Book review: Pussy by Harold Jacobson

trump pic

Published by Jonathan Cape, 13th April 2017

Few events have provoked a more seismic hostile reaction within the western world than the recent election of Donald Trump. One imagines his presidency will provoke a wealth of satirical novels based around his presidency. Well done then, to Booker Prize winning author Howard Jacobson then, for getting his version in first,  less than a hundred days into his presidency. Unfortunately, as with Trump’s own administration thus far, the book can only be viewed as a failure.

This is the story of Prince Fracassus, heir presumptive to the Duke of Origen, a spoilt, semi-literate, sex-obsessed, boorish,Twitter-obsessed fathead. Sound familiar?

Exactly. Indeed, this is part of the problem. Fracassus is so obviously meant to be Trump (something Chris Riddell’s excellent cartoons throughout confirm) that any satirical impact is largely blunted.

Howard-Jacobson-at-the-2015-Edinburgh-International-Book-Festival-5

The “heir presumptive” stuff seems somewhat misplaced too. Trump’s father was a millionaire property owner: Donald’s is not a rags to riches story but (as is often the case) a riches to far more riches story. But his dad was, at least, a self-made man. He was not, unlike Kennedy or Bush, part of a political dynasty. At least, not yet.

Donald J. Trump is probably the worst person to ever occupy the White House. He is an arrogant, bullying, egotistical, racist, misogynistic pig. Even the worst of his predecessors (Warren Harding, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush) had some redeeming features. He appears to have none. He is both a bad example to our children and a compelling argument for not having children.

He thus deserves a book which truly destroys him on the page. This isn’t that book.

pussy book

Advertisements

Book review: Speaking Out by Ed Balls

balls

Honestly. What a missed opportunity. The comic possibilities of a potential title for former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls were seemingly almost endless.
Here are just a few: Balls Revealed, Balls Exposed, Balls Up, Balls Out, Iron Balls, New Balls Please!, Strictly Come Balls, Golden Balls, Better Ed Than Dead.
Instead, this book published by Hutchinson has the extremely dull title, Speaking Out: Lessons in Life and Politics. One just hopes when the time comes for his wife to reflect on her political career, she is more imaginative.
May I suggest, It Shouldn’t Happen To Yvette?
Perhaps Ed didn’t want to look stupid. He was a serious contender as recently as last year after all. Labour’s defeat and the loss of his own seat were a big personal shock to him. He is probably the most capable post-ear shadow chancellor never to make it to the position of Chancellor himself, along with John Smith.
The book is not in chronological order but linked thematically. He talks frankly about his stammer, the hard years under the brilliant but volatile Gordon Brown, his eventual falling out with Ed Miliband, his support for Norwich City (yawn!) and his running. He has a sense of humour too. Let us not forget his response to George Osborne’s claim in 2012 that the Chancellor had delivered a “Robin Hood Budget”. Balls charged that on the contrary, Osborne “couldn’t give a Friar Tuck.”
A good book then, but what a shame about the title. After all, if he really doesn’t want to look stupid why is he currently appearing on Strictly Come Dancing, attracting more attention than ever before, by making himself look like a total pranny?
As Lord Heseltine once said: it’s not Brown’s. It’s Balls.

Strictly Come Dancing 2016

14 Alternative Taglines For Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

dawn-74319

It is often said that if you gathered an infinite number of apes together with an infinite number of typewriters, they will eventually produce the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Here’s an even better idea: as Shakespeare’s plays have already been written why not use the apes to make a film called Dawn of the Planet of the Apes instead? With the film already on general release, however, all that’s missing is the perfect tagline:
Repeat after me: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes…:
1. What Became of the Monkeys?
2. The Apes of Wrath.
3. Caesar Goes Bananas.
4. Hang on! Where’s James Franco gone? Wasn’t he in this? He didn’t die in the first one did he? I can’t remember.
5. Ooh ooh ooh. They want to be like you ooh ooh.
6. Close. But No Banana.
7. Monkey See. Monkey Do.
8. This Time They Didn’t Drink PG Tips.
9. Softly softly. Catchy Monkeys.
10. Go Ape.
11. Definitely Not the Shit Mark Wahlberg One.
12. Guaranteed: Contains one of the finest simian mass cremation scenes of any movie this summer!
13. Bloody hell! Andy Serkis really has got this motion capture stuff sewn up hasn’t he?
14. Serious. Monkey. Business.

The wit and wisdom of Dan Quayle

Quayle (1)

In July 1988, the Republican presidential nominee George HW Bush (then generally known as plain old George Bush or more formally Vice President Bush) announced his running mate for the forthcoming presidential election. His choice, James Danforth (Dan) Quayle would generally be viewed as a disaster. The next four years would witness one of the most gaffe-prone vice presidencies of all time.
Quayle, a 41 year old senator from Indiana certainly looked the part. After eight years of Ronald Reagan, by then 76, and his potential successor Bush already in his mid sixties, Quayle certainly helped give the Republican Party a more youthful image. He was also much younger than his opponent Michael Dukakis’s 67 year old running mate Lloyd Bentsen.

But doubts were immediately raised about Senator Quayle’s experience. Most observers had expected Bush to pick his defeated Primary foe Bob Dole as his running mate. Quayle’s speaking style was stilted and unconvincing and it soon emerged that twenty years before. He had used his family’s powerful business connections to ensure enrolment in the Indiana National Guard. The National Guard was usually seen as a sure way of avoiding the draft. It was in short an easy way to dodge involvement in the Vietnam War.
Quayle was not the last public figure to face such allegations. Four years later, the Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton would be accused of draft dodging too, taking some of the heat off Quayle who was by then vice president. But Clinton had at least opposed the war unlike Quayle and Quayle’s opponent Al Gore, Bill Clinton’s running mate, had actually served in Vietnam. Worse was to come: Bush’s own son faced the same charge when he ran for president himself in 2000 and 2004 and even managed to go AWOL during his time on the Texan National Guard. His running mate Dick Cheney also avoided serving claiming simply that he had had “other priorities.” But Quayle had left the political arena by then.
gal-politics-dan-quayle-jpg (1)
Donald Kaul reflected the general furore: “Faced with a smorgasbord of vice presidential candidates – all conservative, some politically useful and some who might even wear the label ”distinguished” without embarrassment – Bush picked a callow, braying arch conservative from a state Bush was going to carry anyway. Quayle may not be on the lunatic fringe, but he can see it from where he’s standing. Of such decisions are concession speeches made…Quayle is a chicken hawk, a flag-waving jingoist who never met a war he didn’t like, but sought refuge in the National Guard when the opportunity to actually fight in one presented itself.
The endless gaffes continued. A selection are included below.
Quayle was also humiliated in the 1988 vice presidential debates with Senator Lloyd Bentsen. By that stage in the contest, Vice President Bush was easily beating his opponent Democrat Governor Michael Dukakis. But questions remained over Quayle’s experience. Nearly half of the United States’ post-war Vice Presidents had at that point, ended up being president (four out of nine. Bush would make it five out of ten although no former Vice Presidents have become president since 1989). Bentsen was a veteran, who in the Sixties had beaten George HW Bush in an election for the Senate himself.
Quayle attempted to defuse the issue, by unwisely comparing himself to the assassinated JFK:

Quayle: It is not just age; it’s accomplishments, it’s experience. I have far more experience than many others that sought the office of vice president of this country. I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency. I will be prepared to deal with the people in the Bush administration, if that unfortunate event would ever occur.
Bentsen: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy. (Prolonged shouts and applause.)

Quayle: That was really uncalled for, Senator. (Shouts and applause.)

Bentsen: You are the one that was making the comparison, Senator — and I’m one who knew him well. And frankly I think you are so far apart in the objectives you choose for your country that I did not think the comparison was well-taken.

It was the most stunning TV debate defeat ever.
Satire had a field day. An urban myth developed that Quayle had initially clumsily first raised his left hand when asked to take the oath of office, before hastily correcting himself and raising his right. A record entitled “The Wit and Wisdom of Dan Quayle” was released, just as one entitled “The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan” had been released before/. Like its predecessor, both sides were blank. Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury strip meanwhile portrayed the new Veep as being distracted by the “spinny” chair in his new office. Saturday Night Live actually portrayed Quayle as a child in several sketches.
Why didn’t Bush drop Quayle? Did he as Vice President himself secretly fear the power of the vice president and so like Nixon picking Ford win 1973 want to protect himself from future impeachment by putting an idiot in the Number 2 spot? Did he secretly see in Quayle, a young southern draft dodger, someone who reminded him of his own son? Most likely, he thought to drop Quayle would seem to concede error and might prove more damaging. In 1972, democrat nominee George McGovern’s campaign never recovered after his decision to drop his running mate Thomas Eagleton after questions were raised about him.
And in fact, Quayle’s selection seems to have had little electoral impact. The Bush-Quayle ticket won a comfortable forty state victory, over Dukakis and Bentsen in 1988. Quayle seemed to have had little impact in 1992 either. Voters seem to have been voting for the main candidate not the running mate as usually seems to be the case.
Quayle continued to make real gaffes too, none, it must be said of real global importance (see below) notably launching a scathing attack on the fictional US TV character Murphy Brown (played by Candice Bergman) for giving birth out of wedlock. Bush, in fairness, had fallen into a similar trap declaring Americans should be “more like The Waltons and less like The Simpsons”. On the show, Bart hit back: “We are like The Waltons…we’re all praying for an end to the Great Depression too!”
By now, it was 1992 and an unpopular Bush was facing possible defeat as he ran for re-election. There was talk of dropping Quayle. Bush had suffered a mild heart attack in 1991, reminding voters that Quayle was only a heartbeat away from the presidency. A secret service chief was fired after joking that if Bush were assassinated, his operatives should immediately shoot Quayle to prevent him becoming president.
1992 actually saw one of Quayle’s most memorable gaffes incorrectly changing the spelling of the word “potato” on a visit to a school after a pupil had written it on the board correctly (“You’re close, but you left a little something off,” he said “The “e” on the end”).
But generally Quayle performed better than expected during election year. He lost the TV debate to Al Gore but not as spectacularly as in 1988. But when Bush lost to Clinton in November, Quayle wasn’t blamed. In 2000, he even launched an exploratory bid for the Republican presidential nomination himself. In the end, another Bush, George W, got it.
The Vice Presidency is an unfulfilling job for most. Unlike Nixon’s Number Two who ultimately resigned when it emerged he had evaded paying his taxes when he was Governor of Maryland, Quayle avoided scandal. But a stream of gaffes and unconvincing public performances ensured that he never gained the confidence of the American public.
Like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin since he was a rich source of gaffes. Here are some of his finest moments…

The best of Dan Quayle…

The Holocaust was an obscene period in our nation’s history….No, not our nation’s, but in World War II. I mean, we all lived in this century. I didn’t live in this century, but in this century’s history.

People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history.
(Interview referring to Rasputin)

We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur.

On Hawaii:
Hawaii has always been a very pivotal role in the Pacific. It is in the Pacific. It is a part of the United States. That is an island that is right here.

When you take the UNCF model that, what a waste it is to lose one’s mind, or not to have a mind is being very wasteful, how true that is.
(Speech to the United Negro College Fund . The Fund’s slogan was “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”)

The other day [the President] said, I know you’ve had some rough times, and I want to do something that will show the nation what faith that I have in you, in your maturity and sense of responsibility. Would you like a puppy?
I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy. But that could change.
Mars is essentially in the same orbit.… Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe.

On the 1992 LA Riots:
I have been asked who caused the riots and the killing in LA, my answer has been direct and simple: Who is to blame for the riots? The rioters are to blame. Who is to blame for the killings? The killers are to blame.

On TV show Murphy Brown:
Bearing babies irresponsibly is simply wrong. We must be unequivocal about this. It doesn’t help matters when primetime TV has Murphy Brown — a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman — mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another “lifestyle choice.”

This is what I say about the scorn of the media elite: I wear their scorn as a badge of honour.

I believe that I’ve made good judgments in the past, and I think I’ve made good judgments in the future.

We don’t want to go back to tomorrow, we want to move forward.

We understand the importance of having the bondage between the parent and the child.

The future will be better tomorrow.

I made a misstatement and I stand by all my misstatements.

George_H._W._Bush_inauguration

Dawn of the Planet of the Geeks

Image

Once upon a time, nobody wanted to be a geek.

Geeks were stamp collectors, train spotters or computer nerds. Who would ever want to be one of them? James Bond. Rocky. Han Solo. They were heroes. Nobody wanted to be Roland from Grange Hill. Everybody wanted to be Tucker Jenkins. Dennis the Menace trounced Softy Walter every time.

Then, in the Eighties and Nineties, things started to change. Geeks like Bill Gates and Richard Branson became role models. Filmmakers Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith were notably more geeky than their drug-addled hedonistic Seventies counterparts. The films started to reflect this  with even superficially cool characters like Back To The Future’s Marty McFly and Indiana Jones (who is, of course, an archaeologist) having a geeky side.

By the end of the 20th century, films like Clerks and TV shows like Spaced and Freaks and Geeks were close to celebrating geek culture. Mainstream characters in shows like Friends and Seinfeld also started aping geek behaviour.

Now, far from being shunned, thanks to shows like The IT Crowd (now finished) and The Big Bang Theory, geeks are not only shunned but celebrated. There is now tons of pro-geek merchandise available. There is a popular website called Den of Geek. Actors like Tobey Maguire, Zooey Deschanel, Doctor Who’s Matt Smith, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Eisenberg (who memorably played Facebook founder and geek Mark Zuckerberg in the film The Social Network) are hailed as geeks. Truly, as The Bible almost says: “the geek have inherited the Earth”.

The problem is that there are still plenty of real genuinely socially maladjusted geeks around without pretend geeks homing in on their territory. The other day, an attractive female participant on Channel 4’s First Dates proudly claimed to be a geek. Yes, she wore glasses. Yes, she was a computer programmer. But was she a geek? No way.

This has to stop.  Leave the realm of geeks to the real genuine geeks: the addictive Warcraft players, the Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts (yes, there are still many around) and the obsessive bloggers. Ahem.

Bear in mind these simple rules:

Wearing glasses is not enough in itself to make you a geek. Nor is it even necessary. Zooey Deschanel is kooky, yes, but much too attractive and sociable to have ever been a geek. Wearing glasses just means you have defective eyesight and don’t like contact lenses. And they often look cool now anyway (see below).

Watching Game of Thrones is not enough in itself. Or The Hobbit. Or Star Wars. Or Iron Man. Or computer games. All of these things are mainstream now. However, have you read more than one Game of Thrones book? Now, you’re on your way.

You cannot like sport and be a geek.

Finally, and most importantly: if you really want to be a geek, face facts:  you will never truly be one. You might as well try to be genuinely cool.

Image

 

Book review: A Million Ways To Die In The West

Image

A Million Ways To Die In The West

Seth MacFarlane.

Published by Canongate.

Here’s a poser: Which is harder? Writing a funny book? Or writing a funny film or TV show?

I would have thought writing a funny book would be the easier of the two, but in my experience, this doesn’t seem to be the case. For while I’ve seen countless sitcoms and movies which have made me laugh, the number of books that have amused me to that extent remain very few.

If anyone can write a funny book it should be Seth MacFarlane. As the creator of the animated series Family Guy, he has arguably produced one of the funniest shows of the century so far. His film screenplay Ted (in which Mark Wahlberg is accompanied by a foul mouthed, sleazy teddy bear which came to life during his childhood), was a hit too. Even his lesser successes (the animated show American Dad which he co-created and his supposedly poorly received Oscar ceremony hosting gig in 2013) have been good.

This is MacFarlane’s first novel and is based on the screenplay for the forthcoming film in which he also stars which he co-wrote with Alec Sulkin. Set in the Wild West of the 1880s, it centres on Albert Stark, a sheep farmer who (rather like Wahlberg’s character in Ted) has girlfriend trouble. In this case, the problem is that the supposed love of his life Louise has deserted him in favour of the local moustache merchant. Albert soon finds himself becoming sucked into a typically western experience, namely a life of duels, shoot outs and out of body experiences with a tribe of Native Americans.

Is it funny? Well, it’s certainly mildly amusing. I suspect the dialogue isn’t totally authentic to the 1880s setting (”when I sit down and go to the bathroom, it feels like there’s a madman trying to punch his way out of my asshole”) but there’s some touching scenes between Albert’s sweet natured friend Edward and his fiancée Millie, a terrifically promiscuous prostitute who nevertheless feels it would be sinful to consummate her relationship with Edward before their big day. There’s also a song about moustaches.

It’s fine. And I expect the film will be the best comedy western since Blazing Saddles. Perhaps better. But maybe you should wait to see at the cinema? Because, for some reason, I expect it will end up being much funnier on the screen than it is on the page.

Man of Steel: A poem/review

header-another-new-man-of-steel-tv-spot-youre-a-monster-zod

Look! Up there in the sky!

It’s time to get cape, wear cape, fly.

Is it a bird, is it a plane?

No, it’s Superman returning (again).

 

Truth be told, though not a flop,

The last Superman was not much cop,

So now it’s time for a British actor,

To try and win the Krypton Factor.

 

Henry  Cavill looks the part,

His accent’s decent for a start.

He doesn’t play Clark Kent enough.

But cheer up girls! His shirt comes off!

 

Michael Shannon excels as Zod,

An evil , contemptuous, little sod.

A tyrant, he is reviled and feared,

(To show he’s aged, he grows a beard).

 

Young  Kar-El  is under threat from birth,

And becomes the brat who fell to Earth.

Russell Crowe saves his son from evil Zod,

And doesn’t try to sing (thank God).

 

At school, Supe faces constant derision,

Cannot control his X-ray vision.

Saves school bus but is often sad,

Attack of wind still kills his dad.

 

Like this poem, it all goes on too long,

Special effects are overdone,

Amy Adams is okay as Lois Lane,

(The real one lived in Wisteria Lane).

 

That said, this summer, you will see,

No better superhero film than Iron Man 3,

For while ok, it’s hard not to feel,

We’ll soon forget this Man of Steel.

 

I’m sure it’ll make lots of money,

But like Batman should be a bit more funny.

Three out of five is my final score.

Interesting and yet also a bore.Image

The Owl and the Pussycat II

ImageThe owl and the pussycat filed for divorce,

Seven years after their voyage abroad.

There was no more singing or dancing anymore.

They were vindictive, embittered and bored.

 

The owl whinged: “Oh Pussy! This house is a tip!

“It’s knee deep in furballs and lice!

“And I don’t mind money. But what’s with the honey?

“Both cats and owls traditionally eat mice!”

 

The cat came back: “You’re not the owl I once knew!

“Oh how did I get in this fix?

“You leave the toilet seat up. My mother was right.

“Birds and cats just shouldn’t mix!”

 

The owl mused: “What about an appearance on Jeremy Kyle?

It’s on “Animal Divorces” next week.”

The pussy laughed: “I would do it if I only I could believe,

“One single word that comes out of your beak!”

 

She went on: “I was seduced by your charm, your boat,

“And that trick where you rotate your head.

“You know where you can stick your pissy green boat.

“You bastard. I wish you were dead.”

 

The owl and the pussycat went to court,

The judge favoured Pussy the most,

She took her “honey” for plenty of money,

Then retired to a home on the coast.

 

(Chris Hallam with apologies to Edward Lear).

Media manifesto

Ten great ideas to transform the world of TV, film and music…

  1. A new series of 24 should be made in which Donald Sutherland plays Jack Bauer’s evil estranged father.
  2. A new Bond film should be made in which an elderly Bond played by Sean Connery is called out of retirement for a final mission.
  3. All theme tunes should include a version which includes the title amongst the lyrics in the manner of Anita Dobson’s Anyone Can Fall In Love (for EastEnders) if they do not already do so. Particularly: Star Wars, the 70s and 80s Superman films, Coronation Street and Last of the Summer Wine.
  4. Why Do You Think You Are? A new documentary series which forces celebrities to justify their existence.
  5. None of the Carry On films (with the possible exception of the first one Carry On Sergeant and the later Carry On Regardless) feature any characters saying the title of the film at any point. This is disappointing. Digital technology should be used to insert a character (perhaps Charles Hawtrey) saying the line at the end. This should occur even when Hawtrey is not actually in the film, regardless of whether the film is in colour or not or whether the film’s title makes grammatical sense (as with Carry On Follow That Camel or Carry On Again Doctor).
  6. Some films and TV shows feature characters who have the same name as the actor playing them e.g. Jack Torrance (Nicholson) in The Shining, Rik (Mayall) in The Young Ones and Miranda (Hart). This should be made compulsory for one character in every production from now on as it will reduce time wasted by actors missing their cues.
  7. Robot voices in songs, once commonplace, have sadly become a rarity. All songs past and present should feature a robot voice at some point including instrumental classical pieces. Please sort this out.
  8. Films in which samples of dialogue are used as the title are always rubbish and should be banned. Consider: Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead, Slap Her She’s French, Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot and the obscure Dustin Hoffman film Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying These Terrible Things About Me? An exception should be made for Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia (and all Carry On films: see above).
  9. Doctors In The House: New sitcom in which all the surviving ex-Doctor Whos plus K9 share a house in London. Tom Baker is the zany one and is constantly frustrated when the other characters interrupt his attempts to narrate each episode. David Tennant is the charming likeable one. Christopher Eccleston is the moody, artistic one. Colin Baker is the pompous one. His glasses are occasionally knocked out of line rather like Captain Mainwaring’s. An old TARDIS is used as the house phone which forms a central part of the set as does a dartboard with a photo of Matt Smith’s face attached to it. In episode one, a family of Daleks move in next door.
  10. Not A Penny Moore… New sitcom about the Moore family. Demi is the cougar of the household, desperately competing with her younger sister Mandy. Roger plays the elderly granddad, wheelchair-bound and always with his cat. Alan plays the moody bearded uncle who rarely leaves his room. The late Sir Patrick Moore plays the eccentric great uncle perpetually spying on his neighbours through his telescope in the attic who he suspects of being German. He is constantly bothered by young children looking for cheats for Zelda III.

Chris Hallam.Image