Mrs. Santa Claus Review

Paul “Jensonb” Douglas celebrates the Christmas season by sitting down to partake in a favourite hobby, watching trashy Christmas movies. Alas, his choice of trashy Christmas movies may have been a bad one in this instance. See what happens next as Jensonb takes on the 1996 Made for TV Musical, Mrs. Santa Claus, starring Angela Lansbury!

Christmas Letter 2009

It’s that time again folks.

Yes, it’s the time of the year when, in lieu of sending Christmas cards (Because sitting and writing someone’s name then my name then someone’s name then my name over and over and over is the kind of thing which will eventually drive me over the edge and thus cause me to go on the psychopathic rampage which the majority of you are still expecting of me), I write out a long, winding look at the year that was and what lies ahead, with characteristic sarcasm and comical faux-hipness. Because I’m “like” “with it”. Er…”dawg”!

So then…To business!

Ah what a year it has been. For me, terrific. Wonderful things have happened over and over again (Green Day – the best band in the world seriously don’t even argue, turning 18, the computer I’m writing this on, Disneyland which is like heaven for me and of course a certain Mr. Jenson Button winning the World Championship).

But as with any year, 2009 has had it’s fair share of flaws. Yes, for every Barack Obama becoming President, there has been an unfortunate but inescapable Twilight Saga release. In the future, they will look back on years like this as the beginning of the zombie apocalypse which is still speeding on its way to destroying our world as we know it, presumably within the next 5 years.

For those of you about my age over here in the UK, this year has also probably begun your association with the most unspeakably horrific torture device known to man. Yes, I speak of UCAS, which dominates your life for months at a time stressing you out about filling in a form, getting Personal Statements & References written and all this as soon as humanly possible rush rush rush. Then it immediately turns into the most insufferable waiting game ever devised – it’s like an ironic punishment in hell, it taunts you for your previous desire to slow things down by going to the other extreme.

Cruel and unusual.

If you’re like me (To those very few of you, you have my sympathy) you mostly measure a year’s worth on the quality of the entertainment put out that year. On that front, New Moon aside, 2009 is a standout success. We’ve had brilliant movies like The Hangover, Role Models & Zombieland as well as amazing TV shows making their debuts (Such as FlashForward) or re-launching (The fantastic Scrubs Season 9 (Med School)).

In more good entertainment news, word reached us this year that Channel 4 will not be buying any more seasons of Big Brother, ending its run on the channel in 2010. Every reasonable person in the country is delighted by this news. In less welcome news, ITV (Continuing its downward spiral into being the most vulgar unappealingly cheap and tacky network on Television) has ordered more seasons of The X-Factor. Which means 2010 will be another year in which the Christmas Number 1 will go largely un-contested…

Eff you ITV. You ruin everything.

In the world of video games, Killzone 2 released this year and overshadowed all other First Person Shooters. Honestly can’t think of a single other significant one. None at all. Nope. Modern What 2? Never heard of it. It’s the biggest entertainment release of all time? Oh that Modern Warfare 2. Why didn’t you say so?

In more interesting video game news, The Beatles: Rock Band released this year, broadening the appeal of Rock Band-like games as well as of The Beatles’ superb music. As if Harmonix, makers of Rock Band, hadn’t done enough to make me love them, they recently announced that next year they will release another game. Green Day: Rock Band. Thereby immortalising my two favourite bands in their own games.

Less fortunate this year were those Activision guys. Tony Hawk: Ride is the punchline to every video game joke made from now until Project Natal releases.

On a more universal note, the economy has started to recover! That’s good!

But VAT in the UK is going back up. That’s bad.

But it’s not going up to 20%! That’s good!

But the Tories will probably put it up to 21% (That’s bad) as soon as they get in (That’s bad).

Potentially far worse news from the land of politics is that the BNP got into the European Parliament. Which is both a disgrace and nonsensical. How can a party who think anything and everyone from outside the UK is sub-human represent us in Europe? It’s a logical absurdity!

And on that note, we come to “Climategate”. I’m going to put this to rest once and for all: The world is getting warmer. We’re at least partly to blame through CO2 emissions. Get over it and help us start fixing it.

Jeez, is it that hard to stop burning things left and right?

So then, what lies ahead, in (As weirdos call it) The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Ten (Or as the hipsters call it “Twenty-Ten”)? Well how the hell should I know, I’m not psychic. I do however have some predictions for your amusement:

1) The Tories will win the General Election and ruin the country, but idiots will still claim things have improved.
2) A celebrity will die and the whole world will overreact.
3) Someone, somewhere, will have sex with somebody else. This will piss off a third party who will throw a hissy fit about it and/or go to the press.
4) A man will discover the Meaning of Life and start trying to tell people it. Nobody will listen.
5) Britain’s Got Talent will still suck.
6) The X-Factor will suck even more.
7) Twilight Saga: Eclipse will suck even more than James Cameron’s Avatar clearly does. Dan Berry will not notice due to his guy crush on Robert Pattinson/Taylor Lautner/Dan, seriously what the hell.
8) Kanye West will continue to be a douchebag.
9) Sarah Palin will, on at least 4 separate occasions in each case, fail to spell her own name or even the word “a” correctly.
10) I will write another Christmas letter.

Now, let’s see how my predictions form last year did:

1) Sky will stay blue (Correct!)
2) Music will continue to dominate culture (Correct!)
3) Economy will finally begin to rebound (Correct!)
4) Summer will be hot (Correct!)
5) Spring will suck just as much as ever (Correct!)
6) Someone, somewhere, will be inappropriately offended by something they know was not meant in that way – they will proceed to destroy someone’s career over it despite being aware they meant and caused no actual harm (At least half-correct!)

Wow! Maybe I am psychic! On that bombshell, I’m off to make a killing gambling on sporting events!

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and of course a Happy New Year!

Yours,
Paul “Jensonb” Douglas

WORLD CHAMPION

I always knew he could do it. Through all the years of uncompetitive cars, and with so many people calling it into question, I always knew, deep down, Jenson Button was born to win the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship. And so I stuck stubbornly to supporting him, even as the rest of the world seemed to write him off as a has-been.

And finally, for those of us who dared to believe, for Jenson himself, for Brawn GP (The finest team ever to field an F1 Car), for their friends and their families…It all came good. This past Sunday, Jenson stormed from 14th on the grid to a 5th place finish, clinching the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion.

Simultaneously, Jenson’s Brawn GP Team sealed the World Constructor’s Championship when Red Bull failed to score the 1-2 finish they would have needed (And that would have required Jenson and Rubens to not score – both men did).

I can’t adequately describe the enormity of the difference in my emotions from Saturday night to Sunday night. Saturday, after JB was given junk tyre pressures and went out in Qualifying 2, down at 14th on the grid, with Rubens on Pole…I was distraught. It seemed, through poor luck, JB might yet be denied the title he so deserved. Sure, Abu Dhabi was there as a safety net, but like Jenson himself, the newfound enormity of that task hit me and hit me hard.

It was so bad, I had to take part in a Halo 3 Giant Bomb Community Game Night (AKA a Bombing Run) to cheer myself up enough to sleep.

Once I got up on Sunday, I resolved myself to a positive outlook – again, like Jenson himself. I knew JB had overcome hurdles this size before and gotten decent results, I knew he’s the fastest man in racing trim and I knew he was the master overtaker.

And so it proved, and it led to me being as elated that night as I was inconsolable the previous one. It was magical, and it capped off the best week of my life – no work, 18th birthday (Hence booze amongst all the other great stuff), MacBook Pro and my driver, my team taking the World Titles.

But of course things ain’t over yet. After 4 days of school this week, I have a half day of Work Saturday, then I have the Green Day Concert in the evening. And then on Sunday it’s off to Paris – which means Disneyland on Monday and Friday.

October 2009 is the greatest month of my life.

The Month Of My Life

And so begins the month of October. Always one of my favourites – not least because my birthday happens to fall in it. There are other reasons though! I AM complex. I AM. I also enjoy the weather (It’s cool, but not yet cold), the ambience (Autumnal and airy, very relaxing). It also contains Halloween – which is always good for a laugh, candy.

So at the best of times, I think October makes all other months (Except December) its bitches. And December is at the very best October’s subordinate…Okay, it’s right-hand man. But I digress. The point is, October 2009 is even better than most Octobers. I will go so far as to predict it will be the best month of my life to date.

But naturally, you are sceptical and require me to furnish you with details. Very well! First, I get paid twice this month. Once on the 2nd, and then again on the 30th. That means I make lots moolah this month, guaranteed.

Second, I’m only working 1 and a half days this month – the 3rd and half of the 24th. Time away from work is how we as humans simultaneously stick it to the man and uncaringly kick it. As an aficionado of both sticking it to the man and kicking it, I love that.

Then, obviously, there is my Birthday. I know I mentioned that earlier, but this is my 18th birthday. That means booze and an ability to look down on people as children without the irritating sense of empathy.

There’s also a strong chance that my hero Jenson Button and my F1 Dream Team (Brawn GP) can wrap up the F1 WDC and WCC this month. Both could go to the very start of November, but I sure hope not. I’m torn between wanting JB to nab the Title at Suzuka on Sunday or Interlagos on the 18th.

On the one hand, the sooner the better. On the other hand, the 18th is a mere 5 days from my birthday, meaning it’d be sort of like a present for me! Either is pretty awesome for me though, so I’m not too fussed.

The crazy part is, that’s not even close to all.

On the 24th, after my half day at work, me and a mate are heading down to The O2 in London to see my favourite band, Green Day, live in Concert. And as we’re both 18, we can also drink alcohol whilst there. Alcohol and punk rock…I’m living the dream.

As if THAT weren’t enough to make this the best month in the history of months (Which i suppose means ever), the next day me and the folks are off to Paris.

Paris, France. France the European Country! Now Paris is pretty awesome on its own, seeing as it’s one of the world’s great cities. But it also happens to mean I finally get to go back to Europe’s largest Tourist attraction…

I’m going back to a Disney Park! Now if you think that doesn’t clearly top it off as the greatest month in the history of like ever for me, you’re either crazy or you don’t know me.

On a side note, I want my UCAS Application done this month. Wish me luck.

TOTS: On Trial Show

Back in the so-called “Golden Era” of GameSpot, Ryan MacDonald and Richardine K. E. Gallup III IV Jr. created a live weekly show called On The Spot. On The Spot was the shit. It was perhaps the only Live video game show that actually mattered (Outside of E3). Certainly, it would be uncontroversial to say that in all its forms (Except its latter days with a certain bimbo proto-feminist) it was one of the best magazine shows, or shows of any kind, about video games, delivering a heart “fuck you” to the inept management of G4TV.

After the conclusion of last year’s run of On The Spots, GameSpot made the wise decision to put the show on ice and give it a revamp. At this stage, the show had been around for a long-ass time, so it was a good idea to take a step back and re-think things. It’s standard practice in Television, you just have to make sure your shows are fresh.

Unfortunately, GameSpot had the show off the air for months. Then finally, they announced a date. Then pulled it, explaining that they essentially wanted the show to be “even more awesome than we were gonna make it”. Naturally, with all the delays and promises and teasing, the expectations of the show were high.

Perhaps too high. The show that GameSpot took half a year (Including a quarter year delay) to produce was a radical deviation from the original On The Spot. It’s not the same show. Hence, it was given a fancy (And slightly mis-leading) new monicker “Today On The Spot”. It’s no longer live. And the producers are shooting for an average run time of 20 minutes, a minimum of about 15. What they have, is a prototypical web show run time.

Web show run times are not a good thing, even on the web. Programming needs to be thought of in half hour chunks. Why? Because most shows feel rushed if not programmed for a 30 minute or longer slot. Commercial television shows run about 20-22 minutes of content per 30 minute slot, but they don’t have to rush. They’re made into clear segments and the break (Whether it actually rolls ads or is just an act break like on DVD) gives the audience time to catch their breath.

You can do a 20 minute Magazine show. But the only way to do it is to cut back on the variety of content. And I still say don’t do it, because 20 minutes of programming is an anomaly in TV Shows caused by the presence of ads. where it can be avoided, it should because it can sometimes feel insubstantial. This only applies to shows setting a standard run time. Web shows often have varying run times, and there it is okay to have some shorter episodes.

The reason GameSpot opted for this radically curtailed run time is simple. The show is now on 3 days a week – although a casual reading of its name would cause one to believe the show was daily. Essentially, the same amount of content is produced as was before (Albeit now shot to tape and not live). On the face of it, that should be fine. But it just isn’t. Once again, the reason the run time is a problem has nothing to do with the quantity of content, and everything to do with the format.

This is a show that is fantastically well made. Production values are high and much of the talent is there (Tor Thorson, Brian Eckberg, Chris Watters and Co. do a great job “on air”). The format is the show’s elephant in the room. Despite being cut down to 20 minutes, the show is now trying to include a wider variety of content per episode – not per week, per episode. And that’s a big problem. Why? Because the show is too short for this many different things to happen. It feels breathless. Whether it’s Brian Eckberg going from receiving the throwback to throwing it out again via a mere few seconds of banter or Chris Watters flubbing a line as he speeds through a sentence, here we have a show which has no time to breathe.

And the rushed-feel of the show doesn’t just affect the hosts. It’s a tiring show to watch. The breaks between the segments aren’t long enough. It’s a subtle art, defining the different segments of a show. This is a bad example of how to get it done. The pauses and graphical splashes are short-lived and the cuts through black fast when there at all. Cuts and fades through black exist partly so the audience can catch their breath. This show is too short to waste time on filler between its already rushed segments. As a result, it comes across as way more “seat of your pants” than the old live show.

And it kinda suffers for it.

Other than the format, the other key problems with the show are the writing (Which runs the gamut from “Good” to “Corny” to “That’s so funny I forgot to laugh >_>”) and the on-screen personas of some of the talent, and how they interact. The writing is weak, and it suffers both from existing (These all seem like people who ought to just be going from an outline) and from the aforementioned pacing issues. The key to comedy is timing. We’ve already discussed how the show’s timing is screwed up, so what do you think you get when you introduce already poor comedy to poor timing?

Nothing good.

As for the talent personas and interactions, for the most part, they’re fine (If in most cases a little constrained – the show does tend to have a slightly repressed feeling, likely a result of both the fact it’s taped and it’s so short). But the real problems start when you have Chris Watters hosting, with Lark Anderson as his sidekick. These are both very obviously likable guys. But whatever chemistry they have is diminished by the shoddy writing and corny jokes, which makes it hard (As a member of the audience) to develop a rapport with them. It’s the chemistry between the talent that causes audience attachment. That’s why The HotSpot and The Bombcast worked and work.

Somebody also needs to give Lark some onscreen charisma lessons. There’s no problem when he’s talking, but when he’s sitting listening to Chris, he remains perfectly still staring semi-interestedly at Chris as the latter talks. No reaction, no animation until he is called upon. It doesn’t look so great and it makes it even harder for the audience to get in on the hosts’ chemistry.

Anyway, this is just my little critical analysis of Today On The Spot. I promised I would do one, and as you all know, media is kind of my thing. So here it is. Some of you might disagree, that’s cool. Explain why on the Twitters @Jensonb. Or whatever. But for me, this is a show which needs to be aiming for 30 minutes minimum, even with the same amount of content, before I could call myself a fan.

This Blog Post originally appeared on Giant Bomb (dot) Com

The 24 Hour Web

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Twitter. In fact, I’m notorious for it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Twitter is my “life online”. But it’s not just interesting for the way in which I can update friends on what I’m thinking or doing. It also represents an exciting shift in the way the web is acting.

Ever since its rise to popularity, the Web has been hailed as the fastest and most up to date way of accessing news and information. But in it’s so-called 1.x state, it remained largely a daylight system, at least for the mainstream.

Geekery continues at all hours of course, and if one has an interest in things taking place on the other side of the world, you can often find new stuff at any given hour.

But these are relatively limited, altogether niche applications of the Web’s ability to update at any given moment. They are constrained by that human phenomenon, “Office Hours”. Web 1.x was characterised by a revision of the same Publisher mentality that reigned in Print Media, later augmented by the rolling update mentality of Television.

But with the advent of Web 2.0, those mentalities are no longer relevant. News sites and so on continue to function in this manner, by necessity, but User generated Content is unaffected by Office Hours. And cares naught about time of day.

Web 2.0 has spawned the true 24-Hour Web. Users are constantly providing a live or near live stream of information and content, updating sites like Wikipedia instantly with breaking news. Twitter tracks reactions to events in real-time.

Qik, a leader in mobile web streaming, and similar desktop-oriented sites have given us a platform for providing video coverage of just about anything, far faster than any TV or WebTV crew could arrive on the scene. This change, as it stands, is nascent.

There has yet to be a major event that can demonstrate the power of the User-Controlled 24-Hour Web, but it’s already showing signs that it is coming. Real-time reactions to Elections, international sporting and media events and so on have already become the norm. I, for one, would feel lost without a Twitter to post my thoughts on breaking events.

The time is coming and coming soon when you’ll be able to ignore conventional reporting and just get your news from the 24 Hour Web.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s awesome. And it should prompt innovation in conventional broadcasters/publishers, as they need to find a way to catch up.

Movie Review: 8 Mile

So here it is, the (Admittedly belated) review of 8 Mile. It’s a natural choice to review this after Get Rich or Die Trying, both being vehicles for popular rap artists to launch (Potentially unnecessary) Acting careers. So is this one as bad, worse or is it (Gasp) actually kind of decent?

Well, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, I enjoyed it. 8 Mile is a good movie. It’s hardly fine art and it’s not going to be remembered as the defining moment of a generation, but it’s decently entertaining and very watchable.

One of the crucial differences is the scale of the story on offer. Get Rich went for a preposterously overblown tale of a kid who becomes not only a drug lord, but also a rap star, On top of that, it is stuffed with over-dramaticised attempts at emotional weight. The resulting scenarios and story are implausible to the point of unwatchable.

8 Mile on the other hand focuses on a relatively small story. It’s not about grandiose ambition coming to fruition, it’s not a false-feeling attempt to portray a modern rags-to-riches tale. Instead, we have the real story of rap – the working class, Motor City and, of course, the streets.

And that’s not “the streets” in the eccentric “bullets flying every which way” sense Fitty Cent used it for Get Rich. It means real people. The youth, in the real world, just trying to pass the time in relative comfort and get by on what they can.

When guns appear in 8 Mile, it’s a big deal – they’re a real threat. People don’t just suddenly become drug dealers, or rap stars. They work day in, day out and blow off their steam however they can, and between that and work they spend their time surviving. It’s not the happiest portrayal of working class life, but it’s at least real.

The performances are pretty decent all round, and Eminem’s rapping is at its absolute best here. He was at the top of his game when this movie was made, and it shows in his epic Battle performances and the movie’s theme “Lose Yourself” – in my opinion, hands down his best ever track.

On first blush, Eminem seems rather bored with his part, wandering through the film with a lazy wide-eyed mild disinterest. But on closer inspection, and after watching the movie for a bit longer, this bewilderment seems more like his character’s persona. He seems constantly to be looking over his shoulder and lacks confidence.

He has just that right sense of mild but contained frustration with his lot in life that you would expect from a low-paid metalworker, and by the time he opens the taps and destroys the Leader of the Free World, you’re really rooting for him.

8 Mile is an easy film to recommend if you’re okay with Rap music. Those of you who can’t stan it are well advised to steer clear, but if you’re even merely okay with it, this is a move to check out. Stay the hell away from Get Rich though.