Archive for November, 2006

Casino Royale

November 17, 2006

This review does not contain spoilers.

Channel Four used to show Ireland’s The Late Late Show in England.  It was compulsory viewing for the kids of Irish parents because Gay Byrne was (and still is) something of a legend amongst the Irish.  Gay Byrne may sound like a form of venereal disease shared amongst the lovers of musical theatre but he was in fact a legendary TV host and interviewer with the demeanour of a nosy old spinster.  In his own way he was actually pretty cool.

It was on his show that Pierce Brosnan told us the news: he wasn’t going to be the next Bond.  This was truly shocking, particularly for a young Irish Bond fan like myself.  It was 1986 and with no small amount of bitterness Brosnan explained that the makers of Remington Steele had decided to keep him on for the remainder of his contract.  His annoyance was understandable.  Firstly the guy was clearly born to play Bond and secondly, whoever won the roll in his absence could, like Roger Moore, keep going for over 12 years!

As it happens, he’d needn’t have worried: Timothy Dalton got the part.  Dalton never truly inhabited the roll and always seemed like a poor cover version.  I felt that every time his Bond killed someone, instead of delivering a wry smile and a quip he should have delivered a condolence card and an apology.

When Pierce did finally arrive I think it was worth it.  Goldeneye was certainly the best Bond movie since Octopussy which had been twelve years earlier.  During Brosnan’s tenure there were some great highs and a few lows and often it seemed that the man himself was getting frustrated with the quality of the films.  I’d say that Brosnan was a great all-round Bond who often didn’t get the scripts he deserved.

Once it was announced that Brosnan wasn’t coming back I felt a bit sorry for the chap.  When it was announced that they were going for a younger, more physical Bond I raised an eyebrow, much in the style of Roger Moore.  When they announced the casting of Daniel Craig it all became clear and my eyebrow resumed it’s normal position.

Firstly Craig is a damn good actor, so there were no worries there.  In a departure for Bond they had cast someone who looked like they’d seen some action, been in a few fights and didn’t mind getting his hands dirty.  On the other hand he could also pull off the ex-public school boy persona.

Of course there were a number of naysayers out there, many of them in the press.  They seemed to expect another Pierce Brosnan or Roger Moore and, when he didn’t meet those expectations, they found a vein of humour (actor who plays tough guy is really a bit of a wimp!) and totally drained it.

So, does Casino Royale deliver?

Yes it does, and then some.  Firstly I should be clear that this is very recognizably a Bond film but thankfully a few things have changed:

  • One thing that plagued the Brosnan years was the constant references to sexism.  M seemed to call him a misogynist dinosaur every five minutes and he’d constantly meet women who were his equal.  Why the script writers couldn’t just accept that Bond’s a bit of a bastard and stop wringing their hands over it I don’t know.  Oh, it now seems they have.  Yay!
  • Gadgets.  In the past Q would give Bond a bunch of gadgets that fitted a very specific purpose and they’d just happen to be very useful later on.  Clearly Q had Jane Seymour and her tarot cards locked in his basement.  In this movie Bond hardly even uses his gun, never mind gadgets, and often seems happier just jabbing people in the eyes with his fingers.  Which brings us to…
  • Violence.  It’s more violent in the sense that when people get killed it’s much more brutal and drawn out.  No more post massacre quips.  Clearly it’s a matter of opinion but I do think that the casual dispatching of characters numbs us to it’s impact – in this film there are clearly consequences.
  • It’s a spy movie!  Yep, it’s not just good guys and bad guys anymore but double-crosses and double-agents and the plot seems a bit more satisfying than the Bond we’re used to.
  • Bond makes some mistakes.  He’s always been a smug bastard, but now, he has a little less reason to be.

Now some people might take this to mean that this Bond is more realistic.  Not a bit of it, it’s still complete fantasy, it’s just a lot more rewarding.  And I think that’s because of the biggest change of all – the script is very good.  Pierce Brosnan must be livid.

Any downsides?  Well there are a couple of scenes that are too long, the poker scenes unavoidably come with a commentary from a character that screams clunky exposition, and the theme song kinda sucks.

These are minor quibbles.  Once you see the opening chase sequence and hear David Arnolds old-school score you will know that Bond is back where he belongs – at the top.


The Prestige and The Pen

November 15, 2006

I’m a big fan of Christopher Nolan.  After directing (and co-writing) Memento I felt sure he was going to be worth keeping an eye out for and I’m glad that, for once, I got something right.  Insomnia was a gripping follow-up and then there was Batman Begins.  Ahh, Batman Begins – finally a Batman movie that didn’t suck balls (Adam West excepted, he is, as always, a special case).

So it will surprise no-one that I was looking forward to The Prestige.  By the way, there will be no spoilers in this review (I hate it when people do that).

So first a quick summary of the story.  It’s the end of the 19th century and our two stars are working as stooges for a rather dull stage magician.  Clearly they both have ambitions to one day have their own shows.  They eventually do, but not before the actions of one man causes tragedy for the other.  From this point on they are locked into a battle of one-upmanship that sends both men to extremes.

The leaps and jumps this film makes had me often trying to guess where we would be taken next or wondering what mad scheme they would try next.  On most occasions I felt like I was in the audience for one of their magic shows, sometimes surprised, sometimes not, but always intrigued.

The film is ultimately a fantasy about the suspension of disbelief – a subject that must be very appealing to both actors and scriptwriters, and they clearly relish telling this story.  Additionally it touches upon the themes of Nolan’s previous films, the most notable being revenge and the damage it does to those who seek it.

The film is often beautifully shot with some great images.  The acting is as superb as you’d expect with this cast but Christian Bale shows once again that he’s one of Britain’s finest young actors.

I give it two thumbs up.  And a couple of toes as well.

Apart from seeing The Prestige I also went and got myself a graphics tablet.  I fancied doing some scribbling, doodling and generally trying to do something arty.

So I suppose you want to see a first effort?  Well OK then.  I wasn’t feeling very inspired so I decided I’d nick an idea from a link to a Vox blog that taz put up today (click that link, it’s good!).  Here it is:

Log

I’m still not confident with the tablet yet but I’ll get there in the end.


I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am (and the Turner Prize)

November 14, 2006

Lady Geezer of Dodgenshire, my glamorous wife, is a big fan of the Tudors.  Not that she wants to bring back public executions for treason, but she loves reading about those wacky guys and gals.  Naturally this means we had to go and see the Holbein In England exhibition at Tate Britain.

It was pretty cool.  Personally I was much more drawn to the pen and ink sketches than the paintings – as incredible as some of the paintings are.  By the way, did you see what I did there?  “Drawn to”?  Eh?  I’m pretty good aren’t I?

But yeah, getting back to the exhibition.  If you manage to get there and look around look out for the pen and ink sketch for the painting of Thomas More’s family.  It has notes scribbled on it, little lines pointing at stuff, and yet here you can see the artist at work.  To me it just seemed so vivid.

I learnt a few things:

  • If you pay a small fortune to get your portrait done then get your name on it somewhere.  A lot of the guys had paid to be immortalised in oils and nobody knows who the hell they are.  I guess they didn’t have Dymo label printers then
  • The appearance of braying city traders hasn’t changed much in five hundred years.
  • Priests looked like they’d eat your baby as soon as baptise it.
  • A lot of people in Henry’s court got executed for treason.  A lot.  Either the bar for treason was pretty low or Henry was a really poor judge of character.

After this we went and checked out the nominees for the Turner Prize.  For those who don’t know, the Turner Prize is a cash reward for artists who can do the most to outrage the national press with their stupid ideas.  This year the competition is very tight.  Here’s a run down of what we saw (in order):

Mark Titchner: Mark likes slogans.  In neon colours.  I imagine his student bedroom was covered in Chumbawumba posters.  All his little pieces are connected by guitar cables and there’s a constant background hum.  To be fair I think the guy has some ideas but it all seemed terribly dated and old hat to me.

Rebecca Warren: She sculpts.  And by sculpt I mean she piles fistfuls of clay on top of each other.  Not great.  She then puts some of these rocks in badly made cabinets with some shit or other she found around her squat.  Still not great.  I think she’s trying too hard to not try.

Tomma Abts: Not only does she have a very cool looking name but her art is pretty cool.  Sort of.  She paints on… wait for it… canvas!  Yep, the Turner is now so ridiculous that using canvas can seem like a revolutionary thing to do.  The paintings are very precise, to the point they look like they might be computer generated.  They look very appealing indeed, but I can’t help but feel that they seem like the sort of thing a CEO might have in his office because they’re pretty but entirely inoffensive and without emotion.  Well I guess it never hurt Mondrian.

Phil Collins: Well at least his name is memorable.  It’s just a shame it’s someone elses.  And that someone is a twat.  Phil has an installation that is about how reality TV shows exploit people.  He then interviews people who’ve been exploited by reality TV on camera so they are once again exploited.  This teaches us that people are really stupid.  Now, this might have been a much bigger hit except the people he interviews are Turkish.  There was one guy who looked like Borat in a disco suit complaining that he can’t walk down the street without everyone mobbing him and I was left, quite-frankly, a little bit baffled.  So in a word: shit.

So, what was my highlight?  Ms Abts perhaps?  Nope, it was the comments wall.  At the end of the exhibition is a room covered with little bits of paper where folk can leave their comments on the work they’ve seen.  The end result is swearing, to-the-point criticism (featuring more swearing), rude drawings, even more swearing, some attempts at well-reasoned criticism, swearing directed at the well-reasoned criticism and other madness.  But mostly it was comments saying that the comment wall was the best thing in the exhibition.  Quite true.

Naturally I added to the comment wall:  “Needs more cowbell”

Cardiacs

November 10, 2006

About last night: We had a bit of a mad dash to get to the the Astoria on time.  A helpful (and amusing) post on the Cardiacs website informed us that, because the venue was going to have a club that night “allowing some of God’s more delicate creations to hoof about to “ironic” music”, the gig would start at the “well-mannered” time of 7pm.

Quite frankly the Astoria has been getting up my nose for some time.  It’s surly bouncers, poor layout and their habit of treating their patrons like doorway dossers as soon as the band finish has resulted in something quite strange: the majority of London’s gig goers don’t give a shit that the place is going to be knocked down and replaced by housing for rich idiots.

We got to the venue in good time, and had drinks in our hands just in time for The God Damn Whores.  Featuring Ginger from The Wildhearts, Jon Poole from same and also Cardiacs, and a huge hairy bloke who used to be in Wolfsbane I suppose they could be considered a supergroup of sorts.  They played a set of songs that was a strange mix of heavy rock party music and twitchy stop-start art-pop.  Jon Poole makes a pretty good front man (being a loud and enthusiastic nutter with a love of swearing) and those guys can certainly play.  So yeah, I was pretty impressed.

And then, after a short break, Cardiacs came on.  I have to say that I only recently got into their music.  I had been aware of their existence for quite some time and figured that I’d probably like them, but only took the plunge recently.  Since then I’ve barely been listening to anything else, so you could say I was really excited about this gig.

For those who don’t know, their music is a mix of prog-rock, punk and psych.  If you could imagine Robert Smith’s more childlike moments mixed in with King Crimson and then speeded up a bit, not only will you feel nauseous but you might be a bit closer to understanding what they sound like.  Actually that’s a terrible description, what was I thinking.  Go to YouTube and find out for yourself.

Now, me and Mrs Geezer go pretty much everywhere together apart from work and the toilet.  Naturally we go to all of our gigs together even though we have quite different tastes in music.  Tonight I was concerned about what she would make of this strange brew of disparate influences.  After about four songs she turned to look at me with an expression that said “you rushed me out of the house for this!”  Ooops.

I, on the other hand, loved every minute of it.  Everything was perfect.  The sound was excellent, they played brilliantly, and it was sonically and visually superb (big thumbs up to whoever did the lighting).

Go and check out Cardiacs: you’ll either be completely baffled or be blown away.

Genesis

November 8, 2006

I was reading The Times while I was waiting in the opticians and this sidebar tickled me.  OK, it’s too blurry to read here (the irony!) but it says this:

  • Jonathan King coined the band’s name after talent-spotting Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks
  • Phil Collins joined in 1970; Gabriel left in 1975
  • Gabriel went on to launch Greenpeace in the Soviet Union, work on Nelson Mandela concerts and Amnesty tours and establish Womad
  • Phil Collins performed on Top of the Pops next to a tin of paint after his wife ran off with a decorator

In other words Peter Gabriel went on to save the world while Phil Collins performed on TV with a paint pot.  It seems even The Times thinks Phil is a bit of a twat.