XCity+: James Delingpole and GIFs galore

Posted in Features with tags , , , , , , on March 27, 2014 by Simon Gwynn

As part of my journalism course at City, I’ve been the deputy online editor for this website. I interviewed right-wing firebrand James Delingpole about his recent move to right-wing firebrand website Breitbart, and made a fun list of tips for journalists looking for a career change. Do take a looksie.

Her – review

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2014 by Simon Gwynn
Her - poster

Spike Jonze made this poster to impress Emily Maitlis

Her tells the story of American film director Spike Jonze (played by himself). Crippled by insecurity and his inability to sustain a meaningful relationship, Spike falls in love with beautiful British woman Emily (Emily Maitlis), who lives only inside his television.

Desperate for affirmation, Spike realises he can use video technology to reach Emily. But in order to win her heart, he first needs to prove himself as an artist. So he writes and directs a film-within-a-film, also confusingly called Her, in the hope that Emily will watch it and see the workings of his soul.

 

It is this meta-film, set in a near future LA, that takes up the bulk of the running time. The reliably watchable Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a thinly veiled version of Jonze, who writes other people’s love letters for a living. Theodore’s marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara) has ended, and he has lost confidence in his ability to find happiness.

A new operating system has come out, with a full human-like intelligence and personality. Theodore gets a copy, and quickly forms a bond with his iteration (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), who calls herself Samantha.

Before long, their relationship has moved to the next level. Both Theodore and Samantha find themselves opened to new and exciting feelings. But the writing has been on the wall from the beginning.

There is plenty to recommend this neat little story. Theodore’s fleeting, silent flashbacks of his marriage really do capture the process of memory wonderfully. Jonze has a sense for the progress of technology that rings true, without being either idealistic or cynical.

And Phoenix is complemented well by Amy Adams, who is great as his long-standing friend Amy, also dealing with the end of a long relationship.

But the story of Theodore’s relationship with Samantha outstays its welcome. It is just never plausible, technologically or emotionally. Half way in, it looks like Theodore might be about to dump Samantha. This would have left him 45 minutes to find real happiness in the one place that is screaming at him from the beginning.

Instead, they have a second honeymoon period, communicated through a montage (!) of happy times together. It means that when the inevitable end arrives – which is intelligently dealt with – you’ll breath a huge sigh of relief.

 

The credits roll, and we’re in the TV studio. Emily has seen the film. It is the moment of truth.

 

 

Did Spike’s ploy work? Did it move her?

 

 
6/10
 

What it feels like… to be a Paralympic curler

Posted in Features with tags , , , on March 1, 2014 by Simon Gwynn

Here’s an interview I did with Paralympic curler Aileen Neilson for The Herald Magazine. Click the image for a PDF.

Aileen Neilson interview

The Herald, 1 March 2014

Bring back Jose – hose b is awful

Posted in Features with tags , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2014 by Simon Gwynn
Jose Mourinho

Wikimedia

A bully. Disrespectful. Despicable. Arsenal great Bob Wilson was hardly breaking any new ground when he levelled these accusations at Jose Mourinho on Radio 5 Live this morning.

Wilson’s comments followed the Chelsea manager’s quip on Friday that his counterpart at the Gunners, Arsene Wenger, is a “specialist in failure” – perhaps his harshest words about Wenger since calling him a “voyeur” in 2005.

It might be difficult to disagree with Wilson on the above points, but he is surely wide of the mark when he calls the Portuguese “boring”. On the contrary, we have recently seem some of Mourinho’s best verbal output in years.

His recent “little horse” argument with Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini, about the transfer spending of the two clubs, culminated in a feat of mathematics that would have swept Countdown’s Rachel Riley off her feet. Then there was his comment in December that Arsenal’s foreign players “like to cry”.

It is all a long way from Jose’s troubling behaviour last summer, following his long-heralded return to Stamford Bridge. The acerbic wit with which he kept the Premier League fizzing in the middle years of the last decade had disappeared. It was replaced by a new air of acquired wisdom, serenity, and humility. Plus – most alarmingly – respect for his peers.

It began with a press conference at which Mourinho labelled himself “the happy one” – a reference to his proclamation upon arriving at Chelsea for the first time in 2004 that he was a “special one”. He went on to speak about his growth as a person, his greying hair, and his reading glasses. It was weird, and somewhat suspicious.

At the same conference, he gushed with praise for the newly appointed Manchester United manager David Moyes. It’s tempting to imagine he foresaw Moyes’s nightmare first season and fancied an ironic gibe before the action began, but his plausible sincerity at the time said otherwise.

The good vibes continued when Chelsea’s summer signing Samuel Eto’o talked about his relationship with Mourinho, who he had played under at Inter Milan. “The relationship I have with Jose is something really interesting,” he said. “At the start it was based on hate but that gradually grew into love.”

But perhaps the oddest moment of the summer came when Jose chatted fondly about none other than his old pal Arsene, calling the Frenchman “a very nice guy”.

Look, nobody is more in favour of basing our social interactions on decency and mutual respect than me. But that just isn’t football. It doesn’t sit right to hear these phenomenally rich men buttering each other up when they are actually paid to outdo each other.

It is much more fun and far easier to relate to when managers engage in the mind games, mud-slinging, bitchery and ego projection that are part and parcel of modern football.

Who is interested in a middle-aged man talking himself down, when he could be saying things like “He must really think I’m a great guy” (when asked what God thinks of him).

And who has time for expressions of admiration, when we can have snippets such as “How do you say cheating in Catalan?” (with reference to Lionel Messi).

The greatest trick football ever pulled was convincing the world it was more than just 22 men having a kick about. However preposterous the managerial banter might get, we need it to maintain the illusion that the beautiful game is important enough to justify the money we spend on it.

“It’s all about omelettes and eggs,” Mourinho once said. “It depends on the quality of the eggs. In the supermarket, you have class one, class two and class three eggs. Some are more expensive than others and some give you better omelettes.”

Jose: in the dubious omelette of football observations, you are a class one egg. Your job is not to make us like you – it is to give us something to talk about. Keep doing what you do best.

Let them eat soup

Posted in Features with tags , , , , on February 28, 2014 by Simon Gwynn
The Marie Antoinette Diet

This book tells you how to eat cake and still lose weight. The trick is to not eat very much cake.

Marie Antoinette was famous for giving her opinion on what people should and shouldn’t eat. “Let them eat curly kale and acai berries”, she may have said. “Let them cut out all carbs.” And of course, “Let them eat what they like five days a week, and fast for the remaining two.” But her best known pronouncement concerned a less obviously healthy menu choice: le gâteau délicieux.

The permission to eat cake is the headline-grabbing gimmick at the heart of the Marie Antoinette diet, launched in a new book by former fashion journalist Karen Wheeler. Wheeler, who lives in France, devised the diet after noticing the truth in the cliché that French women love to scoff rich foods, but never seem to get fat. This was true of no one more so than Maz-An, who maintained a 23 inch waist despite her well-documented love of pastries and cream-based desserts.

Wheeler offers a full version of the diet which can be followed indefinitely, and when broken down is indistinguishable from standard common-sense healthy eating. There are no prohibited foods and no calorie restrictions – the basic trick is to do all your serious eating, cake included, at breakfast or lunch; round off the day with a cleansing bowl of bland broth; and observe a strict fast for 12 hours overnight.

This isn’t enough of a challenge though, so I opt to try the two-day crash course version. It takes the eye-catching elements of the standard diet and combines them with a near-total prohibition of anything remotely yummy or filling. Though reading the menu doesn’t exactly tickle my saliva ducts, I think: “How hard can two days of this be?”

Really, horribly hard. I’m not usually what you could call a restrained eater, and it turns out my body is completely unprepared for even 48 hours of calorific deprivation.

Before kicking off, I have to prepare the two dubious green liquids that I’ll be pouring down my gullet for the next two days. First up is the soup, tantalisingly titled “green broth”. It consists of green beans, courgettes and celery steamed until not quite cooked, and then blended with water… with no seasoning. A merciful teaspoon of butter may be added. Its flavour quotient is a negative number, but at least it’s easy to make.

Not so the cucumber and celery juice. I attempt to make this vivid concoction using a hand blender and a sieve, almost certainly burning more energy in the process than the resulting juice contains. At least the pungent aroma of green that wafts through my kitchen reminds me I’ll be getting plenty of vitamins.

The morning arrives. I wake feeling hungry, and a glass of green juice does not solve the problem. It’s refreshing, but fairly unpleasant. My breakfast proper is a single full fat plain yoghurt, 80g of blackberries, and a teaspoon of chopped walnuts. At this early stage, when I have little anticipation of the misery to come, it does the trick.

At 10.30 comes the fun bit: mid-morning cake. But wait, there’s a catch! I’m only allowed a measly 75g. I opt for a small blueberry muffin. It might be pathetically tiny, but it tastes phenomenal – it must be something to do with drinking liquefied salad first thing in the morning.

Lunch is the big event of the day and involves three courses: soup (not specified, so I go for spicy tomato), a big salad that I prepared myself, and a small portion of lean protein (tuna steak). I’m ravenous by now, and demolish everything. Before long my tummy’s grumbling again, and I wolf down the mid-afternoon allowance of nuts and seeds.

By the time I return home in the evening, my blood sugar level has fallen through the floor, and I have mixed feelings about the green soup and plate of steamed veg I’ll be having for dinner. As I eat, I have rarely been so aware of the sensation of my stomach filling up. But it doesn’t do anything for my energy and I’m keen to get to bed at the earliest opportunity.

The second day is like the first, but taken to extremes. The cucumber juice tastes even worse; my Pret pain aux raisins is wonderful. As the day progresses, my brain slows right down; climbing stairs becomes a Herculean struggle. I lose my balance walking down a corridor. Lunch does little to alleviate the situation.

And at around 5pm, I stumble. Without thinking, I accept a mint from somebody in a meeting. It is not sugar free, and the small blast of sucrose picks me right up. I immediately have a second. It keeps me going while I battle through the tube strike to get home to my evening broth.

That evening I realise I can’t do it anymore. After finishing my soup and veg, I cave in and sneak a Ritz cracker. And another. And a fruit shortcake biscuit. And another. And then some cheese. My two-day trial ends in ignominious failure. On the upside, I have lost 1.7 pounds – but next time, I’d sooner just have my head chopped off.

Dallas Buyers Club – review

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2014 by Simon Gwynn

“Everyone has AIDS”, goes the song. That may be a truism in today’s world, but the disease was pretty damn taboo in the mid 80s, especially in the sort of Texas social world where men were men, those men had big bushy moustaches, and fashion choices were untainted by irony. It is in this context that faggot-hatin’ rodeo guy Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) learns he has contracted HIV, and may only have 30 days to live.

Why such a drastic timeframe? Because AZT, the drug that might keep him ticking, is unapproved by the dastardly Food and Drug Administration, an agency that contrary to its name, is designed to prevent anyone from having either. Woodruff manages to score an illicit supply from a drug trial, but when this runs out he is forced to travel to Mexico, where AZT is easily obtainable, along with more sophisticated drugs. Before long, he is running an elaborate importation scheme for hundreds of Dallas HIV patients.

It’s all about the performances. McConaughey struts around with a charisma so expansive that you might wonder if a little life-threatening STI might not do the same for you. He lost so much weight for the role that he makes Christian Bale in The Machinist look like a big fatty who wouldn’t be allowed into a pro-anorexia support group. The other selling point is Jared Leto as the transgender Rayon, who becomes Woodruff’s business partner. The warmth and humanity Leto brings to the role is undercut by an enjoyable snark.

But although it tells an important story and thoroughly inhabits its time period, Dallas Buyers Club is not an outstanding movie. The pace is far too rapid, the narrative too choppy. In the first act, when Woodruff is living under a ticking Countdown clock, this style suits the story. But further on, the lack of quality time we get to spend with the guy becomes infuriating. Perhaps the biggest mistake is Woodruff’s apparent Damascene conversion from raging homophobe to best friend of the friends of Dorothy, which is far too abrupt to be plausible.

There there are the supporting characters. The cartoon villainy of FDA agent Richard Barkley (Michael O’Neill) is just about tolerable, but the same cannot be said for Dr Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), a fictional ally to the real life Woodruff. Saks is so beige and inane that you’ll end up rooting for the FDA whenever she’s on screen. She seems to have been invented to lend the film a female presence – but it still fails the Bechdel test.

But if the film as a whole falls a little short, it’s only when held up next to McConaughey’s clusterbomb of a performance, which never dips below electrifying. His looming Oscar is richly deserved.

If you found this review offensive, it’s because you didn’t get the memo.

7/10

On ski helmets

Posted in Features with tags , , , , on February 10, 2014 by Simon Gwynn

I wrote an article for The Herald about getting fitted for a ski helmet. It’s not available online, but you can see a PDF of the print version here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 784 other followers