Murder in Shepherd’s Bush
Friday 16th March 2007
I’ve been hauled over the coals for a piece I wrote in today’s Standard by a journalist called Paul MacInnes on Comment Is Free, one of the Guardian’s blogs. The piece that appeared in the Standard — about the murder of a 16-year-old boy in Shepherd’s Bush on Wednesday afternoon — was a cut-down version of an op ed piece that I filed on Thursday evening. You can read the original piece by clicking here.

If you agree with him, you can send me an abusive email by clicking on the button to the right. But if you don’t, please go to Comment Is Free and tell him you disagree.


David Frost
Thursday 8th March 2007
Sitting in one of the green rooms at Yorkshire Television on a Saturday afternoon in Leeds, it’s difficult to reconcile the man I’m watching on the monitor with the David Frost of legend. He’s recording four back-to-back episodes of ‘Through The Keyhole’ to be broadcast on BBC2 later this year and he’s finding it difficult to muster much interest in his current guest, a former soap star called Lee Otway.

“So, Lee, is ‘Celebrity Love Island’ the biggest thing you’ve ever done?”

Click here to read the rest of my profile of David Frost in this week’s Spectator.


The Academy Awards
Monday 26th February 2007
Last night’s Oscar telecast was poor, even by the low standards set by previous telecasts — and I don’t just say that because the picture I thought was the best of 2006 — Apocalypto — won nothing. There were so many shortcomings, I don’t know where to begin. So here, in no particular order, are my complaints:

– Ellen DeGeneres was a feeble host. She was nervous, so her timing was off; she eschewed any topical jokes, which was bizarre given that Britney Spears has just shaved her head and Anna Nicole Smith has just kicked her clogs; venturing into the audience and chatting to various luminaries was a mistake since it denuded the event of any glamour and made the people she accosted seem like members of a chat show audience; she changed her outfit too many times; and she didn’t explicity refer to her own lesbianism, which made her seem cowardly. Please, let Jerry Seinfeld do it next year.

– All the presenters, with the possible exception of Seinfeld, were extaordinarily wooden. (Even the normally reliable Clint Eastwood fluffed his lines.) Why do they insist on reading from an autocue? They’re actors, for Chrissakes. Can’t they learn their lines? And who writes this garbage? Last night’s show was packed with bits of business — such as the three amigos routine carried out by Coppola, Spielberg and Lucas — that came off as laboured and under-rehearsed. Unless the presenters are bona fide comedians who are used to performing live in front of a large audience they shouldn’t be given any “comedy” to do.

– Didn’t anyone notice that Michael Mann’s tribute to America used several of the same clips that Woody Allen used in his 2002 tribute to New York? If I have to watch another clip reel I’m going to shoot myself.

– Far too many of the winners read from pieces of paper they carried in their breast pockets. Not only did this make for very boring speeches, it also made for very long speeches which meant that about 50% of the winners were “played off” by Bill Conti. After about an hour, so many people had been unceremoniously booted off stage that every time someone gave a speech I was terrified that they were going to go over their alloted time. (And any joint winner who agreed to speak second didn’t get a look in.) This didn’t make for a pleasant viewing experience. Why can’t the producer of the show give the director some discretion over who’s “played off”? Okay, give the non-English speaking tecnhicians the hook if they over-run, but someone like Jennifer Hudson should be given a little lattitude.

– Where the fuck was Sacha Baron Cohen? One of the only reasons I stayed up until 5.30am — and a big thanks to the producer for deciding to kick things off half-an-hour later than usual this year — was to see Borat raise the roof. Why did the numbskull producer — Laura Ziskin, by the way — insist that he had to appear as himself or not at all? She cheated the worldwide audience of what would have undoubtedly been the best moment of the night.

– What was with the extended political broadcast for the Al Gore Party? His bit with Leo DiCaprio was an embarrassment, so there really was no need for Davis Guggenheim to bring him back on stage when he picked up his Best Documentary Oscar. And boy did he look fat! George Clooney’s “gag” about Gore not running was redundant. We know he’s not running because if he was going to run he’d be at least three stone lighter.

– And, finally — I really can’t hold this down — why did Apocalypto win nothing? Okay, it was unlikely that Mel would win Best Director, given his recent difficulties (though for my money he did a much better job than Scorsese), but did the Academy electorate really have to punish Kevin O’Connel, his sound mixer, who has now been nominated 19 times without winning? (Kate Winslet, you have nothing on this guy.) According to Variety’s live blogger backstage, the guys who won in that category — the mixers on Dreamgirls — started laying into O’Connel in the press room, saying it was time he took up another line of work. Since when did it become persmissable for the winners in a particular category to crow at the expense of the losers? I don’t have any sympathy with Gibson’s views — my father-in-law is Jewish and as a result my children would be taken from me and killed if I was a resident of Nazi Germany — but his politics have absolutely no relevance when it comes to assessing the artistic merit of his work. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, there’s no such thing as right and wrong when it comes to art, just good and bad — and Apocalypto is good, whichever way you look at it.

– For what it’s worth, here’s my list of winners:

Best Picture: Mel Gibson and Bruce Davey, Apocalypto

Best Director: Mel Gibson, Apocalypto

Best Actor: Peter O’Toole, Venus

Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen

Best Supporting Actor: Michael Caine, Children of Men

Best Supporting Actress: Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada

Best Original Screenplay: Peter Morgan, Longford

Best Adapted Screenplay: Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, The Prestige


Life on Mars
Wednesday 14th February 2007
I thought last night’s opener of the second season of Life on Mars was pretty poor. One of the things that irritated me about last season was that Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt’s relationship only ever developed in the course of each episode, never over the course of the season. Every episode would begin with them at loggerheads–and always over the same issue, namely, how scrupulously to follow official police procedure–and end with each of them having learnt to be a little more flexible. These lessons would always be forgotten by the beginning of the next episode and Sam and Gene would then have to re-learn them all over again. Now, it seems, their relationship isn’t going to develop over the course of two seasons, either. And it doesn’t merely apply to the relationship between Sam and Gene. Gene and his male cronies have to be convinced over and over again that Annie Cartwright isn’t just a pretty face, that forensic investigative techniques may have a role to play in solving crimes, that petty corruption leads to more serious forms of corruption, etc, etc. Not only that, but in every episode Sam blurts something out that “reveals” he’s from 30 years in the future, momentarily forgetting that none of the people in the station (apart from Annie) are supposed to be aware of this. (He then bites his tongue and furrows his brow, realising his mistake.)

It’s as though the writers, having come up with a winning formula for a single episode, have decided to stick to it religiously, ignoring the rather obvious fact that it renders the series as a whole completely implausible (unless all the characters are supposed to be suffering from some weird form of partial amnesia.)

Another example of the writers’ laziness is their cavalier treatment of the supposedly brilliant high concept that everyone seems to love about the series. In last night’s episode, for instance, Sam had to “put away” a villain in 1973 because said villain was torturing him in his hospital bed in 2007. Yet if Sam really can effect things in the present by doing something in the past, then it follows that he really has travelled back in time and isn’t just imagining that he has. In other words, last night’s episode definitively answered the question posed by Sam at the beginning of each episode, namely, has he really gone back in time or is his mind playing tricks on him? It seems odd, to put it midly, that the central riddle of the series should be solved in the first episode of the second season instead of the last. Not even the writers of Lost would make that kind of elementary error.

The reason we now expect character arcs to extend over entire seasons, and not begin and end with each episode, is because a lot of us don’t watch episodes according to the weekly television schedules. If we Sky Plus a series, the chances are we’ll watch two or more episodes back to back – and if we buy a season on DVD we’ll probably watch all the episodes over the course of a few days. This means that writers can’t get away with the degree of repetition that they once could. In other words, the bar has been raised by the changing habits of viewers.

I don’t hate Life on Mars. I think the central premise is an intriguing one and, apart from the writers, most of the people involved in the programme acquit themselves very well, particularly the cast, the costume designer, the set designer and even, in some cases, the directors. But if last night’s episode was a taste of things to come, I’m not going to bother with the rest of the season.


The 2007 Sundance Film Festival
Wednesday 31st January 2007
I’d been in Park City less than 24 hours when I spotted the man himself. I was standing on Main Street talking to one of the American television’s most distinguished comedy directors when Mr Sundance happened to walk past.

“Would you like to meet him?” asked the director.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Follow me.”

To read the rest of Toby’s piece in this week’s Spectator about visiting the Sundance Film Festival, click here.

Leave a Reply