Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Some good thoughts for The Boogs

My dear friend Southern Boy, whose hospitality I abuse on a regular basis is one of my favourite people on this earth. He also happens to be proud daddy to one of my favourite pooches on this earth, his pug Xander, aka The Boogs. This weekend just gone, Xander had a big fat health scare and for a few horrible hours, it looked like the cutest pug you ever did see was not long for this world.

Happily, he is now on the road to recovery and it looks like by the end of this week he'll be back to his crazy adorable self and everything is right with the world. Phew. So think good thoughts, people. Southern Boy and his pug could use them.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


I wanted to love this. I really truly did. I went into it wanting to emerge as if I hadn't breathed for two and a half hours. But I couldn't do it. I didn't love it. I only enjoyed it sporadically. It was, overall, a crushing disappointment.

There are many good things about it, don't get me wrong. Aaron Eckhart did a bang up job and had the most satisfying character arc in the movie as Harvey Dent. His evolution into Two Face was beautifully done and he handled it just right. Every single action sequence, from the opening heist onwards, was thrillingly executed. And of course, Heath Ledger steals the film as The Joker with a performance that inhabits the role to an occasionally frightening degree. When he's onscreen, he is absolutely mesmerising. And that's not hyperbole because he died at 28 and before the film was released either. It's a seriously intense portrayal.

Bale as Wayne is great too, but in all honesty I didn't love his Batman and a lot of that was to do with the entirely ridiculous bass growl he affects for that persona. Maybe the suit constricts his vocal chords, I don't know, but what I do know is I couldn't really understand what he was saying half the time. The film runs two and a half hours and could have taken a complex plot filled with complex characters and given them all room to breathe. Instead, it takes about three complex plots along with myriad sub plots and suffocates them all with hyperkinetic editing before screeching to a halt for some seriously ham fisted and clumsy preaching.

Ultimately, I think this was (for the most part) incredibly well acted film that was also astoundingly well directed. It was just let down by a script that had simultaneously too much and not enough going on.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A cinematic glance ahead

Since I'm suddenly in a movie frame of mind (geddit?), I thought I'd take a look at what's waiting for us once the summer is out of the way. While this summer has been far better than, possibly even the best of, recent years, there's still no denying that the summer can leave those who like to leaven their blockbuster intake with some quieter and more thoughtful movies, a tad bit unsatisfied. The one film that looks capable of satisfying both at once arrives tomorrow, having smashed records practically every five minutes since opening last weekend in the USA. Yes, I'm talking about The Dark Knight. So what's coming up further ahead that's arousing my interest?

Eden Lake (September 5th). Yes yes, I realise I'm starting a supposedly cerebral list with what looks like a tacky horror movie. But the thing is, I love Kelly Reilly and would see her in anything, including this. She's a fiercely intelligent not to mention staggeringly talented actress who I've been besotted with for some time now. Plus this comes from Optimum Releasing, who just opened the surprisingly good Donkey Punch (which I saw over the weekend, more on that later).

The Duchess (September 5th). I'm torn about this as it looks like a sumptuous period drama with a fabulous supporting cast (Ralph Fiennes, Hayley Atwell, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper and so on). None of that can detract from the fact it has Keira Knightley in the title role as the Duchess of Devonshire. She is a horribly limited actress and her refusal to unclench her jaw when she speaks drives me up the fucking wall.

Pineapple Express (September 12th). Not doing well on the cerebral front am I? I'm sure there are people out there who are well and truly over Judd Apatow and his compadres. I enjoyed but was not floored by Knocked Up, Superbad or Forgetting Sarah Marshall though it has left me with a mad crush on Seth Rogen and Jason Segel. Only one of them is in this movie of course. The story of two slacker stoners on the run after witnessing corrupt cops commit a murder is hardly mining new territory but the trailer made me chuckle a few times, though I hope it's not a case of the only funny parts being in the trailer.

The Women (September 12th). I have to say I had completely forgotten about this movie being made and it's highly likely that while watching it, I'll keep getting the giggles thinking about Elaine Stritch's story about being in a touring production of this show, told in At Liberty. But it will be fascinating to see the likes of Annette Bening and Carrie Fisher completely upstage Eva Mendes and Meg Ryan, don't you think? I have to say that I do.

Brideshead Revisited (October 3rd). Now this is more like it. A sumptuous looking adaptation of what has already been a classic and much loved television series and is of course based on Waugh's timeless novel. The cast has old school brilliance (Michael Gambon, Emma Thompson) mixed with the pick of up and coming talent (the three key roles of Charles Ryder, Sebastian and Julia Flyte are taken by Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw and Hayley Atwell, all of whom are fearsomely talented). I cannot wait. Here's hoping, after her Woody Allen disappointment, this is Atwell's breakthrough. Anyone who has seen her in The Line Of Beauty will know exactly what she's capable of.

Burn After Reading (October 17th). I am not in any way a die hard Coens Brothers fan. They've made some astonishing movies and they've also made some astonishingly bad movies. The former does of course outweigh the latter and when they get it right, they really get it fucking right (Fargo, No Country For Old Men). This cast makes me just about shit my pants in anticipation as well. I've loved Tilda Swinton for over 15 years now, she has such an incredible presence I could and will watch her in anything. Same goes for Frances McDormand. So if this film turns out to be the two of them reading the ingredients off the back of a cereal box for 90 minutes, I probably wouldn't mind. Certainly not if Brad and George were in the background.

Quantum Of Solace (October 31st). Yes, so it's a horrible title. It's still better than Tomorrow Never Dies, as titles go. Daniel Craig is the best thing that has ever happened to Bond and the franchise. While Casino Royale is not quite the slam dunk it thinks it is (weak villain, horrible third act), it's still mightily entertaining stuff and it's just full of tantalising promise. It's difficult to tell from the hyperkinetic editing of the teaser trailer whether the promise has been fulfilled or not, but I'll happily pay my money to find out. Plus, Judi Dench, the second best thing to ever happen to the Bond franchise is still front and centre as M. Good good.

Blindness (November 14th). Early reviews at Cannes were disappointed with the latest film from Fernando Meirelles. I have to say the plot sounds like Day Of The Triffids without the Triffids. Also, the trailer simultaneously intrigues and excites me, but also makes me think there's potential for this to be 2008's Children Of Men (which is to say an inexplicably publically adored piece of shit). Julianne Moore rarely sets a foot wrong and there's also Mark Ruffalo and Gael Garcia Bernal in the mix. Oh, and Sandra Oh. Also, City Of God and Constant Gardener were two jaw dropping films from a direction perspective. So the odds are on the film's side if you ask me.

Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince (November 21st). Is there anyone not looking forward to this? After turning the longest book of the series into the shortest movie so far, it'll be interesting to see what they do with Book 6, in which there's an awful lot of padding and not much happens until the final third. I was interested to read that all of the big action sequences which take place off the page and are merely discussed on the page will be shown in the movie, and apparently writ large. I still think cutting the final book into two movies is the worst idea possible (just write a really fucking good adaptation! You can pare some of the midsection of the book down to a montage without losing anything for the love of God) but at least Prince would seem to be shaping up nicely.

The Day The Earth Stood Still (December 12th). Could this be the role Keanu Reeves was born to play? When I first read about this happening, I thought it was shocker of an idea. Big sci fi remakes of alien invasion movies could only conjure up a flashback to Spielberg's War Of The Worlds, which caused me some serious acid reflux. But then I saw the trailer and thought "well, I'll be. They might just make this worth watching after all." Reeves seems to fit the role in a way he hasn't since Neo and while I'm sure there will still be some fist swallowingly terrible moments from him, they will hopefully be fewer and farther between than usual.

For 2008, that's pretty much it right now. Stay tuned for the joys of 2009.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Meryl Streep can do no wrong. I love her.

What started out as a hastily thrown together filler show for an unexpectedly vacated West End theatre is now a long running global phenomenon. Originally expected to last three months, next year sees the London run celebrate its tenth birthday and the Broadway production is closing in fast on its 3000th performance. Those are the two tentpole productions of this show, but there are countless other regional and international productions running, as well as touring casts. So is there anyone left who hasn't seen this show?

In case there is, there now comes the movie, something that has become increasingly inevitable with each successful movie musical adaptation of recent years. As someone who spent five years working on the London production of Mamma Mia!, by the time I left, I was well and truly done with ABBA and with the show. At that point I thought if I never heard "Dancing Queen" again, I'd be a happy man. But slowly, oh so slowly, the movie began to intrigue me. One thing that got me interested was the pitch perfect casting of Donna's best friends (and back up band), Tanya and Rosie. Julie Walters and Christine Baranski were born to play those roles. And on a more shallow level, Dominic Cooper as Sky, Sophie's betrothed? Not only is he easy on the eye, but I've loved him since Mother Clap's Molly House, which I just discovered was his first role out of drama school. Once you've seen someone being buggered over a sofa, I like to think there's a connection there.

But what really suckered me into this was the casting of Meryl Streep as Donna Sheridan. I would watch her in anything and while she's sung in films every now and again, giving us all a glimpse of her vocal possibilities, here she is carrying her first screen musical proper and the prospect of that is oddly thrilling. So I was in. There was every chance I'd have some kind of allergic reaction in the opening credits and have to leave, but I was willing to give the film a try.

I think everyone knows the plot by now. It's sort of Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell crossed with Lace as 20 year old Sophie, having never known who her father is, finds her mother's diary and discovers there are three possibilities. So she invites them all to her wedding. Only she hasn't told them who she is nor has she told her mother what she's done. So the stage is set for misunderstandings, arguments, break ups, make ups and of course ABBA songs.

The movie is streamlined from the show's 140 minute running time (admittedly including intermission), mainly by removing songs. "Thank You For The Music", "The Name Of The Game, "Under Attack", "One Of Us" and "Knowing Me, Knowing You" have all been excised. "Our Last Summer" has been moved up to much earlier and is now shared among all three possible dads (a respectable Colin Firth, an ok Stellan Skarsgaard and a completely tone deaf but game Pierce Brosnan) and Sophie (a lovely Amanda Seyfried) rather than between Harry (Firth) and Donna. Bizarrely, "When All Is Said And Done" has been shoehorned in and given to Pierce Brosnan to sing at the end, after he's demonstrated at least twice that he fundamentally can't. As changes go, that's pretty much it. Some numbers are opened out (most notably "Dancing Queen") but otherwise this is the stage show with beautiful locations (and some horribly obvious bluescreen backdrops) and a fabulous cast.

And that is where it all starts to go a bit wrong. 90% of me enjoyed the camp hilarity and what have you, 10% of me was thinking "dear sweet Jesus, what the FUCK were you THINKING?". It's been adapted, directed and choreographed by the same writer, director and choreographer that have helmed every single production since its inception. And while you have to admire the commitment and the continuity, I wonder whether all three of them were too close to it to see what really needed to be done to successfully put the show on film. Anthony Van Laast's choreography is plain godawful (the review in Entertainment Weekly said it best "It's tempting to say that Mamma Mia! has the worst choreography of any big-screen musical in history, though that would imply that what happens in the film IS choreography") but there isn't that much of it now (though what there is, especially in "Dancing Queen" is jaw droppingly, magnificently shit). The real problem comes from the direction. Phyllida Lloyd has never directed anything for television or film before, she's a stage director through and through. And it shows. The direction is uneven, uncertain and all over the place. "Money Money Money" is a prime example of that, with fantasy sequences artlessly shoved in and it is also one of the many many many numbers that switches pointlessly from diegetic to non-diegetic singing within the number. Why? Also the lack of imagination was occasionally annoying especially when all it did was demonstrate that something which works well on stage does not do so on film, no matter how vibrantly you edit it ("Voulez Vous"). And while the megamix finale is one of the show's strongest points, it's so shabbily thrown in for the credits that it made me wince more than it made me smile.

Luckily for Lloyd, Meryl Streep is such an instinctive actress that a green director can't harm her performance. She's radiant and glorious in the role, she's funny, she's charming and when she turns on the emotion it really grips you by the throat. Her reaction when Sophie asks her to give her away at her wedding is breathtaking. And then of course there's her singing. While she carries the more upbeat numbers with aplomb (anyone who can actually give me chills singing "Super Trouper" is undeniably a gifted singer), it's in the later power ballads that she really comes into her own and the big finish is her "Winner Takes It All" which has never been sung better. It is the song by which all Donnas tend to be judged and she really knocks it out of the park. I may have welled up with emotion during it (and during "Slipping Through My Fingers") but there may have just been something in my eye. Shut up.

Ultimately, the enjoyment outweighed the disappointment and I was left with a smile on my face and the thought that I wouldn't mind seeing the show again. And you can't say fairer than that.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Pass the Kool Aid on the left hand side

Many of my friends will probably be surprised at the content of this picture. When the iPhone was launched, I really could not have cared less. My main two reasons for the lack of giving a shit were it was outrageously overpriced, ridiculously oversized (as a handset) and most of all, so very very slow as it was only 2G. I was not in the least bit interested in it, and I stayed that way.

Until, that is, my current mobile service provider and handset began to suck both in earnest and in unison. One or the other, I could have tolerated, but both together just about drove me to distraction. The area of the UK I live in is something of a network coverage black hole. It just so happens that the network who has the best coverage in my area are also the sole network offering the iPhone in the UK. The handset I used to have froze all the fucking time and had the most difficult keypad ever. Combine this with having to hang out of my bedroom window by one finger whilst reciting the bible backwards just to get one bar of signal and a new phone with a new provider is looking like a good deal.

So the iPhone 3G is announced. Twice as fast and half the price, which takes care of two of the three reasons I wasn't interested in the phone. It now looks sleek, slick and so very thin too. Whether it was always like that and the high price caused a blind spot, I'm not sure. But still, it's purty. Unfortunately, getting my hands on one was a little less straightforward than it could have been. The day the phone release was announced for July 11th, you could "pre-register" your interest with O2, to be alerted when they started taking preorders. This was open to existing customers wanting to upgrade and new customers to O2. Fine. I register, and I get an email telling me the iPhone is almost here and preordering begins soon. This past Monday, July 7th, I get an email at 7:45am telling me that from 8am, preordering will be up and running exclusive to those who registered with the site. So I go to the site at 8am and I whizz through the purchase process. My confirmation email is timed at 8:12am.

So far, so fabulous. Until this Thursday, July 10th rolls around. The preorder site went into meltdown at around 9:30am and crashed for a little while. At 3pm, the preorders were sold out and no further online or over the phone orders have yet been taken. According to O2, they were receiving as many as 13,000 orders per second, an absolutely unbelievable number. So, when I get a text from O2, apologising for my poor experience on Monday and to log on to the website for an update, alarm bells begin to ring. But it seems to be a long winded apology to everyone who was not successful in completing the check out or upgrade process due to the website meltdown and it says, quite clearly, that if you placed an order on Monday and it was successful, your phone will be with you July 11th and that will be confirmed by text before 6pm. Well, I get emails telling me my order is being processed, but by 7pm, no text confirming it's being delivered. I arranged the day off work as wouldn't you know it, the crippled lesbian got herself a day's worth of hospital appointments and wouldn't be home. I switched it around to work today instead. So I call them, to make sure I'm not effing with my schedule for no reason and I am told that most definitely, my phone will be delivered tomorrow. Fine.

By 11:30am on the 11th, I've still heard nothing from nobody. So I call O2 customer services again, I give them my order number and I'm told that my phone is not in stock and will not be delivered today. Unfortunately orders are processed on first come first served basis and by the time my order was placed, the preorder allocation was gone. I point out that my order was confirmed just 12 minutes after the preorders began, at least an hour before the site melted down and seven hours before the online store closed due to being sold out. How, I asked them, could that mean my order was out of stock? Did this mean nobody who placed an order after 8:15am on Monday was receiving their phone today? Apparently it did, so I can't imagine just how many furious customers they were having to deal with. I was very calm and reasonable about it and I got my first month's payment credited as an apology but when I don't have a phone, there's only so much placating you can do, especially when they say things like "all we can say right now is we should be able to complete your order within the next seven days". The word should just covers them every which way, doesn't it?

And then, at 4pm, I got an email telling me my order had been dispatched. So I call them back again to make sure I haven't hallucinated this and to make sure that the email isn't lying and an 11th July delivery is possible after all. Yes, they say, as some people could not wait and went and bought a handset from an Apple store, they have been cancelling the preorders, so yes, my order had indeed been dispatched. But no, they tell me, it won't be delivered until Saturday. The day I am working to cover the day I took off to wait in in the first place. I am too amused at the irony to be cross with them, plus I'm just happy to be getting my phone far earlier than I thought I was going to.

The instore launch was apparently disastrous and you can find any number of web forums shredding O2 for their handling of the launch. According to a friend who tried today, the O2 sale system instore was still down, having crashed at about 8:30am on Friday. Heads will clearly be rolling for that one. Sadly, Apple overstretched themselves as well and the activation system for the iPhone also went into meltdown yesterday which meant those lucky enough to actually get a phone then couldn't do anything with it.

But this story has a happy ending. The phone arrived at 8:30am this morning, right before I left for work. It powered up and activated without any issue whatsoever. And it's just the cutest thing you ever did see. So yeah, I drank the iPhone Kool Aid. It tasted yummy.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A picture truly does say 1000 words

With the release of Hancock, Will Smith has been popping up all over everywhere just lately. And while I used to really enjoy him, every interview snippet I've read from him on his latest publicity tour has generally caused me to roll my eyes and think "you are such a tiresome dick these days". So you can imagine my amusement when I found the following pic over on Deus Ex Malcontent.

It truly summed up my feelings about him in such a beautifully succinct way.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Naked Farmer for July

I continue to be terrified at just how very fast 2008 is whipping by. Am I alone in that feeling? Today is the motherfucking midway point of the year! And yet it feels like January was only a moment away. Tomorrow is one whole year since I saw Suzanne Vega in concert and it feels like I went last week. It's madness. Madness, I tell you.

But anyway, on to the naked guy. Here is July's offering, which I am sure you will all agree is a big step up from June's. He's far easier on the eye, though as I warned everyone at the time, he's no Mr March.