TV Some review of last night's Have I Got News For You is up at Off The Telly. Fortnight to go until the next episode. Who do we think will be the next person to sit behind the big red desk? Jonathan Ross would be steady hands, but I'm surprised no one has brought up Clive Anderson's name yet. But then since the Discovery Mastermind, we haven't heard so much as a peek out of him anyway. Where are you Clive?
The Press After the theatre hostage crisis in Moscow, the Russian Government's Press Ministry has drafted stricter guidelines for journalists. Although the results are based upon those found in other countries (the BBC is singled out), they aren't that clear and misleading. One editor is indignant:
"Everything is mixed up - a 'memo to a young reporter,' demagoguery, quite reasonable statements and absolutely naive things," he said. "What does it mean to 'avoid reporting details of the work of specialists involved in saving lives'? During the anti-terrorist operation - maybe, but afterward - I am sorry! Does this mean we should not discuss and raise questions about the secret services' actions? The special forces exist not for the sake of the special forces, but for the sake of society, and it is our duty to discuss their performance."
You could unkindly suggest that it's the kind of censorship one might expect from that end of the world, but it might be important to remember two things. It's only a suggestion not law, and people have been allowed to question it.
Quiz! Just took the 'The 60 seconds Premier Squadulator' which is supposed to guess which soccer team you support:
"You're quite an easy going character. You roll with life's punches and take the good times with the bad. Although you think you're doing fine, your friends worry you're not fulfilling your potential. Although you know you've got plenty of time, you wonder if you'll ever find the right person. Boro won't fell that gap, but they'll prove mildly diverting while you're looking."
For reason which will relentlessly amuse regular readers of my guestbook, my team is Middlesbrough. I might point out here that you really must be scared when a little flash quiz can look so accurately into your soul ...
Reality Check Five reasons why I'm visiting an alternate reality...

(1) Everton are fourth in the Football League above Manchester United
(2) Ben Affleck and J-Lo engaged.
(3) The International Space Station continues construction without a hitch
(4) Stan Lee is about to sue Marvel Comics
(5) Someone actually won the full purse on 'The Chair' tonight.

Have I Got News For You. An Old Review.

My first review for Off The Telly, way back in 2002, was of the first guest celebrity edition of HIGFY, a week after Paul Merton provided emergency cover, a week after he and Hislop eviscerated Angus Deaton (aided by Christine Hamilton) when it became apparent his position at the head of a quiz satirising the weekly news had become untenable when he himself had become the topic of the weekly news.

TV The high profile sacking of Angus Deayton from his role as host on Have I Got News For You has left the BBC with something of a problem. As with many shows, the topical news quiz worked because of a specific chemistry that had built up over many years between the presenters. Unlike other panel games where the host and team captains are as interchangeable as the guests (see They Think It’s All Over) it was always difficult to imagine the show without any one of the three.

In fact we saw the effects some years ago when Paul Merton took a series off to get his head sorted out, to be replaced by Eddie Izzard and Clive Anderson amongst others. Funny men in their own right, but without the specific wit and knowledge of the news displayed by Merton. Izzard was particularly numbing as he frustratingly offered “jam” as the answer for everything. And since the show has only recently become a cornerstone of the BBC1 schedule any change would no doubt affect its ability to entertain.

Merton tried his best last week under extreme pressure (no time to prepare, Deayton’s chair still warm). In a familiar studio but forced to put on his Room 101 style presenter hat, he was by turns squinty and nervous. The writing was probably as good as usual, but the script filled with the nuances of Deayton’s speech patterns lay there coming from his lips. During the missing words round he suddenly became Roy Walker on Catchphrase telling the guests that their joke answers were good but not correct. Now and then he seemed to glance over at Ross Noble, borrowing his seat for a week wondering if he would ever be back there.

Tonight he was much more comfortable as team captain again, as the second guest presenter in as many weeks Anne Robinson took charge. She had been one of the names that had been mooted by bookies as a possible permanent replacement along with John Sargeant and Chris Moyles. As is usual when such lists appear, none of possibles fitted the bill, the closest being Stephen Fry, although his showing during a special episode as part of last year’s Comic Relief didn’t inspire confidence. Of the rest, Robinson seemed an odd choice and so it proved during the show.

Things didn’t begin well. In a move which was supposed to provide context but in fact gave little cause for confidence, Robinson advised she “hadn’t watched the show since 1995″ (and she was going to present the thing?) and a clip of an old episode was presented as the reason why. Merton was off on one of his old tirades, this time about Anne Robinson’s wink as presenter of Points of View. It was a classic piece of nostalgia from when the show was arguably at the height of its powers, the late Paula Yates the guest, that very episode being the one in which she called Ian Hislop the “sperm of the devil”. For a moment some viewers might have hoped that this episode was going to get a repeat showing. No such luck. We were cruelly brought back to the present as Robinson stumbled through some japery about giving Hislop some extra points up front for Paul’s cheek. Merton tried his best to milk the moment but it didn’t really work.

The sinking feeling continued as Robinson stumbled through the introductions of the guests, John O’Farrell and John Simpson. These are hardly ever the best jokes of the show. Last week Merton didn’t even try. Here it wasn’t clear when O’Farrell’s introduction had ended – pregnant pause then laughter. This was something that continued throughout the show. The audience often seemed to wait for Robinson to get the line out, so that they could work out how Deayton would have said it then laughed. In many ways this isn’t Robinson’s fault. She isn’t a comedienne and is more used to the ad-libs which are written for her on The Weakest Link. But often after shows, Deayton was allowed to re-film his fluffed lines (seen on some of the series videos). This privilege didn’t appear to be available to Robinson which lessened her impression overall.

Luckily Hislop and Merton were largely on form in their savaging of the host. Hislop in particular was keen to turncoat her by bringing up her time on The Mirror under Robert Maxwell. Robinson squirmed uncomfortably after the reminder, and there was some sport as she turned against the Private Eye editor, who was relishing the chance to trot out his old (admittedly funny) Maxwell jokes. Oddly (in this edit) Merton’s last infamous television meeting with the former Watchdog presenter on Room 101 didn’t warrant a mention, although he did get one of the best lines. At a moment when the show was flagging Merton shouted “Bank!” crippling the audience. When told by Anne that she was pleased that he watched The Weakest Link Paul explained that he “only ever saw the last five minutes because The Simpsons was on after it.” Even the host smiled at that one. For a moment there was chemistry and spirit amongst the group.

The one thing Deayton was good at was shutting up at the right moments and letting the team captains speak. Presumably used to lengthy recording blocks when you can’t fall behind, Anne must have assumed she had to get the entire show recorded in half an hour and kept talking over the guests and captains. At one point she told an indignant Hislop to shut up so that she could say something. As his forehead furrowed he must have wondered whose show it was. Since the programme had become the story the guests felt slightly beside the point. John Simpson was like a walking (or seated) re-run of his past appearances, so we got to hear again about the interview with Gaddafi in which the Colonel farted constantly. It’s a surprise his rainforest psychedelic drug experiences didn’t put in an appearance, but that may have been in poor taste. But he was up to the challenge when Robinson tried to make something of his proclamation that he had liberated Kabul. Simpson told Robinson: “Do you know the burkha covers your entire face? Perhaps you might like to try one.”

Filling the role of the guest no one outside Whitehall had heard of was John O’Farrell who offered a couple of good one-liners but failed to make an impression because he became Robinson’s whipping boy. At times she seemed to be victimizing him as though he was a guest on The Weakest Link. There the host has a habit of constantly referring back to the one thing she knows about a contestant and here it was again – his failure in an election. It hadn’t been all that funny in her introduction, but it came back up time and again.

And so half an hour passed. On the evidence of tonight’s performance Robinson won’t be the permanent presenter of Have I Got News For You, but the experiment will have helped Hat Trick and BBC bosses to decide what they won’t want from a new host. While it’s difficult to see Deayton being invited back next series, it’s equally hard to see the show’s continuation without him, despite the best efforts of Merton and Hislop. The last name to be mooted was Johnny Vaughn. Personally I would prefer Johnny Vegas. He couldn’t be any worse than Anne Robinson was tonight.

Ouch.  Anyway as we've seen the show did survive, went from strength to strength and now has a regular rota of very competent presenters many of whom are arguably better than Deayton ever was.  Which reminds me that I haven't watched last Friday's episode yet.  Thank goodness the iPlayer's been invented since then too.
Friday Five For a change ...

1. Were you raised in a particular religious faith?
My parents were Methodist influenced by we're supposed to be prodestants.

2. Do you still practice that faith? Why or why not?
I'm not a religious man. On the rare occasion anyone asks what I am, I tell them I'm a Non-denominational spiritualist, which is a nice catch-all term which gets a laugh and covers all the bases. What it actually mean, I think, is that believe there is an order to the universe, that everything happens for a reason, and that everyone has the right to look at it their own way as long as it doesn't impinge on their own freedom (which leaves the extremists out in the cold I'm afraid). The reason I believe this is because on a few occasions I have felt really awful. Suicidal perhaps on one occasion, my self-esteem as low as possible. On each of these occasions I seem to have met someone who has listened and made me feel that life isn't so bad, that in fact it is worth living. I've done it for other people. These aren't random things.

3. What do you think happens after death?
I'd like to think we all have somewhere to go. It would be a shame that all of our collective experiences mean nothing. But if there is darkness, what can we do about it. Death is the undiscovered country, after all.

4. What is your favorite religious ritual (participating in or just observing)?
When I was at school I was facinated with the way some born-again Christians were praying. Stoop somewhere look at the floor and mutter, If they were talking to God I hope he was there listening.

5. Do you believe people are basically good?
If they are, what makes them go out and do such terrible things sometimes. I think we're born bad and it's how we are brought up which has the potential to make us good people. Sometimes it works ...
Weblogging I've been reviewed by Bloggy Opinions. What a wierd experience. Read it here.

I could continue at length, but it's odd how things you thought were perfectly obvious aren't quite so and something you just threw together because you didn't have time for anything else and ended up staying gain extra significance. Too wit: I picked the picture for my new semi-permanent blogbar becuase it looked nice and featured at least a bit of me. And there are books and music which I talk about on the site. And there isn't a film reference because I watch far too many of those anyway. But I like her explanation more.

I've been thinking about putting my weblogging rules up on the front page somewhere ... it's absolutely not that I don't want to talk about my life. I want to talk about it at great length -- I'd love to talk about what kind of a day I've had at work, or what I really think of my friends or whatever, but to quote, 'this stuff is dangerous'. The few odd scraps I have thrown out there have been misinterpreted far too many times. So I codify some things, and at other times talk about the me me rather than me in the world. I like to think to substitute my writing style is personable instead. Although I suppose it depends on what you consider a 'personable person' to be ...

[I really ought to break those odd links back the Geocities. I hadn't thought that he'd go off and look at that. This was when the site wasn't a weblog at all, but just featured a longer static review more not than often. I hope she wasn't reviewing that instead of this actual weblog ... ]
Interlude I'm watching 'Almost Famous: The Bootleg Cut' tonight and working on some other projects, so I thought a link to this would be appropriate. Why do I always seem to miss these marvellous toys?
Life Me. Nutshell.
Film The most interesting thing I've head Chris Columbus say in years. Talking to Cinescape about whether the Harry Potter kids should stick around for all of them, he said:
“I would encourage it because they have to go on with their lives,” says Columbus. “I certainly wouldn't fight that at all. If they don't want to come back, they shouldn't. There's nothing worse than a kid who doesn't want to be there. Trust me. I've worked with kids who don't want to be on the set. These kids love doing their jobs. When that leaves, if you're a director or an actor, then you're sunk. Then you're just doing it for the money or whatever other horrible reason. You've got to get out of it.”
I love it when directors say things like this. Quick check of his career, and we have a lot of young hopefuls to choose from. Anyone going for Anthony Rapp in 'Adventures in Babysitting' -- would you want to be around when Vincent D'nofrio is stinking up the place dressed as Thor?
Quiz! Answers Just to let you all the know the winner on that last quiz was Vicki by virtue of being the only entrant and making me laugh. She's now the proud owner of a shiny 'feeling listless' soundtrack. For those who are curious, here are the answers:

(1) "An American President", "Wall Street", "Hot Shots Part Deux"
"An American President" – the only in which Charlie doesn’t appear with his dad Martin.

(2) "Star Trek VI", "Austin Power I", "Superman II"
"Superman II" – Christian Slater isn’t there in a cameo

(3) "Mystic Pizza", "Hook", "Ocean's Eleven"
“Hook” – the only Julia Roberts film here in which Matt Damon doesn’t put in an appearance (yes, he is in "Mystic Pizza" – he’s the kid brother of the rich guy Julia is dating and appears in that excruciating dinner sequence)

(4) "The Sixth Sense", "This is Spinal Tap", "The Usual Suspects", "Jerry Maguire"
“The is Spinal Tap” is the debut film for a director. Nights first film was “Wide Awake”; Bryan Singer directed “Public Access”; Cameron Crowe directed “Say Anything”.

(5) "She's All That", "Children of the Corn III", "My Stepmother is an Alien", "Can't Hardly Wait"
”She's All That" is only one to feature a cameo from a Buffy actor after they appeared in the series – Sarah Michelle Gellar appeared because her of her boyfriend and that fact Buffy was being filmed at the same school). Nicholas (Xander) Brandon was in "Children of the Corn III"; Alison (Willow) Hanningan was in "My Stepmother is an Alien"; Amber (Tara) Benson was in "Can't Hardly Wait"

(6) "Coming to America", "Scream 3", "Out of Sight", "Hannibal"
”Hannibal” is the only direct sequel – all the other feature cameos from characters originated in completely different films. Randolph and Mortimer from ‘Trading Places’ turn up in ‘Coming To America’; Jay and Silent Bob are in ‘Scream 3’. Ray Nicolette from ‘Jackie Brown’ is J-Lo’s boyfriend in ‘Out of Sight’

(7) "Mallrats", "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom", "The Empire Strikes Back"
“Empire” is the only non-prequel

(8) "Sliding Doors", "Shakespeare in Love", "Seven", "Emma"
“Seven” is the only one to feature Gwyneth Paltrow with her own accent.

All of the following have two answers. A point for each:

(9) "Sixteen Candles", "Pretty in Pink", "The Breakfast Club"

“Pretty In Pink” is only one not to be directed by John Hughes. It’s also bereft of Anthony Michael Hall.

(10) "French Kiss", "The Big Chill", "A Fish Called Wanda", "I Love You To Death"
“The Big Chill” – Kevin Kline has a moustache in all the others. “A Fish Called Wanda” is the only one not directed by Lawrence Kasden.

And to make up the fifteen points ... who said -- "Have Fun. Stay single." I want the actor, his character, the name of the film ...
Campbell Scott, Steve Dunn, ‘Singles’

It’s just occurred to me how hard that was. I think I may have seen too many films. I’ll try and cook up something a bit easier next time…
Geography Reno sucks. [via The Worst of the Web]
Wars The UK didn't see the Apple Switch commercials (we get PC World forced down our throats instead), so my appreciation has been second hand and on-line. It's been fun to watch the memes develop, and this one is particularly clever. So why did Anakin switch? [via MF]
Music Tupac Shakur has released sixteen posthumous albums. Not being a fan, but interested, this is either extremely gratuious or a way for people to feel that he's still in a recording studio. You can see why conspiracy theorists are suggesting his death was faked. Although apparently recent releases are sounding increasingly threadbare.

Let's hope the same fate doesn't befall Lisa Lopez with the left eye. TLC have joined with friends like Missy Elliot and The Neptunes to complete the album they were working on at the time of her death. It sounds surprisingly fresh and in keeping with the progressive nature of the group is a step beyond much of the generic R&B knocking around. If you are a fan, the BBC currently have the entire album on-line for you to hear ... it's only up for limited time though, midnight, so you'd best click on now. It's in Real One streaming format though so have that installed and ready.
Film I've signed up to an email service which sends details of preview screenings and also competitions on film websites. I'll post anything interesting when I can, and especially when I can't take advantage myself. So for anyone in Central London:
"We have yet more FREE preview screening tickets to offer you, this time it is for a French film called '8 Women' Cert (15).

The new film from France's most daring and inventive writer / director, Francois Ozon, 8 Women is a comedic murder mystery uniting an all-star lineup of French cinema's top actresses. A box office hit in France, 8 Women has also been honoured with a Silver Bear at this years Berlin film festival.

At an isolated mansion in 1950's France, a family is gathered for the holiday season...But there will be mo celebration, their beloved patriarch has been murdered.

Eight women, Each is a suspect. Each has a motive. Each has a secret. One of them is guilty, which one is it?

Living in a house full of Women can be murder!

The film stars Catherine Deneuve (Belle du Jour), Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher), Emanuelle Beart (Mission Impossible), Virginie Ledoyen (The Beach), Fanny Ardant (Ridicule), Danielle Darieux, Ludivine Sagnier and Firmine Richard.

For your chance to attend these exclusive screenings, simply send an email (including the following) to


The screenings are in conjunction with Pilsner Urquell beer, at two of the London screenings you will be entitled to a free bottle of beer.

Screenings dates and times:

Tuesday 12th November 2002
UGC Shaftesbury Avenue - 6 for 6.30pm
UGC Fulham Road - 6 for 6.30pm (Free Beer)
UGC Hammersmith - 6 for 6.30pm

Wednesday 13th November 2002
Clapham Picture House - 6.30 for 7.00pm (Free Beer)
Prince Charles cinema Just off Leicester Sq - 6 for 6.30pm
Screen on Baker St - 6 for 6.30pm

If you are unable to attend any of our screenings '8 Women' is released nationwide on the 29th November cert (15).
I especially like the enticement at the Clapham Picture House ... if only I had a flying car so that I could attend ...
That Day When I was living on the top floor of the block, we could see out across the River Mersey and the surrounding area and the sky would would be filled with fireworks as far as the eye could see. We'd turn the lights off, put a CD on, and just watch in awe. Didn't happen tonight. We've moved to a much lower flat in a different block surrounded by tall trees and other blocks and we couldn't see a thing. For the first time in years I went out tonight instead, to my World Music course. When I got home, the disappointment in my parents was palpable. Every family has traditions, yearly highlights, and its always a shame when they don't happen for whatever reason. Next year then.
FilmChanging Lanes’ is another attempt to create a Hollywood film using the sensibilities of a Hollywood film. It’s essentially a remake of a Tom and Jerry cartoon with human beings and the ins and outs of their ‘real’ lives. The cat is Ben Affleck, a lawyer who is slowly understanding the dodgy ethics perpetrated by his other partners and whether he can still stay true to himself within that world. The mouse of the story, Sam Jackson is a recovering alcoholic and telesales worker who finds his life slowly slipping away, partly because of his atrocious temper which comes forth whenever he feels like he’s doing the right thing.

In a strong, well-structured script, unlike a real cat and mouse caper, there isn’t an actually a villain or hero. These are both men on the edge, whose sense of right and wrong slips away as the day progresses. Both have much to lose but in different ways – and it’s interesting that when Jackson strikes against the lawyer its in material ways; when Affleck hits the telesales advisor at the roots of his life.

It’s the performances that lift this film. Affleck gives his best work since ‘Chasing Amy’ – in a part which could have been whitewashed with sleaze, he comes out looking all the more human. He should be the bad guy but we find ourselves wondering if our choices wouldn’t be too dissimilar given the circumstances. Jackson again proves himself to be an actor of massive range. It’s the first time we’ve seen this kind of character from him in a so-called mainstream film (although its similar to the low key display found in ‘The Red Violin’), and it’ll be interesting to see how things are when the Oscars come around again.

Roger Mitchell has always struck me as a very generic director – like Michael Apted he doesn’t have a particular style and in fact he often borrows from someone else. This has a very faux-Soderbergh feel to it, especially in the opening titles and the use of hand held cameras throughout. But I’m not criticizing. I’ve had enough of glossy films which spend all their time just looking perfect at the expense of the plot. Imagine how vacuous this thing might have been in the hands of Michael Bay, for example.

I’ve heard the ending being criticized somewhat. Yes it’s uplifting and hopeful, but not unrealistic and if things had ended unresolved, in this case I would have been dissatisfied. So another Hollywood film with brains. It’s almost like its the seventies again ...
Film For various reasons I've just stumbled upon this film at the IMDb. Some films should never be released ...
TV I'm enjoying the end of my holiday and busy with other work, so to keep you busy, here is Off The Telly's Channel 4 at 20 celebration to keep you busy. As they point out, five years ago:
"Adam & Joe's Fourmative Years saw the duo rummage through the Channel 4 archives, unearthing a pile of interesting and funny clips in the process; Storm Over 4 charted the various controversies that had thus far lashed the channel; previous Chief Executives Jeremy Isaacs and Michael Grade were given the opportunity to select their favourite programmes for repeat (which were Max Headroom and the Without Walls special dedicated to Dennis Potter, respectively); and a night was given over to the viewers' choice of favourite Channel 4 programming.
This year, nothing. So this will have to do ...

[There is another reason I'm linking to this. I've been mentioning their work for ages and they were kind enough to ask me to contibute a piece. It's at the bottom this page here. You can probably guess the subject ... it was a pleasure to do ... and I'm also available for christenings, weddings and barmitzvas ...]