Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Strike Reviews

While the American Writers Strike continues to grab headlines, many lesser-known instances of industrial action are going unnoticed by the press. Here’s a round-up of all the strikes around the world today.

The French Strike

Everyone in France is currently on strike, and the country is literally at a standstill. It is believed that the last person to leave their place of employment in disgust was a chicken farmer in Rouen last Thursday. Details of how the strike was started are sketchy, but it is rumoured to have been spurred by an argument over cigarette smoke in a Parisian café last August. The strike escalated from there, encompassing the entire population of the country. This strike is proving to be particularly ineffective, as there are no people to listen to anyone else’s demands, due to everyone’s superiors being on strike. But still, the strikers are being very resilient, and even the UN has been unable to help, as there is nobody in France to let them in.

You’ve got to admire the tenacity of the French, hanging in there and refusing to give up, despite the fact that food will soon run out, and with nobody removing rubbish, piles of waste are building up everywhere. But really, they’re shooting themselves in the foot with their stubbornness, and I can’t imagine any of the parties winning this war. Strike rating on a scale of 1 (useless) to 10 (highly effective): 2

Spam Emailers of America Hunger Strike

The last time anyone clicked on an unsolicited email ad for herbal Viagra or penis extensions was in 2004, when a drunk businessman accidentally fell on a computer in a Tokyo Internet café. Since then, Spam Emailers have complained about their unfair treatment at the hands of Internet Service Providers and online Email Programs, claiming that the world is missing out on great investment opportunities and hot teen-on-teen action. Their cries have gone unheeded, and now two thousand Spam Email writers have chained themselves to the gates of the Norton Antivirus software offices, refusing food.

Normally a hunger strike is a great method of bringing attention to your cause, but when you’re as universally despised as spammers, it’s not going to end well for you. I can’t see what the strikers were hoping to achieve, really. There have been rumours that some of the strikers have been trying to unchain themselves and find food, but passers-by have prevented them by standing on their necks. Strike rating: 3

The Union of British Butlers Strike

The UBB have been striking for a week now, bringing most of southern England to a standstill. The strike was instigated by the union in protest at the treatment of Mister Jeeves, a Union member who was the inspiration for the formerly-popular search engine, AskJeeves. Mr. Jeeves still hasn’t received payment from the website for either likeness or naming rights, and so the lauded gentry of the nation have had to go without ironed newspapers, freshly squeezed paupers and warm gutted foxes.

The UBB strike has been very successful up to now, with other organizations such as the Association of Saucy Chambermaids and the Fearsome Nannies Union joining in sympathy. The strike also has the support of the upper class of England, who are petitioning AskJeeves to pay their butler icon so that they can have their groomsboys beaten again for laziness. There are few groups whose non-work would have more effect on British life; only the barmen and Indian tea pickers spring to mind. Strike rating: 8

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Art Review: Men at Work by Allied Construction Ltd and Davenham Estates Inc.

The new collaboration by up and coming art punks Allied Construction Ltd and Davenham Estates Inc. has got the art world salivating like a bunch of Pavlov’s dogs in a doorbell factory. Located on the corner of St Clair and Avenue in downtown Toronto, the installation – entitled ‘Men at Work’ – is an absolute triumph.

Both emotionally stirring and beautiful at the same time, Men at Work features a group of adult males pretending to work on the creation of a new building. No detail has been spared by the artists; trucks full of supplies come and go, scaffolding has been erected around the shell of the ‘building’, signs have been put up to warn the spectators about the dangers of the site and it really does look like actual work is taking place. There is even a sign advertising a sales office complete with ‘Show Room’, claiming that finished apartments will be available from Summer 2010 from two million dollars.

Looking at Men at Work, one is filled with an immense feeling of satisfaction, of man as creator, as artist, as constructor. It is clear that the artists are saying, ‘Look at us! We’re creating! We’re constructing!’ and they do this by comparing their own vocations to those of their fellow creators. The assorted detritus scattered around the site show us that no act of creation is without its waste, and that art is not always as simple and clean as the galleries would have us believe, sometimes. Art can be messy.

And while the gloomy carapace of the unfinished building can take on a certain gloominess in its surroundings, the artists have added some wonderfully playful touches to the piece. Take, for example, the bright yellow hats worn by the ‘builders’, which brighten the mood as well as protect their wearers from any falling masonry.

Men at Work is a thrilling piece of art, both bold and fragile at the same time. In the several hours I stood watching it I felt a sense of awe at the creative power of mankind, and yet I was also compelled to fear how easily it could all be brought down, by the barbarians at our gates or an overtired crane operator.

Few things will prepare you for the tremendous piece of art that is Men at Work. I recommend that you go and see it. With daily showings until 2010, you have no excuse.

Men at Work by Allied Construction Ltd and Davenham Estate Inc, on display on the corner of Avenue and St. Clair, Toronto, until summer 2010. Price of admission: Free. Price of finished apartments: $2m to $8.5m (Penthouse). Prices include valet parking and personal elevators. For enquiries, please call Matthew on 416-555-6913. Post no bills.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Special Imaginary Letters Page!!

Since The Imaginary Review was nominated for three prestigious awards last week, I now have a fan club on Facebook! While I don’t have an account of my own (I’m opposed to social networking for sexual reasons), my biggest fan, close friend and Superman to my Clark Kent, Philip Smith, decided to start up the group. At last count its members totalled double figures, which is great news!

So what with the awards and the fan club, I’ve had to hire an imaginary office assistant to help me deal with the deluge of imaginary mail that has been pouring in from all my readers. I’ve been getting so much recently that I apologise for the fact that I can’t reply to each individually, unless it’s as a comment on the bottom of this blog.

In true Imaginary Review style, however, I’ve decided to share some of my recent letters with you and respond to them in the form of a review! Let’s start, shall we?

Dear Imaginary Reviewer,

I’m a really big fan of The Imaginary Review, ever since I was doing a Google search for Dame Judy Dench and you were on the 155th page. Can you tell me how you come up with so many great ideas for things, when they don’t exist? You’re a bit like God, in a mad way, aren’t you, what with all these things that you create? Admittedly, you’ve never created a new marsupial, and God never invented a chat show hosted by Madeline Albright, but still, the comparison remains valid, I think.
- Jonathon, West Sussex

Now this is a great letter, well-written, obviously fully thought-out and with excellent hand writing. There’s so much to praise in this letter: the introductory sentence with its historical reference and the question in the second sentence that brings me, the reader, into the letter and gets me involved. Excellent. Comparing me to God is a daring move, with many risks, but I think the effect is quite brilliant. I’d give Jonathon’s letter eight stars out of a possible ten. I deducted one star because the perfume he sprayed on the envelope wasn’t very nice.

Dear Mister Reviewer,

You may already have won £5,000,000! Yes, reply today to find out if you have won £5,000,000! Just send this pre-paid coupon back to us, along with your name, age and cheque for fifty pounds and you can find out if you’ve already won £5,000,000! What are you waiting for, Imaginary?
- Mister Pott, London W1

This is a pretty good letter, in my opinion. It’s short, to the point and comes with a pre-paid reply coupon, which I can cut out, cross out the address and stick onto another envelope, saving me the postage. But while I like being referred to as ‘Mister Reviewer’, I find their use of my first name – Imaginary – to be a little rude. Six stars.

Deer Imaginy Revew

Mi name is tommy i am 6 you are mi favorite website can you do a revew of the doodlebugs cos they is my favorite to. I drawd a picshur of you playing with the doodlebugs.
- Tommy, Nuneaton

No, no, no. This is a terrible letter. Where do I begin? Let’s start with the spelling. It’s absolutely atrocious, even for a child of six years old. There’s very poor grammar, no flow between ideas and the assertion that the Doodlebugs are Tommy’s “favorite [sic] to [sic]” makes no sense. He already said that I was his “favorite [sic] website”. Are the Doodlebugs also his favourite website? Or are they his favourite TV show? I wonder if even Tommy himself knows. Very poor, two stars (and they’re both for the drawing).

Dear Imaginary Reviewer,

I find your weblog both poorly written and entirely lacking in humour. Each time I go to your site I find myself coming away sadder than before, wondering why I do this to myself. Why do I continually find myself on this Godawful pile of unfunny nonsense? Why do I insist on returning to this stream of unmitigated pap? Why do you continue? Why don’t you just stop? Return to your day job! Stop writing bad reviews! Stop it! Oh, and your Dad says ‘Hi, happy birthday for Thursday’.
- Mum, Liverpool

This is a little better than the last letter, but it’s still very poorly written, and the slather marks on the page make it very difficult to read. I think the sentiments expressed within are also poorly constructed, badly thought out and just plain hurtful. It’s not my fault my parents didn’t have that girl they wanted.

Friday, 25 January 2008

The Imaginary Restaurant Reviewer goes to Town

In all my many years as a restaurant reviewer I’ve witnessed the birth of many new fads and fashions in the dining world. The pre-meal bar, allowing patrons to have a drink while their table is prepared, for example. Themed restaurants, like Planet Hollywood (films), Hard Rock Café (music) and Aorta (open-heart surgery). The introduction of vegetables in 1949. The list goes on.

It seems that the most pervasive new trend in the eatery world is that of the ‘fast food’ restaurant. One cannot stray from one’s home into the boondocks or the cityscapes without falling over outside a fast food restaurant and having to call one’s significant other to help one up before one is mugged by an oik. Never one to turn up my nose at a meal away from my own dining room with its ghastly paint scheme and incessant dance music coming through the walls from next door, I decided to venture to a nearby vendor of this ‘fast food’.

The establishment where I found myself certainly did itself no favours in the ‘first impressions’ department. The décor was bland to the point of invisibility and the tables and chairs looked like they had been formed out of cheap plastic that was too rickety to be used in a primary school.

The service was terrible too. I sat and waited for an hour before any member of staff attended to me, and even then it was to sweep the crumbs from under my table rather than to give me a menu. In the end I gave up and went to see the Maitre D’ to try and get a menu from them. It was here, talking to the rather young worker, that I realized that I was supposed to get up and order my meal there. Another low score, then, for service.

I ordered something called a ‘burger’, which, I was rather scornfully informed, was a sandwich containing ground beef. This was accompanied by very thin chips and a large milky drink (sadly, there was no wine menu). So, after the disappointment of the décor, atmosphere and the service, was I to be let down in the food department too?

Far from it. The meal, though inexpensive, was absolutely delicious! The meat inside the burger was superb, as if every part of the cow had been used in its production. A cacophony of different flavours rippled in my mouth, with the hearty slab of meat, the zesty tang of pickled gherkins, the crunchy onion explosion and the wondrous inclusion of a completely delicious sauce. I was so taken with this sauce that I asked one of the kitchen staff what was in it, but apparently the sauce is ‘secret’. I can only imagine what wonders go into making it!

The chips were among the best I’ve had, from Gordon Ramsay’s Food restaurant to the Oubliette in Paris. What they lacked in size they more than made up for in taste, with a cunning mixture of crispness and sogginess. I scarfed them down with gusto.

So all in all, the food more than made up for the terrible service and vomit-inducing interior design. And all for less than the lowest denomination of English banknote! A bargain!

I shall certainly be returning to this establishment, as I can’t wait to try all their different meals. In fact, I have cancelled my reservation at the Fat Duck so I can go back as soon as possible. Next on my list is the rather exotic-sounding ‘Chicken Nuggets’. I can’t wait!

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Album Review: Aqua – Pseudepigraphical Laodicean Epistle

Scandinavian poppets Aqua were last heard several years ago, when they topped the charts with a series of catchy bubblegum pop songs. Most famous was ‘Barbie Girl’, their tribute to the eponymous doll and her boyfriend, Ken. After several chart topping hits, including ‘Turn Back Time’ (used in the soundtrack to the film Sliding Doors) the band disappeared from the radar, and the music press assumed that Aqua had gone the way of all those other disposable pop artists.

The truth was far different. The group have spent the last seven years working on their new album, Pseudepigraphical Laodicean Epistle. Citing a new range of influences, from Estonian composer Arvo Pärt to writer Robert Anton Wilson, they have created a vast, sprawling musical landscape in which the casual listener will probably lose themselves.

The main reason for the delay in releasing this album is the first track, ‘Dogs are Rarer as God’. Six years in the making from initial idea to finished work, the track is a five-minute musical palindrome. If you play the song backwards, it sounds exactly the same as when it is played normally. Bald songwriter René Dif managed to make this effect with painstaking sound recording techniques, sampling noises that sound the same when played both ways. The lyrics to the song – dealing with the subject of astronauts’ bodies turning to jelly after their return from the weightlessness of space – sound identical in each direction. Dif has said that his ultimate goal is to write a song that also sounds the same when turned inside out.

While ‘Dogs are Rarer as God’ is the standout track on the album, other songs give the recording a multi-layered structure that has rarely been seen outside the literary works of Umberto Eco. The title track of the album somehow manages to cover subjects as varied as apocryphal books of the Bible, Mayan fertility rituals, the paintings of Bridget Riley and TV show Deadwood, all in under four minutes. That it manages to touch on all of these subjects, form a cohesive whole and engage the listener (without overwhelming them), certainly says a lot for Dif’s skill as a songwriter.

And there are playful touches, too, which take this album in further Russian Doll territory. ‘La Dernier Chiffre Part 1’ is an homage to the Marquis de Sade sung in a mixture of Latin and English. Part 2 of the same song features Lene Nystrøm singing words that are formed by every other letter from the lyrics in Part 1. Under these conditions, the words form an entirely new subject, that of the Mexican feminist movement in the 1980s.

All this is, let’s not forget, from the same band who sang ‘We Are the Cartoon Heroes’.

The rest of the album is as detailed as a Heath Robinson illustration and as playful as a baby tiger. The only sour note on the entire recording is forthcoming single ‘I’m a Tiny Bee (Look at Me)’, which features on the soundtrack to the summer’s new Disney/Pixar movie, Insects in Space. But let’s not dwell on this, when the rest of the album is so very enjoyable, rich and totally unlike anything that any other toy-fixated Eurodance pop group has created.

Eight stars out of a possible nine.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

New Weaponry Review – Nokia 22-20 Gunphone

In a world in which mobile telephones come with built-in mp3 players, cameras and clothes irons, and when just about everything – from motorised wheelchairs to defibrillators – comes with a built-in phone, it was only a matter of time before the combination gun/cell phone was developed.

Designed by Nokia working in tandem with British Aerospace and with funding from the Disney Corporation, the 22-20 Gunphone was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month. It will go on sale in the U.S. in the summer, with anticipated releases in Sierra Leone, Dubai, Wales and the Congo at the end of the year. The Imaginary Review managed to sneak a prototype out of the exhibition using a combination of guile, cunning and a knee to the groin. We’ve been testing it ever since, from morning to night, just to give you the lowdown on 2008’s next essential piece of kit.

On first appearance the 22-20 looks a little larger than most current cell phones, and its bulky look may put off some prospective buyers. In addition, the barrel of the gun sticks out of the top of the gadget, and could be mistaken on first glance for the type of aerial that mobile phones used to have in the 1990s. The extra space required by the ammunition does allow the phone to have a screen that is 25% larger than its rivals, however.

The phone’s specs are fairly average; certainly they are among the weakest for a phone in this price range. However, it should be noted that no other phones in this price range can shoot the face off someone who is stealing your hub caps. The 22-20 is Internet-ready, and can browse the Internet with some ease. Indeed, the larger screen helps in this regard.

But the main talking point is the .22 calibre gun that is built into the casing, fired by a small button next to the mouthpiece. From my own experimentation, it has a range of around thirty feet and can penetrate the windscreen of an oncoming Subaru. Aiming the weapon is not an easy process, however, as I find the sights can lose their accuracy after being bashed around in my coat pocket.

My major gripe with the Gunphone is its failure to deter criminals. Show a potential mugger your .48 Magnum and they’ll run a mile. Threaten someone with your cellphone and they’ll laugh at you, forcing you to blow their brains out in irrational fury. It is possible to download threatening mp3 voices warning the criminal to back off, but until it becomes common knowledge that this phone is a gun, no perp will take you seriously while you wave your phone at them.

Also, there needs to be a slightly more effective locking mechanism on the weapon. I let a friend borrow the 22-20 to make an emergency call, and they accidentally shot their chin off, forcing me to make another emergency call on their behalf. I imagine that some people may also forget to lock the gun mechanism after using it, put the phone in their pocket and end up literally shooting themselves in the foot.

All grips aside, this is a great gizmo that comes highly recommended for anyone who has to make a lot of calls in dangerous areas and who doesn’t have enough room in their pockets for both a gun and a phone. Anyone buying the 22-20 just for the phone or the gun, however, will be disappointed, as there are much better examples of each out there, albeit separately.

The Nokia 22-20 Gunphone will be released June 2008 in the US. Phone will come with hands free kit, battery charger and 100 bullets. Not for sale to minors. Nokia will not be held responsible for any injuries caused by the vibrate function.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Film Review: Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot AGAIN!

With the release of last year’s Rocky Balboa and the forthcoming Rambo sequel, movie moguls are rushing to cash in with Sly Stallone sequels. The next is Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot AGAIN!, reuniting Estelle Getty with Stallone, and bringing in Jamie Foxx as Stallone’s wise-cracking sidekick.

Directed by Brian DePalma, the story revolves around a prescription drug-ring secretly importing cut-price medication from Canada and undercutting pharmaceutical companies in the US. In order to bust the ring open, Detective Joe Bomowski needs someone to pose as a buyer from the ring, and who better to use than his own mother?

With a story like that, can anything ensue but hilarity? Well, yes it can. While some scenes raise a smile – the sight of Getty being accidentally tasered by her own son is particularly amusing – for the majority of its 108 minutes, this movie is neither funny nor exciting. Foxx’s character is just annoying; why he agreed to be in this movie when it should be passed down to someone like Chris Tucker is beyond me. Even Jimmy Smitts, here playing Gerardo, crime boss and the thorn in Stallone’s side, can’t save his character from stereotypical drudgery.

In short: Watch the trailer. See Estelle Getty hit by 3,000 volts of electricity and Jamie Foxx falling off a boat while dressed as an old lady. Smile. Smile some more, knowing you just enjoyed the only two moments in the film worth watching, and that you saved the cost of your cinema ticket.

One star, shaped like a clapperboard.

Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot AGAIN!, starring Sylvester Stallone, Estelle Getty, Jaime Foxx and Jimmy Smitts. Directed by Brian DePalma. Released March 29th. Rated PG for scenes of cross-dressing, mildly offensive language, moderately offensive acting and unchristian values.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Vote for Me!

It seems that someone (who I didn't pay, honest) has nominated The Imaginary Review for a Blogger's Choice Award! Please go and vote for me, and maybe I'll win a prize! And then I can write a review of the ceremony!

I've been writing lots of reviews recently, so after my little break there'll be lots and lots updates over the next few weeks. I've also got a new project up my sleeve, more details to come soon!

My site was nominated for Best Humor Blog!

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Last Night’s Television

Amid the much publicized drop in the show’s ratings, Coronation Street (ITV 8:00) had its first guest director last night, and early indications show that millions tuned in to see what David Lynch would do with the program. I think it’s safe to say that nobody was expecting to see Ken Barlow (William Roache) give birth to a giant, wheezing ball of living glue on Sally Webster’s living room floor, or Tyrone (Alan Halsall) get strangled by Fiz’s own guts in the Rover’s Return. The long-term ramifications don’t just extend to the characters, either. The Underworld Knickers Factory morphed into a grotesquely hellish dungeon-style location, which show insiders suggest may turn out to be the inside of a giant undulating cockroach.
While Lynch’s changes to Coronation Street have managed to grab new viewers, it remains to be seen whether this experiment will keep them. And what the future guest directors (Takeshi Miike, Alan Smithee and Bono being three of those announced) will do with Lynch’s new characters, especially Graham, the telepathic hermaphrodite, I don’t know.

Over on BBC2, The Secret Life of Clowns (9:30) was terrifyingly gripping. While much is known about the public persona of such famous clowns as Bozo, Binko and Pennywise, not a lot is known about the private lives of the less well-known ones. The program makers should be commended for their unflinching look into this seedy and frightening world of orgies, self-mutilation and sin. Watching Quentin, a part-time clown in Epping, travel straight from a child’s birthday party to an underground clown-fetish club was astonishing. Even more impressive was his flawless transition from creating cute balloon animals for the children to doing horrid, horrid things with his balloons, all for the pleasure of the perverts watching in the club. Next week’s show proves to be a real mind-bleach necessity.

Channel Five’s live coverage of the World Ker-Plunk Championships (2:00) would have been terrible, if not for the wonderful commentary by Erwin Frume. The four-time UK Ker-Plunk champion has such enthusiasm for the sport that the way he calls each play makes every dropped marble seem like a grenade down a pipe of kittens. The competitors themselves are far too serious for their own good, and more characters like Norway’s Brian “Strep Throat” Gunderssen would really help to put the sport on the World stage.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Book Review: Gingerbread Hunter by Kathryn Wehrle

Kathryn Wehrle's first piece of non-fiction is the story of her quest to find the best-tasting gingerbread in the whole of Toronto. Along the way she finds and befriends all sorts of different people, bringing them together under the tasty brown umbrella that is a good gingerbread.

The book takes the reader through the Toronto bakery world, from the upper class croissant houses of Yonge to the seedy sesame bun shacks that form the city's notorious backstreet baking underbelly. The chapters dealing with these latter parts of the quest are terrifying, especially when the author's taste testing is interrupted by a visit from the bakery's owner, the notorious crime lord Saffron Tumerick, head of the Danish Mafia.

Other elements of the story are uplifting, such as the chapter in which Kathryn manages to save a struggling patisserie by recommending them to a hungry passer-by; the man is none other than Richard Branson, and he invests huge sums of money in the bakery, rescuing it from bankruptcy. There are also hilariously funny scenes, such as the impromptu food fight in a tea shop populated by upper-class ladies, and the scene in which Kathryn finds a woman's toe in a gingerbread man. Her search for the toe's former owner took her to three different continents and started a friendship that would eventually lead to divorce.

But rather than the people, the star of Gingerbread Hunter is the gingerbread itself. Kathryn's description of each morsel alone is worth the price of the book. From the 'delapidated creosote bungalow smell' of an out-of-date coffeeshop pastry to the 'smarmy self-confident sneer' of Guutenborg's $3,000-a-piece luxury gingerbread, Wehrle's prose makes each mouthful of biscuit real.

All in all, I would give this book five icing sugar buttons out of five.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

The Imaginary Review's Review of the Year's Reviews

As December comes to an end, all newspapers like to look back at the previous year, taking stock of the stories, analysing the ups and downs, and taking the opportunity to reprint old articles, saving money that would have otherwise been paid to useless journalists.

The New York Times's list of the best geese of the year was a definite highlight for me. I was a bit surprised by the inclusion of Beaky in the top ten, as she strikes me as being a most disagreeable goose. But it's hard to disagree with the paper's top three, in ascending order: Muffy, Graham the Goose and Ducky Wah Wah. All three are geese who have furthered the causes of geese everywhere, and are certainly deserving of their accolades.

Less successful was the Daily Express's annual run-down of the most offensive words of the year. While the writers put forward a good argument for the inclusion of 'dipstick', I fail to see how 'Borrovan' can be considered more offensive than 'f*ck'.

Nigel Slater's list of the 2008's must-see pub signs in the Guardian pulled no punches and had several surprises. I've visited The Awful Sundae in Gosport several times and found their sign to be a great disappointment. However, the number one sign in the list, Nantwich's The Sidney Youngblood was a worthy entry.

Nothing in Slate Magazine's Top 20 politicians of the year made sense.

The Chicago Tribune had a great list of the 100 places to visit in Shugborough, Millford, before you die in 2008. The writing was excellent, however I am somewhat offended by the assumption that I will die in 2008.

Billboard Magazine's twenty best ringtones of the year held few surprises, with Rhianna's 'Look at me (I'm wearing a Skirt)' at the top spot. Other popular ringtones from 2007 included Li'l John's 'D*pst*ck B*rrovan' and Glenys Kinnock's cover of the Ramones' 'Blitzkreig Bop'.

And finally, The Imaginary Review published a review of some of the end of year reviews from 2007 which was a huge failure. For a start, the list was late, appearing long after the countdown to midnight on December 31. The reviews were poorly written, pedestrian at best, and completely unfunny. If the Imaginary Reviewer wants to increase his readership in 2008, then he really needs to pull his socks up, and soon. I would recommend some self-referencial humour, possibly with a little more modesty and self-effacement.