Sunday, 4 January 2015

I watch the new Exodus film at the cinema.

‘Take a couple of tablets and get an early night’ is probably the most well-worn bit of advice on the planet. Fortunately for the purposes of a good film, it’s advice the Hebrews didn’t follow until well into their big struggle with the Egyptians. Giving old advice is like trying to tell an ancient story in a new way – it takes vision to get someone excited about a few paracetamols and some water.

Certainly we all know that Ridley Scott doesn’t lack for vision – not least in his new film Exodus. It occasionally lacks in subtlety – take for example the bit just as the Hebrews are on the run, and they realise that Pharaoah is in hot pursuit: ‘They’ll catch us in four days – less if he doesn’t rest his horses.’ Cut to Egyptian lackey on chariot: ‘Sir! We need to rest the horses!’

Not that it’s a subtle story – plagues and slavery and Christian Bale’s beard. The burning bush and the parting of the sea shows God’s flair for the dramatic – His script was really quite enough without anyone coming along to jazz it up too much. It’s one thing on paper, too, but quite harrowing to watch death come to life.

Where these kinds of films really do win it for me are the bits in-between – Exodus gives us a written account of the highlights of this epic ancient stand-off, but the film and its visuals give us a great notion of life between the lines, where all of this comes out of. Moses has become a world historic figure, but as far as he was ever concerned he was just a little bloke in Egypt who ended up with a big job.

It’s a great biblical epic, along the lines of the monsters of the 50s and 60s – the English accents are a nice nod…besides, everything always sounds more profound in an English accent.

The casting is excellent - Christian Bale is good at inhabiting roles and not getting himself pigeon-holed (this could have ended up as prehistoric Batman, or cripes, even Maximus Decimus Moses), the various Egyptian figures are mostly oozing with gravitas, despite eyeliner levels peaking at 8.2 on the Kardashian scale. Sigourney Weaver will have Angelina Jolie weeping even with her mere 90 seconds of arched eyebrows and sour pouting.

God-the-angry-10-year-old-boy is more up for discussion when it comes to casting, but you’d just have to assume that Morgan Freeman was busy and they had to improvise. As with so many aspects of these controversial films you have to accept the vision of those who are willing and able to make them and hope that you can have a good discussion about it afterwards. Or else just take a couple of tablets and get an early night.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

I read 52 books in a year.

Well, phew - I managed to reach my book goal for 2014, which was to get through 52 of the blighters.

I must admit to getting quite worried in September that I was nowhere near my handy one-a-week target, but I’d not really taken any annual leave and had a lacklustre start to the year, literarily speaking. I was also concerned I might have been engaged in what some would call cheating, by reading a substantial number of books aimed at younger audiences. While yes, they are easier to get through, they are also much more interesting than most books aimed at adults. I don’t need everything I read to change my life. Also, I counted, there were only about 20 of them...but then again, fair point, Ruth Graham.

I kept a record of my books through Goodreads - some interesting stats came through. The oldest book I read was published in 1970; I only read 17 books in the first half of the year; I read 2,078 pages more in 2014 than in 2012, the first year I managed 52 books (26 in 2013).

Looking at the ratings of the books I read, I see that I’ve been particularly generous with the five-star ratings. Either I’m easily impressed or I’m really good at picking stuff to read. Some Jack Higgins drivel, The City of Bones and Peter Rost MP’s memoirs got the lowest ratings I gave out - two stars. I was disappointed by Carl Hiaasen’s Star Island - he’s long been one of my favourite writers, but this was awfully generic for him, a Hiaasen-by-numbers. He probably needs a holiday.

I’ve been both impressed and disappointed by Harry Potter, which I’ve never got round to reading up to now. I’m on the sixth book, and while the storytelling is excellent, the writing is simply awful. There’s no excuse for it, he said darkly. I can’t think why the editors weren’t a bit more forceful - I constantly find myself looking back for the previous reference to something that just happened (someone speaks in a room, picks up a wand that’s been dropped, etc, etc), but there never is. If you’re going to wiffle on for 700 pages, you can afford an extra line or two to set the scene properly, he said helpfully. A quick look tells me there's history on this one...

I am singularly delighted to have discovered Jonas Jonasson this year - he can replace Carl Hiaasen in my estimation - and the Percy Jackson series. I won’t be watching any of their films. David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten was masterfully written, but confoundedly hard to get my head round. It was great. Similarly too, Andrew Crumey’s Mobius Dick made me feel a little bit smart for having read it. My absolutely favourite book of the year was Look Who’s Back, by Timur Vermes: Hitler wakes up in modern Berlin, becomes YouTube sensation. Great idea.

I don’t know what to do for 2015. I guess I’ll have to try and get through the pile of books that got left behind in 2014… Happy New Year.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Where Skyfall really stresses me out.

I know it's not healthy to get stressed out about these things, but there's a plot seam of Bond film Skyfall that always gets my heart thumping and a little vein in my forehead throbbing away. 

You see, the jam and butter between the second and third act bread slices is Bond and M nipping up to Scotland in an Aston DB5. In fact, it's the same one from Goldfinger, complete with identical number plate and assortment of Q-branch gadgets. 

WHAT ON EARTH IS IT DOING THERE? For one thing, they tried to get round the fact of JB having a vintage Aston by having him win one in a game of poker in the Bahamas. That's fine - we haven't seen it since, but you could imagine he might have had it shipped over to the UK and registered here. That's his personal car then. That would be fine - when Bond picks his car up it's with his personal effects in a storage unit. Except, seeing as it's the Goldfinger (and Thunderball) car - same number plate and gadgets, remember - you'd imagine it remained the property of HMG whatever happened to it. 

Gah. 

How on earth has Bond ended up with it? Has Bond kept it since 1964? Why is he allowed to drive around a car with functioning machine guns? You'd imagine the insurance would be horrific. 'COVER: Third party, fire, theft and accidental shooting.' How long has Bond been dead for, anyway? Have they managed to sell his flat but no one has cancelled his cover? My eyes are starting to twitch uncontrollably. HOW DOES M KNOW ABOUT THE EJECTOR SEAT? How on earth has Bond ended up with it?! It's one thing getting a left-hand drive car from the Bahamas converted (bonkers, but feasible one supposes), but machine guns is specialist coach builder shit right there. 

What were the film-makers thinking? I just can't cope with it all. Why not have Bond go toe-to-toe with Silva in Chitty Chitty sodding Bang Bang? That car can fly, at least. Skyfall. Jawdrop, more like. Someone needs to get me a glass of water, preferably not one that's been sat inexplicably in a cupboard for 50 years. 

Monday, 22 December 2014

My year in going to the cinema

It is a particular time for reflection at the moment, unless you happen to be a mirror or other highly polished surface, in which case your work never stops.

January
Robocop
5/10
Mindlessly entertaining, but shudderingly pointless (See also: Dredd)

February
The Lego Movie
10/10
EVERYTHING IS AWESOME JOKE

April
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
8/10
Not really amazing, but better than alright. The reasonably diverting Spider-Man

May
Godzilla
6/10
20 minutes of amazing, 103 minutes of why bother?

X-Men: Days of Future Past
7/10
Time-travel trickery renders other X-films pointless. Annoying

How to Train Your Dragon 2
7/10
Went with some kids. They quite liked it

August
Guardians of the Galaxy
9/10
Oo-ga, oo-ga, oo-ga chaka…wha?

November
Interstellar
4/10
So long I couldn’t feel my legs at the end

December
The Imitation Game
8/10
Bendybatch gurns at the camera for 114 minutes screaming ‘GIMME AN OSCAR’

That was my 2014 encapsulated in GOING TO THE CINEMA.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Some things that drive me mad.

There are a number of set expressions that are guaranteed to set me off. Two of the main triggers are ‘Can I ask you a question?’ and anything to do with growing your hair – ‘Are you growing your hair?’ Let us take a closer look.

Anything to do with growing your hair drives me bonkers. I would love to know - how on earth do I grow my hair? One presumes it not something on which I have to actively concentrate. God forbid, your attention slips and your fringe falls off. Busy patch at work and the whole project slips back two weeks: ‘Dammit, I needed these curtains by Christmas!’ The entire conceit is entirely infuriating. You don’t grow your hair, it requires no special skills or talent, you simply don’t cut it. ‘Ooh, you’re growing your beard?’ No, it’s rather a steady process with which I have no active involvement, you just happen to regularly catch me fairly soon after my most recent shave. Have a word with yourself.

Can you ask me a question? I think you just did, and in rather a presumptuous manner. By asking a question as to whether you might be allowed to ask a question you have liberally crapped over any notion of you not being able to ask a question, but you just, in fact, did. It’s like being mugged. You’ve forcibly inserted yourself linguistically into someone’s personal space. And why not just ask the question in the first place? If the very intent of the ‘Can I ask you a question?’ is to force someone into allowing you to ask a question, why not simply dispense with the foreplay and jump straight into whatever you were clearly planning to ask anyway? And how does that impossible denial even go? ‘Can I ask you a question?’ ‘No, you can’t.’ ‘Why not?’ Gah.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

I have been growing a beard.

I’ve had a beard on an off for the last 18 months or so – I’ve always liked to grow my face out every now and then just to prove that I can, but recently I’ve been taking the endeavor seriously, with proper clippers and beard balm (it’s wonderful stuff) and all sorts. My recent inspiration came from the commemoration of the start of the first world war, seeing how raffish and elegant George V and Nicholas II looked between them.

There’s something about having a beard, that you’ve gained access to an unspoken club, a bond between all others with facial-follicular tendencies. You gain an appreciation for a man’s beard, you can assess across a crowded room whose is best and what sort of time and effort has gone into creating it. Are they the slovenly laissez-faire type, with hairs sprouting everywhere unchallenged, or are they the fussy control freak who has snipped each individual sprout and perhaps even trimmed it so there are lawn lines going up and down their cheeks? You get a bit jealous of the sort of chap who has a luscious even growth across his whole face, or perhaps you take a little snide inward pleasure at the bloke who can’t even get his moustache to meet his chinstrap. Cripes, and they say women are bad.

The thing is, too many people have them and mine is probably going to have to go. The Guardian says that we’ve reached peak beard (look at me putting links in my blog post like it's 2005), and while I don’t normally take any sort of advice from the Guardian, fashion or otherwise, the evidence is plain on our streets to see. Of course there’s that, and the fact that I look exactly like my dad in 1986. Such a fine line between hipster and Open University professor.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Harvester gets a makeover.

I visited my grandma and granddad the other day and we went to Harvester for lunch. Consider my surprise, dear reader, when my eyes fell upon the new-look interior design. Gone is the agricultural tat, farmy chintz and rough exposed wood – in comes neon, bright carpets and faux-Impressionist pictures of farm animals doing adorable things like standing there. It’s a new era of countryside-gastro-chic. With a free salad.

Speaking of the salad, they’ve added mini gherkins and pickled onions to try and bulk out the little bowls, although the gherkins are the kind of sour that feels like your tongue is being pulled out with pliers. I was back on familiar ground with a New York-style chicken that wouldn’t settle down on its wash of barbeque sauce. I’ve never understood what a New York-style chicken even is; you’d expect it to be taller, and rather ruder.

I have a great reservoir of fondness for Harvester – it takes me back to the sort of supra-McDonald’s special occasion of my childhood, with chicken nuggets and a spot of colouring in before the dessert arrives. I always liked that it felt like you were tucked away in the far corner of some obnoxious landowner’s barn, it’s a terrible shame to replace that with an interior designer’s overwrought, inauthentic moodboard-palooza. In fact, Harvester had better be careful, or Brewers Fayre will swoop in and nick all of its countryphile customers. Unless they really like free salad.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

I want to live in a detirement home.

There’s a housing crisis, according to the Guardian or somesuch esteemed publication like that. All the foreign houses are being sent home, or the cuts mean they’re all falling down, or the markets have collapsed but the houses haven’t, or they’re too expensive and no one has any money left because it’s all hidden offshore. I forget.

I have the answer though. I was thinking just the other day that someone should invent an old people's home that everyone can live in - overheated, comfortable, chintzy, it would be perfect. I'd love to live in the sort of place that has film nights after dinner and bingo on Thursdays, a well-stocked library full of Dean Koontz and Robert Ludlum, perhaps a vestigial gym and a games room.

I can't see myself ever being able to afford somewhere to buy - especially if I stayed in London. An entire generation in its excitement at easy Monopoly cash and full of thirst to make money has priced its descendants forever homeless. That's not to say it's necessarily a bad thing - this whole own-your-own-place idea has barely been around more than half a century - but whoever does have any money left needs to start thinking about the ways that life might start to change.

Why do we even need to all live entirely separate lives? It would be wonderful if people might start thinking ahead and building communal housing that draws folks together. So much of modern life is drilled down, compartmentalised and devoid of any meaningful outside contact. I love the idea of micro-communities where people have different areas in common, parts of your life that are shared with like-minded and ready individuals. Let's not just leave it to the hippies.

Friday, 5 December 2014

In which the crap they stick in box sets astounds me.

I bought some box sets the other day. The Wire is a respectable enough choice, but the other one they sent me is Gilmore Girls – the very definition of a guilty pleasure if ever there was one. When I lived in Germany they used to show four episodes every afternoon, so it was quite easy to motor on through all 153 adventures of Die Gilmore Girls no problem. And I did look that up.

Anyway, perhaps in light of these purchases my subsequent argument is rendered automatically moot, but I have opinions and I’m not afraid to use them.

Because good grief, the stuff they’re putting out in box sets these days is just ridiculous. I mean, who really wants to relive the joys of Dr Quinn Medicine Woman in a six-disc collection? Even when it was made it was the lettuce in the Saturday TV schedule sandwich, just there to pad the afternoon out a bit. No flavour, or anything beyond an infitesimal amount of nutrition. It made Little House on the Prairie look like Shakespeare.

I can’t think of any other earthly reason to do it than trying to squeeze the last drops of money out of the rind of franchises that died decades ago. Do Dr Quinn, Skippy or Airwolf have these massive cult fanbases we haven’t heard about? Well, it’s easy money, one has to suppose, just whacking stuff on DVDs and sending it to the shops. Bish bash bosh, etc.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Is not a superhero.

Is a superhero:
Superman
Wonder Woman
Spider-Man
Aquaman
Captain America
The Flash

Is not a superhero:
Batman
Iron Man
Green Arrow
Hawkeye
The Incredible Hulk

*Green Lantern remains a question mark in my mind