Muppet Treasure Island – BlogalongaMuppets 5

I am relishing this section of BlogalongaMuppets as we are in the period of the Muppets which overlapped with my childhood. How can you not love a Muppet film if you first saw it at the age of eight?

Following on from The Muppet Christmas Carol Disney have tried to replicate that winning formula by adapting another classic novel in the unique Muppet way. This time we have a young Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop) and his best friends Rizzo the Rat and The Great Gonzo, who are given a treasure map and set sail on the big blue wet thing, looking for adventure. Captaining their ship is a certain green frog and taking the role of lead famous human actor is the always entertaining Tim Curry as Long John Silver. Tim Curry plays the treacherous pirate with such relish it is a joy to watch.

All of my praise for this film is pretty much the same as that which I heaped on The Muppet Christmas Carol. The film has a tight plot, is funny throughout and is filled with catchy songs. The humour never becomes too meta and there are no cameos for cameos sake; Jennifer Saunders and Billy Connolly both give great performances at the start of the film and both have something to do beyond being a recognisable face.

The winning formula for a great Muppet film is for our felt covered friends to adapt a classic novel, have a respected British actor in the lead human role and have decent songs. Christmas Carol and Treasure Island also share the trait of not being afraid of being dark in places, the opening song in Muppet Treasure Island ends with a whole pirate crew being shot. As Rizzo said, “He died? And this is supposed to be a kids’ movie!”.

As usual I want to give a quick nod to the various Muppet rats who throughout the pirate adventure have their own sub-plot as Rizzo has a side business running a rat cruise on-board the pirate boat. There’s something about rats behaving like humans on holiday that tickles me beyond explanation. Look at their teeny clothes!

You wanna knock it off with the booze? It’s peeling the paint off of the shuffleboard court.

In short, Muppet Treasure Island is amazing and I will never tire of it. Sadly The Muppet Christmas Carol just pips it to the top spot (so far) by virtue of being a Christmas film and therefore automatically being slightly better.

Muppet Movie Ranking:
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol
2. Muppet Treasure Island
3. The Muppets Take Manhattan
4. The Great Muppet Caper
5. The Muppet Movie

Black Pond – Review

Just over a week ago I was marvelling at the BAFTA nominations for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer, and it slightly pained me that I hadn’t even heard of one of the five nominees. All I knew about Black Pond was the brief summary I wrote up when it had a small release back in February. What kind of film blogger am I?! Filled with existential crisis I was pleased to discover that my local independent cinema, The Tricycle, was having a screening of Black Pond with a Q&A afterwards, a screening which I dutifully attended…

Black Pond is the story of a dysfunctional family; one which is accused of murder after a man comes round for dinner and dies at their table. The film’s conclusion, the death of the man who came to dinner, is made clear at the start and the remainder of the film is split into three separate threads. One thread deals with the events that lead up to his death, a second consists of interviews with the family years later and the third is made up of therapy sessions between another guest at that dinner, Tim Tanaka (as played by co-writer/director Will Sharpe), and psychotherapist Dr Eric Sacks (Simon Amstell in his film debut). The three threads tie together well, each offering a different perspective on the story and each with their only particular style.

By letting the audience in on what could have been a shock ending, writer/director duo Will Sharpe and Tom Kingsley have taken the emphasis away from the surreal plot, and shifted it towards the bizarre collection of characters. This is a situation I always prefer, but one which makes discussing the film a little trickier. Each member of the family, and their guests, come across as wonderfully flawed individuals. There are no weak links in the cast and this is a true ensemble piece. If anyone were to steal the limelight is would be the father Tom (Chris Langham making a long-awaited return to acting), a man who seems to be wading through life; trying to stop his wife eating bananas too late in the day, singing to himself while on the toilet and happy to bring back men from the park for a cup of tea, which is how the whole business got started.

Shot for a mere £25,000*, Black Pond is a testament to independent filmmaking and simply getting your film made whether you have the support of a funding body or not, sorry BFI. While other low-budget films may struggle to hide the tell-tale signs in their aesthetic, Black Pond looks as good as a production with significantly more money behind it. It was not a case of simply getting the film shot, care had clearly been taken in its composition as the stills above will testify.

Enough rambling about character and direction, what really matters is if the film was enjoyable and made some kind of emotion happen deep within me. Thankfully Black Pond more than fulfilled these needs. Throughout the film I was laughing loudly and, unlike during some comedies, it felt like the entire audience was joining in. The source of humour ranged from the surreal nature of what was happening on-screen to the mundane conversations between family members. The jokes were for the most part quite subtle, Amstell’s psychotherapist providing the broader humour, but were always effective whether they were an expression on Langham’s face or Amstell hitting his glass with a pen.

All things considered Black Pond is an impressive feature debut and a great film in its own right. Equally moving, funny, and deeply surreal, Black Pond is almost poetic without ever alienating its audience. I haven’t laughed so much in the cinema for a long time and once again I find myself excited about the future of British cinema. In honour of Black Pond‘s spirit and achievement I am finally introducing a star rating to Mild Concern, and giving this fantastic debut our top honour. 5 Stars = Absolute Amazement.

Black Pond is currently touring the UK with Chris Langham in tow and is worth the effort if it passes near you (tour dates can be found here). If you miss there will hopefully be a DVD release soon which we will bore you about nearer the time. For now enjoy the trailer:

*Avatar cost 9480 times as much to make and is a terrible film. Go figure.

Out Now – 27th January 2011

The Descendants
With an overly confusing subplot about land ownership, Alexander Payne’s latest was in severe danger of losing me in its opening minutes. Luckily the main plot, in which a father reconnects with his two daughters as he hunts down the man who has been sleeping with his comatose wife (the affair was pre-coma, this isn’t Talk to Her), has enough humour and charm to save the film. From my review last October, “after the muddle at the start and a few awkward metaphors The Descendants comes together as a touching and hilarious family dramedy.”

Like Crazy
With a beautiful aesthetic, great cast, and improvised dialogue, Like Crazy is a naturalistic portrayal of a long distance relationship falling apart in spite of the deluded efforts of those involved. Sadly the realism of Like Crazy is almost too much, and I found myself as frustrated by the on-screen couple as I would be by any couple who are excessively in love and making a hash of it. My personal issues aside, this is not a terrible film and worth a look to see the moment that Felicity Jones truly arrives as an actress. Read the full review for more words, sentences, etc.

The Grey
Two hours of Liam Neeson fighting off wolves in Alaska. I had to choose between seeing this and going to a pub quiz, I think I made the right choice. SPOILER ALERT: Sarah Palin saves the day in the end, shooting down the wolves in her helicopter before throwing Neeson over her shoulder and carrying him away.

A Monster in Paris
French animated film about a monster (or giant flea) who falls in love with a cabaret singer and develops his musical abilities.

Intruders (limited release)
I think this is a horror movie starring Clive Owen in which a monster from his childhood starts to harass his young daughter. I can’t be quite sure though as the synopses on IMDb and Wikipedia are vague and confusing. HANG ON! Thanks to the BBFC I can now confirm that Intruders, “is a contemporary horror film about a monster that steals children’s faces.” As someone whose worst phobia is people with no faces I don’t think I could take this film.

House of Tolerance (limited release)
Your sexy film quota is filled this week by a French film focussing on the dynamics between women working in a Parisian brothel in the early 20th century. Expect sex, subtitles and presumably some more sex.

Acts of Godfrey (special release)
Who cares about the plot when this is the first film to be written entirely in rhyming couplets? Sadly only showing at the Vue in Shepherds Bush, you’ll need to make a special trip to see this unique British film.

Patience (After Sebald) (limited release)
Patience (After Sebald) is a multi-layered film essay on landscape, art, history, life and loss by the acclaimed documentary film-maker Grant Gee. It is an exploration of the work and influence of German writer WG Sebald, told via a long walk through coastal East Anglia tracking his most famous book The Rings of Saturn.”

Mercenaries (limited release)
“Andy Marlow, an ex British S.A.S serviceman turned mercenary, is sent into the Balkans after a military coup has arisen to rescue a U.S ambassador and his aide.”

A Few Obligatory Thoughts on the 2012 Oscar Nominations

In case you haven’t been lucky enough to have me mumble at you about the 2012 Oscar nominations in person, I thought I’d share with you some of my gut reactions to this year’s list of films of actor types that may win a fancy gold statue. For the full list of nominees have a look on IMDb, it’ll save me a lot of copying, pasting, and messing around with italics.

Extremely Lame & Poorly Reviewed
Somewhere amongst the nine nominees for Best Motion Picture of the Year is Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, the family drama about a young boy searching for the lock to match a key left to him by his father, a victim of 9/11. What makes this film stand out, beyond its terrifying poster, is that it is the worst reviewed film to get nominated for this award for the past 10 years. At the time of writing this potential Oscar winner has just 47% positive reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes with a pretty damning consensus; “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close has a story worth telling, but it deserves better than the treacly and pretentious treatment director Stephen Daldry gives it.”

Albert Who?
Noticing that a film called Albert Nobbs had gathered three nominations I decided to look into it. Turns out that Albert Nobbs is a woman in 19th century Ireland pretending to be a man in order to survive, and is played by Glenn Close. Curious to see what Glenn Close would look like as a man I bravely Googled on.

Thanks Glenn, I didn’t need to sleep tonight anyway.

With Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sadly missing out on a Best Picture nod it’s great to see Gary Oldman getting his first ever Best Actor nomination, and not for his role in Kung Fu Panda 2. In Tinker Oldman ably held together a weighty bit of British cinema and showed hipsters that some people actually wear oversized glasses for medical reasons. What a guy.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Mediocre Biopic
With Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams both getting nominated for Best Actress, it seems that it really doesn’t matter how lukewarm the reaction is to your film so long as you give a scarily accurate portrayal of an icon. In a way it’s reassuring to know that no matter how mediocre the film you’re in, there’s still a chance to act your way above the rest of the film.

It’s exciting enough that the little seen film Beginners might get some free press thanks to Christopher Plummer’s nomination, but the fact that Captain Von Trapp has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor twice out of the last three years is almost too much too handle. Excuse the hyperbole, I’m tired.

Woody’s Back
Woody Allen has another hit on his hands as Midnight in Paris garnered four nominations, and three of them are the kind that people actually care about. Shame I have 45 Woody Allen films to get through before I’m allowed to watch this one.

How Could They Leave Out ________?
For every nomination which warms the cockles of your heart there will be dozens of omissions which are completely outrageous and terribly short-sighted of the academy, only in your humble opinion of course. For me there’s not enough love for Drive and Olivia Colman has been robbed, robbed blind I say! I’m sure you have your own opinions, but how can they be as important as mine?

A Few Surprising Screenplays
The fact that fantastic Iranian film A Separation and delightful silent film The Artist are both nominated for Best Original Screenplay, a category normally filled with English scripts filled with dialogue, shows a fun bit of diverse nominating from the academy. It brings to mind the fact that the only time Buffy was nominated for a Golden Globe for writing was for the almost silent episode Hush. For anyone not sure why I’m rambling about Buffy, why not have a look at what the script for The Artist looks like, you can download it here.

The Difference Between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing is…
The same as the difference between Drive and Moneyball, apparently. These two categories, for Sound Mixing/Editing, have always baffled me and no more so than this year where they share a fourfilmnomineecrossover.

Is the Animated Feature Oscar Just for Kids?
I had a theory that Best Animated Feature only goes to the most accessible end of the animated film genre. With a few “proper” animated films on the shortlist, Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris among them, I look forward to being proven wrong. The absence of Cars 2 from the list gives me hope.

If nothing else, at least we’ll get to see this fella again (I hope):

Are You Old Enough for Racism?

Last night I was invited along to a screening of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a film with a trailer so filled with British ‘National Treasures’ that I nearly fell over myself with excitement. As someone who only falls over themselves once a week, this was no mean feat. I can’t tell you whether I liked the film or not, but I can bore you with something interesting* I noticed over at the BBFC. Just try to stop me.

The BBFC has rated The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as 12A and in their consumer advice say that the film “contains strong language, moderate sex references and racist remarks.” I was surprised to see racist remarks highlighted as a reason parents may not want their children to see a film, though I’m not sure why as racism is of course vile and reprehensible. I’m not afraid to take a widely supported and uncontroversial stand.

Digging deeper, as only someone with too much time on their hands does, I found over at the Parents BBFC website guidelines for what sort of language the BBFC will allow at 12A:

Discriminatory language may be present but will not be endorsed by the work as a whole. Aggressive use of discriminatory language (for example homophobic or racist terms) is unlikely to be acceptable at ‘12’ or ‘12A’ unless it is clearly condemned.

So there you have it, you can only hear racist slurs which are not clearly condemned when you are at least 15 years old. I suppose the aim is to not expose the nation’s children to endless streams of fully endorsed racism until they are old enough to feel sufficiently outraged. Makes sense to me.

Interesting* also to note that American History X, a film about neo-Nazis and filled with racism so strong it borders on the unwatchable, has no mention of racism in its consumer advice from the BBFC. Hmm.

There you have it, a series of facts strung together into something almost resembling a coherent dialogue. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go and wrestle with the Oscar Nomination live-stream again.


Drive – DVD Review

Ryan Gosling is an unnamed driver making his living by fixing up cars or driving them for whoever is willing to pay regardless of any moral ambiguity involved. A quiet, almost childlike figure, Gosling’s naive driver becomes involved with his neighbour (Carey Mulligan) and finds himself embroiled with dangerous criminals and reacts in a horrifically violent manner.

When I first reviewed the film I called it, “a slow, gorgeous, and tense drama” and when declaring it the 4th Best Film of 2011 I described it as, “sleek and smooth, Drive lures you into a false sense of security with its tense yet relaxing atmosphere before erupting into shockingly graphic violence.” Obviously all of this remains true of the film on DVD, it looks stunning and the unique soundtrack sounds great. If you’re looking for a great new release filled with stellar performances, a surprising plot and stylish direction then look no further.

If you’re a film nerd looking for a DVD crammed with extras then sadly you’re out of luck.

The only special feature on the DVD worth writing home about (check the post Mum) is a 40 minute interview with director Nicolas Winding Refn, but there are no documentaries or commentaries in sight. If you are truly desperate for extra content, I’m afraid two trailers and a photo gallery are going to have to suffice. I know not everyone cares about the special features but for those that do this DVD is a disappointment, especially considering the US release is much more well-endowed.

In summary, Drive is a five star film and well worth owning despite a deficit of DVD extras. Drive is out on DVD and Blu-ray on January 30th 2012.

Out Now – 20th January 2012

Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer as Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson

Underworld: Awakening
I’m being strong and resisting making a cheap and obscure Coronation Street reference, you’re welcome. In the fourth of this series of vampire films I’ve never seen, Kate Beckinsale returns in tight black clothing to lead the battle against humankind.

J. Edgar
J. Edgar Hoover may or may not have been a transvestite but somehow I don’t think this Leonardo DiCaprio starring biopic directed by Clint Eastwood will feature him “wearing a fluffy pink dress with flounces and lace, stockings, high heels and a black curly wig” as Susan Rosenstiel claims he did over on Wikipedia. Beyond this odd bit of trivia this film does not interest me, sorry Clint.

Possibly called W./E., this film is not making a name for itself by featuring bizarre levels of punctuation in its title, sadly the focus instead is on just how bad the whole ordeal is. Written and directed by Madonna, W.E. is so bad that BBC 2012‘s Danny Leigh said it made him want to set himself on fire. Grab some matches and get yourself down to your local cinema!

The Sitter (limited release)
Jonah Hill plays a suspended college student persuaded to babysit the kids next door. Madness ensues and Jonah Hill undoes all the good work he’s been doing in Allen Gregory.

L’Atalante (limited release)
This 1930’s French romantic drama has a tantalising write-up over at the BFI as they describe it as “funny, heart-rending, erotic, suspenseful, exhilaratingly inventive… Jean Vigo’s only full-length feature satisfies on so many levels, it’s no surprise it’s widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.” They are the only cinema showing the film though, so can they be trusted? Yes, they’re the BFI.

Coriolanus (limited release)
A bold debut by Ralph Fiennes as a director as he tackles one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays about a soldier turned politician turned soldier. A thoroughly modern setting gels well with the ancient text and the film has an interesting blend of modern warfare and Shakespearian speech. I gave it a relatively positive review and the coveted Mild Concern award for Best Use of Jon Snow. Still yet to see this poster on the underground, how odd.

The Nine Muses (limited release)
“Part documentary, part personal essay, this experimental film combines archive imagery with the striking wintry landscapes of Alaska to tell the story of immigrant experience coming into the UK from 1960 onwards.” I’ll be honest, I get nervous whenever I see the term, “part documentary, part personal essay”.

Red Light Revolution (limited release)
Chinese comedy set in Beijing about a man who starts a sexual revolution after opening a sex shop to make ends meet.

X: Night of Vengeance (limited release)
Sticking with the limited release sex films, we have a “sizzling adults-only thriller” about two prostitutes “racing through Sydney’s criminal underworld in an attempt to stay alive”. Expect lots of violence and lots of sex.

Out Now – 18th January 2012

Haywire is being called the female Bourne and, with a synopsis involving a super soldier seeking payback after she is betrayed, it’s not hard to see why. Admittedly I haven’t seen any of the Bourne films so can’t really judge. I have seen The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea though so you can hardly question my commitment to film. Because you may not recognise the female star Gina Carano (a former Gladiator) the male cast is a parade of big names including Fassbender, McGregor, Douglas, Tatum, Banderas and Paxton. Expect a woman to run around a lot injuring men with a variety of weapons and martial arts. Have a clip, I’m feeling generous:

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That Michael Fassbender can’t be trusted with women.

BAFTA Nominations and the Great British Debuts

The BAFTA nominations were announced yesterday and showed plenty of love for The Artist, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and, in a pleasant surprise, Drive. With all nominations limited to the technical categories, Harry Potter best give up its hopes of finally getting any major awards. Less frivolous than the Golden Globes and a major stop on the way to the Oscars, the BAFTA nominations are exciting if pretty unsurprising.

Amongst this huge list what I want to focus on are the nominations for the award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. In a time when we are looking towards the future of independent British cinema this is an uplifting category to see, especially after the devastation of Felicity Jones not making the shortlist for the Rising Star Award. I still love you Felicity, don’t worry.

Of the five nominees for Outstanding Debut, Attack the Block, Black Pond, Coriolanus, Submarine and Tyrannosaur, I have seen four and three of those made it into my carefully constructed Top 20 Films of 2011. Having five confident debuts from British talent is proof that the UK film industry has a future and that the various funding schemes are working. Looking back at yesterday’s talk of funding for production it’s interesting to see that Film4 helped fund Attack the Block, Submarine and Tyrannosaur, lottery funds went into both Attack the Block and Tyrannosaur, and Black Pond was made for just £25,000.

In my various reviews I’ve described these first-time features as intense, confident, fun, effortless, powerful, brutal and honest. What am I trying to say? Just that I’m incredibly proud of British cinema and continue to be relieved that yesterday’s report didn’t try to mess with a winning formula.

And now for the full list of nominees without comment: Continue reading

The Future’s Bright, The Future’s British

Lord Chris Smith has handed in his homework in the form of a review of UK film policy. Despite David Cameron getting everyone in a right bother last week, it turns out that the review itself is balanced and considered and at no point looks to focus on the profitability of the films which receive public funding. Instead there is a focus on investment in training, distribution and restoration alongside simple film production. David Cameron gave us all the wrong impression, something which hardly fights against his status of prick. PLEASE NOTE: Mild Concern most definitely has a political bias.

The report is lengthy and gives in total 56 different suggestions for ensuring the future success of the UK film industry. The short version is that the BFI have a lot of work to do to, I’d hate to have been in their offices as they read through 56 items they will need to start addressing ASAP. You can read the entire report in a rather jazzy PDF or just read my summary of the recommendations below. I’ll try not to drone on.

Make Films for Everyone
Looking back to last Wednesday’s rant it seemed as if Julian Fellowes was speaking out against art house films, but a look at the review shows that the idea is instead to fund a wide variety of films. The review suggests funding a broad and rich range of British films, ensure a plurality of taste in funding, and specifically funding to support the “unique challenges” of animation and independent family films that parents can enjoy with their children. We get to keep our Tyrannosaurs but must support other film genres too.

Get Films to Everyone
Funding is not just for production, but for distribution too. Far too often I recommend a great independent film forgetting that in London we are lucky to have access to all releases while other areas don’t get a glimpse of treasures like Submarine. Suggested methods of ensuring everyone gets access to independent British cinema include coordinating local cinemas and film societies across the country, “enhancing social cohesion”, using new digital technology and broadband to get films to all areas and having smaller exhibitors exchange best practises. There is even a suggestion of funding screening equipment in community halls for rural areas, no one will be left out.

Promote the British Film Brand in UK and Abroad
The BFI is to spend plenty of time and money building the “British Film Brand”, possibly through an annual “British Film Week”. Another suggestion is for a UK wide film festival offering from the BFI to promote independent films, spreading the success of the London Festival to other areas. The BFI is also recommended to set out an international strategy for UK film, develop international co-production and BBC Worldwide is to continue to invest in and promote British films on a global level.

The Children Are Our Future
Lots of suggestions for the BFI to invest in educating young people in all aspects of film; every school should offer film education including making, seeing and learning about British films. Prepare to watch Kes everyone. A strategy is needed to ensure that production skills being taught are the “Gold Standard” and the three Skillset Film Academies are in need of review. The BBC and their like are to continue to invest in talent development and be the leading gateway to the industry for new talent. There should be a career ladder for any film-maker beyond their first film and any company receiving lottery funding should have a scheme in place to invest in developing new talent. Education should stretch beyond film-making and cover new media and entrepreneurship in the film industry. Talent should also be nurtured outside of the London area.

Let’s Get Digital, Digital. I Wanna Get Digital. Let’s Get into Digital
The review stresses the importance of moving to digital for a variety of reasons, and while the plight of the projectionist is sad it does seem to make sense. Digital distribution of independent British films will make it cheaper to transport for exhibition and allow access to more film for smaller venues. The report also recommends the BFI working with online distributors to help promote and invest in UK films.

There Be Pirates
The review loses me slightly in its recommendation of pushing forward the Digital Economy Act (something I’ve ranted about before, twice). Piracy may well be bad but censoring the internet is not the answer; Wikipedia will go offline for a day tomorrow to protest a similar move in America. Other suggestions to combat piracy are pro-copyright education in schools, for the Government to tackle file sharing sites and to make it a criminal offence to record films shown in cinemas.

Not All About Return on Investment
Far from being the money hungry beast David Cameron led us to believe this report might be, it instead suggests that the BFI relax recuperation targets for its investments. The report also recommends that any money returned to the lottery fund due to a film’s success be available to that film’s writer, director and producers and the funds be directly made accessible to whichever company made the successful film so that they can go on and try to repeat that success.

Protect British Heritage
The final suggestions from the report look at protecting the heritage of British cinema, looking to ensure the long-term safety of and access to the UK’s significant collection of films. It’s all about preservation and presentation. This includes the BFI forming new partnerships to get funding from outside investors to help digitise and exhibit classic British films and the BBC to maintain funding for archiving UK television.

Outside Investment is Key
While mostly advising the BFI on how to spend our money, the report also stresses the importance of the BFI drumming up outside support. This includes a call for all the major UK broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and BSkyB) to openly set out their financial commitments to British films, and suggest that the BFI incentivise private investment in UK film and encourage sponsorship and philanthropy for film culture.

It’s All About Balance
Recommendation number 17 pretty much sums up the report by stating that, “The Panel recommends that BFI funding for film should be broadly balanced between filmmaking and distribution activities (development, production, P&A) and activities related to film culture (audience development, film education and training, film export, lifelong learning, archive and heritage, activity in the Nations and Regions, economic cultural and policy research); and further recommends that within the two broad categories as much flexibility should be available to the BFI as possible to respond to the needs of audiences, the film industry, and film culture.”

It looks mostly good to me, any emphasis on improving distribution is key, and it looks like there isn’t too much emphasis on profits over art. Good on you Lord Chris Smith, and shame on you David Cameron for getting me worked up over nothing.