Using the wrong words

I don’t know whether it’s Channel 4 or the US network who censor The Daily Show’s language. Either way, whoever bleeped out Jon Stewart mouthing the word ‘fuck’ on Wednesday night’s show must have felt pretty stupid.

While we’re talking swearing, Norm has problems with the word ‘ass’:

I do, however, want to support the correspondent who wrote in to grumble that ‘”ass” was used instead of “arse”‘. This is not because ‘ass’ is an Americanism, but just because it’s an inferior usage, or so it has always struck me. ‘Arse’ is plain and upfront, so to speak, unashamed of any coarseness listeners may find in the word. ‘Ass’, to my ear, is coy and, though not exactly a euphemism, carrying something of the same intent, trying to smooth away some of the roughness. This effect comes partly just from the loss of the ‘r’ and consequent shortening of the length of the vowel, but partly also from the shared meaning with the animal – as if the speaker or writer might be hoping you’ll be deceived by the ambiguity. ‘Arse’ sounds more blunt and honest. With ‘ass’ a politeness is intruding in the wrong place.

All probably valid, but I think ‘ass’ will remain the favoured word as it’s easier to say. Most words with an ‘ar’ sound tend towards ‘a’ when spoken quickly.

This is as good a point as any to mention that ‘the back of beyond’ when translated into German becomes ‘am Arsch der Welt’. Never quite had the courage to drop that into a class discussion.

Regarding Americanisms, Norm also said:

American English, British English, who cares? So long as people make themselves understood, well and good; and if they can speak and write in an interesting or arresting way, better still. Any words available for these purposes may be called upon.

Well, quite. Picking up and using words and phrases from other languages is a joyous thing. I have plenty of quick conversations that start with ‘hey’ and end with ‘no worries, bye’, and I’m not going to be told I can’t use such terms because I was born on the wrong patch of land. What a completely ridiculous idea. I was criticised last month for using a word that wasn’t British; I managed to swallow the rant, but it was close.

Death Proof

I don’t know about Quentin Tarantino films. I loved From Dusk Till Dawn and the Kill Bills, but almost everything else I admire, but wouldn’t say like. It’s possibly his characters – they’re often lauded as realistic and cool, yet to me seem devoid of redeeming qualities, and are usually people I’d cross the street to avoid. It’s generally a bitter worldview, and maybe I just don’t like being exposed to it.

This is all lead-in to saying I caught a preview of Death Proof this evening. It’s a film with an interesting development, starting off as part of the double-bill ‘Grindhouse’, then released separately, and 30mins longer, for international audiences. It was followed by a live-via-satellite Q&A with QT and Zoe Bell, one of the actress/stuntwomen from the film. I was looking forward to it.

The film is an homage to ‘grindhouse’ movies, designed around exploitation of women, swearing, drugs, violence etc.. I’m not familiar with the original genre, but I can happily believe Death Proof did a fine job of recreating the style. I didn’t like it much, though. It’s already being softened in memory, but I made a point of telling myself to remember how unpleasant it was. The violence was explicit, as you’d expect, but much less cartoony than Kill Bill. I’ve nothing against on-screen violence, it’s just that I prefer not to see brutal, realistic scenes unless they’re for a good reason. Plenty can find it entertaining for its own sake, but I can’t personally deal with it very well: it tends to get in my head, bringing up images of real-life news events and depressing me. Similarly, I can’t feel any empathy towards characters disposed to violence: there’s a scene in which where the audience is intended (as QT said in the interview) to root for a particular side, but I didn’t at all. I also thought the much-lauded dialogue was a little heavy on the swearing – maybe it’s how people actually talk, but when emotional scenes consist of endless repetitions of the word ‘bitch’, I get bored.

I did like the style: the low-budget filmmaking effects, including shifting colours, badly-timed cuts and static camera, added to a vivid atmosphere of 1950s-esque open-plain America merged with modern conveniences. The action was extremely tense, and I found myself lapsing into my recently-acquired habit of shrinking back into the seat, hand over my face. The story was also unpredictable, which I always like. The music, as ever with QT films, was good enough that I’d happily pick up the soundtrack on its own.

The Q&A was a little long, but interesting enough. One audience member demanded to know why the characters hadn’t acted in a particularly rational way during one scene, which struck me as an odd question, given the nature of the film. QT came across as quite the force, quickly taking control of the stage and making sure things ran exactly as he wanted.

I’m aware it’s an homage to a particular genre, and I could see it was well-made, but it wasn’t my thing. Just a little too nasty.

Strictly Come Dancing tickets now available by lottery

2008 Update: Googlers searching for tickets should head over to the only official source, the BBC Tickets website. It’s a random draw, and entries must be placed by Sunday 7th September. Good luck!

Being rather a fan of Strictly Come Dancing, I last year spent three hours on the phone in an ultimately successful attempt to get tickets, and a fine evening was had by all. Ten months later and the new series is rapidly approaching.

I didn’t mention at the time – on the off (and possibly paranoid) chance that it affected my application – that I found a way to cheat manipulate the phone system. I was dialling once every five seconds, averaging one connected call every forty minutes. Once through, a menu system told me to ‘press 1 to be put through to an operative’. This I did, and I’d promptly get cut off. After a couple of hours they’d fixed this problem, and five minutes of waiting resulted in a message saying ‘our phone lines are busy, please try again later, or press 2 to hear about other bbc shows’. The thing was, pressing 2 didn’t provide more information, it sent me back to the first option, where I could press 1 to be put through to an operative. Having actually managed to get through I was loathe to disconnect, so I looped the menu systems continually and eventually got lucky. I felt kinda bad about fudging the system in this way, even if I didn’t really do anything wrong.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of last year, I wasn’t relishing the prospect of trying again, especially as it feels a little unfair to go two years in a row when other fans would love the opportunity. Thankfully, the BBC emailed today to say this series’ tickets will be allocated by a lottery, which everybody has until 18th September to enter. This is much fairer. Apply here here (link corrected) if you’re interested…

Only a month until the new series starts! Very very exciting 🙂

Atonement preview screening

The local cinema had a very early preview of Atonement today, followed by a live-via-satellite question and answer session with its director: Joe Wright. Abi and I were there, and the following is spoiler-free…

The cinema was only half-full, and I was probably the only person in the room not to have read the book. It’s been heavily recommended by many people over the last few years, but after getting distracted two chapters in I never got around to carrying on – there’s nothing duller than re-reading for forgotten but necessary details1. It’s one of Abi’s favourite novels, and she was very concerned the story would be changed for the film. She’s not a purist, and shares my view that it’s unreasonable to expect what works on paper to work on-screen, but didn’t want the spirit altered, particularly in relation to the ending. We thought it would be interesting to see our differing reactions if this did happen, given that I didn’t know the story in advance.

Abi was very, very happy to find the film was almost completely faithful to the book, and she had no quarrel with the ending. She’ll have a review up shortly on her blog2, and will likely focus on this aspect, so I’ll stick to the non-book elements.

I enjoyed it. I liked the different, clever story, and thought it was well-structured. I was concerned for a while that it might wander off into Closer-like endless introspection, but it didn’t: this made me happy. I don’t think I’m as easily moved as I used to be3 but plenty around me were in tears for one reason or another, and I could see that it was touching at times. There was plenty for the filmmaking-geek in me to watch, too: interesting camerawork and filter effects, and one shot in particular was stunningly composed (waiting; outside; green dress; you’ll know it when you see it).

Joe Wright said afterwards that he felt Keira Knightley had grown into a woman since working with her in Pride and Prejudice, and I could see what he meant. She’s always had a girlish element – not a criticism, by the way – but here she was fully mature, and completely convincing. I couldn’t fault any of the acting – spot Brenda Blethyn, if you can – but she was the standout performer.

The Q&A session with the director was fascinating. He apparently read and completely rejected the original script, which changed the entire structure and major plot elements of the story, then worked with the same writer to fix it. That can’t be an easy conversation 🙂 He had some insights into working with actors, notably the trick of spotting and eradicating the ‘tick’ that actors default into when they don’t know what to do – for Miss Knightley, it’s apparently pouting. He also slagged off the ‘adolescent’ notion that happy endings are always trite, and had things to say about the stand-there-and-look-pretty portrayal of women in Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Los Angeles audience asked questions, which ranged from pretty vague ‘I love James McAvoy, please talk about him’ to specific questions on styles of camerawork, all of which were eloquently answered. Perhaps the most interesting was the woman who asked what he’d like to improve upon, which, to his credit, he answered honestly – he picked out a scene which doesn’t match the vision in his head. The session lasted perhaps 45 minutes, and although a little sycophantic was definitely worthwhile in my view.

I could have done with a little longer between the film and the Q&A to get my head around some of the themes. It doesn’t give anything away to say that the concept of storytelling has a major structural and thematic role, but I’d have felt more intellectually satisfied if I’d figured it out myself rather than had it explained to me. That’s my fault, though – I should have read it before 🙂

I personally can’t see anybody leaving the cinema and not thinking it time well spent. Even if you don’t like the story, it’s interesting enough to linger, and fun to analyse. Definitely recommended by me.

Incidentally, such an early screening prompted huge security from the cinema. A burly security guard on the door warned the queue that all mobile phones and recording devices must be switched off. This was reiterated once we were seated, and there was somebody sitting next to the screen throughout the film, watching the audience. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, I’m intrigued that cinemas are willing to do it, and wish they’d bother for enjoyment as opposed to copyright protection. I’d happily pay more to attend a cinema that has guards watching for people making noise – I’d say it’s a problem in 1/3 films.

  1. I’m 2/3 through Saturday, my first Ian McEwan, atm []
  2. may not be spoiler-free []
  3. which annoys me, actually – I like dramatic emotional responses! []

The Bourne Ultimatum

I saw The Bourne Ultimatum this evening. After really enjoying ‘Identity’ but getting rather bored in ‘Supremacy’, I had a fun time in the third. Plenty of well-crafted and inventive action scenes, plus the sheer class of Joan Allen to raise everything up a notch 🙂 The sound also impressed me – the combination of clear, vicious effects with the loose, chaotic camerawork made for some brutal fight scenes, and I thought the music was particularly atmospheric. Sure, the film was full of less-than-plausible ideas – this is the nature of spy thrillers. Nevertheless, one scene went too far:

There is no way the CIA use Norton Internet Security.

There should have been a scene where they missed capturing Bourne by twenty seconds after their computers locked up for no apparent reason. I wonder how much money changed hands over that little plug.

The Enemies of Reason – Part One

I really enjoyed it. I was a little worried it might just be a look at the bizarre things people believe, which would probably have been entertaining enough, but there was also an excellent explanation of the reasons we all stumble into supersition – I thought of Skinner’s pigeons seconds before they turned up1 – and probably the best tv explanation of the scientific method I’ve seen. Rather than being overwhelmingly negative about the reach of the paranormal into society, there was a healthy dose of wonder: ‘science is the poetry of the universe’.

I particularly enjoyed RD2 calling out the cold-reading card guy, and the discussion with the magical-thinking astrologer was very revealing – the guy refused to validate anything he believed! I was also amused that Jonathan Cainer’s name was blurred, but it was obvious anyway 🙂 I liked the swipe at postmodern/relativists – Melanie Phillips take note – and the dowsers, while demonstrated to be completely wrong, were treated humanely. I’d be interested to see more of the interview with the “I’ll be around for billions of years” spiritualist, although it was probably all as bonkers as the clip we saw.

I didn’t think the Warwick Uni sociologist’s point was followed up as well as it could have been. He claimed that people could interpret evidence in different ways, and that a stalemate could result. I can see that refuting this is fairly complex, though. Do you go with the concept of a scientific consensus, or argue that interpretations cannot be inherently opposed if taken from the same data – that any differences must be resolveable through logic3?

There could possibly have been more time spent on the reasons irrational belief is bad for society, but I suspect that’ll come in next week’s show on alternative medicine and the NHS. Astrology and psychics irritate and worry me, especially when you realise how much money they bilk from gullible-but-often-desperate victims, but it’s alternative medicine that’s the really despicable, dangerous area. Looking forward to it.

(update: this Richard & Judy interview sums up some of the main points. Richard M talks sense, Judy seems…less impressed)

  1. I must have read about them in a Dawkins book, I guess []
  2. who channel 4 seem to have decided is ‘Mr Grumpy Face’, given the not particularly representative pics they’re using on their website []
  3. which I’m not claiming is necessarily true, but seems possible []


Woah, Heroes got better! I thought it was ok before, if you ignored the dialogue and tried not to see what was coming, but I was mildly disappointed. I knew it to be too universally loved by Firefly / Lost fans to be lightly written off, though, and I was prepared to stick with it. The overall idea was interesting, and hey – New York and superheroes are two of my favourite things! Happily, it didn’t take long.

Even before the credits the third episode was snappier, with much more interesting dialogue, and it turned out to be have been written by comics giant Jeph Loeb. He tore through the characters, making me actually care about them, while fixing plot lines and fleshing out the background. Much better. I think the ubiquitous comparisons with Lost are a bit dodgy – yes, it follows a disparate group of characters, but it’s far less subtle and enigmatic. Which isn’t a criticism; I like the mixture of drama and comic-book verve1. Great stuff, I’ll look forward to this one.

Anyone else think the congressional candidate is a young Scott Bakula? It’s uncanny!

  1. the men are a mixture of geek and buff-but-quiet-guys, while the women are all unequivocal goddesses – just like comics! []

Donnie Darko and Director’s Cuts

Last night I saw the director’s cut of Donnie Darko. Bizarre. It’s one of my favourite films, but this added a chunk of religiosity and sci-fi exposition, and I think I prefer the more enigmatic original. The score was also different, and sometimes came close to overpowering the dialogue (on a small tv, anyway). Abi hadn’t seen it before and certainly enjoyed this telling, though, so maybe it doesn’t detract much from the film.

It’s unusual for me not to like a Director’s cut. Watching a film for the fifth time is a different experience from the first, and extra scenes that would have made an initial viewing tedious can be fascinating, especially if it’s a movie you love. I’ve liked the DCs of Armageddon, Gladiator and Superman. Blade Runner is another oft-quoted example, but I don’t think I’ve seen the non-DC version. I like the longer versions of the LOTR trilogy too, even if they do last forever. Sometimes DCs can be mental: The Abyss is a classic – the Director’s cut completely changes the story! And occasionally it goes the other way – the recent DVD DC of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is significantly shorter than the original.

Little Miss Sunshine

I’m a little late to the Little Miss Sunshine party. It’s languised on my to-watch list for months, and last week I finally got around to renting the DVD. From the trailer and reaction I was concerned it might be another Life Aquatic – I’d see that it was interesting yet be unmoved – but, happily, I enjoyed it very much. Most reactions I’ve seen online seem to centre on the negative elements, usually quoting demonstrably untrue cliches about modern Hollywood films, but I thought it was heartwarming and touching, admittedly in a bittersweet way, and the ending was positively joyous. Lovely.