A Time Of Change

On top of Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood has surely now overridden (for my generation) his iconic cowboy identity with that of a brilliant director, as his new movie The Changeling hits the UK box office, a film that also secures Angelina Jolie as the focused and serious actress that she clearly wants to be, hopefully putting her ridiculous Lara Croft, big-lipped, Brad-bagging, Africaphilic media persona to rest.

The Changeling is much darker and far-fetched than anyone was expecting. Even those familiar with the true life story of Christine Collins could not have expected the dramatic sepia-tinged scenes of savage child murder, face-wrenching electrocution, scream-fuelled public hanging and two-faced police sadism that are delivered. The film moves in slow waves, the plot devices gradually trumping themselves in succession until the wide cooling pools of Jolie’s eyes are our only sanctuary in what becomes a horrific and sinister psychopathic tale of multi-levelled crime and punishment.

Socially and politically The Changeling explores a lot of territory: faith in authority, women’s rights, religion as a reactionary force, legal procedures and generally the human condition. Still, there is something oddly nouveau-puritan about the film’s message, promoting maternal domesticity, chivalric masculinity, God’s infinite levels of forgiveness. The media is refreshingly represented as a philanthropic and illuminating force, as is the pastor played by John Malkovich.

Robert Hanks suggested in The Independent that Clint Eastwood’s “rather syrupy music” was perhaps relied upon too much to give The Changeling its sense of melodrama. I disagree here. The soundtrack is effectively harrowing as it often emerges unexpectedly during otherwise quite passive moments. The film’s major composition has minimal, creeping crescendos and a melody that is strikingly similar to the strings arrangements on Justin Timberlake’s What Goes Around, contributing for a younger audience towards the eerie ways in which The Changeling successfully strokes the perimeters of contemporary Hollywood parallels.

The ending attempts to be ethereal but is dissatisfactory as Angelina Jolie claims to have felt a kind of catharsis built on the hope that her son may still be alive, despite the overwhelming odds that he has either starved to death or been brutally axe murdered in a chicken pen. She walks away as the credits begin to rise, a changed and newly-confident woman, but in reality Christine Collins was an innocent and level-headed mother who the police emotionally damaged and physically abused beyond repair.
The seemingly low-minded and erratic killing of the boys for me operated as a microcosm of the wider portrayal of crime and punishment, the hypocritical injustice of the death penalty and the figurative violence of selfish bureacracy.
Watch the trailer for The Changeling:
Words: Jack Cullen

Princess Andy Warhol Wraps Himself Around Naked French Rugby Stars

I laughed out loud yesterday when Stade Francais came out (onto the pitch…but almost in all senses) in their third snazzy jersey from Adidas. Everyone thought the bright pink lilies kit was pushing the masculinity boat out, but things just got inconcievably more gay:

An Andy Warhol inspired multicoloured image of Blanche de Castille, a 13th century French queen who was married to the flambuoyant and frivolous Louis VIII, her mysterious passive expression evokes a level of sensitiviy and romance while her large crown is like a prop from an Elton John ball . The border material is a sort of cowgirl denim print, reminiscent of Madonna’s Don’t Tell Me phase. Andy himself would be absolutely delighted if he knew his artistic legacy was strapped around the vessel-like chests of France’s most major rugby team, if not a little jealous of this close proximity between his work and his fantasies.

French rugby stars have challenged masculine codes for a while now, perfectly exemplified through their Dieux Du Stade naked calendar series, an annually bestselling erotic publication that blends the neoclassical with male fitness ideals, aristocratic settings and gay porn. Football stars have been doing this sort of thing for decades, with Beckham being on shoot almost as much as he’s on the pitch.

To see the papers all buzzing about a new rugby kit is a really exciting development in sport, I’ve never bought a rugby kit for casual wear but now I am suddenly tempted, it will be interesting to see if the hairier and more beer-prone end of France's rugger buggers will be brave enough to dare such an outrageous design. Adidas have continued to smash high street boundaries with their radical colour schemes, international inspirations like the popular Kingston Jamaica range, and collaborating with top end designers like Stella McCartney. Rugby has very traditional and muddy British origins, so it is pleasing to see worldwide liberality and vintage American pop art glamour making its mark on the sport. Suddenly red and blue kits seem terribly passé.

England now needs to rise to this sartorial challenge. I’m thinking Vivienne Westwood, blown up images of a tiara-clad Diana, with a fluorescent yellow and hot pink Sex Pistols background. What do you reckon?
Down Below: Some shots from a Dieux Du Stade calendar. A nice little earner for the gym-addicted frogs, somehow I can't picture Phil Vickery or Jamie Noon making it a sideline career yet.

Words: Jack Cullen - owgigi@hotmail.com

Beyonce: From Roaring Alter Ego to Boring Altar Lover

It’s official. The age of the new puritans is here. Some grew suspicious when Russell Brand was sacked, or yesterday when Radio 4 apologised for a bestiality joke. But it takes a Beyonce song to properly initiate any real change of direction in society, and here it is – her new song Single Ladies in which she tells women of the western world if they like a man then they should ‘put a ring on it’…

So, from an Independant Woman to a Get Me To The Church On Time trainwreck, who would have thought it? I relished B’s (That’s Beyonce-fan slang for Beyonce by the way) sassy hits from the early noughties, like the Austin Powers soundtrack gem Work It Out in which she warbles ‘I can’t wait for the bedroom, so let’s hit the floor’. Then she has her high note lipstick-feminism numbers like Suga Mama and Independent Women. But finally it seems she’s buckled under the heavy-duty weight of Jay-Z’s muscles and finally turned herself into a marital propaganda machine.

The video flaunts B in a supersexy tight outfit and heels, so we may have to wait a bit longer before the aprons, mops and rubber gloves make it onto the screen. But it’s still scary, to think three weeks ago MTV was showing her in a policeman outfit acting as if she was the first pop singer to play with cross-gender narratives, and now suddenly we see her staggering around in a terrifying wedding ring rant frenzy. I suppose the kind of ring she wants to put on the figurative guy in her song is open to debate, but I’ve got a feeling she’s talking religious bling as opposed to her orifice.

Marriage is quite an antiquated system, usually perpetrated through propaganda by societies that want to increase their population, and subsequently their work forces and armies. Marriage also constitutes heteronormativity: the woman cooks and cleans, the man makes the government richer. Why is Beyonce suddenly pushing these ideals in her pop music? Okay, if she loves Jay-Z and wants a family then that’s admirable, but it’s got nothing to do with rings, paperwork and obligation.

The only other answer I can think of is that B is anticipating the surely inevitable Beyonce: The Musical, for which she probably needs a pro-relationship song to help whatever storyline they come up with, as at the minute she’s only really got ones about sex, bills, being irreplaceable, ringing alarms and jumpin’ jumpin’. Not even Lloyd-Webber could spin a story out of that lot.

Ultimately I love Beyonce, she’s undeniably a world class act, and when I meet her she definitely owes me a drink, considering I saved up to by The Writings On The Wall when I was 13! Single Ladies is a fantastically produced track with really contagious synth samples and a hard-hitting beat. I just hope in future she uses her influence to push against America’s boring grand narratives: getting married, working your ass off for some lame company, getting fat and then dying.
Words: Jack Cullen - owgigi@hotmail.com

The Name's Bond... Bond No.9

Last night I attended the late night shopping media party at Harvey Nichols in Leeds, and purchased my first ever bottle of Bond No.9 aftershave.
Bond No.9 is an American fragrance company best known for its collection that pays homage to areas of New York, for example Wall Street or Riverside Drive. I spent the best part of an hour smelling samples from the 30 Bond No.9 fragrances available in their store, until settling for Hamptons. It's royal blue, smells very bright and masculine, but in a sweet swimming pool sort of way.
The Bond No.9 bottles are all very impressive. Their shape is starfish-like with accentuated corners that connote the looming New York skyscrapers. The packaging is plush too, with colour-coordinated velvet-esque sponge and a tight fitting fortified white box. Everyone knows that fragrance shopping is all about packaging.

I loved the bottle for the Andy Warhol fragrance, but unfortunately I wasn’t taken by the smell, after all he has been buried a good twenty-five years now.

The lady in Harvey Nichols was hilarious as she explained in a thick Yorkshire accent the various assets of the Bond No.9 range, a verbal amalgamation of what she could remember from the press release folder and some of her own poetic innovations like “this one’s unisex, but it’s very financial and smells of wealth” … thanks love.
Hamptons is a superb scent though, understatedly powerful, icily confident and like all Bond No.9 scents – kind of humorous.
Words: Jack Cullen

Patti Smith: Victory

Patti Smith: Dream of Life
I finally saw this biopic today. It was visually beautiful and verbally acute. So many people have written great reviews of it, and all I want to do right now is make a hot drink and read in bed, so I’m not going to write much. I loved how Stephen Sebring’s film steers away from the conventional traits of a biographical film, instead capturing more arbitrary, more insightful, moments of Patti Smith’s life. Made over 11 years we see her children growing up, we see her eating hamburgers and spending time with her since deceased parents. Amongst some action-packed footage of Smith singing riotously on stage there are some great outdoor scenes, on the beach, and paying a visit to Ginsberg’s grave at the foot of Shelley’s. It was funny to observe how her run down white shirts and dirty black boots are actually Prada and Comme Des Garçons. Bob Dylan, Michael Stipe, and Flea (of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers) make appearances amongst others, as well as a deeper engagement with the legacy with writers like Arthur Rimbauld and William Blake.

Viewers are granted permission to piece together all of the vibrant and gifted individuals that have informed Smith’s artistic vision, helping us to build a fuller picture of this incredible woman. We see some of the process behind her music, her painting, her politics, her sexuality and her poetry.
Smith says she is often asked what it feels like to be a rock icon. She says the question makes her think of Mount Rushmore.

Words: Jack Cullen

Du Are You?

I want to know more about Du Juan, the Chinese fashion model, soon to be supermodel. She’s currently the face of Giorgio Armani, and is all over H&M with Daria. She was the cover girl for the first issue of Vogue China. Her name sounds like Byron’s timeless epic poem Don Juan too, based on the famous historical libertine, which is cool. Du is 180cm, which is good going for a Chinese girl.

It seems Du doesn’t hang out much with western supermodels though. Does she speak English? We always hear about Gemma, Daria, Lily 1 and Lily 2 hanging out. I have a constant mental image of them all sitting around in Moschino LOGO trackies with hot chocolates discussing which photographers get on their nerves, and how it’s such a waste that all those D&G boys are so good looking. But little Du? No. There’s very little about her on the internet considering the massive labels she’s fronted like Roberto Cavalli, Luella, Dries Van Noten and Chanel.

According to nymag.com Du Juan is a keen chess player. That’s such a Chinese supermodel stereotype, like Lucy Lui’s character Alex in Charlie’s Angels. Lily Cole is really smart too. That’s why models are so much hotter than the girls in lad mags, and paid in millions as opposed to FHM girls who are paid in ‘here’s a bag of chips Keeley now fuck off’.

So, Du Juan, the first Asian model to crack the western market, filling in the void that Devon Aoki left, and expanding it. Congrats Du.
Words: Jack Cullen

Vive La Leeds!

The opening gala for Leeds Short Film Festival took place tonight in the town hall. The final film was a world premiere – an unseen short John Betjeman film about Leeds that archivists recently discovered in an old cupboard somewhere. It was really funny and insightful.

Betjeman stands in City Square, 1968, commiserating and lamenting over the modern architecture sprouting up around the city. “This monstrosity” he croaks energetically while the camera directs itself at the old Norwich Union building “has no artistry, it says nothing but CASH”. It was really interesting to see Leeds in the 60s, the Town Hall and Queen’s Hotel are both pitch black, the railway station has wooden ticket barriers and the women on benches sport green shift dresses and beehives.

The university is spoken highly of, although I was intrigued to learn that some of our campus was built on top of the demolished Woodhouse Cemetery! The streets of Hyde Park were cobbled too, with washing lines hanging across the air. Betjeman condemns Leeds as a dark city, but claims that the new era of the University of Leeds shows promise of a bright future and a much needed boost to the economy. How right he was.
Words: Jack Cullen


Do you find yourself always listening to your most recently purchased music, permeated occasionally by the odd classic? For example, today I am listening mainly to Friendly Fires, seasoned occasionally with a biggy from the archives like One More Time or Pretty Fly For A White Guy. Naturally we want to hear new and fresh music, but I usually overplay new songs until after three days I am done with them for life.

If you are suffering from the same depressing symptoms induced by a music industry too fast for itself, then you may be interested in my new scheme called From The Old We Travel To The New, or FTOWTTTN for short (pronounced towtin’(silent F) and spelt this way too from now on).

Okay, so what you do is pick an old album and play it in its entirety, maybe while walking somewhere with your iPod, or maybe while cooking. Then afterwards you travel to the new and select three songs which you feel are in someway derived from the old album, or build upon it in someway.
I am not claiming to be in any way innovative with my discovery for towtin’. In fact, my Mum always plays old albums from starts to finish, and then puts the radio on afterwards because she ‘fancies a change’.

Tonight my towtin’ choice was 'The Sweet Escape' by Gwen Stefani. It reminds me of winter 2006, playing loud from the night-time interior of a car while we drove to collect a Christmas tree. I remember playing it at a small party one night through the ceiling speakers in Rupert Everard’s swimming pool house. The album features the single Wind It Up, for which Sophie Muller directed the post-modern highly choreographed Sound-Of-Music-inspired video in which Gwen marches around chanting about LAMB in a nun outfit). There is also the annoyingly summery title single The Sweet Escape, and 4 In The Morning – Gwen’s lovesick ballad sang while she sits croning in a bath and then rolling around aimlessly in some crisp bedsheets. My favourite tracks are Fluorescent with its rigid yet understated Prince sample, and Breakin’ Up – which is icy minimal pop with a deep urban synth sound and topped with mobile phone chimes, the ridiculous mobile phone-based relationship metaphors are Gwenderful.

My three new tracks were then Paris (Friendly Fires), Must Be Love (Fya) and Love + Pain (Clor). Cannot be arsed to explain their relevance.

Words: Jack Cullen

Love Gum?

This evening in the Old Bar at Leeds University Union I couldn’t help staring with partial disgust at this guy leaning against the bar who was chewing gum so ferociously for about twenty minutes, as if giving everyone a very animated yet mute monologue, leaving me wondering whether he had a mechanical oral disability that I had never come across before.

Chewing gum is quite an interesting issue really. It can play a miniscule role in our identities, perhaps you never buy it, perhaps you are faithful to a specific brand, some people support blue or green Extra like a dedicated football fan – bursting into mock offence and patriotism if they witness somebody buying their opposed colour.

Chewing gum is glamorised as slightly rebellious since we are brought up being told off and cussed by teachers for having it. My mum’s boyfriend once told me that if I swallowed a piece of chewing gum it would wrap around my heart and I would die! I once offered a piece of gum to a girl who instantly quipped “oh, haven’t you grown out of it yet?”, because back then aged 15 she had made the image-conscious decision that gum was ‘like so lame’. Once my friend Rob told someone with great vigour that only tw*ts take two bits of gum at once, deliberately just after that person had put two pieces into their mouth.

It is certainly incredible to glance across a pedestrianised shopping street and just take in how much gum is stuck to the ground. I know from experience when I worked in a bar at The Savoy in Nottingham that gum is a PAIN to scrape off.

The US military gives gum to troops since it relieves their stress and help soldiers to think. Jolt Gum is a brand which contains caffeine and is sold to more than 35,000 military tuck shops worldwide. Gum probably makes homosexual kissing easier for soldiers to adapt to when these liberal and confused gender-blind scenarios inevitably arise out in the desolute jungles and desert camps.

I once bought gum quite religiously as a school boy. Although I often still find myself helping myself to my friends’ packets of gum, I only buy it myself now if I need to make myself eligible for cash-back in a shop. It comes in handy after an all-night party or plane flight if your toothbrush isn’t to hand. However, visibly chewing it makes one look a bit primitive and stupid, like that guy in Old Bar.

Words: Jack Cullen

Stella Tennant Drowned At Sea?

Daria Werbowy (pictured above with untitled man) is apparently the 9th highest paid supermodel now, earning 3.5 million last year, not bad for 23. I quite like seeing her face in seemingly every other campaign. She's currently staring out at us from House of Fraser across the Briggate, watching fat ladies stuffing their faces with Greggs.

I find Kate Moss is a bit too famous to feel any connection with, and Gemma Ward – although one of the most beautiful supermodels – isn’t quite as visible these days either. As for Lily, she’s studying, although I'm sure she'll be back. So Daria is a welcome billboard hugger for now, a friend almost.

However, one model of recent times who has practically vanished is Stella Tennant (pictured below). I know she’s a mother, a good decade older than Daria’s lot and consequently has a more severe image, but I just want to know what she’s up to these days… I'm worried.. what if she went to some outlandish coastal stretch of Scotland in seek of some catwalk inspiration and was dragged off by a fashion-mad giant squid? Or what if one of her Oscar de la Renta dresses got trapped in the closing gates of the Shetlands ferry, throwing her into the fathomable sequined frenzy of a violent nautical death? The possibilities are endless.
The woman who was once celebrated for her “aquiline and aristocratic” features, what has happened to our favourite Scottish supermodel Stella Tennant? The granddaughter of The Duchess of Devonshire, five years ago there seemed to be no stopping Stella – the face of Burberry and Calvin Klein, striding the runway for Chanel, she was starting to threaten Kate’s long reign on the front of Vogue, she even had public opinions on eating disorders.
One guess is that Agyness Deyn offers the fashion world a younger and sharper version of Miss Tennant, forcing Stella to withdraw from the spotlight. Another theory is that she is currently focusing on being a mother. A third theory is that Stella is focusing on the development of her own range of jigsaw puzzles. My suspicion though is that her french photographer husband David Lasnet is keeping her chained up in a basement. What do you reckon?
The Jack of Hearts
Words: Jack Cullen

The Halloween Charts

Happy Halloween! I’m going to a series of house parties tonight and then a club in town, I won’t reveal which one, after all I have so many avid fans. My costume? A viscerate transvestite prostitute, risen from the dead of course. As a treat for you, here are my Top 7 Halloween Inspirations:

1.Marilyn Manson – everyday is Halloween for this mock-shock-frock-rock star. How does he get his white foundation so good? I suppose he has an entourage. The queen of disposable teens comes in at number one. Well done Marilyn.

2.Christopher Lee – whether he is Dracula, Saruman, a James Bond villain or Lord Summerisle from the Wicker Man: Mr. Lee never fails to terrify. 86 and still going strong, a living silver screen legend.

3.Grace Jones – Pull up to the bumper in your long black limousine. She's sitting in a car outside your house right now.

4.Donnie Darko – the house party outfit that inspired a generation. No one can beat the way Jake pulls off the skeleton top and grey hoodie though. And Frank has to be the coolest accesory for the mentally infirm.

5.Alice Glass – the lead singer of Crystal Castles, she only shops twice a year from Salvation Army and so inevitably looks the part for Halloween in her ripped red tights and faded black Ts. Sex symbol, indefinitely, just Tell me what to swallow.

6.Jade Goody – Is there anything more disgusting? Possibly what is more disgusting is when TV shows us the orifices of drunk, over-weight, argumentative, illiterate girls...oh no wait...

7.Greggs – admit it people, Greggs is very scary. Apparently the third most common nightmare after falling and being chased is going into a town where Greggs is the only eating option. The beef and onion pies are COMING TO GET YOU!

Check out this Halloween Bearbrick below. So cute.

Words: Jack Cullen

Woss The Problem?

Jonathan Ross ‘offends’ people. Who? Who does he offend? And what else is he paid for? We can go on Wikipedia if we want to know the banalities of a celebrity’s life. That's why we stopped buying Smash Hits magazine when we turned 13. Nobody is interested in Kelly Brook's favourite month and why. Well, perhaps Parkinson would have been, may he retire in peace.

The Telegraph felt Ross was rude to Gwyneth Paltrow in April when he asked her if they could have sex and then suggested she was “gagging for it”. Ultimately most of these celebrities go on chat shows for their own publicity and consequent demise anyway. They all take offence too easily as well. Do you see Patti Smith appearing on Jonathan Ross’s show? Of course not, she has integrity and talent that cannot benefit any further by soft evening television.
He once asked David Cameron if he ever masturbated as a teenager thinking of Margaret Thatcher in stockings. I thought it was quite a witty question really, and revealed sharp interview acumen. Politicians are puppets in a crap pantomime anyway, are we supposed to pretend those fat boys in parliament had no adolescent masturbatory experiences? Nobody cares what David Cameron has to say on TV about ‘real’ matters like education or the NHS. All a politician can say at best is ineffectual jargon, which is why I am all in favour of punchy and obscure questions, these tangents can often create a more accurate image and lead towards some sort of truth.

When Ross boasted that his £6 million annual salary was worth "1,000 BBC journalists'', just after 2,000 job cuts had been announced, again The Telegraph documented how ‘offensive’ this was. Really though? Being paid £6 million for chatting shit on a show is of course a joke, but we the viewers are the butt of that joke. Can we expect Ross to decline constant pay rises? He has been in the business a long time too, and has genuinely worked his way up through innumerable TV programs. If we all went for country walks and played Connect 4, then sure, his ratings would sink and so would his wages. But fortunately for him we are all really, really sad, and want to hear about how Sienna Miller opts out of knickers.

Jonathan Ross is a talent, he is also a part of Britain’s extended family. So if you imagine a fiver from your uncle in a birthday card, and then multiply that by the country – you get Jonathan Ross’s wages. I’d rather my taxes paid for his swimming pool to be licked clean while his kids go skiing than for the purchase of landmines or feeding Ian Brady in prison.
One bone to pick with Ross though: Did you really need to spend £2million in auction for the car registration plate RO55? Would you not have felt better maybe doing something for charity? Something for the thousands of citizens too poor to watch you mildly offend people.

Words: Jack Cullen

Sugababes: Round 6

Sugababes make good quality pop music seem so easy. Their hazy harmonies and tight rhythm ensure that they deliver each and every time. I have nothing against Girls Aloud, but it is pointless making comparisons. Cheryl Cole’s crew make leggy, lippy relentless dance floor pop, which has its place, but Sugababes offer an entirely different package that is more chilled out, classier and effortlessly cooler. Here are my first favourite tracks from their fresh and zesty 6th album Catfights and Spotlights:

Side Chick: A great number from Robyn’s writer Klas Ahlund. The Sugababes sound is really strong here, effective circling piano chords, all nestled around light and summery percussion. “If you want a sly chick – on the side chick – It’s not you and I boy – you better get your head checked”. Seriously catchy.

Unbreakable Heart: A panoramic and fateful ballad with sweeping guitar synths that evoke those sped-up shots of clouds rapidly passing through the sky. Some classic Sugababes descants appear towards the end, maybe not to the extent that I would have liked though. (Keisha joked how one of their production team suggested ‘Earth’ as a title for this album – admittedly a shit name, but I kind of see where they were coming from with this track).

Beware: A strong Bond-theme sound here, Bassey-esque grandeur and heavy clockwork-like percussion. Amelle takes the lead, showing off her huskier and darker voice, revealing her unique offering to the trio in its current climate.

Sound of Goodbye: Again a very awe-inspiring and epic song that builds this worldly sense that Sugababes are on a quest to destroy the one ring! Nice backing vocal arrangements.

Bad track? Hanging on a Star: The ranting-chanting parts at the beginning are too far into Fergie's territory and the chorus melody is camper than David Schwimmer, I can just imagine Red Coats devising dance routines on their bunk beds.

The only other disappointing part of the album is Taio Cruz chirping away on She’s Like A Star. I like my Sugababes chic and sour, too cool to collaborate with random R’n’B personalities and too cliquey to have guests on their album. I suppose everyone has to do their bit for charity, but surely summer smash Come On Girl is still paying his bills?

Words: Jack Cullen

D / K / ‘n’ / Why?

While reclining on the sofa earlier I pondered over the famous ‘things come in threes’ concept that plebeians and TV adverts bang on about all the time. For example, good-bad-ugly, beginning-middle-end, father-son-holy ghost, the brass monkeys, Sugababes, lions, Olympic medals etc. Well I wanted to find my own personal trio of something, to contribute personally to this pointless numerical speculation, and I came up with DK:

Dorling Kindersley, Donkey Kong and Donna Karan.

To me these three characters operate symbolically as childhood, adolescence and now. They represent learning, playing and yearning. They express the embryonic stages of my mind, the nihilism and unproductive time inflicted by Nintendo, and finally the oddity of young adulthood.

Dorling Kindersley brings fond childhood memories of school, rooms filled with lots of light, and bookcases packed full of those big white non-fiction entities. Jungle animals, oceans, space stations, tanks, ancient Egypt… you name it. I remember a boy called Harry who was absolutely besotted with his DK cross-section of a ship book, it was bizarre. But importantly, I remember looking at DK books and realising that they were not for me. There was something I found so nauseating and sterile about their factual content and their strive to inform. I was slightly scared by the overall view of life as a banal infrastructure, with dull little cartoon crowds lifting pyramidal megaliths or a faceless person standing absent-mindedly next to a blue whale to provide scale. DK helped me to understand that I was different. Unlike most boys, steam engines didn’t do it for me; C.S.Lewis had already won me over.

Donkey Kong was the pinnacle of childhood cool, but like Dorling Kindersley, I was never a subscribed member of Donkey Kong's following. My parents never permitted me computer game consoles (something that I now appreciate as an insuperable blessing) although consoles have featured throughout my life in school common rooms, friends’ houses and later student lets at university. I remember sitting upstairs in my cousin’s bedroom playing Donkey Kong on her Game Boy one Christmas and feeling so rebellious because I knew that I was supposed to be chatting to my senior relatives. There was something so tropical and absorbing about smashing barrels against a background of green palm trees, the cheery and sonorous Nintendo music, and the wealth fantasy of obtaining all of the golden letters. I also remember sitting in the back of a car with my friend TJ playing Donkey Kong on the way to Alton Towers. I loved the Warhol ubiquity of DK too. The kids of billionaires sit on beanbags by their swimming pools playing the same Donkey Kong that kids on rough council estates play.

Donna Karan is the final part of my DK trilogy. What I like about her is her success story: how she started out picking pins up for Calvin Klein and then built herself up to be one of the world’s biggest labels. She has won an unprecedented seven CFDA awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award upon her 20th anniversary. Although Donna is still the chief designer at DKNY she sold the company to luxury conglomerate LVMH (Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton) for a reported 643 million US-$. Despite the admirable nature of this success though, Donna Karan perhaps embodies for me the closing of childhood’s golden gates. The realisation that something big is going to happen. Despite Dorling Kindersley's non-fiction mission - his books are actually quite unreal. Similarly the sapphire-blue skyscapes that Donkey Kong flings himself across do not exist. Donna Karan does though. She's empirical and very real.

Words: Jack Cullen

Burn After Watching?

Some viewers will be impressed with John Malkovich’s performance, where as others will be left wondering what Victor Meldrew is doing in a Hollywood blockbuster
Often depending on a heavy orchestral soundtrack, energised by dramatic and barbaric percussion, to strengthen the film’s attempt to be a thriller, Tilda Swinton is the only actress to cut the mustard in Burn After Reading: dominating all of her scenes, she is easily the most masculine character. Her performance as the over-stressed, power-dressed and machinistic divorcee-mess makes the film worth watching. Her authoritive ease with language and perfect delivery of expression is invariably strong.

Unfortunately the weak script full of cavitous humour begins to singe Burn After Reading, it is riddled with “Oh my God!”s and “”What the fuck!”s, too many easy laughs are cashed-in on with a two-dimensional satirisation of contemporary America with its high-energy TV personalities and plastic surgery fixation. What is enjoyable is the momentary attention paid towards nostalgia and kleptomania in relation to identity, the whole picture is riddled with references towards the paraphernalia inside wallets, college photos that depict innocence and the individuality brought about by sartorial choice.

Brad Pitt comes across as problematic, relying on his instant popularity with mainstream viewers, his acting hides behind humour but seems almost amateur in places. Is he self-consciously casting himself as a loser in films these days? Perhaps it's his own way of counter-acting ageing and diminishing beauty, if only he could grow into some mature actor shoes like DiCaprio has managed to do successfully in recent projects. Burn After Reading treats its viewers to at least three scenes with Pitt dancing without inhibitions to music in his headphones, and the popcorn-scoffing ladies in the audience burst into annoying erratic laughter each time.
The Coen brothers are well-known for their films in which genres blend together. Burn After Reading is certainly enjoyable, Emanuel Lubezki’s assistance with cinematography is a major attribute, as are McDormand’s and Swinton’s performances, but the film struggles to combine the comedic with the sincere, instead holding an unsatisfying grip of either. Having said this, I did enjoy the film, and would possibly give it a second chance when I have more time. (7/10)
I DONT BELIEVE IT: Not only does Victor Meldrew look like John Malkovich but he pre-empts Burberry's Autumn/Winter 2007 collection.
Review and Words by Jack Cullen

The Lion, the Kitsch and the Warhol

Like every good citizen, I love Crystal Castles. Their album was a soundtrack to my summer and looks well set to still frequent my headphones this winter as I march about to lectures in the dark. I relished their razor-sharp appearance in the woods at Latitude festival too, I’ve never felt so young, and my photo of lead-shouter Alice Glass is incredible!

I’m not sure where I stand on the whole plagiarism/theft/sampling debate though. Lots of indie kids’ fingers have clearly been at hard work typing their plight of Timbaland’s ‘illegal’ sampling of the CC song Courtship Dating for the intro of 50 Cent’s Ayo Technology. I think both tracks are great, and different, but more importantly – Crystal Castles utilise masses of other people’s ideas.

Firstly, they use Chanel’s logo. There probably are a few hundred adolescents who are oblivious to the logos’s high fashion origin, but no matter how much I love CC’s raw electro pop music, I don’t quite see them succeeding Chanel in the product-recognition stakes. There are thousands of aspiring graphic artists out there, all desperate and poor, so why don’t CC commission their own logo? Unless I am incorrect and Crystal Castles members Alice Glass and Ethan Kath are actually in their old age, have been around underground for decades, look fantastic thanks to Nivea, and have actually had their logo stolen yonks ago by Chanel. I can just picture Karl Lagerfeld in his youth, clad in a then-pioneering fluorescent new-rave anorak over a BORN IN THE 1880s t-shirt, gripping a Smirnoff Ice as he head-bangs to Crimewave in a disused railway tunnel, circa 1952. (Below is a photo of Karl Lagerfeld at a Chanel launch with the Crystal Castle's logo hanging from the wall with Third Reich glamour)

Secondly, the Madonna-and-bleeding-eye image on the front of their album (pictured below). I’m sure this is meant to carry some kind of wafery anti-establishment relevance, but Crystal Castles forget that Madonna was once an enfant-terrible herself, breaking into Sire Records and yelling “make me a star”, and then going on to flog millions of records about abortions and virginity.

Finally there are all the Game Boy tunes that Crystal Castles sample. I have no problem with this. Nintendo music is a deeply rooted part of our childhood indoctrination that everybody should be free to reproduce if they so wish.
I wish all the fourteen year olds on MySpace would calm down about sampling disputes though, they should be doing their homework instead of claiming to understand Daft Punk’s Homework. Plus many of the songs they angrily cite as ‘the original’ are also well-known covers or samples. It’s all part of Andy Warhol’s legacy anyway. Even Karl Lagerfeld borrows from Andy Warhol's legacy like, erm, oh yeah - his whole look.

More information: www.myspace.com/crystalcastles / http://www.chanel.com/ / http://www.warhol.org/ /

Jack of Hearts is an informal but dedicated blog written by Jack Cullen - owgigi@hotmail.com

Revolutionary Road, Traditional Cast

Richard Yates’ novel Revolutionary Road which won the National Book Award in 1962 is coming to our cinemas in January, starring (and reuniting) Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

Director Sam Mendes has already swooped Oscars for American Beauty. He’s also married to Kate Winslet, which probably came in handy for Kate when she auditioned. I wonder how Mendes feels about Leo sleeping with Kate all those years ago though, when she was more beautiful, not to mention the intense sex in the back of a stored car onboard the Titanic.
Leo famously sleeps with all his female co-stars. He threatened to pull out from the film adaptation of Alex Garland’s The Beach unless the screenplay permitted sex scenes with Tilda Swinton’s character Sel as well as the hot French girl.

Still, director Sam Mendes is probably cool in the knowledge that Leo got to Kate first. Mendes has enjoyed his fair share of celebrity flings, including Cameron Diaz and Jane Horrocks. Unlike most Hollywood sugar-daddies, I like Mendes, he’s only 44 and is a brilliant director, American Beauty and Jarhead are great films, not to mention his stage directing – like 1998’s production of David Hare’s The Blue Room with Nicole Kidman.
Revolutionary Road is a 1950s drama set in suburban Connecticut about a struggling couple, Frank and April, who feel they have more to offer the world than the others in their depressing neighbourhood. April has fantasies of moving to Paris that are never quite materialised. It’s a fantastic novel. Fingers crossed for the film, but you can bet it’ll be fantastic too. Mendes is great, Leo has become a strong actor now who can really tackle mature role, Winslet has always been fine, at least on the screen.
Coincidentally my housemate Leo's girlfriend is called Kate (pictured below). They're a much better looking Leo & Kate than DiCaprio and Winslet don't you think? Also, my Leo can fly planes and my Kate has a scar from a horse that chomped her, beat that Hollywood.

Words: Jack Cullen

Somali want a cracker?

Captain Pugwash would never get caught up in a psychopathic Somalian shipping scenario like this.

The BBC announced tonight that Somali pirates are holding a ship carrying a cargo of military tanks ransom for £12 million! A spokesperson from the group of pirates has threatened to blow up the ship, including themselves and the crew, unless the ransom is paid within three days…
It’s one of those situations where we usually depend on Tom Cruise or Bruce Willis to sort things out, but unfortunately this case is real and not pretend. Besides, Tom Cruise wouldn’t get out of bed and penetrate an adolescent gardener for that sort of money. As for Bruce Willis - he’s only made one public appearance in the last month and that was buying his daughter Rumer some Christian Louboutin shoes for her 20th birthday, not exactly action-packed stuff.

What fascinates me most about this Ukrainian hostage situation is how we still use the word ‘pirates’ to indicate fire-armed thugs stealing 33 tanks. Surely they’re terrorists, or international criminals? Captain Pugwash would never get caught up in a psychopathic Somalian shipping scenario like this.

Apparently US warships have surrounded the MV Faina and a Russian frigate is on its way to help in the operation. I think America would have been better off sending Johnny Depp in there, swinging wildly on a pulley rope in Boho jewellery, someone who understands the ways of pirates.
The worrying part of the story though is the BBC’s last line “Somalia has lacked a functional central government since 1991 and has been afflicted by continual civil strife”ALARM BELLS go off in my head when I read this, it basically says “Yeah, by the way, why don’t we go to war with Somalia, they obviously need a bit of the good old western intervention”.
I don’t see Somalian newspapers talking about the hundreds of knife-crime victims the UK has had recently, and proposing to come over and sort out our “continual civil strife” (not that I read many Somalian newspapers, but I'm sure you take my point).

Maybe the whole story is made up. Who knows? It’s not as if we go swimming off the Somalian coast every weekend. Could anyone really be stupid enough to hold a military ship ransom? So - what - the Ukrainian government hand over a check and off the terrorists sail happily into the horizon, swigging rum and internet shopping for Comme Des Garcons on their wireless laptops…! ??

Talking of which, Commes Des Garcons (who are Japanese, I'd like to take this oppurtunity to educate seemingly everyone who thinks they are a French fashion house) have released their own Bearbrick (pictured below), and I really really want it. I collect Bearbricks, and have 23 to date. Thing is, they cost quite a lot. Especially limited edition ones. I wonder how I could find some cash quick. Anyone got an eye-patch I can borrow?

Words: Jack Cullen

Break the Washing Machine Vs. Break the Dawn

Our washing machine just broke, flooding the kitchen and causing all round hydrological drama. The plumber gave important instructions to my housemate Ben while I raced around trying to get a good photo for the blog. However, in the end the whole saga was upstaged by some unavoidable and massive news….

Michelle Williams’ new album is out!

Miracles really can happen. The member of Destiny’s Child that nobody cared about has hit us all with some brand new material, and lead single ‘We Break The Dawn’ seems set to be a big hit. I wonder if Michelle deliberately decided to sneak her album out on the sly during the quiet before the storm (A.K.A. a couple of months before round three of Beyonce’s indestructible solo career), or perhaps Beyonce rang Michelle up from her breakfast bar one morning like “listen up bitch, you better spew out your pathetic attempt-to-be-me THIS month or I really WILL give you something to warble about”

Michelle has already enjoyed success though, selling more than 500,000 copies of her gospel albums (The equivalent of Beyonce's record sales in the Shetlands). Michelle was the first member of DC to go solo too, recording her own stuff while the girls were still together, probably because they always let her go home early from the video shoots. I’ve done some research and she appears on her own for about 14 seconds in most DC song videos, which is seemingly about 3% of the camera attention that Beyonce’s breasts receive.
The new album Unexpected sounds good though, the beats are very now, it's chart friendly, sexy and relatively harmless. The overall sound is very much like a Jamelia album with slightly more gremlin-esque vocals and a distinctly US urban production sound. Hopefully the album will remind people who Michelle is, what with Heath Ledger's death and this year's Oscars - the white Michelle Williams has raced ahead in the google-image-search league tables.
I was going to attach the video to her new song, but nothing beats this classic clip:
She's so vexed. If it wasn't for Beyonce she'd still be working at BT Cellnet innit.
Words: Jack Cullen

Set Change

Today's blog offering comes in the bold, bald and Brummy form of a famous comedian and writer.

Yesterday I asked ten people what sprang to mind when I mentioned those two jingly and warm words 'Lenny Henry'. The response was almost unanimously "Dawn French's husband" (one taciturn layperson paused and then asked Is he the one in the Travelodge adverts?).

But the reason Lenry Henry is hot on my lips is because he is soon to make his stage-acting debut, and quite locally too at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. But the incredulity continues - he is going to be playing Othello! This mildly outlandish casting decision is clearly going to shift a lot of tickets for the forthcoming production. Although large Shakespeare productions always find large audiences. I can already smell the queues of school classes and OAPs.

Lenny Henry has had a varied and most successful career, yet I can't help feeling that the production is a bit of a cash-in and a step backwards in the sense that so much of our country's theatre is drowned in its overwhelming sense of commodity.

Although we are used to Mr. Henry's grins and comedic charm he is apparently going to take this project very seriously and approach the tragedy with the sincerity its demands. For me though it still doesn't quite cut the mustard. I wish I was around in the 'good old days' to see Laurence Olivier or Chiwetel Ejiofo in their acclaimed turns at the lead role. I suppose I'm just jealous.

Words: Jack Cullen

Without a Woman on a Bed

It seems Domenico Dolce & Stefano Gabbana are back together again, having ended their romantic relationship three years ago, and I’m pleased for them.
2005 was a phenomenal year for the fashion duo, with D&G turning over £597 million. Mere mortals like ourselves cannot even begin to imagine the levels of intensity and pressure that must come with being at the top of such an omnipotent and globe-conquering institution. I can, however, understand how a serious relationship crisis can emerge when one is busy steering the fashion world forwards and at the same time supplying the rest of the world with their underwear, plus the added responsibility of designing Italy’s official football kits, not to mention the fickle strains of fidelity that arise when you spend your days co-existing in illustrious sunny splendour amongst the world’s most sexually alluring supermodels.
Pioneering fashion can lead into dangerous waters too. In 2007 the D&G house were attacked by governments for an advertising campaign in which the models brandished knives. Although most media figures worth paying attention to had the common sense to see that the case was quite ridiculous. Computer games that promote killing? Yes. Military adverts that promote killing? Possibly. 17 year-old waxed models holding knives in silver jumpsuits and purple Y-fronts that promote killing? Somehow I don’t think so, unless you mean killing calories through adoration-driven envy. The models probably had knives in order to cut the promo tags off their photo shoot freebies.
Of course the main reason why it pleases us to see Domenico and Stefano back together is because it further consolidates the powerful symbol that they represent. Critics will always moan about the price of high fashion, and let’s be honest, not many of us can afford it. But you don’t need to own D&G to understand the underlying message of their vision.
Through advertising, commerce, culture, sport, politics and sex – Dolce & Gabbana represent and strengthen an artistic and breath-taking perception of gender equality, sexual liberation and the changing face of masculinity.
You might catch the adolescent models with their pants down but the only force capable of de-bagging D&G themselves is the success-induced weight of their pockets.
Words: Jack Cullen

Let's face the music...

I've never watched this show much before, despite its reign across student TV sets, but tonight I ended up watching the second episode at a friend's house and was pleasantly surprised.

What I don't like about all these panel shows is the dragged out emotions and Strictly Come Dancing is like so many other shows in that it operates around a negative philosophy of voting people off, the whole series is like a slow-motion firing line where the audience sits through a never-ending showcase of anticipated silences and very scheduled erratic applause, then after a reel of weeks and losers - one very smiley person remains.

Still, I think there are several factors that redeem this and make it a great program. Firstly there are some great characters. Bruce Forsyth cannot fail to amuse. He hovers with frailtly inbetween the judges and the dancers, his tuxedo practically holding him up, shuffling awkward questions at the contestants while straining to lift his eyes off the girls' breasts. Then there is Brunio Ravioli, who it seems is encouraged by the show's makers to be very elaborate and play on an Italian stereotype. The audience often don't laugh where he wants them too, which is enjoyable, and he also offers plenty of strange idioms that are obviously ineffectual translations, I love him. Tess Daly is always fun to watch too, her hair holds remarkable invincibility and she has a kind of half-attention that places her celestially above most of what is happening on the show.

The contestants are the best though, the sheer pic n' mix of celebrities. Heather Small from M People is actually a very talented, wealthy and respected pop singer, and even Rachel Stevens is very famous (even if most of her accumulated fortune comes from lads mags). But then some of the other contestants are barely celebrities at all, to the extent that I cannot even name them here, but their egos always carry enough conviction.

The costumes are of course the final punch of this show. I wish I bought some shares in glitter and sequins last month.

I'm already looking forward to next week's episode, I hope Arlene Phillips puts on a thick smudge of lipstick for me.
Words: Jack Cullen

Fever Pitch

I was in bed for three days this week with flu. By 'flu' I mean a severe headache, hot and cold sweats, swollen glands, fits of shivvering, a sore throat, eye strain, ringing ears, back and neck ache and a loss of appetite.

Like most boys who went to boarding school I very rarely fall ill, probably because boarding schools equip you with a mega immune system (due to a mixture of that great jolly hockey sticks outdoor life + cleaning dirt and grime off statues of lions + other bacterial exposure that I won't elaborate upon). So I'm usually really pissed off when I do catch something.

However, I discovered my own three-step recovery plan which I am about to reveal for you. Forget Nurofen, forget paracetemol, forget fruit and vegetables. This works better than anything a pharmacist can sell you...
1) Day Time TV
My weapon of choice is anything presented by Kristian Digby, for example To Buy or Not to Buy or Open Homes. Kristian (pictured above) is energetic, friendly and gently camp. He is always impeccably dressed and politely takes the piss out of everyone on his show. His well-spoken and well-mannered ways are like Vitimin C for the soul. Watching him present on TV will make you long to recover so that you too can prance about the streets shaking hands with rosy-cheeked chartered surveyors.
Other good ones to watch are Cash in the Attic and Bargain Hunt.
Quiz Shows are bad for recovery though. Not only will the inability to answer questions will put further weight on your headache, but Dale Winton will make you vomit and Anne Robinson can make you go into a recession and actually expire.
2) 1980s Chart Music
You need to do this in stages. Start with something slow and meaningful like Kate Bush or Gloria Estefan. Female solo artists who can empathise with your pitiful state and will sooth your ears.
Then go for something a little stronger and life-affirming. Perhaps Duran Duran.
Then finish off with something utterly pop-bent and up-tempo. For me Bananarama are the best. It's impossible to feel ill in the presence of their cheery harmonies. The best medium has to be cassette tapes, they capture the period's sound - plus the way the tape deck neatly closes shut and the way you nudge the little play button down - the satisfaction will rocket your recovery time, I promise you.
Avoid Grace Jones. I know she's fucking cool, but you're trying to get better right?
3) Drink Lots of Water
Self-explanatory, no?

Words: Jack Cullen

How do ASDA make their in-store playlist?

I nipped to ASDA this evening with my housemate Leo in order to pick up a few bits, chiefly meat, since I had already done my weekly shop at Sainsbury's but omit meat from my shopping list there since it costs about 7 quid for some wafer thin not-quite turkey.

Now I understand that all supermarkets have their drawbacks:

For M&S it's the lack of brand - no Coca Cola, no BabyBel, no PJs.
For Morrisons the major drawback is their guantanamo bay floor layout - virtually no lighting, nauseatingly thin aisles, agressive failed marines on the fish counter etc.
For Waitrose it's the embarrassingly large selection of ice cream and the fact that the check-out queue looks like a scene from Night of the Living Dead.
For Tesco it's their disgustingly cone-headed book section which offers the works of Jordon against a backdrop of 'the painful lives' genre and the true Fred and Rose West story.

ASDA are perhaps my favourite supermarket. Their prices are so dirt cheap they may as well be giving food away, they give lime green a role in life and of course they have George which is amazing if you want to buy clothes only to then rip them up, paint them and customise them before a fancy-dress party (although sadly some people do actually shop in George as if the racks were pret-a-porter). But what is the drawback to ASDA? The answer smacked me in the face this evening just as I was on the brink of choosing which Crunch Corner to get (I know the chocolate cornflakes with banana yoghurt are the best, but I al-l-l-ways get that one) I was in the midst of this pleasant dairy-based decisiveness when suddenly the instore speakers launched proudly into 'Elvis Ain't Dead' - that awful song by Scouting for Girls.

Scouting for Girls are terrible in general, they sound like a small boy who has just trapped his finger in a closing door, they look like the people you wish you never gave your number to in fresher's week, and I'm pretty glad I have no idea what they smell or taste like. But 'Elvis Ain't Dead' is their worse song by far. The lyrics at best are an abridged version of Dolly Parton "since you been gone I can do what I like", and at worst are a relentless repetition of an uninteresting cliche. The main riff also captures the feeling of a dedicated masturbation session where all parties involved cannot wait for the end, not because of the thrill it will bring, but because it will be the end.

There are three contexts to the photo of this band (pictured above) that I could come up with:

1) They are paying a visit to the area from which most of their fans originate
2) Glasto organiser Emily Eavis spotted a flop and gave them the wrong address
3) They are still searching for Elvis and suspect Welsh villages of harbouring him

Once my attention was focused on ASDA's in-store playlist I was exposed to further horrors though - James Blunt, Dido and... and... dare I type it... Daphne & Celeste. It was as if ASDA wanted us to fall to our knees with our hands on our ears and vomit all over their reflective flooring. Who actually chooses the music they play in there? Okay fair enough, James Blunt and Dido are enjoyed by enough plebeians to understand their residency on an ASDA playlist, but Daphne & Celeste .... DAPHNE & CELESTE!

My mind then began to contemplate the meaning behind the name Scouting for Girls... is it

a) They are helping some female models to get work
b) They are offering a female equivalent of the historic and sodomitical childhood past-time of scouting, traditionally only available to boys
c) They are on the hunt for hot girls (in which case if they mean obtainable ones then they could be hunting for a very long time)

A few minutes later the little man at the check-out asked Leo and I for our postcode, he said ASDA were running a survey to decipher the size of the area that they cater for in Leeds (obviously he didn't use a word like decipher, I'm paraphrasing from memory). I gave him my postcode and felt guilty.. because ASDA will forever think that they cater for LS6 in Leeds.. when in actuality I plan never to return to their musically torturous empire.

Not until the next fancy-dress invite arrives at least.