Monthly Archives: May 2009

Synecdoche, New York

I’m pleased the press pack mentioned the word quadrupleganger. That’s what this rather unusual film amounts to. You know, the kind of magazine cover image where there is a picture of the magazine cover with a picture of the magazine cover….

Synecdoche is such a seriously weird film, that the weirdness makes it almost fun to watch. I didn’t understand it. But it’s sort of about life and being afraid of breaking relationships and serious illness. There are a lot of bodily fluids and quite a number of funerals.

Basically you have this theatre director who builds a mock-up of bits of New York in a warehouse, and has actors pretend to be him and his family and friends, and then you need someone to pretend to be the ones pretending, and so on. As his life falls to pieces, more and more actors are incorporated into the warehouse set-up.

But why was the house on fire?

You could analyse Synecdoche forever, but only if you go and see it first. Very surreal.

NCIS – the plot thickens, again

ICE, FBI and NCIS

There was that woman from Hustle, which I don’t watch. But she sort of fits in with the ties between NCIS and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., with Robert Vaughn somewhere in the middle. Then we had satnav and jam jars. I know he’s really the Secretary of the Navy, but it sounds like satnav when they say it. Just imagine feeding him Bourbon from a jam jar. Unpretentious is what it is.

Michael and Ziva

The half dead colleague from the spin-off is not yet dead, but interest is being kept up.

Di Nozzo and Michael

And then we have poor Ziva and her beau/non-beau. And what may turn into  major international incident. Or not, if Gibbs works hard. On the other hand, the next episode of NCIS is the last for now, and we need to be left gasping.

Gasp.

(Photos © CBS)

Muppet moment

Beethoven and Victor Borge

Somebody needed cheering up. And when the need strikes, just like that, it’s sometimes almost impossible to think of anything. At. All. Went through the usual ideas, until we hit on the Muppets. The witch is an avid Muppet fan, but there has been a very long gap in watching that collection of videos she craved so much some years ago.

John Cleese on the Muppet Show

Gaps are there to be filled, so we settled down with a couple of shows. The younger generation got to choose which ones, and went for John Cleese and Victor Borge. It never takes long for the permagrin to settle between the ears with those adorable Muppets. Even the not so adorable Muppets are pretty adorable.

I reckon Miss Piggy was based on me. We have a lot in common. Though I don’t fancy Kermit in the same way as Miss Piggy does.

Philadelphia

Daughter and I settled down to some Tom Hanks last night in the belief that Tom Hanks is always good. He was, and what a lesson in history Philadelphia turned out to be. It may have been as recent as 1993, but as far as Daughter was concerned it was the Dark Ages. Tom Hanks is gay, and has Aids, and is sacked from his job. I’m so old that this doesn’t surprise me one bit, wrong as it was. But it’s what things were like. Possibly still are, too often. I don’t know. But for today’s teenager this kind of behaviour proved unbelievably shocking. She cried less over his illness and death than over the unfairness of the system.

I’ve never seen Tom Hanks so thin. Even when younger and slimmer, he always had some puppy roundness to him. He must have starved himself to look so skeletal, for the later stages of Aids. At times he didn’t look like Tom Hanks at all, which is an achievement.

Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington

It’s an American film, so you can work out how it must end, and it does. But it’s still moving. Decided I haven’t seen Joanne Woodward in enough films. She was excellent. And Antonio Banderas was, too, and he had Tom’s lost puppy face.

Interesting to find that a film I’d never heard of until I found it on television and taped it, could be so terrific. I don’t think I’d have got Daughter to watch, if it hadn’t been a Tom Hanks film, but in the end it was the film itself that caught her.

Watching with children

I had this theory when Offspring were a lot younger, that they needed to be educated in watching films, and not just the latest Disney in the cinema. Most weeks for years, I would choose one film from television and record it on video, to be watched on Saturday night, en famille. I only picked films I knew and could vouch for.

This system worked well, and there was always a good classic somewhere in any given week. Lots of black-and-white, which meant that Offspring were rare creatures who wouldn’t faint at the idea of colourfree entertainment later on. Then we came to Assault on Precinct 13, the 1976 version by John Carpenter.

Thanks to reading the reviews in Time Out whenever I was in London in my youth, I had seen it when it was fresh, and loved it. So, it was duly recorded when it turned up. I hadn’t forgotten how good it was. But what I had forgotten, was quite how scary it could be, especially to begin with. And afterwards I discovered it was actually rated 18.

Oops. Offspring were about nine and thirteen.

Cheapskate that I am, we always (well, nearly always) did cheap birthday parties. For many years I offered a film and food, and unlike with a proper parent we neither went to the cinema nor rented a video. We watched home recorded films. It was just a case of finding something that would appeal to the guests, and that they were unlikely to have watched already.

For Son’s 14th birthday we had Assault on Precinct 13, and I was debating for weeks before the event whether to ask parental permission or not. In the end I did not. And no parent stopped talking to me. (It’s a bit late if you are to start now!)

It went down well. But was I wrong?

Chéri

Courtesan sounds so much nicer and more civilised than some of the other words you might use. Chéri is a film about an ‘old’ courtesan – as old as you can look when you’re Michelle Pfeiffer – who falls in love with her courtesan friend’s 19-year-old son, Chéri. It’s based on the novel by Colette, so my guess would be that the story is quite interesting. Shame the film is so shallow.

It’s beautiful enough, nicely filmed with wonderful Art Noveau all over the place, and beautiful people. But just because Michelle Pfeiffer sighs beautifully over the childish and spoilt Rupert Friend, doesn’t mean this is a film with much meaning. Kathy Bates as the mother of Chéri is fun and awful at the same time, and if they could have found other actors for the two main characters, it might have worked better.

Chéri is on at Cornerhouse from today, and if you like Michelle Pfeiffer, you’ll probably like it. I noticed it was her 51st birthday the day I saw the film, sitting in the dark wondering how old she could be. Rupert Friend looks perfect for the new wave of really beautiful young men on the big screen.

Michelle Pfeiffer in Chéri

Legend part 2

Abby

That was clever. They must have heard me say I wasn’t sure I’d watch the NCIS spin-off once it starts. With no Gibbs or Abby, why would I? So, they kill someone off. Or do they? Really calculating and clever. We’re now going to be hanging on, just to find out.

Macy and Gibbs

Some things are explained, and other aspects of the plot are left for the remaining two episodes of series six. And probably beyond. At least we now know what caused the antipathy between Macy and Gibbs, and let me tell you I had wondered about this particular thing before. Though not in connection with anyone. Just felt it was a lose end.

Sniper Monthly

 That psychologist seems a little superfluous. Nice enough, but stands around stating the obvious. And last week I laughed at the idea, because there really can’t be a Sniper Monthly magazine, can there? 

(Photos © CBS)

I’m a bad mother

‘I’m not going near the bloody book!’, said Daughter as we left the cinema after watching Coraline. Excuse her language, but I am A Very Bad Mother. Now, I thought it wasn’t going to get much worse than this, but it seems I underestimated the scariness level of Coraline, the film. So if the film was bad, then she will do well to steer clear of the book. I found the book scarier. Or rather, at least the novel was a little scary. The film was just boring, I thought.

So one person’s nightmare is another person’s yawn.

Lucky we went to a crummy cinema that doesn’t run to 3D, as presumably the film would have felt even worse if things were jumping out at us.

Who is the film aimed at, I wonder? I was the only parent in the audience with a teenager. All the others were parents with really young children. Were they thinking ‘Disney’? Or were they themselves Neil Gaiman fans? All the other teenagers in the foyer were there to watch other films. I do subscribe to Neil’s belief that children need to be scared sometimes, but these were too young to ‘get’ the film, I’d say. And for the British cinema going public, weren’t those bare breasts a little on the bare side? For a PG film?

After months of waiting for the film, this was an anticlimax.

Gently does it

Years ago, when the mobile library still called near our house, I used to go through all their crime. I found a good selection of novels labelled Black Dagger Crime, and they were nearly always very good, so I hunted for them. One I remember especially, was Alan Hunter’s Gently to the Summit, which sounded just like my thing, suggesting a slow walk uphill, rather than the wild dash I tended to be subjected to.

I’ve enjoyed the George Gently television programmes that the BBC have shown over the last couple of years. I’m not sure if they are based on actual books, or if it’s one of these ‘based on the characters by XX’ affairs.

Martin Shaw is always watchable, and sometimes I wonder if it’s just him we watch. No matter who he plays, he’s always Martin Shaw. Nothing wrong with that, and I’m not suggesting he can’t act. There’s just something very Martin Shaw-y about him, whether he is Thomas More on the stage or Judge John Deed on television, or anybody in-between.

Starting last night on BBC1, we seem to have another series of Gently to look forward to. It was good, but I do wonder if they get their facts right when it comes to period behaviour? Some things don’t matter too much, but it’s ‘the mobile phone syndrome’. You write a story set today, with the odd flashback to fifteen years ago, and you forget that not every schoolchild had a mobile glued to their ears in those far flung days. As the Resident IT Consultant burst out last night; ‘that’s no 1964 pub!’. It probably wasn’t, though I’d like to know what he knows of pubs in 1964. His wife was thrown out of one in 1966, so she didn’t see much of what it looked like, either.

Last night’s episode had child abuse in a children’s home as the background to the crime. Granted that the world knew less of such things then, and granted that what was known was treated differently; but were the police quite that naive? The drawback with viewers knowing their 1960s from their 1990s, is balanced nicely by the fact that there are still people around from that period in history, who can be asked what it was like in the olden days. If a scriptwriter should want to know, that is.

But as I said, Martin Shaw is always good.

Pete Seeger is 90

Was it fake memory syndrome, or wasn’t it? At the time (mid 1990s), I wasn’t sure. Had I actually seen Pete Seeger live at the Royal Albert Hall? It felt like I had, but was it really possible that I had seen this fantastic legendary singer? Yes, it was. I found the ticket and the programme and the poster in a cupboard soon after. Looking back now, I sort of recall that Pete Seeger appeared with Quilapayún from Chile, some time at the end of the 1970s.

Pete Seeger

At the time I never stopped to consider that one day it might feel even more special, because in those days I believed that we would all live forever. Thanks to my younger self for having gone to that concert.

And isn’t it amazing that this wonderful protest singer is still with us, and still singing at the age of ninety? When I despair and wonder what the world is coming to, it’s a relief to know that some people haven’t given up.

I’m including the video of Pete singing at Obama’s inauguration. The picture quality isn’t so good, but what a fantastic day it must have been.

And then there’s Tom Paxton’s What did you learn in school today? Still as valid as ever, after all these years.

Happy 90th Birthday, Pete Seeger!