Sunday, December 25, 2011

Giving this Christmas

One of the many things you won’t be able to ignore at this time of year is the tin-rattlers, the bucket shakers and the direct-debit collectors who line the high streets and stalk train station entrances, fishing for donations.

I don’t think there’s probably a good way to encourage people to give; whatever your methods, there will always be some who find it intrusive and aggravating. But sometimes charities do not help themselves.

When, on a three hundred metre stretch of Kentish Town High Street, there are three World Wildlife Fund fundraisers, who make it possible for you to be approached three times in less than three minutes – then you’re taking the p***.

I won’t be giving them any money I think*. Nor will I be giving money to the children’s charity, shaking buckets outside East Croydon station who thought they’d illuminate the evening for commuters by playing Christmas songs out of a small stereo system. As I passed it was playing “Rock ‘N Roll Christmas” by Gary Glitter – not exactly an appropriate choice.

I’m happy to give money to charity. But I think I’ll reserve it for charities whose fundraisers are more tactful, and who act as adequate ambassadors for their cause.

* although in part that's because I prefer to give to people charities.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


I'll be putting off that visit to HMS Belfast till next year then.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Word of the Week


1. to change repeatedly one's attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.; equivocate.

2. to turn renegade.

Monday, December 05, 2011

November Film Highlights

You will readth ye olde 50 Word Film Reviews blog.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011) Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Toby Jones, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost. Dir: Steven Spielberg.

Tintin sets off on an adventure to restore a drunken captain’s fortune. You need space to tell a story, but there’s so much action there’s not time to establish Tintin as a character, nevermind make you care or understand what’s happening. Cast’s perfect and animation spectacular, but that’s not enough.


The Rum Diary (2011) Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi. Dir: Bruce Robinson.

An alcoholic journalist starts work at a Puerto Rican paper and gets mixed up with an amoral entrepreneur. Fizzes, but never pops. Depp spends first half just watching things unfold, with the anarchy and wit of Thompson’s prose spread too liberally. Second half is better, but it’s far too leisurely.


Way Out West (1937) Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson, Rosina Lawrence. Dir: Stan Laurel, Hal Roach.

Stan and Ollie are delivering an inheritance to a young girl, but are tricked into giving it to her guardian. Plenty of great routines, yet even at 65 minutes, the pace’s leisurely at best. Still, each section has much to giggle at, although the dancing sequence is an unnecessary interlude.


Batman: Mask of Phantasm (1993) Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany, Hart Bochner, Stacy Keach, Abe Vigoda, Mark Hamill. Dir: Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm.

Movie based on Batman: The Animated Series. Batman investigates murders committed by a vigilante, while an old flame returns. Does what the Burton films didn’t – creates a distinctive visual world while telling a convincing character story. Dialogue is bare but has a structured plotline, not just a succession of set-pieces.


Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) Christopher Lee, Geoffrey Keen, Gwen Watford, Linda Hayden, Peter Sallis. Dir: Peter Sasdy.

Three amateur practitioners of black magic are tricked into resurrecting the Count. A really good premise is totally wasted, and soon things are back to the old stalk and bite routine. A few interesting moments liven it up, but it’s very uneven and would really benefit from having a central character.


Midnight in Paris(2011) Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen, Corey Stoll. Dir: Woody Allen.

A frustrated writer finds a way to travel back to 1920s Paris and mixes with art legends. A charming light comedy about the pleasures and flaws of romanticism and nostalgia. The affectionate send-ups of artists are delightful, although other characters are left with little. The denouement falls a little flat.


Days of Heaven (1978) Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz. Dir: Terrence Malick.

A landowner falls for a working girl; her lover convinces her to marry him, believing he’s months to live. A film that loves the landscape, charting a romance against the changing seasons, something beautiful but fragile and unforgiving. Arguably the story’s slight, but few movies are so gloriously cinematic.


Alien Resurrection (1997) Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon, Gary Dourdan, Michael Wincott, Brad Dourif. Dir:Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

Ripley is cloned in a space lab, with an alien inside her, then a group of mercenaries stir up trouble. The same stuff over again, but less effective, with another gang of who-cares getting picked off in a noisy but unsuspenseful fashion. Even Weaver seems to be slipping into self-parody.


Saturday, December 03, 2011

A New Bad Trailer

Now here's a film that's got it all. Walking... Standing... Sitting down... Running... A big white house... What else could you possibly want?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Mistake

When I first saw this dreadful advert, in all honesty I didn’t pay any attention to it all, what with how cheap and bland it is. However, when I did finally notice it, I saw the mistake and thought it was hilarious. Signs and billboards all over London, some massive, had a huge glaring error on them. Amazing.

Of course I subsequently discovered that the man on the poster is José Mourinho, wealthy enigmatic football managing git. And that mistake is actually to do with his slightly imperfect grasp of the English language.

So it’s not a typo, it’s a direct, genuine, unaltered quote. Reproduced in full*.

So it’s all right then isn’t it? Good ole José with his charmingly endearing, but not quite right sentences. He’s a good, well known football manager, and therefore, by associating themselves with him, this company, Henderson's, can trade on his credibility and claim themselves to be the other ‘Special Manager’. Awesome innovative concept eh?

Of course everyone knows who José Mourinho is, don’t they? I mean, surely there’s no one else like me who doesn’t know who this man is and is going to think that this supposedly professional company has seriously f****d up their advert. No one could possibly think that.

It’s also a really good idea to highlight the fact that someone who is endorsing your business may not have the most perfect grasp of the language. After all, no one ever gets irritated when you point out their mistakes. Especially when they’ve taken the time to learn the language of a country where most people don’t even take the time to learn a foreign language.

But it’s good old José; and this is one of the things we know and love him for. These little language mistakes are so endearing, and this advert certainly isn’t patronising him at all.

And there’s no possible way that anyone looking at this mistake might find a second meaning in the phrase ‘special manager’. As it’s highlighted in red, the word doesn’t stand out any more than any other does it?

Let’s just hope they’re better with numbers…

* It’s just occurred to me that someone may have actually written this for the advert, rather than taken it as a direct quote. The mistake may actually have been intentional.

How depressing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Word of the Week

Zugzwang - noun, Chess. A situation in which a player is limited to moves that cost pieces or have a damaging positional effect.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Worst Idea for a TV Show Ever?

Well obviously not, there's obviously been worse*. Nevertheless, this is not an appealing concept:


Cleverdicks is the exciting new quiz hosted by the formidably intelligent former politician Ann Widdecombe, who will bring her uniquely witty charm to the proceedings.

In each show, four supremely intelligent contestants will battle it out in four rounds to try and prove that they really are as clever as they say.

The show will take place daytimes & evenings during November at The Sky Studios in West London.

So if you would like to join Ann & some knowledgeable know-it-all's in November at Sky Studios, then apply now!

Somehow, I don't think I'll be applying for tickets for this one. Charismatic a character Anne Widdecombe is....

* Personal favourites include: Who's Your Daddy, where a contestant, given up for adoption as a child, had to pick their real father from a group of 25 men; Man vs. Beast in which humans face off against animals in a variety of physical challenges; and of course, Heil Honey I'm Home, the wacky domestic antics of Adolf Hitler and his jewish next door neighbours.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Word of the Week

Wodge: 1. a lump, chunk, or wad.
             2. an object having a lumpy, bulgy shape.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

October Film Highlights

Have you visited the 50 Word Film Reviews blog yet? Well have you?

The Three Musketeers (2011) Logan Lerman, Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans, Christoph Waltz, Orlando Bloom, Milla Jovovich, Matthew Macfadyen. Dir: Paul W. S. Anderson.

The Musketeers must stop Richlieu from provoking war with England. Challenges you to suspend your disbelief further than you've suspended it before. Sherlock Holmes was far-fetched but that had a sense of proportion - and wit. All the energy and enthusiasm isn't enough to stop you thinking "what the f**k?"


Our Hospitality (1923) Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts, Ralph Bushman, Craig Ward. Dir: Buster Keaton, John G. Blystone.

Buster inadvertently reawakens an old family feud, but his enemies can’t kill him while he’s a guest in their house. After practicing with feature-length in Three Ages, Buster hits his stride. A little slow off the ground, but enters into a level of sustained silliness, culminating in a gob-smackingly dangerous climax.


In Time (2011) Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser, Olivia Wilde. Dir: Andew Niccol.

In the future time is currency and lifespan depends on your wealth. Good concept wasted – clumsily draws allegories to capitalism, but all exposition falls flat, so throws excruciating puns at you instead. Timberlake’s a character looking for a personality and Seyfried looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Rubbish.


Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) Katie Featherston, Chloe Csengery, Sprague Grayden, Jessica Tyler Brown, Brian Boland. Dir: Ariel Schulman,Henry Joost.

Footage of Katie and Kristi’s first encounter with the paranormal. Not bad for the third entry in a franchise, and an improvement on the previous. Fun’s had tricking the audience’s expectations, though attempts to invent new ghostly events miss as often as they hit. You’ll never believe it’s the 80s.


Batman (1989) Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Michael Gough, Jack Palance. Dir: Tim Burton.

Batman must fight the Joker while developing a relationship with a photographer. Uninvolving and lacking in suspense. Nicholson’s good, but has no motives and never seems a real threat, while Keaton has very little to work with. Lots of set pieces, no character development. Handsome, but quite shallow.


Howard the Duck (1986) Chip Zien, Lea Thompson, Tim Robbins, Jeffrey Jones, David Paymer. Dir:Willard Huyck.
A talking duck from another planet is accidentally transported to earth. Not deserving of its reputation. It's clearly trying to parody friendly creature features, it’s just that it gets caught up in the action it’s supposedly making fun of. And some mis-judged adult material feels uneasily out of place.


Drive (2011) Ryan Gosling, Brian Cranston, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks. Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn.

A stunt and part-time getaway driver gets into trouble when he helps a neighbour he’s in love with. Atmospheric, cool car noir that’s less about thrilling chases (there are some) and more about a man’s loneliness. Some interesting casting choices and a killer soundtrack help makes this an exceptional thriller.


Island of Lost Souls (1933) Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi, Kathleen Burke. Dir: Erle C. Kenton.
On an uncharted island, a mad genius has created a race of evolved human/animal creations. Edgy for its time and still pretty dark - and pervy. Laughton’s never been slimier as the despicable scientist, who gets comeuppance in a startling sequence as his creations drag him to the “House of Pain”.


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Words of Hate: Chops

It's sometimes easy to understand why a phrase or saying becomes popular. Often it’s pure zeitgeist – like all those social media terms that sprung up in the wake of Facebook, Twitter and so on. Other times a phrase coined suddenly seems to just fit a certain phenomenon, like Britpop or chavs, giving something a suitable name that it lacked before.

Sometimes, however, it's just a mystery. I'm not sure where I first heard the phrase chops, as in: he hasn't earned his acting chops, or, he's got business chops, or not enough comedy chops. I think it may have been during a rant uttered by the Doctor Cox character in Scrubs. But wherever it was, I didn't like it then and I don't like it now.

It pops-up a lot in movie reviews, usually when trying vaguely to describe why an actor was a poor choice for a particular part, or why an actor was actually a good choice for a role, because of their past experience, or their particular talents, or something; it really isn’t very clear.

Apparently meat has nothing to do with chops.
The etymology of this bizarre saying is unclear. I had assumed that it was something to do with meat, that someone working in a household would be rewarded with the best cut of meat having reached a certain level of accomplishment amongst their peers.

Actually the phrase is likely to be related to music; chops being a slang term for mouth. To earn ones chops would be to develop the facial muscles in the mouth to become skilled at playing certain wind and brass instruments. However, this is just the most likely origin; there is no definitive known answer.

Wherever it comes from, it’s a very ugly and unspecific term. It seems to stand for a slightly uneasy blend of being experienced and somehow proving your worth, I think. Maybe.

In an effort to get to the bottom of this mystery, let’s look at some real examples from the web.

Being experienced definitely seems to be key to the phrase’s meaning. Let’s look at this quote from a BBC review of band Biffy Clyro playing at Glastonbury:

“No longer the young up-and-comers among the rock elite, the Kilmarnock trio have well and truly earned their chops and sit comfortable at the top of festival bills across the summer season.”

From that we would could assume that this Scottish band have worked hard and built themselves a career of high-charting recordings and touring that has taken them to the big leagues of popular music.

But what if, say, they hadn’t become a hit band capable of top 10 album successes? Say they’d never made it big, but had toured year after year, and played hundreds of gigs over their 15-plus years together as a band – would they then have earned their chops?

They wouldn’t have had the same success, but you couldn’t say they weren’t experienced. Maybe they’d had acclaimed albums, but never been a big chart success (the truth for many bands now revered), would they have earned their chops then? In this context, I think not.

Now let’s take this next sentence discussing The OWN Documentary Club, a feature on the Oprah Winfrey Network that aims to do for documentary films what her Book Club did for selected books:

“Along with Family Affair, OWN's Documentary Club will show Sons of Perdition, Life 2.0, One Lucky Elephant, 65 Red Roses, Most Valuable Players -- all have already earned their chops on the festival circuit and should be seen by wider audiences.”

Now I don’t think you can call a documentary experienced. What I think we’re bordering on here is a matter of reputation. Biffy Clyro and the following documentaries have built-up a reputation doing what it is they do. But I think more than that, I think we’re talking about buzz or presence, or maybe even star quality.

Here’s another example – this time from Empire Online, from their review of recent hit movie, The Debt:

“If there’s a weak link among the acting ensemble it’s (Sam) Worthington — while he can handle David’s burning desire for duty, his accent is often atrocious, and he doesn’t quite have the chops to stand alongside the others.”

Though having appeared in a number of films, Worthington is still, I would say, an actor still to really establish himself as a major star. And in a film which also stars weighty talents like Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds, and 8-films-in-a-year, awarding-winning, up-and-comer Jessica Chastain, it’s easy to see how Worthington could seem swamped in serious heavy-weight talents.

Sam Worthington - clearly a man
without chops
But is it a matter of experience? Stars can be made overnight with the right attention-getting role. Worthington’s been in films since 2000, and won some awards too – including a nomination from Empire for Best Actor in 2009. Maybe he just wasn’t right for the part, or doesn’t have the presence amongst the heavyweights. Or is it the experience thing after all?

Anyway, so far we could perhaps assume that earned their chops refers to someone, or something, who/that has acquired the necessary experience, and has established a certain reputation and presence, that proves they/it is worthy of performing a certain task, or deserves your attention.

Well that’s clear isn’t it? Or can we make it even more complicated? We’ve already had one example from Empire Online - to my mind by far the worst chops offender - so let’s have some more examples.

…Ryan Gosling, showing sly comedy chops and about 54 abdominal muscles…

Doesn’t really fit in with the theory does it? This seems to suggest chops refers to skills, talents, or maybe credentials.

Pitt's perfect features and often underestimated acting chops work so well when contrasted with the depravity of Seven…

So in this context it’s definitely just talents/skills. After all, we don’t need to be told that Brad Pitt has got star presence, a huge reputation or loads of acting experience (more than 20 years on screen). So chops doesn’t have to refer to any of those things after all.

Happily, the movie also has cinematic chops.

You what now? So in this case, it’s just credentials, nothing to do with skills, reputation, or experience – because a film can’t have any of those things, it’s not a person or a brand in itself. And can you have cinematic presence? Well, probably in film criticism I suppose.

So what does earned their chops and all its various iterations mean? A mixture of experience, presence, credentials, skills, star quality and talent, delete as appropriate?

It really doesn’t make any sense when you look at it closely. I can appreciate sometimes that a newly popular word or phrase can come into being, and that it can sometimes be annoying, but if it fills a gap that no other word or phrase fills, or captures a certain sound or feeling better than the pre-existing  terms, then, generally it's a good thing and I'm for it. But just what is this term bringing to world of language? What purpose does it fulfill?

Personally, I think it’s just lazy. A term that allows you to get out of explaining that something is either right or something is either wrong; something is in the right place, or something is in the wrong place; that something can do something or it can’t.

Even if there were a reasonable good application of this slippery term, it should still never be used. Because you’ll never be able to stop people thinking of pork and cheeks.

So if you’re ever tempted to use this damn awful term, why not just stop, sit back, and think: what it is you actually mean? And then, why not write that instead?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Word of the Week

Ambisinistrous - clumsy or unskillful with both hands.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Even More Bad Movie Trailers

In all fairness, none of these films look like they have much to work with.


A deadly fusion of gymnastics and karate… and his best weapon is himself! I’d still take a gun along if it were me.

Seize the Formula

Some days it’s just fight after fight after fight – you’ve barely enough time to say a line of dialogue. I’m guessing the formula they’re seizing is to never have more than 20 seconds pass without throwing a punch or shooting someone.

Blood Beach

Oh I get it, in Jaws it was dangerous to be in the water, now it’s dangerous to be on the sand. Ingenious. Always good to hear a narrator who likes to take his time.

Chopping Mall

You could pretty much just leave if you wanted to. Plenty of Fire Exits I’d expect.


Yeah, yeah people get ironic deliveries in the post that punish them for past crimes, don’t milk it for 3 minutes, we get it. And a soundtrack is more than just the same few notes looped over and over and over. James Earl Jones, you can do better than this!

Deadly Prey

With that many grunts and cries, it’s got to be good. So violent no man could even keep his shirt on!

Final Exam

Walking slowly through doors and quickly through corridors – now that’s terrifying.

Varan: the Unbelievable

Yep, unbelievable. Not even all those different fonts can make Varan a terrifying vision, but kudos on the voiceover guy for trying so hard.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Word of the Week

Pulchritudinous - physically beautiful; comely.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Blink and you'd miss it.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Word of the Week

Amathophobia - a fear of dust.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Theatre Round-Up Rises

Doctor Faustus - Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

One doesn’t usually imagine a tale about a man who makes a deal with the devil and is condemned to hell to veer towards a Carry On. And indeed it shouldn’t. While comic scenes are part of the play, they ought to be what they are, interludes, breaks from the main action. They should not leave a more lasting impression than the dramatic scenes, but alas, they do.

And this is in a story of damnation – there are few ideas which ought to be more powerful, and dramatic. Paul Hilton and Arthur Darvill (who proves that he has a wider range than dopey time and space travelling boyfriends) strut their stuff, reciting verse and looking cool with the clipped beards and fine robes, but handsome though they look, neither manages to make you really care about the other.

Despite some dramatics with good and bad angels fighting for Faust’s soul, they seem rather to breeze through it. In the second-half Darvill seems to have little to do other than stand sneering and leering about.

The hijinks unfortunately leave a stronger impact. You don’t expect fart jokes to pop up in a 16th century text, nor do you expect one of the characters to have an extraordinarily large package. I’m not that familiar with Marlowe’s play, so correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that’s likely from the text, nor in the spirit of it. With these added cheap laughs, it’s hard to know when to take other matters seriously. When a man has his tongue wrenched out by a scheming Pope, it’s giggles we get from the crowd, not tense unease.

The designs are impressive, the costumes and presentation striking – the demons on stilts, the black-spectacled spirits, Lucifer, not an evil seducer, but a wretched creature too weak to stand without support from his minions. But it’s too lightweight to really make an impact – when Faustus finally goes down, it’s seriously underwhelming.

At the end of the play, the cast do a merry dance, which ends with Darvill and Hilton pretending to play their lutes like they’re rock guitars. They’re clearly not taking it all very seriously – and it shows.

War Horse – New London Theatre

War Horse is very much in the tradition of Watership Down and When the Wind Blows – a nominally family-friendly story that really doesn’t hold back any punches. War Horse is set in the brutal trenches and devastated fields of WW1. And people die; in fact, most of the young characters die. And some of the horses too.

War Horse is about Albert Narracott, a simple earnest farmer’s son whose best friend is his horse Joey. His father is poor, however, but is absolutely determined to succeed on his own, and to prove to his arrogant brother he can survive without him. His obsession causes him to become callous and he sells Joey to the army as a cavalry horse after the war starts. Albert is heartbroken, and keenly joins the army himself. What follows is their journey across war torn Europe, the people they meet, and the horror they must endure before finally becoming reunited.

Horses on stage seems like a recipe for disaster, but far from it. The expertly realised horses are by far the most endearing aspect of the show. At first the horse Joey is operated by three fairly visible men, with great grace and care – but a little distracting if you’re on the wrong side of the auditorium. However, once adult, a toweringly large life-size creature appears, with two puppeteers inside, stomping and thudding across the stage in movements barely indistinguishable in sound and motion from the real thing. And the puppet is now strong enough for a cast member to ride. Joey is awe-inspiring in size, but later they bring on a rival, Topthorne – an even larger beast, dark and intimidating at first, but a friend to Joey soon. The fact that both horses show distinct persona is a testament to just how skilled the puppeteers are.

Warhorse is about the horrors of war, of which no one escapes. There are no villains: (with the exception on one minor character) British, German, French, they all suffer the price of war. Even the feud between Albert’s father and uncle subsides when Albert’s cousin disappears in action. Next to the simple, but endearing Albert, the most instantly likeable character is a young German officer, who cares for the horses when separated from their riders, and who tries to disguise himself as their handler to escape the front line.

The grim landscape is realised in the most minimal of fashion, the stage is black but for a rip-shaped screen, which realises gloomy clouds, jagged rubble or the passing of the landscape. The cavalry officers ride out into no man’s land and are helplessly wiped out by shells, and at one point, by a giant cardboard tank the size of household bedroom. The technology of warfare has changed – men on horseback with swords are absurdly pitted against the might of brutal metal killing machines.

It’s an epic story, one that does not hold back in its depiction of warfare. But its story is, of course, hopeful, as ultimately the simple affection between Albert and his horse bring them both back together. Both changed, but lucky to still be alive. It’s an incredibly moving experience, brought together with stark, vivid and brutal simple imagery. But of course, no one will be talking about any of these aspects once they leave the show. They’ll just be talking about how much they liked the horses.

Spielberg is finishing his version of the play (so catch it now in case he spoils it), and even he’s had to admit that the real horses he’s used have just not been as good as the ones on stage.

Elixir of Love – The London Coliseum

A comedy opera? Well, I suppose there’s no reason why you can’t have such a thing. It’s not all death, revenge and large women with pigtails. As a story, it’s pretty light and fluffy: Nemorino loves Adina, but never says anything about it until Belcore, a sergeant, marches up to her a practically asks her to marry him on the spots. She says she’ll think about it; prompting Nemorino to confess his dying love, but she doesn’t take him seriously.

Adina is obsessed with the Tristan and Isolde story. Nemorino meets a phony medicine seller who sells him a love potion (fake), just like in the story. It will take a day to work - enough time for the seller to leave town. Nemorino becomes over-confident and appears nonchalant in front of Adina. She decides to make him jealous by accepting the Sergeant’s proposal – but he must leave for a new battle. They must marry that night – before the potion will work!

Jonathan Miller’s production is set in an American diner, with Adina as a roadside café owner, Nemorino as a mechanic, Belcore a yankie soldier, and the medicine man a Barnham-style seller of miracle cures, whose elixir can even help women of a certain age to “tighten-up”. Andrew Shore’s perfectly timed comic performance as the medicine seller would pretty much steal the show if Sarah Tynan as Adina wasn’t so absolutely bloody stunning.

This 19th century work fits surprisingly will into desert Americana. The lyrics are not too incongruous, though there are some updated for time and place – at one point the sergeant really does sing about giving Nemorino “a knuckle-sandwich”. It is funny, with a touch of carry on humour, and a few knowing nudges and winks. It’s padded, if it were not for the operatic vocalising of each emotion, it would be over in an hour. But it is bright, sunny fun, with a touch of old Hollywood glamour and a few moments to melt the heart. A pleasant operatic surprise.

Bette & Joan: The Final Curtain – Jackson’s Lane Theatre

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford hated each other – their feud was gloriously venomous: Davis ; “She slept with every male star at MGM except for Lassie”; Crawford: “I don't see how she built a career out of a set of mannerisms, instead of real acting ability”. They appeared in one film together, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, in which Davis got to push Joan down the stairs in a wheelchair and got to kick her in head – Crawford had to get stitches!
This play by Foresight Theatre (the second of two based on the feud in London this year) finds Bette on her deathbed (“Old age ain't no place for sissies”). From beyond, gossip queens Hedda Hoppa and Louella Parsons, still somehow pulling the Hollywood strings from beyond, decide that it’s time for Davis to pass over, and that her nemesis Crawford is the one to do it.

What follows is the two former Hollywood starlets reliving moments from their lives, brought to life as fantasies within Bette’s bedroom. A number of clever devices are used, such as Joan having Bette perform the same scene over and over until she tells the truth, or having them read extracts from cruel tell-all biographies at each other with spiteful glee.

The point is that Bette and Joan really weren’t that different. Two damaged women from broken homes, fighting tooth and nail to be successful, ruthlessly pursuing and hanging on to fame, only for it to burn them both, time and time again. They both had five failed marriages (Bette may even have killed one of her husbands), and both had estranged children who later profited from dishing the dirt on their indomitable mothers.

It’s a good story, with razor-sharp lines and more than a little bitter irony. But much of the humour falls flat. The videotaped sections, projected onto Bette’s wardrobe doors, are off-kilter, and hard to hear. The appearances of Hedda and Louella are irritating rather than grotesquely funny, as intended (they ought to have just been left out). And when they show short snippets of supposed archive footage, classic lines from Joan and Bette, they barely register – tragically wasted.

Bette’s voice is too abrasive – yes the performances are OTT, deliberately so, but the accident is too forced. Comedy and tragedy are of course natural bedfellows, but I can’t help but feel that this one would’ve worked better played straighter, with the comedy flowing more organically from the material – there is an abundance of it.

Monday, October 03, 2011

September Film Highlights

Visit ye olde 50 Word Film Reviews blog for more stuff.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox. Dir: Rupert Wyatt.

While discovering a cure for his father’s Alzheimers, a doctor engineers an intelligent ape. Squeezes so much plot into its running time that it starts to stretch credibility and doesn’t have room to make its human characters interesting. But it’s a fun ride and has a suitably thrilling climax.


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Ciaron Hinds, Toby Jones, John Hurt. Dir: Tomas Alfredson.

A retired spy is tasked with rooting out a spy at the top of MI6. Superbly plotted spy thriller. Successfully condenses a complex novel into a compelling story, focusing on period detail and sense of decline instead of complex backstory, though this does neglect a few in the incredible cast.


Battle Royale (2000) Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Takeshi Kitano. Dir: Kinji Fukasaku.

A class of unruly school kids are taken to an island and forced to fight to the death. Not entirely convinced this isn't exploitation dressed up as dystopian drama. Nevertheless, it's electrifying drama which shows desperate teens as being no different to us, and subject to life’s same disappointments.


Kill List (2011) Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring, Emma Fryer. Dir: Ben Wheatley.

A retired hitman reluctantly accepts one more contract, but strange things begin to happen. Starts as a domestic drama, evolves into gangster thriller and ends a full-blooded horror. The leads’ gritty performances are superb, but writer/director Wheatley stands out as an up-and-comer to be reckoned with. Not for the squeamish.

The Saved Hitler's Brain! (1969) Walter Stocker, Audrey Caire, Carlos Rivas, John Holland, Marshall Reed. Dir: David Bradley.

A scientist is kidnapped by Nazis and taken to South America where Hitler’s head still lives. First 20 minutes were shot years later (incompetently) to extend the duration. The remainder takes a simple plot and makes it convoluted, yet still dull. If only Hitler’s hilarious head was on screen more.


The Skin I Live In (2011) Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Álamo. Dir: Pedro Almodóvar.

A surgeon keeps a girl prisoner in his home and user her as test substitute for his new enhanced skin. Part Frankenstein, part Eyes Without A Face, but unlike either. It takes its subject completely seriously, avoiding excesses and exploring psychological terror and sexual obsession. An elegant, deeply unsettling experience.


The Guard (2011) Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, Michael Og Lane, Mark Strong, Fionnula Flanagan. Dir: John Michael McDonagh.

A difficult and eccentric parochial Irish cop must help an FBI agent tracking drug traffickers. A film about disappointment, where no one is quite happy with how life has turned out. Fortunately, the dialogue’s killer and Gleeson absolutely priceless as the loveably corrupt guard. Hilarious melancholy entertainment.


Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Alan Tilvern, Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner, Mel Blanc. Dir: Robert Zemeckis, Richard Williams.

A cartoon character appeals to a down-and-out private eye for help when he’s framed for murder. All the more impressive for its pre-computer animation construction, with Hoskins and Lloyd working wonders. A fitting tribute to the golden age of animation – even if they don’t always get the timing right.


Friday, September 30, 2011

Word of the Week

Ort - a scrap or morsel of food left at a meal.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

For the Love of Christopher Lee

I’ve recently finished reading the autobiography of Christopher Lee. Normally I avoid autobiographies, I tend to prefer a more balanced look at the subject; one that’s less likely to be self-serving. Lee’s book, however, is anything but - it’s a very charming read. Lee has an enjoyably drole way of writing, always with the inevitable sigh of impending, and unavoidable trouble.
Told in short chapters, each like an extended anecdote, Lee has led an incredible life. The son of an army officer and an Italian Contessa, he was trained as an RAF pilot in WW2, but had to give it up after blacking-out while mid-flight. He ended up as an intelligence officer, serving in the covert Special Operations Executive.
He only became an actor after a suggestion from a his second-cousin, the Italian Ambassador. He was signed to the Rank Organisation, but was immediately told he was too tall, too dark, and too foreign looking to be an actor.
Today, Lee is the world record holder for most acting roles in films ever - 274 credits - and still counting. In tribute to the great man, here are 10 interesting facts about Christopher Lee and his extraordinary life:
01: Though almost constantly working, a noteable role Lee did turn down was the doctor role in Airplane – the one that would make Leslie Nielson a superstar.
02: Lee was the first person to enter the Vatican Museum after the end of the second of the world war.
03: As a teenager, Lee was a witness at the execution of Eugen Weidmann – the last man to be publicly executed in France by guillotine. Later in life, Lee would also became friends with Albert Pierrepoint – the so-called ‘Last Hangman’ of England. Lee would occasionally drink at his pub.
04: For several years, Lee’s next-door neighbour was Boris Karloff.
05: As a child, Lee’s parents introduced him to Felix Yusupov and Dmitri Pavlovich - the killers of Rasputin. Years later, in 1966, Lee appeared as Rasputin in Rasputin the Mad Monk. Years even later than that, Lee was asked to meet Rasputin’s daughter, who confided to him that he looked uncannily like the mad monk (it was the eyes!).
06: While doing publicity for The Man with the Golden Gun, the Golden Gun was taken off Lee and impounded by US customs. 

07: Author Mervyn Peake was a friend of Lee’s sister, and occasionally Lee would meet and talk with Peake in Harrod’s Library. Decades later Lee would appear in the BBC adaptation of Peake’s Gormenghast.
08: After the war, Lee was once propositioned by a rent-boy. He was so shocked he inadvertently pushed the man through a window.
09: While filming a sword fight with Errol Flynn for The Dark Avenger, Flynn almost cut off Lee’s little finger, forever scarring and misshaping it. Years later, a rematch was filmed for Flynn’s TV show. Flynn was supposed to duck while Lee took a swing at him. The swing would go over his head, while lopping the tops off the candles on a candelabra standing behind Flynn. Lee managed the extremely difficult manoeuvre, successfully chopping the candles down. Unfortunately, he also took Flynn’s wig off his head. Flynn walked silently off set. It took over half-an-hour to persuade him it had not been deliberate.
10: Muhammad Ali insisted on meeting Lee, declaring “it really is you, I never thought I’d get to meet you!” He promised Lee Chuck Wepner’s scalp at the upcoming Heavyweight Championship bout.  After winning the fight, Ali was asked if he had a message for his fans, he said: “ I won this for them, and for Christopher Lee”. Lee was watching the fights at Hugh Hefner's home alongside such luminaries as porn star Linda Lovelace and OJ Simpson.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Word of the Week

Slumgullion - a stew of meat, vegetables, potatoes, etc.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lovely Graffiti

Friday, September 16, 2011

Word of the Week

Vexillographer - a person who designs or makes flags.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Title That Contradicts Itself...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

More bad trailers

Just remember when you see these, that they were made to actually make you want to watch the movie ...

The Loch Ness Horror

Yes, it truly is horrible.

Gator Bait

Nothing says knife-edge drama like a good ol' fashioned hoedown. She's feral, but with really good hair - and just check out that cry of anger.

Mr Vampire

Legend tells of a montage which makes no sense. I suppose they could be trying to disguise the fact that this martial arts film might be a foreign film, because obviously there are no other clues. I think there's even a vampire in it somewhere.

Tommy and the Cool Mule

I guess there really are some things that Eddie Murphy won't do.

Zone Troopers

Are they inside the spaceship or outside the spaceship? And is there a barn and a cave in the spaceship? And just how big is the spaceship? It does take war to a whole new dimension. One where continuity does not exist.


I appreciate the voiceover's effort, but in all honesty, it kind of looks like you could stroll away from him; this is a monkey who seems to like taking his time. Not sure what the asterisks are about.


Jason and the Argonauts in space! I'm not sure at which point stars actually crash. Warning: containts Hasselhoff, and bizarrely, Christopher Plummer - well, after The Sound of Music it's only right that he should suffer.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Word of the Week

Agniology - the philosophical study of ignorance.

Monday, September 05, 2011

August Film Highlights

Visit the 50 Word Film Reviews blog!

Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011) Dir: Liz Garbus.

Fischer beat the Russian champion at chess during the height of the cold war, but began to lose his mind. A very disturbing documentary about a boy who turned to chess to escape his troubled upbringing, only for it to consume. Genius, it seems, really can have a terrible cost.


Gilda(1946) Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready, Joseph Calleia, Steven Geray. Dir: Charles Vidor.

A gambler's luck changes when he's hired by a casino owner, but then Gilda shows up. An odd mix of noir, psycho drama, romance and spy story - with music numbers. Feels like too many script cooks, but gets by on style, sexual chemistry and by being genuinely quite racy.


A Town Called Panic (2009) Jeanne Balibar ,Nicolas Buysse, Véronique Dumont, Bruce Ellison. Dir: Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar.

Cowboy and Indian forget Horse’s birthday and accidentally order 50 million bricks before unleashing havoc. A bonkers stop-motion delight, one that takes you on a surreal and imaginative journey at startingly frenetic speed. There’s no logic to it, just enjoy the ride. Though not in English, the voices are hilarious.


King Kong (1933) Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, Robert Armstrong, Frank Reicher. Dir: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack.

A filmmaker travels to a lost island in hope of filming a legendary beast. Easy to see why this was a knockout in its day. Its sheer scale and the skill of its executed - the terrific animation and staggering sound, along with its sheer relentless brutality, are still breath-taking.


The Navigator (1924) Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Noble Johnson, Frederick Vroom. Dir: Buster Keaton, Donald Crisp.

A serious of unlikely events stands Buster and the women he loves are set adrift on board a cruise ship. Buster is a fop out of water in another typically charming comic caper, featuring some of his most ingeniously silly and surreal gags. The diving sequence is a particular delight.


Safety Last (1923) Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davies, Bill Strother, Noah Young. Dir: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor.

A shop assistant’s publicity stunt goes array, and he ends up having to climb the store building himself. Influential silent, the one that introduced dramatic thrills into the comedy mix, and thanks to clever shooting, is still pretty hair-raising today. Crammed full of great gags, there's rarely a dull moment.


Whisper of the Heart(1995) Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, Ashley Tisdale, Martin Spanjers, Cary Elwes. Dir: Yoshifumi Kondo.

A young girl experiences the first stirrings of romance and discovers her creative calling. A lovely film about growing up and making life changing decisions. It uses the fantastical with such a light touch, it perfectly evokes a feeling of childhood imagination just on the cusp of adolescence. Very touching.


Arrietty (2011) Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, Mark Strong, Olivia Colman. Dir: Hiromasa Yonebayashi.

Studio Ghibli does The Borrowers – a tiny girl and her family’s lives are threatened when she’s seen by a boy moving into the house above their hair. Ghibli’s most endearing heroine yet? Their attention to detail beautifully brings the vast, and sometimes hostile, miniature world to life. Another animated classic.


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Two more text messages and a letter from Sky asking me to contact them about my installation - I've never known such proactive incompetence.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Word of the Week

somniloquence - The act of talking in one's sleep; somniloquism.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Revenge of the Theatre Round-Up

Three more trips to the theatre? How desperately decadent of me...

One Man, Two Guvnors – at The National Theatre

One Man, Two Guvnors is a bit of old-fashioned vaudeville, nostalgic not just in its setting, but as a piece of traditional knock-about farce.

The plot is highly convoluted, but revolves essentially around a doomed marriage. A small time crook’s daughter was supposed to marry a local gangster, but as he turned up dead, a hasty engagement has been arranged between her and a terrible actor. But suddenly the gangster’s man, Henshaw, TV’s James Corden, shows up, revealing that his boss is not dead. He arrives a moment, later demanding the marriage be put back on, and that the girl’s father pays him the dowry promised.

The gangster is staying at a Brighton pub, where his man Corden waits for him. There he meets a post-public school toff, who’s waiting to meet his girl, but could do with a man to do odd jobs for him. Corden, who’s poor and hungry, accepts the job, and spends the rest of the play serving both his masters while trying to conceal his dual employment from the other. Unknown to him, his gangster boss is the toff’s girlfriend in disguise; she’s the twin of the gangster who has been killed. And unknown to her, the toff is the one who did it.

Yes it is confusing, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s quite a traditional mix of situations and characters (the dumb bimbo, the appalling actor) but carried off with great enthusiasm. The script packs the gags in, missing few opportunities for comic quips and tomfoolery. And the cast are clearly enjoying themselves, frequently having to grimace to avoid severe corpsing. Rumour has it that they had to be disciplined for improvising too much and causing overruns – and you can believe it, things did go on longer than suggested.

While the character scenes are fun, it’s the extended slapstick sequences with Corden that really light up the room. Corden is remarkably nimble - at one point he throws a chocolate in the air falls backward over a chair and manages to catch it in his mouth.

He also involves the audience in his antics, several times calling upon members to step up and get involved, adding an extra hint of danger to proceedings. The scene in which he attempts to serve food to both his masters, while scoffing half the food himself, trying to get help from a trembling decrepit old waiter (who falls victim to all kinds of violent calamities), and while tormenting a member of the audience who he forces to hold his stolen food and then hides on stage in humiliating places. It is such an incredibly well constructed and timed piece of anarchy that it’s exhaustingly hilarious.

Of course the audience got its chance to confuse and confound Corden too. While he begs the audience for a sandwich, anything to eat, he’s caught off guard by someone who has a spare sandwich in the front row. He hesitates at taking it in hysterics (it’s a hummus sandwich after all) commenting that it had to happen eventually.

The second half isn’t quite as good, as it mostly deals with pulling together the plot, reducing the opportunities for comic knock-about. But it’s easy to see why One Man has been such a massive success. It’s so good natured, so cheerfully bright, and pulled off with such fervour, it could only take the mostly defiantly sour soul to come out with anything but a smile on their face and a chest aching from sides-a-split.

One Man, Two Guvnors is transferring to the West End in November, with the original cast, and will be touring the country in the New Year.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead – at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Comfort is very important in theatre land – it’s hard to get absorbed by a performance when you’re constantly shuffling around in your seat. Now cheap seats are cheap seats but the not-especially low priced seats at the Theatre Royal Haymarket (£20) do not seem naturally designed for the human derriere. Imagine a church pew, but with significantly less surface area and virtually no padding and minimal leg room. And worse, there is a gap between the base and the back, so if you stretch you prod the person in front in the back with your toes.

Fortunately, after the interval, the afflicted were able to move into empty seats on the next level, although these were not especially good either. By normal standards these would be the cheap seats, except they’re not very cheap (£38); I shalln’t be coming back here unless it’s a really special production.

If any kind of play requires you to be in comfort and to relax, it’s an existential one – it’s not like you’ll be gripped by the action. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead takes two supporting characters from Hamlet and focuses the story around them – only that is doesn’t; all the action still revolves around Hamlet, while Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are constantly on the sidelines, constantly baffled and unsure about what’s going on around them.

Not only do they not understand what’s going on, they also sort of know that they’re supporting characters, people of little significance – pawns in a large plan. And they’re not sure they like it. Do they go along with it all, see out their fate? Or do they try to change it, or do the unthinkable, and simply walk away?

It’s a smart idea, and it’s often very funny. It’s just that at two and a half hours, it’s hardly gripping. The actors are funny, their metaphysical conundrums smart and often witty, but it’s hard to really engage with it all. The conversation moves so quickly from one theme to the next, it’s hard to keep up and it’s not like you can root for either of the leads, because they’re not really full characters. Of course that’s part of the joke (not even they remember which one of them is Rosencrantz and which one is Guildenstern), but that doesn’t make up for a lack of emotive connectivity.

A non-traditional narrative is all very well, but there’s only so long you can keep it up before the lack of structure becomes a problem. Though the idea gives way to much discussion and postulating, it’s still quite a simple one, one that can only stretch so far. When at one point the more weedy and effeminate of the two screams what he wouldn’t give for some definitive action, the audience sort of thinks, well actually yes, that would be nice. We get a brief pirate fight.

The ending is rather sad – after all, who amongst hasn’t ever felt powerless against a tide of events beyond our control? But it’s a long journey, and not one for those who detest a numb backside and a bent back.

Betrayal at The Comedy Theatre

Now in stark contrast to the back-breaking, wallet-exploiting seatery of the Haymarket, was the incredible value of The Comedy Theatre, where a sensible £8 was charged for seats with a view restricted by a narrow pillar. Rather a bargain, as it was not difficult to see around anyway. Better yet, the seat next to it was never taken, so I hopped across and got a superb view of the action.
Betrayal is a Harold Pinter play about a woman who has a long-standing affair with her husband’s best friend. But the trick is that it all happens in reverse, well, almost – the years roll back, but events that take place in each year occur chronologically.

The play starts in a pub, with the wonderful Kristen-Scott Thomas as Emma sitting together with Jerry, two years after their affair has ended. They are at a pub apparently, although a bed is visible in the background, and is throughout the story, a constant nagging reminder of the tawdry. Emma’s marriage to Robert finally seems to be over. Jerry is horrified to discover that Emma has finally revealed their affair to Robert. But the truth is even worse: when he later meets Robert he discovers that Emma has lied; Robert has known for four years, well before the affair ended.

Then the clock ticks back and we see how events took them to this place. Jerry and Emma rent a flat to meet in secret, and decorate it together as if they lived there as a real couple. Robert discovers their affair when Jerry sends Emma a letter while they are holidaying in Italy. He confronts her angrily, yet later continues to treat Jerry cordially, as if there is no change. Although they no longer play squash from that point on – a classic Pinter joke on human eccentricity.

Pinter plays tend not to pass judgements on characters, but offer an investigation and insight into human behaviour. The reverse chronology allows for a piece by piece assembly of the story, one which cleverly reveals the character’s behaviour in a new light. Robert is unlikeable when we first meet him, he evens states that he sometimes hits Emma – though we never see it (is it posturing?). And he has also confessed to having had affairs.

But as the clock turns back, and post their confrontation, he comforts his wife when Jerry reveals he will be away, meaning of course that she cannot see him. She is heartbroken that the affair will have to come to an end (although it doesn’t) and yet he comforts her. He is forgiving, and we can only assume that the passing years drive him bitter. The fact he never confronts Jerry is less an act of Machiavellian cruelty or cowardess, but to spare her humiliation. Though the least likeable, he may be the most wronged against.

Emma seems to be in love with the early thrills and fancies of a relationship, the free and easy casual days of romance, before the mundanities and inconveniences of life get in the way. She lives a fantasy home life with Jerry away from her real home life with Robert.

And then Jerry… Of all of them his attitude seems the most casual and laissez-faire, the most unconcerned with guilt (until Robert confronts him). Yet at the very beginning of the affair, he is a man of romance and passion. He may ultimately be the most cynical of all, and the most disappointed with life. He is ironically the most likeable, even though his crimes are equal to Emma’s. He is married too, but his wife is never seen and barely spoken of.

Betrayal is a thoughtful, believable and intelligent play, and is extremely well performed by the cast. It has no easy answers; none of the three are condemned, if anything we feel sorry for all of them. Betrayal is as much about getting older as it is betraying, with no one quite getting what they thought they wanted, and with the years passing by, feeling more and more unfulfilled. And of course putting together all the non-chronological pieces of the puzzle adds an additional touch of entertainment.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Word of the Week

Suppurates - to produce or discharge pus, as a wound; maturate.

I was encouraged to look this word up by Mark E. Smith in the song "The League of Bald Headed Men".

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sky: Believe in Bulls**t

I've had the misfortune of dealing with a number of stupefyingly incompetent and not-give-a-s**t companies, but Sky… they are in a league of their own.

Tempted by the possibility of getting some M&S vouchers, I called them up to see if I could get a better deal than I get with Virgin.

I was on the phone with a seemingly helpful operator, and after talking a while I got a package which wouldn’t save me money, but it would get me quite a bit more for my money.

All seemed fine, really fine – they’d even managed to book installation on a day I was already planning on taking off. Everything seemed perfect. Seemed.

A day later I receive a text message. It asks me to call Sky because there’s a problem with my order. So I phone them to find out what’s going on. That's when the fun began.

Virgin don't like to give up their phone numbers - to get Sky I need a BT line, and with that a brand new number. That's fine with me, but there might be a charge. Naturally I wasn't keen on that, but Sky can waiver the charge, and I get transferred to someone who can apparently do that for me.

Except that I’m not transferred to someone who can sort that out for me. I get transferred to someone who doesn’t know what the hell I’m talking about.

3 transfers later, I finally speak to a woman who says she can sort it out, but she would need to get someone to call me back as she’s not authorised to put through the transaction. I will hear back from them tomorrow at the latest.

Did they call me back? No they did not. A week goes by and I call up for a second time. A man explains the problem to me again but this time the cost of correcting it has now gone up by £40.

He apologises and says Sky will pay for it, but again, he will have to get someone else to process the transaction as he’s not authorised to do it. Someone will have to call me back. They will call me back by tomorrow at the latest.

Did they call me back? No they did not. Another week passes and I give them a very aggravated phone call. A disarmingly polite man answers (don't you just hate it when that happens?); he tries to explain the problem to me again, but I quickly butt in and explain that I know what the damn problem is, I just need them to actually do something about it.

He apologises in his best sincere voice, this problem’s never happened before. He’s never even heard of anything like it happening before.

But of course the isaue still remains – he can’t process the transaction himself and will need to get someone else to do it. They will need to call me back. He promises, that absolutely, someone will call me back tomorrow latest. He’ll leave a note; someone will definitely call me back.

Did they call me back? I sense you’re noticing a pattern here - I sure as hell noticed one. I thought to myself, maybe there’s something amiss with their computer system. Whoever’s inbox ought to get the message saying I needed to be contacted, wasn’t getting it. So I thought I’d email them instead as an experiment.

I emailed their customer services and left a rather angry message, threatening that I might cancel my order. I got an automated email to say that they’d received my email and would respond within 48 hours.

Did they email me back? Did they f**k. Weeks have gone by and there’s been no response. So I pick up the phone now approaching four weeks since the problem came up and start angrily shouting at some guy insisting that the problem be resolved right now, or else I’m going back to Virgin.

I spent a long time on hold. Eventually, he got back to me to say that he was going to reprocess my order. Finally, it seemed like I was getting somewhere. Or was I?

There was, of course, one snag. After eventually reading me the full set of terms and conditions, I noticed he was mentioning nominated times for installation.

Now I thought I’d arranged this for the day I’d conveniently already booked off. But because of the problems and delay, they can’t guarantee that they can get it installed all on the same day.

So I hit the roof – this isn’t acceptable, I’d already had a day set aside, now because of their incompetence I’m going to be further inconvenienced.

But what’s more, is that this guy can’t confirm a day and time with me now. Guess what? He’s going to have to get someone else to call me to arrange a date. They’ll get back to me tomorrow latest, blah, blah, blah. I warm him, if no one gets back to me this time, that’s it, I’m quitting.

Did they call me back? Do bears defecate in dense forest areas? All I get, days later, is a text saying they’ve arranged a date for me – thanks for consulting me you stupid useless b******s!

I call up again one more time (this isn’t a Freephone number I’m calling by the way) I angrily tell some guy the whole tale, and in a surprising act of honesty, he admits that this stuff happens all the time, far too often, he completely understands why I want to quit.

Of course he doesn’t cancel my order himself, he transfers me to someone else who makes me explain the whole thing again. He makes a pathetic attempt to try and make me happy, but the only thing I’m interested in is massive discounts – that’s what I really want. He doesn’t offer one, so I tell em to shove it.

So I stuck with Virgin. This whole scenario may seem like a tragic waste of time, but I did thankfully manage to use Sky’s stupidity to my advantage.

You see, while all this was going on, they sent me £50 of M&S vouchers. Cheers Sky.

They’ve also sent me a broadband router, more than a week after I cancelled my order. I’ll perhaps wait a week or two to see if they ask for it back and then see how much they go for on eBay.

And if all this wasn’t enough to convince you that Sky are incompetent to an unbelievable degree, I got actually got a phone call from them this last Monday. Well, not from them exactly, but from an engineer. He was on his way over to install my new phone line and wondered if I was home now to let him in.

He was annoyed when I told him that I had long ago cancelled my order. Yet… he did not sound so surprised…

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Word of the Week

Flews - the large, pendulous sides of the upper lip of certain dogs, such as bloodhounds.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

July Film Highlights

The 50 Word Film Reviews blog demands your readership.

Basil, the Great Mouse Detective (1986) Barrie Ingham, Val Bettin, Vincent Price, Susanne Pollatschek, Candy Candido. Dir: Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson, Dave Michener, John Musker.

When a girl's father is kidnapped she seeks help from the world's greatest detective. The character designs and their voices are wonderful, but there's no one to identify with and the real plot arrives too late. Hard not to like though and there's pioneering CGI in the climax.


Senna (2010) Dir: Asif Kapadia.

The rise, success and tragedy end of F1 champion Aryton Senna. Enthralling documentary that constructs a narrative through only archive footage so you really see events as they unfolded. Unsurprisingly has pro-Senna bias, but ably demonstrates who he was and his impact in a way that engages even non-face fans.


Dracula (1959) Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling. Dir: Terence Fisher.

When Jonathan Harker dies trying to kill Dracula, Van Helsing fears Harker’s beloved will be next. Hammer’s adaptation does away with gothic shadows, and swaps them for watercolour shades, emphasis on red. With a strong pacey storyline, it’s not gothic or spooky, but does make for an entertaining raunchy romp.


The Lady Vanishes (1938) Margerat Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, May Whitty, Naunton Wayne, Basil Radford. Dir; Alfred Hitchcock.

No one believes a woman when she claims an old lady has disappeared, because she has had a blow on the head. Next to North By Northwest, Lady Vanishes is Hitchcock’s most delightfully entertaining film. The dialogue is cracking, the plot enthralling, and the cast absolutely superb. Terrific fun!


Pom Poko (1994) Maurice LaMarche, Jonathan Weiss, Tress MacNeille, J. K. Simmons, Tress MacNeille. Dir: Isao Takahata.

Japan’s raccoons attempt to prevent urban development with a mixture of mischief and sabotage. A clever and funny preservation fable; we destroy natural habitats, but relate also to the lazy raccoons initial complacency that allows it to happen. There’s a lulls in the downcast seconds half, but it’s frequently hysterical.


Submarine (2011) Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Constantine, Noah Taylor. Dir: Richard Ayoade.

Teenage Oliver Tate must learn how to handle his first girlfriend and his parent’s marital problems. Wittier than your average teen flick; this endearing look at lives on the precipice of adulthood thankfully steers clear of the tedious teen sex romp clichés and is directed with energy and creativity by actor Ayoade.


The Garbage Pail Kids (1987) Anthony Newley, Mackenzie Astin, Phil Fondacaro, Katie Barbari. Dir: Rod Amateau.

A kid knocks over a magic garbage pail and releases the Garbage Pail Kids. Monsterous goblin like creatures who spit, vomit, piss and wave knives – how the hell anyone thought this could be appropriate for kids is unimaginable. Repulsive, incompetent and mind-bogglingly mis-judged; it’s the stuff of nightmares!


Super (2010) Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon. Dir: James Gunn

When his wife leaves him for a drug dealer, a cook starts fighting crime as the Crimson Bolt. Tone varies jarringly from oddball silliness, to dark comedy, with irritating indie movie clichés. The end which brings positives out of carnage is preposterous. A shame - Wilson and Page are terrific.


Thursday, August 04, 2011

Word of the Week

Acetabuliform - An ornamental phrase of several notes sung to one syllable of text, as in plainsong or blues singing.

Monday, August 01, 2011

If You Think You've Had It Bad On The Trains

I've just come back home via East Croydon station. Fortunately, that's my stop. Unfortunately, for those going further south, things have been pretty, pretty bad.

A burst water main is preventing any trains from passing through. Replacement Bus Services are being arranged to take people past South Croydon. A distance of less than 5 miles. This is the queue....

This is where it starts, just 'round the corner from the station:

This is it going further down the round...

...and further....

... Now 'round the corner...

...'Round the corner onto another street... down another street...

...and further...

And to the end.

According to Google Maps, that's a queue of half a mile. If you were going to Gatwick to get a flight... Well you'd pretty much have to forget it wouldn't you? Good old rail network, fit for purpose as always...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Things I've Enjoyed: Justified

It's always good to see a cop show which resists the standard shows formulas. A show that's not built around a gimmick or takes place somewhere where a cop show hasn't been set yet. One of the real pleasures of Justified is that it's not interested in be ing another procedural drama, and its writers seem keen to defy your expectations whenever possible.

On paper it could so easily be another "fish out of water" concept. Raylon Givens is an old school lawman whose habit of committing "justified" homicides gets him into trouble in LA. So they ship him off to the real frontier - the country sticks of Kentucky, where he rapidly gets into hot water with the local redneck mafia.

Fortunately, Justified is adapted from a story by acclaimed crime author Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty, LA Confidential). Givens isn't arriving in Kentucky, he's coming home. And his family are already part of the redneck mafia - and he's been in trouble with them for years.

His old school friend Boyd is now a white supremacist who blows up black churches with his army bazooka (he's less racist, more in to intimidating competition). His ex high school squeeze Ava has just shot her husband dead - he was Boyd's brother. And Givens' father used to work for Boyd's father, the local crime kingpin, and he owes him lots of money.

Justified is not so much about crime investigation and more focused on the nature justice, which in these poor rural counties is something of a rarity. Crime isn't just a way of life, it's a steady form of employment. To grow pot is to be part of a family business. The wives of dealers and thugs look at their husbands as working men, not as dealers and thugs. They're poor - you never see a school or a thriving local business (not a legal one anyway), no one gets out of this world, even Raylon got sent back.

The fact that most of the redneck thugs aren’t too bright adds an extra touch of bitter amusement, although it doesn't make them any less dangerous. What they lack in book smarts, they make up with violence and animal cunning. Boyd may have barely finished high school, but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous or ruthless. Or at least until Raylon shoots him - then he supposedly reforms, but you never really know what game he's playing.

Timothy Olyphant plays Marshall Givens, having already showed that he can play an angry lawman in Deadwood. But unlike the barely suppressed rage of Sheriff Bullock, Givens’ anger is much more repressed. His demeanour is always calm, even when he’s a split second away from putting a bullet in your chest. He’s handsome and he knows it, using his looks to charm his way around enemies and friends alike, something that rubs at least one of his colleagues up the wrong way.

And that's another enjoyable aspect to Justified - there's no taking turns between characters for the weekly storyline. Supporting character stories might rub up against Givens' arc, but in the way that other people’s problems might brush up against your own life. You may get involved, pulled in even, but you've got your own problems to worry about.

Justified is a pleasing case of serial storytelling, rather than a "this week's case" type of procedural, made more for casual viewers than weekly viewers. There are weekly plots, but they're usually played as they are, as an inconvenience to the main characters, something that distracts them from the things they'd much rather be doing. Rather than the other way round.

And the storylines are usually very good. Stories are written deliberately to defy your expectations, when you think you know what's going on, something almost always takes you by surprise. And elements of stories that seem incidental or irrelevant come back to mean something later; things connect up in ways you don't expect. One week a character may be incidental to the plot, then suddenly they're corrupt and have being up to something completely different all along. It's these little twists and turns and details that make this world real, but are largely missing from "case of the week" serials.

That's not to say that the show is perfect. A recurring plot during the first season which sees Raylon pursued by assassins sent by an LA drug lord never convinces and perhaps in recognition of its faults is later swept rapidly under the carpet. There's at least one lame character - Raylon's ex-wife's husband - who's the typical slimy second husband type, and it's even harder in this case to believe he wrestled the wife of Timothy Olyphant away.

Not that Raylon is perfect; he's not one of those TV detectives who carries his pain on the rasp of his voice. But he's determined to impose justice on a world, and a past of injustice. And he's not all that bothered about whether the law is on his side or not.

Like the other town's folk, he works on instinct. Sometimes we like seeing him put the villains down, other times his judgement is clearly off. He spares little time jumping into bed with Ava, despite her being a witness (though not difficult to see why). His rule breaking forever digs him into deeper holes, to the point where even his friends desert him. He's devoted to justice but has little respect for the law.

He also gets his ass handed to him a couple of time. It’s not many shows that let their main character get a sound beating; they’re only allowed to be weak in times of crisis, not just when they make a daily misjudgement.

Justified has completed its second series and is geared up for a third. How long it can keep up its talent for surprises while trying to find new redneck mafiosa for our hero to deal with is hard to say. At the moment, however, you'll struggle to find more entertaining morality play on TV.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Word of the Week

Pagination - the number of pages or leaves of a book or manuscript, etc.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

And in at number 5...

Although involving "her" sort of taints it...

See the original page here...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

From Dave's News Place - iObey to be launched before Christmas

Click to enlarge...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Theatre Round-Up

I've never been to the theatre often enough to have a round-up, but as I've been to two plays in one week, now seems like a good enough time to have one.

Ghost Stories at the Duke of York Theatre

There is ultimately something very cosy and old fashioned about Ghost Stories. The marketing may gleefully play on extremities – a video nasty style orgy of horror that is not advised for “those of a nervous disposition”; a performance that has “even the most hardened of viewers gasping for breath and reaching for their coats to hide behind”.

But behind the William Castle-esque chicanery, its really a more familiar scenario, one that’s more inspired by the 60s and 70s horror anthology – horror with humour and tongue in cheek.

It certainly sets itself up as being relentless, heart-stopping experience. The walls of the Duke of York Theatre are distorted to seem like the passages of a dark excavated cavern, draped with yellow and black caution tape. As the lights go down we are informed that we will not be allowed re-entry during the performance.

The set-up is a mock lecture, in which a professor explains the evolution of the ghost story, and how easily we can be made to believe in fantastical phenomena. Only 3 stories he has ever heard have defied explanation – these are the 3 we will hear tonight.

The first story builds up the suspense almost unbearably; a night watchman goes through his mundane duties against darkness and silence. He ambles around doing nothing for such a long time – the audience waiting on-edge for the shock occurrence that must come.

But when it does, it's very much a-la-Hitchcock; it provokes as much laughter as it does terror – the man’s torch gliding over a large doll/mannequin totally exaggerated in its grotesqueness as to be a bit silly. Not that when it gets up and starts walking that it’s not a bit unsettling.

This sets up the tone of the rest of the show, a blend of shocks and scares mixed with giggles and laughter – it’s hard to be too frightened when a gigantic plastic demon desceneds from the ceiling – not it doesn't make you jump.

Ghost Stories is really charmingly familiar as it unfolds, right up to the surprise ending in which our host not unexpectedly relives his own personal horror. One wonders if the extreme angle of the marketing has actually done the play a disservice - Ghost Stories is really a lot of fun, a refreshingly nostalgic stab at horror, rather than a visceral pushing of heart-attack inducing boundaries.

The Government Inspector at the Voung Vic Theatre

Nikolai Gogol’s 19th century satire is no less appropriate today as it was when it was written. A corrupt major and his cronies are horrified that a government inspector is coming to the town, incognito. In the flurry of activity to hide their own abuses of power they discover a wealthy stranger is staying in the local inn and is running up a tab which he insists will be paid by his superiors.

The wealthy stranger is in fact a spoilt young fop who has lost all his money at cards and is having to blag to even get dishwater soup and stale beef. He soon exploits the craven grovelling of the major, and after much consumption paints himself to be one of the most powerful men in Russia. The major is panicked that he is done for, and he and his officials give the man hundreds in “loans” while he seduces the major's wife and daughter.

The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barrett is good as the nervous spineless major, but even better is Doon Mackican as his classless nouveau riche wife who gets to deliver such golden lines as “I j’adored it”. Perhaps stealing the show is Kyle Foller as the camp faux inspector who manages to be the most over the top in a thoroughly OTT show. Looking a bit like Doctor Who’s Matt Smith, if were to play Batman’s The Joker, he deftly delivers tremendously epic monologues whilst dancing across the stage and climbing the furniture.

In a show that has its fair share of terrific dialogue - “oh my god, the church – we forgot to build a church!” - one of the elements that stands out is the constant choreography; the constant synchronised movements of the large ensemble cast. There’s almost too much to look at, from servants covertly filling up glasses to the incompetent seductress strutting ridiculously for attention.

Some of the more surreal moments don’t always come off, and some of the scenes could do with a little trimming. But overall The Government Inspector is a thoroughly delightful frantic bit of comedy that despite its age and eccentric presentation never feels too far from reality.