I’m a reader of the Guardian newspaper. I’m a big believer in equality of opportunity. I’m not a fan of a class based society. I should be very much entrenched in the republican camp, dreaming of the day the monarchy is abolished. Plotting, perhaps, to bring about its downfall. But I don’t identify as a republican. Continue reading “The Closet Royalist”
There aren’t many bands who can lose their front man and still go onto bigger and better things. As a general rule, once the main guy has departed, things go sharply downhill. Pink Floyd and Genesis spring to mind as the exceptions to the rule. Otherwise, bands just end up with the hangers on desperately hanging on. They turn into virtual tribute bands almost by default. Unless you’re talking about Boney M, in which case the tribute band contains (some of) the original band members whilst the ‘real’ band contains none of them. Odd. But I digress. I’m talking music today, so let’s get back on track.
Last Saturday, Mrs P and I went to Prom in the Park, a music festival of sorts put on by BBC Radio 2. This is not your tents, grunge and ganja in a field sort of festival. This is a festival for civilised people who prefer the scenery of Hyde Park and flushing toilets to the sea of mud and urine of a Somerset farm. We took our folding chairs and a posh picnic, freshly sliced and diced from the delicatessen of Whole Foods Market. We had a fine time.
We watched the Mavericks open the show. They only ever had the one hit, so they kindly played that and then buggered off. Oh, I’m being unfair. They played a couple more songs. Which were pleasant, but not really radio material. Then a lady came and blew her trumpet. Four guys then sang a collection of Frank Sinatra hits, and were pretty good too. Until they sang one of their own songs. After than a lady came and sang a bit of opera. What I really remember about her, is that her photo in the program suggested she had the figure of Kate Moss. On stage, she was more Nigella Lawson. After Christmas, rather than just before summer.
And finally at some time around 8pm, the main act took to the stage. The Jacksons. Now, I started this off by suggesting that most bands who lose their front man, the big cheese, the main man, well…they tend to lose their mojo. Has any band ever had a bigger lead singer than the Jacksons? I’ve given this some thought, and I’m going to state, with some confidence, that the answer to this question is ‘no’.
Let’s be honest, the combined talents of Jermaine, Marlon, Tito and Jackie are not going to cover up the fact that little Michael is missing. So where does that leave his siblings? They’re not what they used to be. But they are somehow more than a tribute band. I found it tough to define them.
A couple of days later, I had the answer. The 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain saw the biggest display of WWII planes since the end of the war. Spitfires, Hurricanes and Lancasters galore. It was a mighty sight, if you were lucky to be under the flight path. These planes might not have their original pilots, and they might well be on their last legs. But everyone still wants to see them. It’s the history and heritage that they stand for, and the story they tell.
I know. It’s a strange analogy. The Jacksons and old fighter planes. But hey, there is some sound logic behind this. After all, the band have already released two albums named after famous old British ships and motor bicycles*. Perhaps, if they are up to creating a new album, or have some old, as yet unrecorded material lying around, then just perhaps they might yet call it Spitfire.
*I am aware that Victory and Triumph were probably not named after famous old British ships and motor bicycles. But hey ho.
It’s time for the Oscars again, and as I’ve watched most of the nominations I feel almost compelled to hand out my own highly prized set of gongs for the best, and worst, that the film industry has to offer. What right do I have, a Brit, in intruding on the United States of America’s glitziest, glammest night out on the tiles? Well, first of all, we talk properly. In fact, most US movies should probably be moved into the Best Foreign Film category. Secondly, we’re on our way over to win all of those Oscars. Again. So there.
The Award For The Most Important Haircuts…
Boyhood. A near three hour epic absolutely packed full of nothing. Seriously, no spoiler alert is required for this film. Have you got your eyes closed in case I give away a key moment and ruin it all? Relax. Nothing happens. At all. At times, it has the feel of Stand by Me, (awesome novella in a set of four, by the by) the tale of four young boys on a sunny day trip. Except in Boyhood, there’s no dead body to be found. There was a moment in an abandoned house where you thought there might be a nasty accident. I almost hoped for a fatality, just to liven things up. But alas, nowt came of it. About an hour and a half into the film, you realise that actually, really, nothing is going to happen. And what you are really paying attention to are the change in hairstyles which signify a shift in time. This flick was, after all, filmed over a 12 year period. Without the radically morphing bonnets, then quite frankly you’d be completely lost. Was it a bad movie? No, not really. It was fairly watchable. Enjoyable, even. It’s a nice film. But it won’t see a re-run in my home. Once was more than enough.
The Best Christmas Movie Award
On 25th December I had a limited choice of viewing. On what is traditionally the best day for TV in the UK, I found myself short changed. Listen to the Queen drivel on for ten minutes, or East Bloody Enders. Or, that new Sony movie of North Korean fame. On account that my downloading and watching this film would greatly irritate the Dear One Junior, I chose the latter option. It is toilet humour, and will be forgotten as quickly as anything else you’ve ever flushed. But it had its moments, some of them quite funny. And it saved my Christmas afternoon from regal festivity or slum land depression
The Vieux Boulogne Award…
Hollywood knows how to produce a bit of cheese. Heck, there’s a bit of curdled dairy in most films. Sometimes it even helps. But there is cheese and then there is Vieux Boulogne. Which movie this year managed to leave the audience with the most acrid, pungent aroma of stinky French fromage stuck to the inner walls of their nostrils? That would be Fury. In a similar fashion to the cheese that gives the award its name, Brad Pitt and co put their names and reputations to an epic World War II monstrosity that smells like the contents of the unwashed behind of a farmyard cow. The initial plot, plausible. Just. The battle, unlikely to the extreme. The outcome, simply ridiculous. Brad Pitt’s career? Surely on the skids. I can sense every other great WW2 movie turning in its cassette each time this is played. The greatest shame, for me personally, is that the two main tank stars, the Sherman and Tiger, were both borrowed from a tank museum not far from my home. Brad, you let that museum down. Or maybe not. Perhaps visitor numbers are up. I’ve a sudden urge to pay it a visit. Stay tuned.
The Goebells Award…
And the winner is? American Sniper. What. A. Missed. Opportunity. I grew up watching war films. Battle of Midway. The Battle of Britain. A Bridge Too Far. Bridge over the River Kwai. Later on, I enjoyed Apocolypse Now, Full Metal Jacket and Platoon, as the Vietnam films gained popularity. Perhaps I shouldn’t like them, but I’m afraid I do. I guess we all like a hero, and war does provide the theatre for heroics. And it’s far better to watch a reproduction of the event than to be a participant. Perhaps, if we are going to be honest, most of us don’t want to be a hero so bad that we’d wander into a war zone. Better to be a living, breathing cow than a dead general, as the saying goes.
There haven’t been many decent Gulf War II films of note outside the Hurt Locker. There may be a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, the war is still something an embarrassment. Have they found those weapons of mass destruction yet? No? Really?? Secondly, there were so many journalists and film crews embedded in the front line, we watched it live. It almost became a sports event. How many people watch reruns of the Super Bowl? Exactly. But here was a story, Chris Kyle’s story, that could be made into a movie. It doesn’t matter if he was a hero or not. That’s up to the viewer to decide for themselves. But he did have a story.
Alas, Clint Eastwood seems to have lost the plot. There’s not really that much of a fine line between artistic license and complete bullshit. If you’ll pardon my French. The former is a matter of padding out the story. Selective focus. The latter is just screwing the real story up and inserting complete fiction. Clint has jumped the substantial gap between artistic license into bullshit territory with aplomb. I hoped the Eastwood of Gran Torino, Letters from Iwo Jima and Million Dollar Baby would turn up. Instead the right wing, politicised Clint Eastward of Talking to an Empty Chair fame took centre stage. And ruined the chance of American Sniper being the film it could have, should have, been. From a technical point of view, there was so much right about this movie. But in the end, it wasn’t actually the story of Chris Kyle at all. The movie deserves whole theatres full of empty chairs. Shame on you, Clint.
Thumping Church Organ Soundtrack Award
There can be only one candidate. Interstellar. When did church organs become acceptable for use in film scores again? I thought they must have been banned for overuse in vampire movies some time ago. It took me half the film to decide whether I liked it or not. In the end, I just turned the volume right on up and let those godly beats outta them pipes and into my my living room. Hallelujah! They do work. They provide atmosphere. The film itself. It’s ok. I like a good sci-fi film. Ok, the science is stretched, just a tad. I’m pretty sure a guy in a space suit probably can’t take a stroll on the surface of a black hole. But you have to let these things go once in a while. It’s good to be dumb sometimes, and to just enjoy.
Award For The Most Surreal, Even A Little Bizarre, Movie…
Hmmmm. Birdman or Grand Budapest Hotel? Birdman or Budapest? Eeeny, meeny, miny moe. No, there can only be one, and that has to be the Grand Budapest Hotel. Birdman was ok, but it was also a little pointless. Without Edward Norton, it would have been a total flop. The Grand Budapest Hotel though. What is not to like? The colours. The cast. Their performances. Ralph Fiennes at his fiennest. The setting. The surreal storyline. It’s so far fetched, it’s wonderful. It’s a couple of hours in a fantasy world that has just a sufficient amount of tangible reality to it to make it somehow believable. Almost. I liked this film. A lot. It’s not an all time great. But it is a worthy candidate for film of the year.
The Mexile Best Motion Picture of 2015, Even Though We Are But Five Weeks Into The Year Award…
I suspect myself and Mr Oscar will disagree, and they’ll give their gong to someone else. But hooey to him. The best film this year was The Imitation Game. It’s a true story, told well. But that doesn’t make it a winner. Foxcatcher was also a true story told well. Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly were both excellent. I barely noticed Keira’s underbite at all. Well done her. But the cast of Foxcatcher was also excellent. This story had set-work one step above the competition. If you’re going to tell a WW2 story, make it feel like WW2.
The difference is the scale of this story. How important it was to be told. The difference that this story made to tens of millions of lives around the world. The tragedy of this story was a tragedy for countless others of a non heterosexual persuasion in that era and afterwards. Never in the history of human conflict was so much owed, by so many, to that one chap over yonder in that there wooden shed. As Churchill might have said in one of his radio broadcasts about Alan Turing. Had Turing himself not been shrouded in total secrecy. There will always be those who pick at details in the film. But the Imitation Game stays on the right side of the artistic license/bullshit divide.
Crazy Walking Guy Award…
A couple more awards, just for the hell of it. Wildcards, if you like. And not for movies. This one goes to Walking The Nile. Levison Wood redefines travelling. Simply put, if you don’t have at least one companion die from heatstroke, get chased by a crocodie, stroll through a Muslim Botherhood village, visit a terrorist infested mosque, spend the night in a warzone, trek through a mine field and keep going for more than 4,000 miles…..well, you’re just not really travelling man. You’re just on holiday. Pft. Ya feeble tourist.
Crazy Guy Award…
O.M.G. There are some people who should not be allowed to play with the internet. This guy has popped up a few times on Facebook and elsewhere. I’ve watched a couple of them. And my first question is…how does this guy have an audience? How brain dead must a person be to swallow this sort of nonsense? The one I’ve posted below is a fine example. His rebuttal of the US as having a gun problem. They are, after all, not even in the top one hundred of murders per capita in the world, despite having by far the highest gun ownership rates. Well, that’s settled then.
Except, a couple of questions. Firstly, if you’re going to list gun ownership rates, why not then list firearm death rates instead of overall homicide rates? That places the US somewhere between number 17 and number 28. Secondly, did one not think of other issues that might account for higher murder rates in some countries. I mean, is it not fair to say that social and economic development might not play a part? Is it not fair to say, perhaps, that Mexico might not be so high up the list if the US didn’t give it so many guns and then demand a ton of drugs sneaked back across the border in return? Just perhaps?
And finally. That list of countries above the US on the list. Who on earth are you comparing the US to?? The argument he is making is akin to Jeffrey Dahmer standing up in court and pleading not guilty on the basis that there have been at least a hundred worse serial killers than him. Do none of his viewers analyse his data and logic a little more carefully? Or even pause for thought? Jebus, me thinks not. Some people have too much goo glooping about in their skulls. There’s a sensible debate on gun control to be had. You won’t have it with Bill.
Twelve months ago I had only vaguely heard of Benedict Cumberbatch. Slightly weird looking fellow. A name absolutely made for the stage. I hadn’t watched a thing he’d ever been in. What a difference a year makes. This is largely down to Mrs P, who became a fan. Female Cumberbatch fans like to label themselves by…well, they swap the ‘a’ for an ‘i’. Mrs P prefers to be known as a Cumberbabe. It’s more dignified.
We binge watched all three series of Sherlock. I hadn’t previously been that interested. Sherlock? Old hat. Figuritively and literally speaking. And besides, Sherlock Holmes in the 21st century? It just didn’t seem right. It turned out to be brilliant. Breaking Bad brilliant. But without the crystal meth. I can’t recommend it highly enough. The cast. The videography. The scripts. Ten out of ten for the lot.
There’s also Starter for Ten, an old movie we found on Netflix. It’s a movie of its time, but perfectly enjoyable. But he wasn’t finished yet. Another older production, Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein, was given a limited release at the cinema this summer/autumn. It’s a theatre production, expertly filmed and a thoroughly brilliant modern production of a classic. We watched it at the Odeon in Bournemouth, which is the best place to go and see it. Not because of the luxurious seating, or the audio quality. At Bournemouth you can go and meet the author straight after the show. Mary Shelley is buried in a cemetery just behind the cinema.
Ten days or so ago we went to the Museum of London, which is currently hosting a Sherlock Holmes exhibition. Photography was not allowed unfortunately. It cost £12 per person to wander around the history of London’s most famous detective. This mostly consists of paintings, snippets of film, movie posters, costumes and bits and pieces about the author and his inspirations. Was it worth £12? Probably not. But given the value for money we get from London’s museums, what with most of them being free, it seem a little bit much to complain.
This week we went to see his latest film, the Imitation Game. Based on the true story of Alan Turing, one of the world’s true geniuses. The ‘father’ of this electronic device that I am currently using to tell you about the film. It is, needless to say, quite brilliant. I’ve used the brilliant a few times now, I am aware of that. Yet I feel I have under utilised the word rather than overused it.
You may know the story of Alan Turing. If so, you will undoubtedly enjoy this movie. On the other hand, you may not know his story. I won’t spoil it for you. But suffice it to say that it’s a very human story set on global stage. Had Turing not been such a secret, Mr Churchill might well have opined that never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to that one chap over there. A statistic is produced at the end of the movie. It’s eye opening. Given the ultimate tragedy of the story, it’s eye watering. And you too will undoubtedly enjoy this movie.
You may even find yourself telling others that you are a Cumberbabe. Or, if you share my gender, a Cumberbloke.
How on earth did I miss this video? Or, perhaps, how in space did I miss it? I’m not the most musically sensitive person in the world. I do like music, but I’m pretty picky about what I listen to. I’d generally rather have talk radio playing in the background. I’m not particularly into any genre of music. A good melody or catchy tune works regardless as to whether it’s opera, rock, pop or jazz.
But I do have my favourites. No solo artist ranks higher than David Bowie. Are there any who have produced such awesome tracks across so many decades? Like the very best vocalists, his voice carries a sound and quality unique to him. My favourite Bowie track? It’s hard to pick one. The Man Who Saved The World, maybe. Or, Life On Mars. Let’s Dance. Or….
I know. It’s not Bowie. And the very idea of anyone covering such an iconic track is almost sinful. But my, doesn’t he pull it off? I’m not convinced he should ditch the day job. But he’s well beyond karaoke level. But the video. What a video. If ever there was a justification for a cover of a Bowie track, Chris Hadfield has found it. Sing and strum it from the International Space Station.
If that video didn’t tickle your fancy, you could always try this one. It’s a humorous remix of Hadfield’s video. I liked it. In fact, you really must watch it. It’ll put a smile on your face. Or perhaps you can try the original. Bowie is my favourite solo artist. Pink Floyd, of course, are my favourite band. I stumbled across this, whilst looking around You Tube. Bowie does a reasonable Waters. But Roger does a better Waters, and if you’re going to watch a live rendition of Comfortably Numb, then this one is the one – Gilmour and Waters temporary reunion at the O2 in London in 2011.
If none of these videos does it for you, then you’re a hard audience. I don’t know what else to suggest. Perhaps you’ve always wondered what sort of magic you can do with a piece of copper pipe and a magnet? Or can I entertain you with Volvo’s latest car advert? Probably not by Volvo though…
There is a void in my life. A black hole. Emptiness. A vacuum left by the end of Breaking Bad. I survive on occasional tributes, but they are like quantum particles that flash in and out of existence in the bat of an eyelid. Maybe faster. Mrs P and I were latecomers to the Breaking Bad party. For months, we binged on episode after episode of the greatest show ever made, as addicted to the troublesome life of Walter White as his victims were to his nefarious products. We binged till the Breaking Bad bottle was empty. And then there was a big black void. Television would never be the same again.
I’ve searched for a replacement. For a televisual dose of methadone, in the knowledge that the highs (and lows,) of Breaking Bad were a morphine like one off. It’s been a fruitless search. Until now. I’ve been bombarded with adverts encouraging me to give Netflix a try, for free. For a month. I did try it once, many years ago. Meh. But I decided to give it another look. To see if they had anything to soothe the withdrawal symptoms of Breaking Bad. And I stumbled across a show. It’s a Netflix show. Did you know they have their own shows? They have several, apparantly.
My new show has the occasional meth head. It’s got plenty of dark humour. It has gritty moments. But it’s largely ‘entertainment’. It’s no new Breaking Bad. Nothing ever will be. But it’s good. I got into Orange Is The New Black quite late. So we’ve been bingeing again. We’ve seen off Series 1 in no time, living the nightmare of incarceration through the eyes of the leading lady, Piper Chapman. It’s based on a true story, by all accounts. Or at least based on the memoirs of a real Piper. How much is true? Who’s to say, but I suspect that you wouldn’t have to make much up to turn prison life into an entertaining story. It almost has a touch of nostalgia to it. As if the story teller is producing a cut down version of the ‘best bits’ with a sense of fondness for times past.
It turns out that there’s actually quite a lot of really good stuff on Netflix. I have a feeling that I may well be paying the £5.99 per month for a while. Not least because Series 2 of Orange Is The New Black comes out in June. Guess what? They dump the whole series on their servers at once. No waiting around a week for your next fix. Another great binge is forthcoming. Got Netflix? Watch Orange. Not got Netflix? Well perhaps you should. Not least, because it also contains every episode of Breaking Bad. Surely you’ve watched them all? No?? You lucky thing. What a feast of entertainment you have ahead of you. But don’t say I didn’t warn you about the vacuum that is life after Break Bad.
I am a career dreamer. For much of the last forty years, I’ve had plenty of plans, intentions, applications, ambitions and goals. They all share one thing in common. They were but dreams. Captaining Liverpool FC and England was always unlikely, and I sensibly decided to have a Plan B quite early on. Just in case it didn’t happen. By age 13 I’d have settled on a career in palaeontology, brushing the dust of millions of years from the fossils of dinosaurs. The prospect of a life in criminal law and/or politics has long held great appeal.
Owning a dusty old bookshop on Charing Cross Road, or some other corner of central London. A worn wooden railed spiral staircase down to a camped basement was a must. The prospect of a lifelong career in the RAF tempted me. As does a career as a travel photographer. Alas, they were all just dreams. Some were fanciful. Others had false starts. Some were just too much like hard work. So I sell home insurance instead. Which was most definitely never the dream.
But what is life if one can’t daydream from time to time? I have a new one. It most definitely comes under the category of ‘fanciful’. But I can’t help but dream my little dream every time I walk past the Bingo Hall in Westbourne. It wan’t always a bingo hall, although it certainly seems to be a successful business in its present guise. Minibuses disgorge gaggles of elderly patrons every evening, all with their own dreams of finished cards, rowdy yells of victory and a cash prize. There are ashtrays overflowing with cheap brand cigarette butts outside, smoked to within a thousandth of an inch of the filter. A sure sign that Lady Luck doesn’t grant everyone their dream every night. Let me introduce you to Westbourne’s favourite bingo hall.
My photo doesn’t do the building justice. It’s a glorious example of yesteryear architecture. The stone carved ladies sitting atop the structure are beautifully detailed. The shops that have incorporated themselves into each side of the foyer entrance are a blight. They’ll have to go. But at least the original signage is there for when my grand plan comes to fruition, and the Grand Cinema reopens to the general public of Westbourne and Bournemouth. This will happen shortly after I win the lottery. Which is another dream altogether, filed under the category of ‘extremely wishful’, which is a grade up from fanciful, but not quite at ‘miracle’ status.
What movies will I show? Not the latest blockbusters from Hollywood that’s for sure. There’s a couple of big cinemas in Bournemouth and a large complex in Poole already catering to that sort of customer. I don’t want grotty teenagers in my cinema anyway. Nor chavs. I’m focusing on a different market. Which I’m sure is wise. The Grand Cinema undoubtedly tried the traditional cinema market before. Now it’s a bingo hall. That tells a story in itself.
Almost all the traditional, smaller cinemas in the UK long ago shut up shop, unable to compete with the corporate giants screening endless productions of explosions, shooting and general drivel. But the UK has changed, demographically. Perhaps there is now room for a niche player in the market. There are hundreds of thousand of Europeans living and working in the UK. It’s time to bring foreign cinema onto the High Street. I find Europeans to be generally more cultured. More sophisticated. Subtitles don’t put them off.
Perhaps some of it will rub off on their English friends, and they’ll come along too. Even if only to pretend they are sophisticated too. I’m inspired by Cineteca Nacional in Mexico City. For opening night, I will play Cinema Paradiso, a thoroughly charming movie. All about a boy who dreams of running the town’s cinema. And his friend, the incumbent, who dreams of anything but running it. It’s a delightful film. Movies in my cinema should be either emotional experiences or thought provoking. Not just a sensory bombardment of noise and light, death and destruction. Although, sure, those films can be good too.
Mrs P can help me select the best of Mexican cinema to cater for the growing Latin American and Spanish populations. Like Water For Chocolate is a must. Perhaps old Santo movies on Saturday mornings? For the kids? Hmmm. Then again, perhaps not. One can take one’s loyalty to Mexico too far. But I will show some more up to date Mexican flicks, such as Nosotros Los Nobles, which Mrs P and I watched and enjoyed recently.
But it won’t all be foreign fluff on the big screen. Perhaps our Johnny Foreigner residents would like to be introduced to classic British cinema. What counts as a British film? Technically, movies like Star Wars and Gravity are British films. But they’re not what I’m thinking of. There are plenty more overtly British films to show. Shaun of the Dead, Trainspotting, Nil By Mouth, The Killing Fields, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, A Fish Called Wanda, The Wicker Man and the legendary Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence has plenty of local landmarks in Dorset. I could hand out Treasure Maps to the audience. Visit all the locations and get a free ticket for their next visit to the Grand Cinema. All of these flicks are worthy of your time.
There’s a large elderly population too. I have to walk past a dozen old folks homes to get to the cinema. And it’s just a five minute walk. Whilst the long term repeat custom of seniors can’t be taken for granted, places in these care homes in Westbourne are highly sought after. There’s a waiting list to join the ‘waiting list’. Beds aren’t empty long enough to get cold. New customers will replace the old ones.
We can play matinee performances of old classics. Gone with the Wind for the ladies on Mondays and Wednesdays. A Bridge Too Far, Zulu and other assorted war films for the gents on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They can wear their uniforms to the show if they wish. The occasional Carry On film too, to fill any gaps when I haven’t gotten round to sourcing new films. If I play my cards right, I’ll keep the bingo crowd too. Just give them a card, show them to their seat and shout out a few random numbers through the performance. They might never know the difference. So long as they last long enough to get them out the door at the end, then all’s well.
I’m bringing back the Intermission too. The half time break for drinks and choc ices has been sorely missed. Seeing as smoking won’t be allowed in the auditorium, I’m guessing the break will be appreciated by my cigarette toting customers too. On Wednesday evenings, the Intermission will feature a slide show of my Mexican photos. Just because. I’m open to the use of tech too. Anyone checking into Foursquare or Facebook will get an extra flake in their 99. Bad reviews come with a further extra ingredient. A bodily fluid of some sort, I suspect. You’ve been warned.
Sadly we all know this won’t come to pass. I don’t buy lottery tickets, so I’m unlikely to win the big one. And that is pretty much my only route to cinema ownership. And quite frankly, if I did win millions, I’d move to London and spend the rest of my life buying every decent new camera that came to market and going off with it travelling. So I’ll keep on dreaming about the cinema I’ll never own. And Westbourne’s elderly population can live safe in the knowledge that a big win might still come their way, in what will remain the town’s premier bingo hall.
Last night the British Academy of Film and Television Arts handed out lots of gongs to the good and great of the world of film. Who knew Gravity was a British film? Well, Anglo-American, which is good enough for us to shout a claim on it. I wrote a review of Gravity a few months back and mentioned at the time that the movie was a welcome relief from the dross that Hollywood and
Ealing Elstree Pinewood and wherever British films are made these days, had been inflicting on their audiences for a goodly while.
But just like the good old British weather, a positive drought of decent movies has turned into a biblical flood that keeps on giving. Just eighteen months ago we were preparing for a hosepipe ban and wondering if there would actually be enough decent movies and television shows to fill an awards ceremony. Now here we are with half of England underwater and so many worthy movies it would probably take Bollywood a whole week to recreate them. And turn them into 10 series long television dramas. So I present to you, the inaugural Mexile Academy of Film and Television Awards. Otherwise known as a quick review of what I’ve recently watched, where every film gets an award of some sort out of editorial necessity.
Leonardo Di Caprio, in the Wolf of Wall Street. I start this poky little awards ceremony with a disgusting little story that should be told. The story of a despicable little man who conned hard earned savings from thousands, maybe tens of thousands of normal working class folk. And squandered it as recklessly as he ‘earned’ it. It’s a long film that will work better on DVD, to allow for a break half way through. It’s a strange film in many ways, not least because it actually happened.
It’s strange because it does, and I know not whether it is deliberate or accidental, glorify the greed and immorality of the extreme end of the western financial system. It’s strange because, despite the fact that I find those qualities to be abhorent, you can’t help but get drawn in and look forward to the next excessive twist in the story line. It’s a movie version of a roller coaster, with fear replaced by loathing instead. Why do you scream for the ride to go faster, when you know full well it’s just going to make things more scary? We are a strange breed, us humans. You don’t see wild animals behaving quite like us. At least I’ve never seen a gazelle creep up on a lion, slap its backside and shout ‘tag, you’re it’, just for kicks.
It’s strange because by the end you almost pity the pond scum human specimen of life that is Jordan Belfort. Perhaps you just pity him because he is Jordan Belfort. Leo has a certain smugness which is naturally dislikeable at the best of times. Or maybe that’s just my take. But I was definitely one of those that heaved a sigh of relief when he finally went under in Titanic. He fits the role to a tee, and does it every justice. The final twist in the story? Did anyone else notice that in the final scene, the on stage presenter introducing Jordan Belfort is the real Jordan Belfort. Jeez, some people just don’t know when to keep a low profile. I couldn’t find the clip on YouTube, but here’s an interview he did with Piers Morgan instead. Wolf of Wall Street scores a solid 6.5 out of ten on the Mexile-ometer.
Emma Thompson, from Saving Mr Banks. Who doesn’t like Mary Poppins? It was a favourite of mine as a kid. Heck, I even liked Dick van Dyke. This awards ceremony is littered with films based around true stories, and in each of them there is someone at the heart of the plot who you can’t help but pity. With some of them you pity their circumstance or how fate has dealt them an unkind hand. Others you pity for their dysfunctional or dislikeable personalities. With Mrs Travers, you end up pitying her for an unfortunate cocktail of both chance and persona. There is, however, a certain charm about her as her story is revealed and the true nature of her Disneyfied characters are explained. Tom Hanks is a better Walt Disney than he is a Captain Phillips, but then how would I include the tale of Somalian pirates if I gave him an award here? Saving Mr Banks scores a decent 6.5 out of ten.
Second Best Actor
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips. An unusual award, but where else would I fit Tom in? He is what Tom Hanks always is. Every bit as likeable and as Jordan Belfort is unlike-able. He always puts in a sterling performance and once again delivers a seamless portrayal in this flick. Captain Phillips is exactly the sort of film I expected it to be. There were no surprises. Pirates board ship. Tom is a bit of a hero, without going OTT. Pirates are…..am I going to spoil it if I say a lot of them come to a sticky end?
The problem with this film is the same problem I have with Tom Hanks. He’s been around too long, starred in too many career defining roles. He is Tom Hanks. No surprises has become his middle name. Nonetheless, with that said, the film is still a thrill, the cinematography is excellent, and the storyline kept up with enough twists, turns and uncertain moments of high tension to keep me glued to the screen. Even though I knew what the final result was going to be. How many points out of ten does Captain Phillips merit? An honourable 6 on the Mexile Scale.
Best Special Effects
Gravity, which I’ve already reviewed here. Best special effects is an easy one to fling in the direction of this flick. It’s in space, there are explosions. What more does an old Sci Fi fan like me want? Other than Klingons or to see how the Kessel Run can be done in just 12 parsecs. Or for those who are into the sci but not so much the fi, 3.7028131 × 1017 metres. A jolly decent 7 out of 10 points for Gravity
Best Television Show
This World, by the BBC. This is Auntie Beeb at her finest, with an eclectic mix of hour long shows, documentaries and talks. I could point to the episode on Mexico’s Drug War, which would fit the Mexican-ish theme of my blog. But that was broadcast in 2010. So it’s a bit old for a 2014 award show. So perhaps the Truth About Population fits better. I always enjoy anything Simon Reeve does, and his two recent episodes following the tea and coffee trade were both top notch.
But to return to a land a bit nearer home, Mexico, I give you Reeve’s 2013 episode that was titled, Cuba. He provided a more balanced and up to date account of this last stand of Communism than you normally get. That is to say, an account which does more that simply declare Communism = Evil, or Castro = Saviour of the People. Both accounts usually fail to cover any middle ground, and it is the middle ground that the masses usually occupy. This World is always 10 out of 10 stuff.
Philomena, again by Auntie Beeb. Judi Dench, ahem, Dame Judi Dench, excels. You’d expect nothing less of her. Steve Coogan is not, perhaps, so brilliant as Martin Sixsmith. Too much bumbling, not enough hard nose. I don’t know Martin Sixsmith too well, but I’d associate him with a lot more of the latter and much less of the former. But still, Coogan is likeable and doesn’t detract from the film. Indeed, at times, his style of British humour lends itself well to the film.
The plot is not depressing enough to warrant competition for the winner of that award (see below), but it certainly has a melancholic feel to it. It’s another true story. Which is just as well, because were it fiction, you’d write it off as unbelievable. Well, certainly as far as the sting in the tale is concerned. It sums up all that is wrong with religious extremism, but for once it is extremism of the cuddly sort, wrapped in an innocent cloth of a nun’s habit rather than the TNT laden vest of a misguided and soon to be departed Islamic suicide bomber. It is also, sadly, pretty much what we’ve com to expect from the Catholic Church. A hardy 7 out of 10 for Philomena.
Most Depressing Film
12 Years A Slave. Watched just last night. It really is not a jolly film. Not a pick-me-up to switch on to lighten your mood after a hard day at the office. It’s gritty. It’s full of vile characters. It’s man at, or at least close to, his worst. It’s depressing and necessarily so. There are countless performances of utter excellence in the film, as the sorry story of a free man cum slave is depicted in glorious technicolour in front of your eyes. Although black and red are the dominant colours, as dark skins are whipped raw. This is a story that absolutely must be told. There are far too many people commenting on life in the 21st century who seem to have either skipped history lessons or have simply forgotten how we’ve gotten where we are. A commendable seven and a half out of ten for 12 Years a Slave.
Dallas Buyers Club. I tip my hat to the superb Matthew McConnaughy who went the full stretch to pull off one of the most convincing portrayals in recent cinematic history. I’m sure he’s got those stretch marks in his flesh still to prove it. Any situation that pits a raging Texan homophobic cowboy and a gay transvestite first against each other, then dependant on each other, must contain a story worth telling.
The film doesn’t have a weak point. The plot is harrowing. The cast are as talented as they are diverse. There are comedic interludes. And there is hope. Light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s all true. Well, in a Hollywood sort of way. It merits the highest score I’ve awarded a film today, a lofty 8 out of 10 points.
Wishing you all a very Happy New Year. A prosperous one too. May 2014 be fun, different, safe and everything you wish it to be. And may we read all about it on your blogs. This is how I celebrated the turning of 2013 into 2014. No, not on the Embankment. Tucked up in bed watching it on television. You get the best view of it this way, although I’m sure the atmosphere riverside is worth standing in the rain for.
I hope you enjoyed the video. The New Years fireworks in London used to be pretty third rate. Then, as 2011 turned into 2012 and the Olympics beckoned, someone with a bit of clout in the government decided we must do better and financed a proper fireworks display. I feared that it would be a one year only deal, but last years show piece was the equal of its immediate predecessor.
As you can see from the video above, the trend has continued. Albeit this year with a freaking awful soundtrack. There was a bit of Pink Floyd, which is always appreciated. But they picked the wrong song. I’d have picked Brain Damage, and I’d have put it as the final track for that incredible, sustained and almost senseless barrage of rockets and bangers.
But anyway. Happy New Year!
I recently invested in a new piece of electronica for my personal entertainment. And for Mrs P’s entertainment too, of course. A shiny new 39″ Panasonic TV. It’s this one here. Although I picked it up for a little bit less than Amazon flog it for. It was a freaking bargain. Why did I choose Panasonic? Samsung have much better smart tv services. LG make darned good value televisions. I chose based purely on quality. The Panasonic has the best picture quality in this price bracket. I’ve owned Panasonic televisions before too, which were superb. That counts. So far, I’m delighted with it.
Hollywood has been on a pretty bleak run for far too long. I can’t remember when I last watched a movie that really got me caught up in the story. You know, when you’re right on the edge of your seat, literally, and you cease to be aware of anything else around. Time and other cinema goers disappear into oblivion. You’re there. In the movie. Along for the ride. It’s your adventure.
Almost every new release I’ve watched for at least a couple of years has disappointed. Skyfall, Hangover III and Prometheus were dreadful. Insults to their esteemed predecessors. Lincoln and Argo weere ‘ok’ historical works. The former was short on drama. The latter was short on fact. Django Unchained was the exception. A big thumbs up from me. But the last movie I really got caught up in? Probably Avatar.
Avatar’s killer feature was the fact it was in 3D. It was made for 3D. Most importantly, it worked in 3D. The predictable storyline with its well trodden script was at best pleasant. But seeing a new world in such vivid multi dimensional technicolour was mind blowing. Alas, 3D doesn’t always work. I’ve seen a few movies since Avatar, including the latest Star Trek, and left thinking I should have seen it in good old fashioned 2D.
So with a certain amount of trepidation, I took my seat in the Odeon at the weekend to watch Avatar. Encouraged into the cinema by rave reviews. Slumped in my seat with minimal expectations. I was giving 3D another go. Gravity did seem cut out for this bit of tech. It’s a space movie. Sci-fi (I like) not Fantasy(which I don’t). What could go wrong?
Nothing went wrong. The Hollywood drought is over. We have a winner. We could debate the plausibility of parts of the story. I like plausibility. But here, the science behind the accident that propels our two heroes into a fight for life is almost incidental. There just needs to be an accident. It doesn’t matter much what it is. And of course, they’re riding Space Shuttles. Which have been retired.
The cast? I’m beginning to like George Clooney. I watched him in The Descendants recently. Which is an oldie, but thoroughly enjoyable on a cold Sunday evening. And as for Sandra Bullock? She’s how old? I won’t embarrass her by saying. I’ll embarrass her instead by mentioning that, well…I would. Would NASA send this pair into space on a shuttle? Erm, probably not. But never mind. They both put in sterling performances which keep the story rolling along in an entertaining fashion.
The movie worked brilliantly in 3D. It’s worth shelling out the extra shilling. I was on the edge of my seat. I kept getting aches from clenching my muscles. I gasped for air from subconsciously holding my breath. I had to hold my breath though. There’s no oxygen in space. And that’s where I was. This was one of those films that takes hold of you and won’t let go.
Go watch Gravity. It’s not the best space film I’ve ever seen. But it’s the best in a long time. Let’s hope it’s not the last good movie coming off the production line. Captain Phillips is next on my list. Hopefully that will give the industry a much needed lift too. Else, it will bring my new found high expectations back to earth with a bump.
I’m not the biggest fan of live performances. Why would someone want to travel miles away to listen to a musician perform from a stage so far away he/she/they look like ants. Let’s not get started on the audio quality. And of course the most noise you’ll hear comes from the crowd. If I wanted to hear tone deaf wannabes sing, I’d go to a karaoke. Not all live performances are like this, but sadly all too many (by musicians I actually like) are stadium based. Give me my home stereo to listen to instead, thanks.
Shows put on in smaller arenas are a different matter. I love Teatro Metropolitan in Mexico City. I saw a fantastic show by Jamie Cullum there. Foro Sol is a bit bigger, but still – I went to see Roger Waters there. That was a fantastic show. I came across one of his shows again on YouTube recently. This one was in London. I would have loved to have gone to this show, on this night. I may have posted it before. But it’s worth posting again. It may be in a large arena which I’ve just slated. But there’s an exception to every rule.
I am not a fan of the X Factor / Pop Idol style shows either. Manufactured crap, all of it. Britain’s Got Talent does at least allow a diversity of acts to make it a little more interesting. But I’m still not a fan. This years winner were a silhouette group, Attraction. They were fantastic. Really fantastic. They are another exception to the rule. There was a slight irony / controversy to their victory. They’re from Hungary.
Britain’s Hungary’s Got Talent, it turns out. There’s an exception to every rule. But you can’t knock the theme. Integration is everything, right?!
I’ve recently watched a trio of movies, which I’d like to briefly review. I’m not really a fussy watcher. I can enjoy most types of movie, although my mood at any moment might make me lean towards one genre over another. What do I look for? Good acting, reading from a decent script. Preferably without looking like they are actually reading from the script. Special effects or stunning landscapes? Both are good. I just want an escape for a couple of hours. Something that entertains, works my imagination, makes me think, provokes emotions. Any one of those or a mix. Most importantly, unless it’s an intentional farce, it must be plausible. Plausibility is everything.
Plausibility isn’t necessarily a limitation. Star Trek is no more implausible than the Ten Commandments. The writer need not prove his concept. He just has to be imaginative enough with it to ensure it isn’t instantly disprovable by the average layman. Needless to say, Star Trek director JJ Abrams might have a greater struggle to convince an astrophysicist that he would me. Although the franchise actually has quite a fascinating scientific history. Even Superman has a semblance of plausibility. Sort of. Until someone finds Krypton, grabs a wee bairn, and shots it to Earth, then nothing is disproven!
The first of the three films was Dark Zero Thirty. Plausibility is helped by the fact the film is based on a true life event – the hunt for and eventual killing of Osama Bin Laden. Possibly also by politically motivated leaks, although that seems to be conjecture at the moment. Dark Zero Thirty is gritty, with a gripping storyline and a gutsy finale. The scenery whisks you away to strange, foreign lands and has you feeling a little out of your comfort zone. It’s also proof that if the script and screenplay are strong enough, it doesn’t necessary matter if someone goes and ruins the ending for you before you’ve seen it. I won’t spoil it for you though! Dark Zero Thirty gets a nine out of ten for plausibility and an eight out of ten for the movie from me. Definitely recommended.
Next up was Flight. Denzel Washington is an ace pilot. A drunk ace pilot. A drunk, coked up ace pilot. Who flies a broken passenger jet upside down in a heroic effort to get it safely to the ground. Well, relatively safely. He really is an ace pilot. Who else could do that? There are some who try it in a simulator. Is all this plausible? Well, I know planes can fly upside down. I’m pretty sure that a few drunks have tried that before now. Impossible, then, it is not. But we’re moving downwards on the likelihood scale. But still, the first fifteen minutes are gripping, thanks to the special effects. So all is forgiven. Much of the rest of the film is a very human story. At times, it’s touching. And frustrating. The end is a little too heroic. But it is kinda how you want it to end. So forgiveness reigns once more. A six out of ten on the plausibility scale, and a six and a half out of ten for the movie. It’s a good enough flick if there’s nothing better on.
The last on my list? Skyfall. Bond. A bastion of British cinema for a half century. I loved the old Connery films. Roger Moore too. In fact, especially Roger Moore. After watching the first ten minutes of the first Timothy Dalton Bond, I switched off, and hadn’t watched another Bond film since. Till Skyfall. I’d read mixed reviews. But mostly positive. The glorious scenery. Top class acting. Stunning special effects. Where do I lie on Skyfall? The kindest thing I can say about Skyfall, is that I watched it to the end. It’s a shame. I liked Daniel Craig. And the scenery. But the storyline was shockingly weak.
The effeminate super villain was utterly preposterous. He had no character, no personality to speak of. He was shallow and, like the rest of the film, thoroughly improbable. Too say the least. Cliches and cheese fitted into every other line. This movie contained not one iota of plausibility. Not a shred. What a disappointment. I give it a zero out of ten for plausibility. And a generous four out of ten for the movie. I guess I’m trying to make a point. A simple point. A movie just needs to make me believe. How it does that doesn’t matter. It can earn my belief through the science. Through the story. Or just by making me want to believe. But it has to make me believe in it.
Movies have a new competitor. A competitor so extraordinary that it’ll put pressure on movie makers to up their game. And a competitor that trumps any movie on plausibility. This competitor is real life. Life has always been more exciting, dramatic and unexpected than the movies. But it’s twists and turns came infrequently and if you blinked, you missed them. Not any more. Nowadays, real life is captured, condensed, bottled up and distributed on YouTube and other video sites. Click here for some Russian dash cam action. The exploding road mid way through the video, in case you’re interested, is a passenger jet crashing just out of camera. But I’ll leave you with a real plane crash. Not as dramatic as Denzel’s shunt, for sure. But still. It’s real. And a pretty unique ‘insiders’ view of a crash.
I’m not much for flicking through the channels. There’s either something on I want to watch, or there’s not. If I want to watch it, it’s because I’ve seen a recommendation or an advert or it’s by someone I like. I started watching a TV series recently, that I was five years behind on. I’d seen Dave Winer raving about it, and his tastes aren’t far off my own. The best thing about being five years behind? No waiting a week for the next episode. And no waiting nine months between series. An hour of killer TV, every night, night after night.
Breaking Bad is a human story, which goes out of control. Is it plausible? Piece by piece, yes. As a whole? Hey, it’s a TV show. Entertainment. The show is absolutely chock full of strong characters. There’s not a weak link amongst them. Saul the dodgy lawyer. Gustavo the suave dealer. Mike, the down to earth fixer. Hector the near vegetative former hitman. Hank the thoroughly non PC DEA agent. Jesse the hopeless dropout. You want to see the good side of the baddest villians. You can see how they get on the slippery slope of life. You want to justify their bad choices. At least, sometimes you do. But as the series go by, and into season five, you can’t help but feel that the main guy, Walter, has definitely Broken Bad.
Season one showed the potential of the cast and concept and had some impressive drama. But it was just seven episodes long, cut short by the Hollywood writers strike. Which is, perhaps, why I felt a little bit underwhelmed at the end. It was good enough to convince me to launch into season two, but only just. The show really turns it up a notch in season two though, and keeps a steady dose or drama, comedy, tragedy, empathy and hope running through the storyline. We are up to date now, half way through season five. Alas, this final season is split into two tranches, the second of which we will have to wait for till July. Have you not watched the show? I envy you. You have about fifty episodes of the finest drama ahead of you. In case you’re wondering, I haven’t been paid in any way, shape or form to promote Breaking Bad. I just feel mysteriously obliged to tell you just how good it is….