Thursday 29 January 2009

The Dickensian Orphan Rental Service

With the economy in such a bad state at the moment, it’s so important to get the best value for money from one’s employees. Sure, outsourcing is an option, but using a sweatshop in the middle of Asia isn’t going to help the nation recover from a crippling recession. So why not consider some waifs and/or strays? The Dickensian Orphan Rental Service is a great new company offering just that! I decided to try them out for myself.

With their flat caps and fingerless gloves, Dickensian orphans really are the best bet for an employer who wants to spend as little as possible on staffing. Their uses are manifold: for example, their tiny, malnourished fingers are excellent for removing hair and other foreign objects from the working parts of large machinery. And the best part is that they work for gruel, or even a cheap gruel substitute such as sawdust and despair.

I rented out several of DORS’s urchins, and I will admit that I was highly impressed with their service. For a start, it’s incredibly easy to find orphans who are best suited to one’s needs, with various different categories of available waifs. From pickpockets to chimney sweeps, many types of disposable Victorian child are offered, most of whom will perform difficult and monotonous tasks with a grateful manner and occasional song-and-dance numbers.

There’s a lot to recommend by the orphans that DORS has on its books. All of them were eager and willing to perform the perfunctory tasks I gave them, from rescuing valuable canaries from a collapsing mineshaft to obtaining petty cash through nefariously dipping their nimble fingers into the pockets of passing gentlemen. One of them, Oliver, sang with such a sweet voice that I bought his contract from DORS and sold him to Simon Cowell for a tidy profit.

That said, not everything about the Dickensian Orphan Rental Service is perfect. Of the four orphans I originally loaned, one of them was a coughing, wheezing weakling. When he passed out shortly after a thirty-six hour shift in one of my workhouses, I was informed that I was liable for his earnings in the next three weeks (his expected period of future use, had he not expired). This was a rather excessive fee for subjecting the boy to a normal working day, in my opinion. The lesson from this? Read the small-print.

All in all, though, the Dickensian Orphan Rental Service is an excellent way of getting that cheap employment that one sorely needs in the current economic climate. There are no questions asked, and the operators of the company, Fagin and Diana, are extremely helpful, especially for first-time renters. If you’re unsure of what kind of urchin to rent, they’ll be able to give you some useful tips and pointers. Oh, and they can also provide some rather spiffing – and cheap - gruel vendors.

One boy, boy for sale. He's going cheap. Only seven guineas. That - or thereabouts. Small boy... Rather pale... From lack of sleep. Feed him gruel dinners. Stop him getting stout. If I should say he wasn't very greedy... I could not, I'd be telling you a tale. One boy, boy for sale. Come take a peep. Have you ever seen as nice a boy for sale.

Tuesday 27 January 2009

DVD Review – Shinichi Yoshida: Mouru Koppu

Yesterday I reviewed the French precursor to the current number 1 film in America, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and noticed that it bears very little resemblance to the romantic comedy currently topping the charts in the US. While this fact may not be all that surprising, even brainy film lovers may not know that Jean-Paul Blarteau: Gendarme de l’Hypermarché is itself based on a Japanese film, 2005’s Shinichi Yoshida: Mouru Koppu.

Like with the French Paul Blart movie, the Japanese one has just been re-released by Asian Film Extreme! Pictures in an attempt to cash in on the new movie’s success. Given my total lack of anything to do last night (cheers again, Dave, Mister “Let’s go to the pub, no wait, I have to watch Grey’s Anatomy with the Missus”), I decided to watch it with notebook and pen in hand.

The Japanese version of the character Paul Blart, the eponymous Shinichi Yoshida (played by Jun Sakashita), is less of a slapstick buffoon and more of an angry anti-hero. The plot of the Japanese original is very similar to the newer American film, with the mall being overrun with katana-wielding yakuza (rather than balaclava-clad robbers), and only Yoshida being able to stop them. Also, much like in the latest film, the hero of the piece suffers ignominy at being a lowly mall cop, but, this being Japan, Yoshida is more worried about dishonouring his family, rather than letting himself down.

Similarities end with the plotline, though. This film is far more graphic and violent than Paul Blart, with flying disembodied limbs decapitating small children, automatic weaponry being fired into masses of writhing gangsters and a spectacular amount of blood. And that’s pretty much just in the first 30 minutes.

Indeed, anyone picking up this DVD as a gift for a child who enjoyed the American Paul Blart would be wise to watch it themselves first. There’s very little here suitable for young ones, not least the scene involving a many-tentacled monster and a busload of nuns.

Unlike in Paul Blart: Mall Cop, there’s not much of a romantic subplot to this film, unless you count the scene in which Yoshida is forced to do battle with a naked she-demon who has just emerged from a cursed television. And if you count that scene as romantic, forgive me for not wanting to French-kiss you.

It can be difficult to follow the plot of SY: MK at times; the scene in which a mysterious twelve-foot-tall goth turns up with a bass guitar which he uses to kill zombies, for example, is probably referencing some part of Japanese culture, but it’s lost on me. Happily, these elements are more than made up for by the visual splendour of the film. I kept track, and there are no scenes in the entire film in which cherry blossom does not appear, giving all the blood, guts, gore and tentacles a wonderful sheen by association.

All in all, Shinichi Yoshida: Mouru Koppu is a gripping, action-packed, slightly grotesque action film, in a very Japanese style. It is very different to Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which is only grotesque because it features a very fat man with a terrible moustache. Given the choice between watching the two, I’d opt for death by mau mau.

Shinichi Yoshida: Mouru Koppu is available from Monday on Asian Film Extreme! Pictures DVD. Bonus material includes a totally inappropriate music video by a seemingly teenage girl with a really high voice and some of the most kawaii shit you’ve ever fucking seen.

Monday 26 January 2009

DVD Review: Jean-Paul Blarteau – Gendarme de l’Hypermarché

At the time of writing, the ‘comedy’ Paul Blart – Mall Cop is the top rated film in North America. Few of the mouth-breathing masses who saw it know that this harmless piece of Hollywood tripe is actually based on a 2006 French film, entitled Jean-Paul Blarteau – Gendarme de l’Hypermarché. Next week, in a hasty attempt to cash in on Blart’s success, International Film Distribution Ltd will be releasing the original French film on DVD, hoping for some of the American film’s popularity to rub off on it. Given that I didn’t have anything better to do with my Saturday (thanks for standing me up, Dave), I decided to see how the original fared.

Jean-Paul Blarteau – Gendarme de l’Hypermarché is certainly very different to its English-language equivalent. For a start, the main plot is not about a hapless mall security guard who is forced to defend his place of work from a group of robbers, as in Blart. Instead, the plotline revolves around the existential confusion of the eponymous Blarteau, whose life plays out in a series of black and white scenes involving lost balloons, strange asexual children and an idiot savant who constantly breaks wind and laughs.

While those familiar with avant garde French cinema will be well aware of the motifs in use here, those expecting a humorous romp involving Segways, small dogs and overweight losers will be let down. Indeed, the only comic relief in this film comes from Bufo, the aforementioned farter, and even then his appearances become more and more tinged with sadness. Such visual metaphors for time’s unthinking – and unending - futility are certainly absent from the American comedy.

Moreover, the romantic subplot in Paul Blart is definitely a new addition that does not appear in the French original. In Blart’s Gallic precursor, the film’s only romance is the ten-minute scene in which Blarteau looks longingly at a small rotten onion, sighing with melancholy and ignoring the calls for help of a nearby shoplifted store owner.

In Paul Blart: Mall Cop there are many visual jokes that occur thanks to the considerable size and weight of lead actor Kevin James. By comparison, Jean-Paul Blarteau’s lead actor, Patrice Delpeche, is incredibly thin, leading the viewer to see him as half a person, as if he isn’t really there. As the film goes on, Blarteau appears to shrink from view, as the weight of his own existence pushes him further and further away from himself. As such, this does not lend itself to slapstick getting-trapped-in-an-air-vent antics.

All in all, Jean-Paul Blarteau – Gendarme de l’Hypermarché is a very thought-provoking film, with deep, challenging insights into the nature of being and the monotony of subsistence. It isn’t for everyone, and it should probably be avoided by all the cretins who queued up for tickets to Paul Blart this weekend.

Jean-Paul Blarteau – Gendarme de l’Hypermarché is available next Monday from International Film Distribution Ltd. DVD extras include a ten hour documentary on the beauty of a popped balloon and a behind-the-scenes look at some garlic.

Friday 23 January 2009

Performance Art Review: Guelph Psychiatric Hospital Annual Festival

For fans of performance art, it’s one of the biggest days in the year. Guelph Psychiatric Hospital opens its doors to the public for one day in January, and art lovers are able to enjoy the wonderful and thought-provoking works by the very talented artists in the building. 2009’s event was last weekend, and I went along with high hopes of a day chock full of art, and shit.

I certainly wasn’t let down, either. It’s amazing to think that one mental health institute is home to so many people with incredible ability in the world of performance art.

Take relative newcomer Justin Scroat, for example. His performance piece, in which he stood in a corner for six hours, shouting “You!” at the top of his voice and pulling out his hair, was highly moving. It really conveyed the frustration and twenty-first century ennui one feels for simply existing as a physical entity. When I approached Justin to discuss the piece after his performance had appeared to have finished, he merely wept to himself; such was the power and poignancy of his work.

Baron Fleeek von Habbitty Habbitty Cotswolds is, by contrast to Justin, an old hand at the performance art game, and a perennial favourite at this event. This year’s piece, in which he dressed as a policeman and pretended to fellate a tree in the garden, was no different. The subtlety and depth of meaning – no doubt about the inadequacy and futility of a society led by toothless seniority figures – was quite beautiful in its execution.

A visiting group from the Guelph Society of Art-Loving Young Ladies of a Weak Disposition were so shocked by the artwork created by Timothy Ultimate Frisbee that they fainted and had to be brought round by smelling salts. Mister Ultimate Frisbee’s performance piece involved him deconstructing a teabag using his face. It was powerful, powerful stuff, full of animalistic intent. And tea leaves.

Ian Ian is another newcomer to this festival, and wasn’t as well-received as some of the others. Maybe his piece, in which he stood still for great periods of time before attacking random festival-goers with a sardine tin with the key missing, was too subtle. He was, I believe, conveying the message that failure can creep up on anyone, but it was lost to most. I hope he will improve next year.

Finally, the most disappointing piece of performance art was the one executed by David Wrent. I was most saddened by the fact that it was exactly the same as the one he used for last year’s festival. In it, Wrent follows various festival-goers around the event, pretending to be a sane man trapped in an asylum and imploring them to get help so he could be rescued. The idea, though interesting, swiftly became tiresome when he refused to let go of one’s ankles, and I for one was moved to surreptitiously kick him in the head.

So, as always, this was a generally good selection of performance art from a highly talented group of artistic individuals. I can’t wait for next year, when organisers tell me the participants will – if the behave – have access to power tools.

For year round access to the artists at Guelph’s finest artistic enterprise, simply stand in a car park, signing Frere Jacques at the top of your voice while pleasuring yourself, and wait for the authorities to pick you up.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Imaginary Crossword Puzzle Review

As a former member of mensa and card-carrying intellectual (the card has nothing to do with being an intellectual, I just carry it around. It has a picture of a kitten on it), I love puzzles. Sudoku? Never been beaten. Samurai Sudoku? Pah! Stupidly Simple Sudoku, more like! Logic problems? I laugh at them and then steal their girlfriends. Yes, puzzles are class.

And so, I was overcome with excitement when I learned that Dagobar Willis, quite possibly the greatest crossword puzzle compiler in the history of cruciverbalism, had created a new crossword. This 106-clue grid, his first in nearly seven years, was going to be more than just a puzzle; it would be an event.

Imagine the anticipation in my trousers when I sat down to enjoy this momentous problem. It was immense. I was not let down, either, with an excellent clue at 1-across: “Bird of Prey (5)”. A true Dagobar clue, if ever there was one! Look at the succinctness, the brevity, the sheer joy in those three words! If he carried on like this, I thought, this would be one of the greatest puzzles in the history of puzzles!

But, I’m sorry to say, my breathless exhilaration had subsided by the time I came to 23-across. The clues that followed the first were all more moribund and lacklustre than the previous. And then 23-across itself – “Mental case? (5)” – was the epitome of predictability and, therefore, disappointment. Where was the love? Where was the Joie de Vivre that permeated Dagobar’s classic clues, such as his famed 46-down from the crossword in the November 17th, 1992 New York Times (“Minelli of Cabaret, (4)”)? None of it seemed to be here.

Sadness welled in my heart as I continued to complete the crossword. Had Dagobar lost his amazing ability in these years of enforced hermitage in the sewers of Paris? Was this the swansong of a tragic, once-great clue compiler? Sure, it was possible to see signs of greatness in some of his clues (like 36 down: “Baby goose (7)”), but I was moved to think of the sad demise of the Rolling Stones, whose albums since the early 80s have all been shadows of the band’s former glory. A good song here and there, maybe a great one every few years, and like Jagger et al, Willis seemed to have fallen into mediocrity.

I am sad to say that things did not improve as I came closer and closer to finishing the crossword. I hoped that with each filled-in answer I would unearth some beautiful ideal clue, hoping against hope that Willis was testing his true fans to see if they would persevere. But no, the crossword got worse and worse, and my own mood matched it, such was my disappointment at this wasted opportunity, this travesty, this former genius spitting at his own memory like a blind man spitting at his own seeing-eye dog.

It is with great guilt that I admit to giving in to my anger and deliberately filling in swear words at the final few clues instead of the intended answers. “Fruit (4)” became ‘Arse’, while one five-letter answer became a string of profanity so long that I had to write letters about a millimetre in height to fit them all in the spaces. I can no longer read them, nor remember what they said, which is probably a good thing because if I reprinted the filth here, I could be condemned by the Pope as immoral.

In summary, then, this crossword was “Something flushed down a toilet or wiped off one’s arse (4)".

Dagobar Willis’s new crossword can be found inside all good publications, and some bad ones, like the Ottawa Citizen and Now Toronto Magazine. Answers will appear in the next issue. Due to a printing error, tomorrow's New York Times crossword will be full of sand.

Thursday 15 January 2009

Album Review: Tupac Shakur – The Undisclosed Tapes

Since his death in 1996, hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur has had more albums released in his name than when he was alive. Friends and family of the rapper seem to be constantly finding new recordings that they deem suitable for selling to a slathering crowd of hungry music fans. And now, with The Undisclosed Tapes, there’s another entry to the list of posthumous albums in 2pac’s name.

Tupac Shakur, during happier (and aliver) days

In this new album, there’s a definite underlying sense that we are listening to Tupac the Man, rather than the rapper, the hip-hop star or MTV’s ‘Best MC of all time’. This is shown most clearly on the first track, entitled ‘Tha Milk (It’s Off)’. This piece of music displays Shakur at his most human, and was discovered by a former housekeeper who found it on an old answerphone tape. The track, in which 2pac informs his then housekeeper that the milk in his refrigerator is past its use-by date, is purely spoken-word, with music and beats added relatively recently by famed producer DJ R-Swipe. Its banality does not detract from a powerful and meaningful insight into this troubled star.

A far more uplifting track is ‘Shout Out.’ This piece of music is pure poetry, with sweeping strings in the background and the sound of polite applause as Tupac discusses the perils and benefits of being in a rock band. Taken from a recording of the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards when Shakur presented the award for Band of the Year, this track is full of hope and optimism. It shows no indication that the rapper would go on to die in a hail of bullets like that guy in Platoon.

One of the more controversial tracks on the album is ‘Earth and Fire,’ featuring guest vocals from D-Posse. That’s how the tracklisting describes the song, anyway. This is actually a recording from a D-Posse gig that was attended by Tupac in his younger years, and he is apparently audibly shouting from the crowd. While I don’t doubt that 2pac is part of the cheering, roaring audience, I do question his input in this track.

At 88 minutes long and featuring more than fifty tracks, it could be argued that this album is full of near misses and wasted opportunities. Case in point is the thirty second long track ‘Ain’t Mad At Cha: Intro and Mistake in First Line’. It shows what one of 2pac’s most beloved songs would have sounded like if the first line was “Change…oh, wait…I forgot the next bit…stop the tape…” Sadly, that’s where the song ends and we are left hanging as to how this would have affected the rest of the piece.

Despite accusations that the makers of this CD have finished scraping the bottom of the barrel and have now tunnelled through the bottom of the barrel into some ground-like substance that exists beneath our metaphorical container, there are some good moments on this recording. Whether this is enough to warrant purchase is another matter, but it should keep fans occupied while they wait for the forthcoming 2pac: The Complete Radio Ident Collection.

Tupac Shakur – The Undisclosed Tapes is released on Tuesday from Floggin’ a Dead Horse Records, at a cost of my respect for you. A special edition feature an accompanying DVD documentary features nothing you’ve never seen before and buying it makes you a prick.

Sunday 11 January 2009

Public Bathroom Round-up

To say I get caught short a lot is a massive understatement. My bladder is weaker than an asthmatic kitten after being chased around a marathon course by a Kenyan long-distance runner with a chainsaw. For this reason, I’ve visited more public bathrooms around the world than George Michael and Larry Craig put together. Here are my thoughts on some that I’ve experienced recently.

The gents’ toilets in Park Square, Donnington, England, show a lot of promise. They opened three years ago with a building designed by famed architect Dunlop McTwentyeight, with a dream team of rising stars making up the cleaning staff. The towel selection is second to none, and the soap pairings are unusual, yet they work. Over all, this is an excellent, four-star shitter. Reservations are needed on weekends.

New York’s Dalrymple Washroom in the car park behind the 7-11 on Gut Street is a little-known gem, untouched by tourists and loved by locals. Don’t expect any fancy, avant-garde dumps here, just quality craps enriched by locally-produced toilet paper and free-range hand dryers. Cubicles are cosy but comfortable.

Don’t be put off by the surroundings of Rome’s La Gabinetto bathroom: this is a plain loo, but nobody comes here for the décor. Instead, savour the wonderful home-made handwash that attracts visitors from all over Europe. With elements of nutmeg, saffron, Russian truffles and a mysterious secret ingredient, the soap in this public lavatory offers an experience that you will never forget.

Unlike many other theme toilets, the Poet Laureate Washrooms in Toronto’s Dypschitz Park are neither overcrowded nor tasteless. These literature-themed premises offer a quirky defecating experience, with more reading material lining the walls than one needs in a single sitting. From poetry to prose via jokes and offers of sexual liaisons (with telephone numbers attached), this is a great restroom for the unapologetic bookworm. And while it may not be the place to take a date, I am told the Poet Laureate is quite the singles bathroom; it’s a great place to meet people.

The toilets on the Via Trains First Class Carriage between Ottawa and Toronto stink of shit and vomit.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

The Top Colours of 2008

Colours are amazing things, useful on so many occasions. Whether you’re a sports fan deciding who to cheer for, an artist looking at your palette or a racist deciding who to throw a stone at, colours are essential.

2008 was a great year for colours, with many new ones being discovered and invented. Some were rubbish, while others were superb. So which were the colours that epitomised the year of our Lord, 2008? Let me kick them at you like a farmer kicks a chicken. (Hard)

1: Elaborate Orange
Elaborate Orange was the winner of Good Housekeeping Magazine’s annual “Design a Colour, You Dicks!” competition. This entry, which won its creator, Mandy Higgins, $150 and an apron, has a tangy foretaste and elements of surprise.

2: Spink
Spink is what you get when twenty thousand Eastern European refugees walk across a red carpet. To see it is to faint with ecstasy. I’m fluttering now just writing about it.

3: Tragically Hip: The Colour
Invented by Canadian rockers The Tragically Hip, this colour was featured on all the band’s promotional material last year, including album covers and tour t-shirts. It’s a bit like mauve, but with a deeper quality of feeling and an understandable sense of injustice at the inequities of the world.

4: White
When the International Colour Foundation upgraded White’s status from ‘absence of colour’ to ‘actual colour’ last year, fans of this much-maligned hue rejoiced. And with good reason! It’s responsible for eggs (except brown ones and those weird speckly ones) and 90% of the world’s supply of blank printer paper.

5: Matthew, Prince of Beaumontford
When a minor British royal gave birth to a small, undulating ball of colour, the Queen decided to give it a title and treat it as if it were a real royal child, instead of feeding it to her corgis as her advisors suggested. MPB (as it’s known in colour-fan circles) is a cross between red and green, but tinged with sadness.

6: Twitter Black
This is the colour that your fingers and thumbs turn to when you spend all day sending text updates to your blog. Twitter Black is a good indication that you’re about to die, and so comes sixth in my list.

7: Charonesque
Few will forget the events of May, when a beautiful asexual alien appeared in a field in Kentucky and promised to reveal the secrets of universal peace and eternal joy to the assembled media and political representatives. ‘Charonesque’ is the name given to the colour of the mysterious matter that emanated from his hands, flying over the land in dovetail-shaped majesty and instilling a sense of awe, wonder and love in everyone present, up until the alien was shot seventeen times by the American military and taken away for testing.

8: Blutt
Now that it’s impossible for many people’s teeth to become any whiter, dentists developed this new colour, which is several shades more transparent than regular white. Complicated surgery is the only way you can get your teeth to be Blutt, and it hurts like a barbed-wire condom.

9: Extreme Lilac
Do you think you’ve seen lilac before? YOU HAVEN’T!!!! You haven’t seen ANY COLOUR AT ALL until you’ve seen EXTREME LILAC!!! EXTREME LILAC is MORE LILAC than ANY LILAC you’ve EVER SEEN!!!! It’s more lilac than A THOUSAND TONNES OF LILAC FUCKING A LILAC SEAL!!! IN SPACE!!!!

10: Green of Anne Gables
Designed to coincide with the anniversary of a book that people love despite having never read, Green of Anne Gables is a new kind of green that looks like a tree barfing up a lawn. Only greener.

Monday 5 January 2009

2008: The Year in (Imaginary) Review

I am back from my two-week trip to the Canadian Conference for Critics of the Counterfeit in Victoria, BC. The organisers, praise be to them, asked me to present a paper on a subject of my choosing, which I did. Gossamer Rain: Ideas for a new Culture of the Imaginary and why Now Toronto Magazine Can Eat my Shit was very well received by all present.

But now I am somewhat behind with my end of year lists. I shall do my best to remedy this accordingly, and so now I give you my (imaginary) review of the year 2008.

Oddly, 2008 began in February, with most nations incorporating January into the previous year, having decided at the end of December that they hadn’t finished with 2007 yet. This led to some problems, but also benefits to those born in January, as they discovered that they remained the same age as before.

After a wave of shootings in the US, lawmakers attempted to stem the flow of dead bodies by passing some historic legislation in March. While it’s too early to assess its effectiveness, Republican senators claim that the law, which effectively bans being murdered, is working. “Now that being shot to death is punishable by a five year jail term, people are being much more careful,” said a government spokesperson. An NRA member added, “Guns aren’t the problem. Dead people are the problem.”

As always, celebrities were in the headlines a lot in 2008. Bjork made the news in June when she gave birth to a koala bear, but nobody was really surprised. Celebrity marriages were also big news, with Cap’n Crunch’s wedding to supermodel Verdala causing the biggest tabloid sensation.

The highest-selling song of the year, I Can’t Feel my Legs by DJ Park and MC Ride, was shite.

Not a lot happened in the world of sport in 2008, despite everyone’s best intentions. The International Sporting Federation of Sports caused a bit of a stir in October when they released their list of the manliest sports in existence. Australian Rules football came in as most manly, with Ice Hockey second and Javelin third. Other notable entries included Motorsports (11th), Women’s Rugby (15th), Field Hockey (37th) and American Football (122nd).

Notable deaths last year included UK politician Dwayne Denzil (auto-erotic asphyxiation), child actor ‘Little’ Jimmy Cruikshanks (old age) and singer Cher (choked on a Toblerone). Notable births included Sylvia Dahl, who will front a popular rock band in the year 2034, and Ian Douglas, the antichrist who will bring about the end of the world and the Great Suffering in 2017.

That was 2008. How will 2009 compare? My prediction is that 2009 will have more raining fish, fewer leper attacks and the same worldwide sass index score (8) as 2008.