Sunday, 30 June 2013

Cher – A New Attitude

Cher was the 1980s. It was ALL about her. Oh sure there might have been a few other things happening – the occasional war here, the odd nuclear meltdown there. Some royals got married. But that was merely a footnote to whatever Cher was doing at the time. Ask anyone.
Cher first became known in authentically black and white 1960s when she used to duet with Gerard Depardieu singing the song from Groundhog Day. 
She kept herself busy doing TV work in the 1970s but it was all treading water, really. She was just biding her time until she could Mega-Cher it to the max eighties-stylee. She starred in righteous and schweet movies like Mask, Witches of Eastwick and Moonstruck. And she released some bodacious records. Any woman who listened to a Cher 1980s power ballad became emancipated just from the radiation alone.
Shit's about to go down, witches.
Her video for “If I could turn back time” was apparently the first music video to be banned by MTV. There’s no untoward behaviour in the video, save for Cher nicking a sailor’s hat and sitting astride a cannon in a manner that is in no way suggestive. I imagine that the decision to ban the video was entirely based on her outfit. 
Is anyone else feeling a breeze?
This seems a tad harsh. Perhaps wearing what appears to be a sheer body stocking with a couple of bits of gaffer tape for modesty may be a trifle risqué. But let’s face it, who hasn’t left the house to meet some sailors in a tearing hurry absent-mindedly forgetting they had only got half-way through putting on their BDSM Dominatrix outfit? I know I certainly have.
Cher continues to be awesome here in the 21st century. Mostly by being crazy as fuck on Twitter.  Do you want fanatical rants, non-sequiturs, a totally disregard for punctuation marks and EVERYTHING IN CAPITALS? Of course you do. This is Twitter we’re talking about. Following Cher will make you very happy indeed. It’s like Cher has distilled the very essence of Twitter and has made novelty cocktails out of it.
These were literally Cher's last five tweets at the time I wrote this review.
This workout video was released by Cher in 1991. Cher introduces it by saying “Have I got a gift for you ... It’s a present of my own personal workout programme.”
Thanks, Cher. I appreciate the gift, I really do. I mean, I was dropping hints about some new socks but the workout’s lovely. It’s just that – and I don’t want to sound ungrateful here – did you have to dial down the crazy quite so much?
Because if there is one thing I want from Cher it’s a devil-may-care attitude to normalcy.

Gold battle bikini, for example is an acceptable level of crazy.
Don’t get me wrong, in some ways she delivers admirably. Her outfit for the Step Workout is a thing of wondrousness. She looks like a cross between a Wild West prostitute and a Goth in babydoll pyjamas. You know Helena Bonham’s outfit in Tim Burton’s version of Sweeney Todd? Imagine an extra scene where her character gets the bottom half of her outfit ripped off after accidentally trapping it in a carriage door. And then does a fitness workout.

That aside, it is a very sensibly put together programme. There are three sections: ‘Step Workout’, ‘Healthy Back and Abdominals’ and ‘Hips, Bottoms and Thighs’. Cher is joined by her personal trainer, Keli Roberts and they deliver a workout which is comprehensive, well-explained and nicely challenging.
Things were a lot blurrier in the early 90s
It’s all very disappointing. I don’t want to know that Cher’s exercise regime consists of doing steps, squats, stretches and aerobics. Before I watched this, if you’d asked me how I thought Cher kept in shape I would have hazarded a guess that it was a combination of python wrestling, cat burglary and vigorous perverted sex.
Thanks for ruining the magic, Cher. Great gift.
Best Bit
The music is just fantastic. There’s everything from Dusty Springfield to Billy Idol. At one point Cher says to Keli “Stop talking! I love this song.” Brilliantly, the song in question is Cher’s own “Love and Understanding.”
Face it, she just knows how awesome she is.
Difficulty Level
Cher herself says “This programme is challenging. It’s not impossible but it’s challenging.” And she’s not wrong. Especially if by ‘challenging’ you mean ‘unbelievably hard work.’
Luckily Cher also says “You don’t have to start out perfect. You just have to start.” I was about as far from perfect as it is possible to be. I hope Cher would have been proud of me.
Cher throws down a challenge.
Would I do this workout again?
This workout is currently only available on VHS so I have to go through a bit of logistical nightmare if I want to watch it. Unplug stuff. Plug in other stuff. Rewind the fricking tape. You can appreciate my problem.
Ideally Cher should re-release her workouts on DVD. Better yet, she should release a brand new one. She is just about to release a new album and she still looks absolutely fantastic.

Go on, Cher. Only this time forget all the stuff with the sit-ups and muscle stretches. Show us how you really do it.

This sort of thing, perhaps.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Ministry of Sound – Pump It Up! Beach Body

This is the “ultimate summer workout” according to the DVD cover. So this seemed the perfect time of year to do it.

We have just had Midsummer’s day and are enjoying the grey skies, blustery winds and relentless fucking drizzle that the summer season brings. Not to mention enjoying traditional summer activities like having a warming bowl of soup and putting an extra jumper on.

This is pretty much the view out of my window right now.

The Minister of Sound (who is I assume is responsible for all fitness DVDs put out by his ministry) chose to shoot this DVD in Florida. Because they do summer better than us over there.

Shot on location at Royal Flamingo Villas, Florida. Royal flamingos not pictured.

The dance workout is led by a chirpy Dubliner called Fiona. Well, I say ‘dance workout’ because that’s what was promised on the cover. But you can’t always trust stuff by its cover as it turns out. Someone should put together a handy aphorism about that.

Whereas Dee and Sonia promised a cardio-vascular workout and gave me a dance routine the other week, this one acts like it’s going to be a bunch of impossible dance moves and then turns out to be mostly squats, lunges, sit-ups and the like. So that was nice.

The gang are a bunch of very pretty scantily dressed ladies and a chap called Steven. Who is also sometimes scantily dressed – he takes his top off during the “Get Buff” section. Presumably in order to demonstrate what ‘buff’ looks like.
Pictured: buff

Fiona often forgets Steven is back there and is constantly shouting things like “Come on sexy girls!” throughout the workout. Only remembering to tag on a hasty “... and Steven!” every fourth time or so.

He gets his own back by halfheartedly sexually harassing her during the dance segment.

Fiona has taken the surprising decision to do the whole thing in her underwear. Seemingly taking the view that its fine to wear your bra and knickers in public as long as you have another bra and pair of knickers on underneath. Either that or she forgot her gym kit on the day and the Minister of Sound made her do the whole thing in her pants.

It's a thing.

Best Bit
The DVD packaging contains a short bio of each of our dance crew. I have sprinkled the bios generously throughout this review for your pleasure. Because whose viewing pleasure isn't increased by knowing that  Janine cried on the plane watching a Bollywood film and that Steven has a dog called Gizmo?

Worst Bit
You can can go a bit overboard with behind-the-scenes information, you know. The lengthy tedious ‘Making Of’ short which accompanies this DVD is a masterclass in pointing a video camera at any old shit and uploading it. It’s like a spectacularly dull episode of The Apprentice.

We spend a bizarrely long time with watching all the people who auditioned to be in it. 
Bunch of Losers. Every one of you.

Even turning up topless didn't help Kellie land the role.

Then there’s a bit where Janine stands around awkwardly for about six minutes while someone off-camera muses on what colour headband she should wear. I bet she was delighted that section made it onto the DVD in its entirety.

No really. Carry on. It’s fascinating.

Weirdest bit
This is the first Workout DVD we've featured that attempts to flog you the music as a ringtone. Perhaps it works by association and every time someone phones, you'd immediately start stretching your arms and doing lunges.

Difficulty Level
Given that there wasn't much dancing and it was mostly bending or stretching bits of you, this workout was rather easier than I expected it to be.

Would I do this workout again?
During her intro, Fiona says “We’re on the beach because it’s that time of year again when you've got to think about squeezing  yourself into skimpy summer clothing and – god forbid – even a bikini.”

God forbid? I don’t believe for a moment that Fiona has the slightest trepidation about putting on a bikini.

And given that I can probably comfortably go through the rest of this summer dressed in thick tights and a cable knit sweater, I don’t think I’ll bother.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Fern Britton – Lynne Robinson’s Everyday Pilates

Despite being the country’s foremost Pilates expert and “The High Priestess of Pilates” (according to Sophie Dahl), Lynne Robinson is no way c-list celeb enough to feature on this blog in her own right. The woman has never even appeared in a pantomime. Let alone released a perfume or been interviewed by Zig and Zag.

Luckily for her, she made a Pilates DVD with Fern Britton in 2003 and gets a grudging invitation to CLCW as Fern’s plus-one.

This DVD was produced long before Fern’s dramatic weight loss and controversial fibbing about her gastric band in 2008 so she appears on the DVD in her retro large and mumsy body wearing a selection of flattering chiffony tops. She’s a whole different woman these days.

Not that you'd want to do Pilates in that skirt

This DVD is subtitled Body Control 7 as there were six (count ‘em)  other Lynne Robinson Pilates workouts before this one. Lynne includes a quick “Back to Basics” instructional segment at the end for anyone who’s just joining at this late stage but really I probably should have started at the beginning if I wanted to properly appreciate the whole workout and character development. It’s like watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows without having seen any of the others and spending the whole film going “Who’s that?” “Why’s he got a scar on his head?” “Where’s that guy’s nose gone?”

My Dark Lord's got no nose.
How does he smell?
Better than you, you filthy mudblood!

Fern doesn't appear in the Back to Basics section. Lynne is joined by a lady called Lorna and a skeleton who doesn't merit their introduction despite putting in sterling work demonstrating where all the bones are and which bits of us are supposed to bend.

Just get a room, you two.

The three sections with Fern are called ‘Morning’, ‘Lunchtime’ and ‘Evening’ because the ladies don’t just want you to do this EVERY day, they want you to do this ALL day. They’re insatiable

Lynne introduces at the beginning by saying “I’m really excited” while sounding like the least excited person ever.

Calm yourself, Lynn.

There’s a lot of emphasis on clenching your pelvic floor muscles in this workout in a move which Lynne calls the “Zip and Hollow”.

“There’s no polite way to say this,” says Lynne. “They’re the muscles which goes front to back and form a sling underneath.”

I see what you mean about there being no polite way of saying it. Sling? You dirty bitch.

She advises women to imagine that they are stopping the flow of water when they clench. Although I am pretty sure she means piss rather than water because I was trying to imagine myself sticking my finger a dyke and it was getting me nowhere.

For the male viewer, she advises trying to lift your crown jewels. “Or family jewels” she adds helpfully for anyone who was baffled by the crown jewels  reference but instantly recognises that their ‘family jewels’ are their testicles.

My what? Ohhhhhhhhhhh.

The morning workout is “energising”, the midday one “reviving” and the evening workout “calming” which certainly all seem the right way round. You can’t say she doesn’t think these things through.

The reviving midday workout contains exercises that you can do using a chair or a wall. Lynne assures that the exercises are perfect for doing while you’re away from home – maybe at the office – and won’t be embarrassing in public.

And you know, in an ideal world, we probably would all start swinging our legs around in the office of an afternoon. But apparently I’m old-fashioned enough at work to worry about coming across as a bit of a weirdo.

Just a normal day in the office.

Best Bit
This  is the first Pilates DVD we’ve featured here and it was just lovely. Pilates was invented about a hundred years ago by Herr Pilates who nicked the bits he liked from yoga, tai chi, gymnastics and bodybuilding. Most of this DVD consists of doing really satisfyingly big stretches.

Worst Bit
During the credits at the end of the DVD, a telephone number is provided for anyone wanting more information about Pilates. We’re promised we can call “24 hours 7 days a week”. Excited beyond measure at the prospect of Lynne Robinson sitting by her phone day and night in order to share her Pilates wisdom, I ran to the phone whooping like a toddler who’s been freebasing smarties.  But time marches on, dear reader and we folk in harsh, brutal 2013 can no longer enjoy the rich pleasures that were open to us in 2003.

“Sorry. This service is no longer available”. That is all.

If only.

Difficulty Level
There was no difficulty either doing the exercises or following lovely Lynne’s instruction. The only thing that would have been tricky would have been if Lynne had popped up at the end and quizzed us on all the anatomical terminology she’d been casually dropping into the conversation throughout the workout. Half the Back to Basics segment was basically in Latin.

I don't know the name of any of these body parts.

Would I do this workout again?
It seems a bit unnecessary to use a DVD in order to know how to stretch properly. But it turns out that I’m pretty rubbish at it unless I’m being talked through it by a fitness instructor standing next to  a TV presenter. I will be doing this one at least one more time because I want Lynne to talk me through pretending to lean over an enormous inflatable ball in order to make my back feel all stretched and lovely. It was great. I may even take my gigantic invisible ball into the office with me.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Diversity – Dance Fitness Fusion

Diversity Dance Fitness Fusion DVD Cover
Diversity are a dance troupe fronted by Ashley Banjo whose five million members include Jordan, Sam, Mitchell, Ashton, Ian, Jamie, Matthew, Perri, Warren, Ike, Terry, Rod, Jane, Freddie, Mary, Mungo, Midge, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick, Tich, George and Timmy the Dog.

They won Britain’s Got Talent in 2009 beating Susan Boyle into second place. There was clearly talent to spare that year unlike a few years later when the competition was won by a dancing dog. I saw Ashleigh and Pudsey in pantomime last year, you know. Twice. I sat through a show where the biggest name on the bill was a dog who won a talent show and thought, “Yes I could go through that all over again.”

Ashleigh and Pudsey in Dick Whittington at Woking New Victoria Theatre
It’s like I have no taste or shame whatsoever
This DVD was released in 2010 soon after their win. The guys don’t seem to have slowed down any since then, to be honest. Unlike most of the c-listers reviewed here, Diversity’s website appears to be updated every 30 seconds or so with news of all their cool new activities.

Jordan and Perri's Ultimate Block Party
Like this, for example. This is no common-or-garden block party. It's ultimate.

Diversity don’t muck about when it comes to putting workouts together either. There are loads of sections here. Every dance has an easy and a hard version and an optional tutorial for both versions. You’d be mad if you tried to go ahead with the dances without Ashley’s tutorial though. Unless you just wanted to watch the dances with no intention of participating. Which come to think of it might be the less mad option.
That way you could just appreciate their choreographed coolness without having to worry about tripping over your own feet or putting your back out. Impressively, the fact that the crotch of their trousers are somewhere round their knees doesn’t seem to  hamper their movements any.

Ashleigh Banjo and Diversity
You're not making life easy for yourselves, you know, boys.

Different members of the troupe join in for different bits of the workout. The sections include Funky Fusion, Break Down and Fast and Slow. Each dance has its own t-shirt colour: blue for funky fusion, red for the breakdown, lilac for the tutorials and so on.

Ashley Banjo from Diversity
Ashley Banjo. A man with a t-shirt to match his every mood. 

At the end the workouts there is an extra dance routine called “Three Elements” where they mix up different moves – and t-shirts - from each of the sections

Diversity Dance Fitness Fusion The Three Elements
It’s a riot of colour!
Best Bit
Diversity are great fun to watch. They hurl themselves around like they have evolved to the point where they use a different method of propulsion to normal humans with a  fairly relaxed attitude to the laws of gravity. It’s like looking through a kaleidoscope where the bits inside consist of human bodies and Reebok trainers.

Worst Bit
I’m not sure how well any of this works as actual dance instruction. Ashley rattles through the instructions at break-neck speed while the cameramen seem committed to including the largest possible number of arty swooping shots and the smallest number of full body shots which allow us to see the dancers’ feet. The whole thing seemed baffling to me. But then I did resolutely ignore Ashley’s advice to pause and re-watch any parts I wasn’t sure of. The thing would have taken weeks to get though if I’d done that.

Diversity Dance Fitness Fusion
Bending doesn't really work that way for me. Or balance.

Would I do this Workout again?
Oh man, the Diversity workout is not for me. It’s for cool funky young types who look good in snap-backs and three-quarter-length shorts. The sort of people who should be doing this workout are probably super-fit already. What with all the aggressive skating, freerunning and then shooting some b-ball outside of the school.

Diversity Dance Fitness Fusion
Banjo looks exhausted! What hope is there for mortal folk?

These workouts are just not appropriate for someone who has the same Body fat percentage as a cheese toastie.
Susan Boyle didn’t release a workout DVD, thank goodness. It would have made as much sense as Diversity singing Mull of Kintyre at the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant. Still, if the “I Dreamed a Dream ... of Getting Fit!” workout did exist, I think I would be rather better suited to it than I was this one.