Wednesday, 26 November 2008

No Limits: The 2 Unlimited Musical

Fresh from the success of Mamma Mia! - the film of the show of the song of the thing Italian stereotypes say – comes No Limits: The 2 Unlimited Musical. With a story penned by Alice Munro and featuring the Europop band’s biggest hits, there can be no doubt that this comes with a great amount of expectation. But will it succeed?

If the crowd at the preview shows is anything to go by, the answer is, emphatically, “yes”. Or maybe even “emphatically, yes”. Or possibly “yes,” but said emphatically, with a nod of the head, so that the emphasis is inferred, rather than said outright.

The story of No Limits revolves around Anita, a young Dutch shoe shop employee who falls for her boss, a young go-getter called Ray. But how will she capture the heart of her hard-working employer who seems to have no time for romance? Enter Cloggy, a mysterious wooden shoe creature who befriends Anita and sets out to help her find true love.

It’s a clichéd story, to be sure, but what brings it all together is the music. Like the Abba songs in Mamma Mia!, the Queen songs in We Will Rock You and the Wheatus songs in Teenage Dirtbag: The Musical, the sheer brilliance of 2 Unlimited’s music really does ensure a quality time for all.

Take the scene in which Anita is bemoaning Ray’s lack of social life because he’s always at the shoe shop. What better way to exemplify this than with 2 Unlimited’s excellent top ten hit Workaholic? This song had everyone dancing in the aisles, especially with its brilliant lyrics such as “Drinking drinking like an alcoholic/That guy is just a workaholic”! Why, it’s nearly as good as when Turbo D of Snap declared that rhythm was a dancer, and did so with all the seriousness of a terrible illness. Lyrics like this only come once in a lifetime.

Anita (left) and Ray, the main characters of No Limits. Cloggy not pictured.

Another excellent idea by the producers of No Limits was to have a screen behind the stage projecting the lyrics, like a giant karaoke machine. None of the viewers watching could resist joining in with Get Ready For This, and it was a joy to hear a huge hall full of people all singing along: “Are y’all ready for this?/ner ner ner neh neh neh ner ner ner ner neh neh neh ner ner ner ner/neh neh neh ner ner ner ner neh neh neh ner ner ner ner/nernernernernernerner yeah!/nernernernernernerner yeah!”

Of course, nothing is perfect, and No Limits does suffer occasionally from being a little too reliant on the songs in order to propel the story forwards. Magic Friend, one of 2 Unlimited’s least popular hits, seems to be the only reason why Cloggy is in the show at all. Also, an entire scene in which Anita finds herself trapped in a strange world where catchy European pop music doesn’t exist is only there so the producers can fit in the song Twilight Zone. But then, who am I to gripe, if the alternative is no appearance by this excellent piece of music? All together now! “This is the Twilight Zone/And you’re not on your own/Gonna take you to the Twilight Zone!” Hooray!

Oh, and just in case you were worried, the eponymous world-wide smash hit for which 2 Unlimited are most famous – No Limits – does appear in the show. Did you really think they’d leave it out? No, no. No, no, no, no. No, no, no, no. No, no. There’s no effing way they’d leave it out.

In summary, then, No Limits – The 2 Unlimited Musical is the best musical I’ve ever seen based around the songs of a much missed Europop band of the 90s. Well, not counting Pump up the Jam! The Technotronic Musical and The Culture Beat Beat Beats on: Featuring Mr Vain and all the Rest of Culture Beat’s Hits in the Form of a Stage Play Set to Music with the Songs Related (Sometimes Spuriously) to the Events Occurring in the Story. But then, those two musicals really are the benchmark for 90s dance-influenced musicals.

No Limits: The 2 Unlimited Musical begins December 1st at the Glasgow McUpChuck Theatre. Tickets are white, with black writing. The first 20 customers receive a free baby.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

An Eargasm Interlude

Firstly, I want to apologise for the lack of hilarious Imaginary Reviews recently. Admittedly, the quality has been high (if I do say so myself), but I haven’t been updating as regularly. This is due to a combination of things, including a minor traffic accident, work, and being hepped up on back pain medication. I am full of hope that this will be remedied shortly.

Secondly, I thought I’d explain my choices in the most recent Green Monkey Music Project, in which the lovely Barbara asked contributors to select six songs that give them ‘eargasms’. I decided to join in the fun, and blogger extraordinaire Splotchy has them on his rather excellent blog. Here, I’ll talk you through my selection.

1: Maybe Tenderness – Gintare
Eargasm moment: 1:37

Gintare is an eastern European singer whose voice is like a cross between Bjork, Enya and an opera singer. I received her album, Earthless, to review for my University newspaper, and was blown away. It is beautiful. Quite a bit of the album is very dancy, but the song I’ve chosen is slow and builds up nicely to a wonderful long note that always gives me shivers (around 1:37).

2: Untitled #3 – Sigur Ros
Eargasm moment: 4.48

This was the first song I thought of when I read the criteria for this mix. For me, this piece of music is one long wave of anticipation for the moment at 4:48 when the key changes. The song starts with wave noises, a piano emerges and slowly, slowly, other instruments join in, and just when everything seems to be there, the piano goes up. Amazing.

Southern Accents – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Eargasm moment: 2:20

My favourite song by my favourite band of all time. The eargasm moment is really for the lyrics, which always seem to get me. I could listen to this song forever.

Helicon 1 – Mogwai
Eargasm moment: 2:55

It was difficult to pick only one Mogwai song for this compilation, given that they’ve provided me with so many eargasm moments. For those unfamiliar with this band of Scottish post-rockers, their early stuff mostly consists of very quiet, repetitive guitar melodies that suddenly erupt into huge, loud cacophonies of noise. Helicon 1 is a good example of this, with the quietest opening ever and lovely loud part at 2:55. I have announced in the past that I would like this song to be played at my funeral.

Nandodemo – Dreams Come True
Eargasm moment: 2:52

Apologies for a song in Japanese, but this is the first song I really loved when I moved to Japan in 2004. The moment that gets me is when the chorus is sung two more times with different lyrics towards the end. It’s almost breathless and peps me up end. The entire song epitomises for me the very Japanese word ‘Ganbatte’: Fighting, striving, never giving up, no matter what.

Concerto De Aranjuez (Adagio) – Rodrigo
Eargasm moment: 9:15

This is my favourite piece of classical music. Again, a great crescendo, the highlight of which for me is the moment when everything rises, holds for a breath longer than I expect it to around 9:15, then carries on before fading out. Beautiful.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Restaurant Review: Appetite for Mozzarella

Axl Rose has many reasons to be happy right now. Next week, the long-awaited Guns N Roses album, Chinese Democracy, will be released after 14 years of writing, recording, false starts and band member changes. Even more surprisingly, Rose has just recently opened a new pizza restaurant in downtown Los Angeles called ‘Appetite for Mozzarella’, and it’s garnering a lot of attention from gourmands and rock fans alike. I decided to take a look.

The décor of AfM is how one would expect a restaurant owned by the frontman of Guns N Roses to look. Guitars and photos of the past adorn the walls of the eatery, though his public spats with other members of G’n’R mean that only pictures of Axl himself are to be found. There are framed gold and platinum discs around the place, and in one corner there is a display of some of Rose’s famous kilts. As one might expect, the music being played is a constant stream of Guns N Roses’ most popular songs, including that one from Terminator 2.

Looking at the menu, there’s a great selection of delicious-looking pizza meals, and I opted for the ‘Sweet Chili of Mine’, a pepper-based pizza with caramelised onions and olives. My partner went for the ‘Meat-Train’, a carnivore’s dream with more different sausages than you can shake a Slash guitar solo at. Really, we were spoiled for choice; from the fromage-tastic ‘It’s so Cheesy’ (with seven different kinds of cheese) to the vegetarian ‘Welcome to the Fungal’, a mostly mushroom-based pizza, there was so much on offer here. I was quite tempted by the ‘Paradise VoraCity’, a pizza that certainly lives up to its name by being 36 inches in diameter and earning a leather jacket for anyone who can eat an entire one alone.

With all these mouthwatering choices, then, it’s a shame that the service in Appetite for Mozzarella is so poor. It was over an hour after we ordered that we saw our waiter again, and when asked what had happened to our food he apologised but said that Axl had fired all his kitchen staff shortly after we ordered. He assured us that our meal would be ready once the new recruits had got up to speed with the kitchen layout and the menu.

I took this time to read a leaflet about the restaurant. Apparently it’s possible to rent out Appetite for Mozzarella for a special ‘November Rain’ wedding reception, complete with unexpected downpours, someone diving headfirst through the cake and a general feeling of foreboding until the third act when the bride dies and the groom wakes up, sobbing, as the whole thing has been a dream.

After another hour had passed our pizzas were brought out to our table, but before the waiter could set them before us, the chef ran out and told him to bring them back because he wasn’t happy with them.

It was at this point when I realised that nobody else in the restaurant was eating.

And this, then, is my main gripe with Appetite for Mozzarella. The food looks and smells wonderful. The smells coming out of the kitchen were to die for. We couldn’t wait for our food. But we had to wait. And wait. And wait. And despite being offered free Dr. Pepper for having to wait so long, it is simply unacceptable to have people wait for as long as we were before being served. When we discovered that our food wouldn’t be ready until April 2015, my partner and I decided to leave and find a more prompt meal elsewhere.

So I’m sorry that I can’t comment on the quality of the food in question, but with service this bad, I don’t recommend that anyone else try to find out for themselves.

No chefs’ hats out of a possible five.

Welcome to the fungal/we’ve got chanterelle/we’ve got every mushroom you want/even False Morel/and you’re a very hungry man/very hard to please/if you don’t like mushrooms well/we’ve got a pizza full of cheese/in the fungal/welcome to the fungal/gonna bring you your shi-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ke/shiitake/shiitake

Friday, 14 November 2008

Television Review: Holy Smokes

A recurring theme throughout many modern sitcoms is that they are driven by the personality or character of a single person. In most cases, this person is an established comedian or actor, like Ray Romano, Gerry Seinfeld or Ray Romano’s brother with the deep voice. Occasionally though, a television network will take a risk with an unproven personality, just as NBC have done with their latest sitcom, Holy Smokes.

Holy Smokes stars Jasper Haines as Joe Patrickson, a priest living with his wife and two children in California. Haines’s biggest role to date has been on the popular TV show Lost, in which he has starred for the past four seasons as the Smoke Monster, a large, swirling mass of black fog that consumes people and appears to be able to penetrate their memories. Before this breakthrough role, Haines had numerous bit parts, such as his appearance in Rescue Me as the ‘Smoke from Fire in Apartment B’ and in Without a Trace as ‘Smoke Coming from Kidnapper’s Cigarette’. This is his first starring role.

Jasper Haines, star of Holy Smokes

And boy, does he relish his time in front of the camera! Given that Haines is a giant pillar of acrid black fumes, people could be forgiven for having some doubt as to his acting ability, but he is definitely the man for the job. One of Holy Smokes’ senior writers has been quoted as saying that this is the role that Jasper Haines was born to play, and I agree with him. Well, I would, but I’m not sure that he was actually born as such. He looks like he fell out of a chimney.

Despite having no facial features to speak of, no voice except for a general ominous rumbling, and all the other drawbacks associated with being a big pile of wispy smog, Jasper does account for himself rather well. Indeed, when Joe’s attempts to put on his new priestly dog collar are thwarted by his lack of a physical neck, the actor is funnier than Jim Belushi in any episode of According to Jim, despite Belushi’s obvious advantage in the facial expression and voice area.

Content-wise, Holy Smokes does run the risk of being a little too samey for my liking. Most of the jokes revolve around the difficulties that Joe faces in his daily life as a priest who also happens to be a giant ball of smoke. The aforementioned inability to wear a dog collar, his misfortune when people switch on extractor fans, his unfortunate tendency to consume his parishioners, Lost-style: these are recurring jokes throughout the series. While they are certainly funny the first time, they do tend to grate as time goes on.

Joe’s relationship with his wife is a welcome element to the series, providing much relief from the obligatory “oh no, I just accidentally consumed old Mrs Gratt and her dog” jokes. Jenny Patrickson, played by Daphne Zuniga, provides a very good foil for Joe, and the running joke in which she repeatedly complains of her husband’s ineffectiveness in the bedroom is great. The accompanying uncertainty of the Patricksons’ children’s paternity gives the show a slightly tragicomic feel at times. Everyone knows that Joe couldn’t have got his wife pregnant; he’s a big ball of smoke with no genitalia!

In all, Holy Smoke is a fresh and funny new show, and Jasper Haines should go on to be a big star in the future. There are already rumours that he will be co-starring with Tom Cruise in a film set in WW2 Germany, and I think it will be nice to see him in a strongly characterised, serious role. But as a comedian, Haines still shines with a murky, foggy glory that really is unique, and Holy Smokes could well prove to be this year’s Everybody Loves Raymond’s Brother.

Holy Smokes, NBC, Thursdays at 9.30. Enjoy it while you can, it'll probably be cancelled after ten minutes.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

New Toy Review: Baby Sweetcheeks

Christmas is approaching like an angry neighbour with a golf club, threatening to kill us if we don’t stop playing our German Hi-Octane Gabba Music at four a.m. As the temperature drops, children’s thoughts turn to running down the stairs on Christmas morning to see if jolly old Saint Nick has been to visit. And what could be more seasonal than having to explain to one’s bright-eyed children that Santa won’t be able to visit this year because Daddy lost his job and Mummy has to turn tricks in order to stop the house from being repossessed?

But for those of us unaffected by the recent economic shitslide, toy manufacturers are releasing some excellent new playthings to help us truly celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ (who died, for his sins).

One such new toy is Baby Sweetcheeks, a doll made by APL Toys. The company claim that this is the most realistic toy child ever created, a viewpoint with which I wholeheartedly agree. For a start, when buying this doll, the purchaser is not allowed to take it home from the store. Instead, the buyer pays for it, gives their home address to the cashier, and the doll is abandoned on their doorstep at a later date. When I got my special pre-release Baby Sweetcheeks doll in this manner it was very traumatic for my partner; she had no idea that a neonate would be delivered by this method, and she suspected for some time that I had fathered a bastard offspring that was now coming back to haunt me.

Baby Sweetcheeks is powered by some very advanced technology that means she must be fed on a regular basis, just like a real child. Failure to do this activates a small beacon in the toy, and APL employees will come and confiscate the doll from its owner. Obviously, this can be somewhat traumatic for a small child, but not as traumatic as the subsequent mock trial they are forced to endure, in which they are accused of neglecting their baby.

Thankfully, none of this happened to me while I possessed the toy, as I managed to bottle-feed it throughout the reviewing time. Incidentally, bottle-feeding is now the only way of feeding the Baby Sweetcheeks dolls; the prototype versions that could also be breastfed were shelved after an outcry from consumer groups, children’s charities and Mormons.

All of this should give you some idea of quite how realistic Baby Sweetcheeks is, while at the same time conveying how unpleasant that makes the toy. Add to that the crying: the incessant sobbing at night, during the day, before feeding, during feeding, after feeding, after taking it for its shots - and don’t get me started on that one - when out in the stroller…all like the sound of Hell itself emanating from a plastic child-shaped shell. Then, when one has recovered from this ear-splitting hellwail of Beelzebub, there’s the never ending stream of shit that pours forth from her prosthetic arse-hole. Seriously, this child spouts more crap than Bill O’Reilly. Oh, and if you’re worried that the bodily fluids end there, stop where you are: Shit. Piss. Vomit. It’s all there to ‘enjoy’.

So, in conclusion, while APL Toys are to be commended for developing such a realistic doll, they seem to have forgotten the most important aspect of toy ownership, and that is that the toy itself must be fun. Baby Sweetcheeks is so much like the real thing, nobody in their right mind is going to want it. It’s practically no different to having a baby of one’s own, and everybody knows that the best thing about babies is making them.

Baby Sweetcheeks, made by the Abstinence Promotion League, is available from all good toy stores and several crap ones. Puke refills sold separately.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Imaginary Party Review

As the Imaginary Reviewer, I get invited to lots of soirees hosted by people who wish to curry my favour. Of course, my opinion on music, film or literature can’t be changed by sausages on sticks and after-dinner Armagnac, but this doesn’t stop people trying. My evenings are all full with black tie events and charity fundraisers, so much so that my tuxedo hasn’t had a night off in three months, and the Union of Formalwear Garments are threatening me with legal action.

And yet, my favour remains uncurried. The hosts of these parties have not managed to influence my reviews in any way; the only effect they’ve had on The Imaginary Review is fodder for my reviewing eye. So here are some reviews of some of the recent shindigs I’ve attended.

The evening at the Witheringham-Smythe’s home in Marylebone Square was a resounding success on all levels. Firstly, the other guests were all wonderfully interesting people. Mister Chatterstoft, a widower from Stoke-on-Trent, regaled us all with a rousing tale of his exploits in Bangkok. How we laughed at his witty anecdotes about cases of mistaken identity, slapstick police chases and missing prophylactics! And the food, laid on by the Witheringham-Smythes’ catering staff was to die for. The roast suckling duckling bathed in a reduction of its own tears was particularly delicious. Reverend Simms’s erotic shadow puppetry rounded off a delightful evening.

Lord Arse-Tebbit and his intriguing man-friends hosted a charity fundraising auction at the Blatherwick Manure Museum Hall on Tuesday. To raise money for the building of a new gallows in Blatherwick Town Centre, Lord Arse-Tebbit was auctioning off his daughters, all twenty-three of them. Bidding was quite frenzied at times, with some lots being decided through fist fights in the car park. A great time was had by all, especially Lord Arse-Tebbit’s daughters, who enjoyed the attention. I ended up winning Gladys, who now has pride of place on my mantelpiece until Saint Swithin’s Day, when I have to give her back.

I wasn’t particularly fond of the wine tasting hosted by Terence Flanagan at the Devonshire Hotel in Upper Wapping. A series of lapses in the evening’s organisation meant that no wine had been provided, and so our group of eager connoisseurs had to make do with a tap water tasting instead. This was far from ideal, especially after Mrs Killorphan caught diphtheria. We did, however, attempt to make the best of the situation, and I can reveal that – from our novice tastebuds, anyway – the upstairs gents’ toilets tap had the worst tasting water, while the best was in the third-floor staffroom.

Finally, Steve Capshaw had a wonderful soiree at his parents’ house while they were in Portugal for a week. A delightful time was had by most of his guests, especially Mark Jones who snogged Debbie Bradshaw in Steve’s parents’ bedroom, with many rumours circulating that she let him cop a feel as well. The food was excellent, and the good people at Kebabs! Kebabs! Kebabs! Takeaway down the road are to be commended. Sadly, the abundance of refreshing beverages seemed to take its toil on some people, with Johnny Murphy throwing up in the kitchen sink. Also, regrettably, somebody defecated in the hall, and Steve had to clean it up himself, as the culprit never admitted to it. All in all, this was a superb party, and I for one can’t wait until Steve’s Mum and Dad go to Prague for Christmas.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The Gospel According to Richard

Since it was unearthed by an archaeological team in the Middle East earlier this year, The Gospel According to Richard has been making huge waves in God-bothering circles. Though many have doubted its authenticity, a team of scientists have analysed a tiny fragment of the codex with a carbon dating machine they stole from MIT, and have confirmed that the book is “really really old. Ancient. Donkey’s years. Even older than that, if you can imagine it.”

Since the age of the document is no longer in any question, translators and religious scholars have been hard at work assessing the content of the now-famous tome. Being no stranger to the Christian religion myself (we were introduced at a party in Kent fifteen years ago), I decided to look at The Gospel According to Richard, and see what I could deduce myself.

The Gospel is quite small when compared to many of the other books of the Old and New Testaments, but what it lacks in size, it gains in clarity. It mainly features Richard outlining his devotion to God, such as in the most widely quoted segment, which appears several times:

And God spoke unto Richard, “How do I know you will continue to worship Me?”
And Richard spoke unto God, “My Lord, I just want to tell you what I am feeling. I have got to make you understand, for you are the Lord, my God.
I am never going to give you up.
I am never going to let you down.
I am never going to run around, nor will I ever desert you.
I will not give you reason to weep.
I will not say goodbye.
And I will never bear false witness
And hurt you.”
The Gospel According to Richard, Chapter 2, verses 1-9

This section, which has influenced many people since the new gospel was unearthed, is very powerful. Indeed, the first time I read it to my cat, she was moved to tears. And my cat has been dead since I was a child. Such is the potency of these verses.

This main message of Richard’s Gospel seems to be that Richard is pointing out that religion is a two-way street, that if God scratches my back, I’ll scratch his. Or I would, if he was corporeal. Consider the opening chapter of the Gospel:

Richard spoke unto to God,
“We’re no strangers to theological devotion.
You know the commandments and so do I.
A full commitment is what I am thinking.
You would not get this from any other religious follower.”
The Gospel According to Richard, Chapter 1, verses 1-5

With a message so full of love and devotion, it is a shame that much of this book is damaged. Water damage seems to have been the cause of much of the ink running in this manuscript, leading to a section consisting of nothing but “Never going to give. Never going to give. Never going to give you up.”, repeated for several pages.

Theologians who question the veracity of this as a genuine Biblical book mostly refer to Chapter 5, verse 2, in which Richard says to God, “…don’t tell me that you are too blind to see it.” The nay-sayers quote this as theological balderdash, given that God is omniscient, or all seeing. Referring to Him as ‘blind’ constitutes a gross underestimation of His powers. The true believers counter with the argument that this verse should not be taken literally, that Richard is showing an early appreciation of irony, or that he is indicating that he knows that God is testing him, and by accusing Him of blindness he is having a joke at God’s expense. That wouldn’t be something I’d necessarily do myself, but there’s nowt as queer as folk, as my Mum would always say.

Indeed, The Gospel According to Richard is a goldmine for anyone interested in the apocryphal books of the Bible and the history of the Christian religion. From the opening verses (quoted above) to the final line (“And Richard spoke unto God: “Lord, call me ‘Rick’. It’s less formal, you see”), this contains lots of interesting things for theologians to ponder upon.

At least until we unearth Richard’s follow-up Gospel, Together Forever (With God).

Monday, 3 November 2008

Imaginary Facial Hair Roundup

Moustaches and beards are big business these days, with the facial hair industry growing faster than the stubble on a shipwrecked sailor’s chin. The moustache wax lobby is rumoured to be one of the most powerful pomade protectorates in the US, lacing the pockets of many senators with beeswax and petroleum-earned money. And now, Beard Shows are really taking off in the fashion world, with London Beard Week, the New York Beardstravaganza and Milan’s Beards! Beards! Motherfucking Beards! Festival all pulling in crowds of men with tickly faces.

Upside-Down Goatees are giving beard-lovers hairgasms as we speak. They’re like normal goatee beards (with moustache attached), only they’re upside down. The inverted nature of this beard gives it a more playful look, and the addition of a Zappa-esque Soul Patch adds a touch of gravitas, like the facial hair equivalent of an endorsement from Ryan Phillippe. The only downside to the upside-down goatee is the possibility that unfettered growth can result in strangulation.

Ladybeards are beards for ladies. Coming in a range of colours and styles, they are affixed to the face using a combination of glue, Velcro and magic. There are some interesting looks available, with my favourite being the FemiGaribaldi, which scores highly due to its jowl coverage. Overall, though, I’m not particularly fond of the Ladybeard, as it covers the cheekbones, my favourite part of Halle Berry.

The Literal Muttonchop is the biggest sensation in the Western side of the South-East corner of the Northern bloc of the westernmost town in East Shropshire. It involves getting actual cuts of mutton and affixing them to one’s face with crocodile clips, and while it doesn’t look particularly good (on the contrary: it looks shit!), Literal Muttonchops taste fantastic. Big thumbs raised.

Artsy boho types are going ape for the Tricorne Beard, which aims to emulate the hat of the same name. Tricorne beardies use vast swathes of hair gel to create a concave, three-pronged face bowl that can be used to store corn and grapes. While I like corn and grapes, I don’t want to store them in my facial hair! Ha ha! Seriously though, this is a rubbish beard. It looks like crap. Get it away.

The best new development in facial hair is Edible Stubble. Advanced gene therapy has allowed scientists to grow stubble on subjects’ faces that is both nutritious and tastes like blueberries. Nicknamed ‘BlueberryBeards’ by unfunny morons, Edible Stubble is the perfect healthy snack for anyone with a fast-paced on the go lifestyle; just pick a few bits of stubble and chew! Plus, you get to shave with whipping cream! Genius! (Government warning: Edible Stubble is not recommended for oral consumption).

Please remember that a beard is not a toy. Care for your beard, groom it, clean it, tend to its needs, but don't mess about with it, or it may become enraged.