and that is a bloody disgrace.  Until his name is instantly recognisable among the general public;  until he gets an Academy Award and until the United States of America is renamed John C. Reillytopia and has Boats n Hoes installed as its national anthem, I will consider him underrated.

From starting out as a dramatic actor, he has transitioned to mostly performing in comic roles.  So many successful funnymen go into dramatic roles, and it’s generally regarded to be a step up from slumming it in comedy.  I don’t think that’s entirely fair.  Making people laugh isn’t easy.  It’s a sad, mad, bad world out there at times, and we need talented people who can serve LOLs on the regular.

And serve them he does, in everything from Pixar (playing the lead in Wreck-It Ralph) to indie dramedies (Cyrus, Carnage, Cedar Rapids) to more Frat Pack comedies than you can shake a shake and bake at. Step Brothers is a personal favourite of mine.  I think it needs more love among the Judd Apatow fan community.  Hey Will Ferrell fans, why not ease off the “I Love Lamp” and “Sex Panther” quotes and add “you and your mom are hillbillies.  This is a house of learned doctors” to your arsenal?  It works just as well on dinner party guests as it does on new relationship partners.

The little seen Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story deserves a special mention – while it isn’t knicker-wettingly hilarious, it is a very well observed parody (of Walk The Line and Ray) with a lot of heart.  Naturally, John C. Reilly does a great job of spoofing the kind of standard Oscar fodder that he has done so many times before – after all, he knows it inside out.  Not only that, but he was nominated for a Grammy for his work on the soundtrack.  Lest we forget, he has the voice of an angel: here he is singing Mr Cellophane in Chicago.  He truly is the songbird of our generation.

Even in his dramatic roles, he brings much-needed lightness and warmth.  As a hard-working cop trying to save the life of a pretty junkie, he is the sole ray of light in Paul Thomas Anderson’s suffocatingly bleak Magnolia, (to be fair to the other actors, most of them were playing child/parent/spouse abusers).  As full-time porn star, part-time magician Reed Rothchild in Boogie Nights, he bounds into each scene with a puppydog energy, providing comic relief in even the most disturbing scenes.

More recently he has been starring in his own comedy show, the surreal and silly Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule, which is a spin-off from ‘Brule’s Rules’, his recurring feature on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! It’s not the most highbrow, intellectual humour: Dr. Steve pronounces sushi as ‘shushi’ and refers to wasabi and pickled ginger as ‘guacamole and peaches’; mistakes a ‘crasino’ change machine for a ‘one of paper equals four of coin’ game (he always wins); goes onto the real-world streets to sell copies of his ‘BCBs’ (DVDs) to confused drivers.  Could you imagine any other Oscar-nominated dramatic actor doing that?  Well Joaquin Phoenix, obvs, but it would probably be some sort of semi-serious performance art orbiting the eighth circle of uber-meta-irony that no-one would understand.  Ok, and Adrien Brody, but he will appear in anything.

Any dingus in Hollywood can play the put-upon husband of a murderer, or the put-upon father of a murderer, or the put-upon porn star and part-time magician bumbling sidekick of an idiot, and give an impactful performance.  It takes a truly gifted actor to take what could be an incredibly one-dimensional character (he says he’s a doctor but doesn’t understand what a man’s ‘pennis’ does; he pronounces words incorrectly; and, that’s about it) and sell it like it’s Shakespeare.  Check out this video in which Dr. Steve interracts with his ‘brother’, watch it until the very end and try not to be moved:

15 shows within shows that should exist in the real world


All My Circuits (Futurama) – long-running robot melodrama

Skirmish (I’m Alan Partridge) – military-based quiz show on UK Conquest, presented by Alan Partridge

The Sideboob Hour (Family Guy) – reasonably self-explanatory

Everybody Loves Hypnotoad (Futurama) – reasonably self-explanatory

Tlentifini Maarhaysu (Look Around You) – reasonably self-explanatory.  (I’m not sure whether it’s meant to be a regular series or just a special event for St. Frankenstein’s Day – it is broadcast before the St. Frankenstein’s Day service at Dracula’s Cathedral)

Terrence and Phillip (South Park) – Canada’s most famous exports are best known for their gross-out humour, but they do occasionally foray into drama – as in the suspense-filled Not Without My Anus.

Albi the Racist Dragon (Flight of the Conchords) – everyone’s favourite racist (not any more!) dragon teaches Bret and Jemaine how to be less prejudiced (and that dragon tears turn into jelly beans).

Monkfish (The Fast Show) – fast-paced drama about a tough, uncompromising detective/doctor/Spanish detective/veterinarian/pair of detective identical twins.  His old-fashioned, chauvinist values may have fallen out of favour in recent years, but boy, he knows how to get results (we assume – we only ever see the bit where he rushes to the crime scene and tells a random woman to put her knickers on and make him a cup of tea).

Skanky Housewives (Rick and Steve) – animated parody with none of the plausible storylines, likeable characters or good taste that Desperate Housewives was burdened with.

Queen of Jordan (30 Rock) – can something really be called a parody when it’s less ridiculous than the show it’s parodying (The Real Housewives of Atlanta)? Nevertheless, I WOULD WATCH THAT.

Cookie Party (The Sarah Silverman Program) – it’s about cookies.  Viewers get to phone in and vote for their favourite cookie.  And that’s it.  Every woman I know would watch this.

Pet Surprise (Black Books)Pet Surprise?  What’s that?  Oh you know the thing, they take the dog out for a walk, it thinks it’s a normal walk, but when they come back, the kennel has a patio and french doors, and they take the blindfold off, and he’s like “Oh my god!”  Who wouldn’t watch that?

Estonia’s X Factor (Vic & Bob’s Lucky Sexy Winners) – because these guys won it:

TGS with Tracy Jordan (30 Rock) – mostly for Prince William and Prince: Time-Travelling Fart Detectives, which deserves its own spin-off.

Absolutely anything else from 30 Rock: Los Amantes Clandestinos, Dealbreakers, MILF Island, Bitch Hunter, Are You Stronger Than a Dog?, America’s Next Top Pirate, Right On, The Joey Montero Show, Alfie and Abner, The Gruber Brother and Nipsey, The Vondella Show, America’s Kidz Got Singing, Gold Case, Grizz n’ Hers and God Cop.

Write that down in your copybook now


Those of us who grew up during the twentieth century can remember eagerly flicking through our copybooks to write down all the interesting and useful facts from the educational children’s show Look Around You – information that has served us well throughout our adult lives.  How could we function in normal society without knowing that passing nitrogen gas through mains water produces whisky, while drinking sulphur mixed with champagne makes you shoot laser beams out of your eyeballs?

To celebrate this St. Frankenstein’s Day Eve, instead of giving our mind brains a rest and catching up on classic old episodes of Watch the Dot and Television’s Funniest Scientific Mishaps, I thought that it was high time that we revisited some of that vital knowledge.  For instance, did you know that:

  • High-pitched noises cans break glass. Low-pitched noises can reconstruct it.
  • The largest number is about 45,000,000,000, although mathematicians suspect that there may be even larger numbers. (45,000,000,001?)
  • What are birds? We just don’t know.
  • Germs originated in Germany, before rapidly spreading throughout the rest of the world.  Germs are basically a malevolent form of bacteria, with one purpose: to spread germs.
  • What is the brain? If you don’t know that, you’ve forgotten how to think.
  • The opposite of the brain is probably the bum. It’s nowhere near as intelligent as the brain. It doesn’t have to be, as it only needs to make very basic calculations.
  • ‘Cobbles’ is a disease which causes the skin to take on the appearance of stone, until the victim looks like a pile of rocks.  It also grants sufferers the ability to fly.  (There is a cure being developed, which contains cream, potassium, nitrates, potassium nitrates, and nitrate of potassium nitrate.)
  • It is possible for a football to be so round that it cannot legally be shown on television.
  • The names of Shakespeare’s plays are as follows: The Noble Naysayer, Rupert II, The Whore & The Harriman, The Weary Wives Of Warwick, O’Reilly, The House At Bunplehurst, Rupert III, Cognumis & Grognumis, ‘Twas A Merry Morn In Malta, Tit For Tat, Ian I, Ian II, Ian III Part I, Ian III Part II, Ian III Part III, Razzamatazz, Summer in Paris, Bessie’s Revenge, Rupert IV, David’s Diary, Knock Knock, Catherine & Casanova, Rupert V and Harlem Blues.
  • The full list of Olympic Sports is as follows: Boomerang, Moth Hunt, Calligraphy, Decision-Ball, Flicky, Sleep Marathon, Pinch n Punch, Supermaths, Martin’s Game, Bingo, Masquerade!, Judoball, Electric Buzz, Catfinkle, 1cm Jump, 2cm Jump, Freefall, Stabbing, Mixed Stabbing, Universal Trapeze, Gift Wrap and Boomerang (although that was in the 70s, so it’s possible that Swansea City Council have approved a few more Olympic Sports by now)
  • Q. Jean is shorter than Brutus, but taller than Imhotep. Imhotep is taller than Jean, but shorter than Lord Scotland. Lord Scotland is twice the height of Jean and Brutus combined, but only one-tenth of the height of Millsy. Millsy is at a constant height of x−y. If Jean stands exactly one nautical mile away from Lord Scotland, how tall is Imhotep? A. Imhotep is invisible.
  • What town was Schubert built in?
  • A one second silence is a perfectly valid way to honour someone’s passing, especially if that person died only hours after appearing on your show from complications resulting from a wasp sting to the anus.
  • Changing sex 22 times can get you a round of applause from a studio audience
  • If Synthesizer Patel had invented the sex change machine, people would have to call him Sex Change Patel.
  • If there isn’t a band, DJ or producer out there in the real world with the name ‘Synthesizer  Patel’, then we will have failed as a human race.  Same goes for ‘The Helvetica Scenario’, ‘Leonard Hatred’ and ‘Imhotep is Invisible’