Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Film review: The Artist

The Artist
Film is constantly torn between the classic and the cutting edge, between new advances in special effects, and a nostalgia evoked in historical epics, literary translations and plain old remakes.
The Artist is in the latter camp, but no-one has ever plundered the past quite so bravely.
In 1927, married silent movie star George Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin, has a chance encounter on the red carpet with wide-eyed starlet Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), who he helps to get her big break.
But as Peppy’s star ascends, thanks to Valentin’s guidance, his own career is threatened by the switch to talkies. He can mug to camera and he can dance, but Valentin doesn’t want to speak, though why isn’t divulged.
As Peppy’s voice makes her the future for her studio, Valentin’s old fashioned sensibility and pride pushes him to the brink.
The Artist has enjoyed huge backing and is a shoe-in come awards season, but it has the hallmarks of an Oscar cause, an attempt to show that Hollywood does still make ‘em like this.
But they don’t make ‘em like that anymore for a reason. The crinkle of a sweet wrapper in a cavernous multiplex auditorium sounds like approaching thunder during this delicate film.
For the avoidance of doubt, this is an entirely silent film. It eschews the histrionic scores of the original silent films with a soft-impact soundtrack that allows the silence to breathe. But it’s the fact that the film has the courage of its convictions that allows it to transcend novelty to present its old-fashioned heartfelt love story.
Dujardin’s crumpled handsomeness manages the mix of matinee idol mugging and human emotion deftly. Bejo possesses real star quality. It beams from the screen in the early scenes and makes fames a matter of time, on screen and in real life.
But the real star here is writer-director Michel Hazanavicius, who after a short career in France now finds himself the toast of Hollywood. He has a wonderful eye for Chaplain-esque image-making and choreography. He makes The Artist seem inventive by borrowing from the distant cinematic past.
He adds layers of enjoyment, complimenting sepia charm with an arch modern line of films within films, as Valentin’s vehicles mirror his life, dying on screen as his career goes down the tubes. 
The Artist also has a touch of darkness that brings to mind It’s A Wonderful Life, and Hazanavicious invests it with that magical Frank Capra feel.
Unlike most leftfield successes, The Artist won’t spawn a series of inferior imitators, or a sequel and for that alone it is refreshing.
But if cinema’s tendency towards the past is a choice between this kind of heartfelt, handmade homage, or a 3D re-release for Titanic, I’d take this every time. 

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Co-Op: A club for fans of The Wire

Listen up,

If you are reading this I'm going to take the liberty of presuming you are a fan of The Wire.

There are few things I love more than talking about The Wire and I know I'm not alone in that - so here's the idea.

A Wire club. A bit like a book club. We meet up at a location in London, watch an episode, and then talk it out over a taste. I have lots of ideas about how to build this up going forward, and I'd like to get to the point where we can have enough people to get in guests, meeting in a real venue with a projector/cinema screen for viewing and a round table where we, the Co-Op, can parlez like Prop Joe would have wanted. I imagine that in the future it will look something like Comstat.

But what we need to begin with is a few people to kick things off.

I'm happy to hold the first one at my shop. To get involved you will need to email me ( and register your interest. I will likely ask you a couple of Wire-based questions to check out your validity - because I am inviting you into my house, after all.

For your info - so that you feel a little better about replying to a complete stranger and visiting their home - I am a journalist, a long-time fan, I've watched all five series four times, appeared on Richard and Judy as a Wire expert in 2009 and met Dominic West in the process. Your level of 'fandom' or depth of knowledge is irrelevant to me; I'm in this for the love of The Game, I hope you are too. I have trust in the quality of Wire fans, and think that this can work. Men and women, Po'leece and hoppers, all are welcome.

The date of the first meet is tentatively set for Tuesday, May 31 at 7.30pm - this is the day Wendell Pierce (The Bunk) has Tweeted that there will be a major announcement from the cast of the Wire - hopefully a new series or a film (fingers crossed).

That means we will have someone else who understands our excitement if either of those things prove to be the case.

So, it's on you now.

Who's up?

Gavin Allen
Det. Homicide
Bodymore, Murderland

Monday, 10 May 2010

Eddie Izzard, Frank Sobotka and why I didn't shag Didier Drogba ...

Eddie Izzard warned me about this. He did.

I've been at this comedy malarky for nine months now. In that time I have done a grand total of five gigs. Tonight will be my sixth - a five minute spot at Monkey Business comedy club in Camden.

I did five minutes at Monkey Business in Chalk Farm last week and I did not do myself any favours. This was my first real gig on the London circuit and I should have been jazzed about it, but I wasn't. In fact, I couldn't be arsed and I took that on stage with me, along with some needless anger.

There were 13 acts on the bill - all were supposed to do a tight five but most rambled for much longer - and the small number of people who were actually anything like comedians stood out a mile. I can't say whether I fitted into the latter category, that's for others to judge, but if I wasn't better than some of what I saw then I may as well quit now. Quit, and then shoot my toes off and attach live mice to the bleeding stumps so that all my shoes don't fit and every time I try to buy a new pair of shoes I am reminded of my failure.

It reinforced how important it is to take the right attitude on stage. At the Amused Moose Laugh Off qualifiers in Covent Garden a few months ago I had convinced myself I was going to fail and I failed. For my next gig at the Glee Club I got myself focussed and confident, and I turned in my best gig to date. Last week I wasn't having a good time of it personally. I took that on stage with me and I was a bit rubbish.

Tonight I'm back in determined mood, although I haven't rehearsed at all for it. But this is deliberate. So far I've been hanging onto my one routine for dear life. I actually have loads of material but sticking to what I know is a way of stablising myself in case stage fright strikes.

Last week at Chalk Farm I went on stage, for the first time, not caring a jot about nerves; if anything my abiding emotion was pissed-offedness and it was quite liberating. Of all the gigs I have done so far last week's was the most interesting because I wasn't afraid to be disliked - and I probably succeeded in being just that! I was probably far more interesting or intense to watch because of that.

One of the reasons I thought I'd be good at stand-up is because in conversation I am generally fearless - or completely ignorant, depending on your point of view. I have many different strands of social modifier to call on and am capable of making sure I don't say the wrong thing. I can be exceptionally cute about every word if I want to be.

Now, I'm sure anyone who knows me will be able to recall many instances where I did or said completely the wrong thing at completely the wrong time to horrific or humourous effect. But it wasn't because I wasn't thinking. It's because I don't want to be careful in conversation, I'd rather be interesting; difficult; funny; wrong; vague; ultra-specific; egotistical, fragile; spontaneous. That's where the fun lies. For me at least.

And that's what I need to take on stage. Yes, I need very tightly scripted lines, and yes, I need to be well-rehearsed, but what I also need to do is take my personality on stage with me and not just my writing. Unless I am capable of doing that then I'm not going to get anywhere. I haven't impressed myself on stage yet, and if I'm not impressed by me why the hell should anyone else be impressed?

I've been thinking this week, after Monday's gig, that I might not want to do any more comedy, not for the usual reason people stop - because I've had a bad gig and I feel cowed - but because I haven't been as good as I want to be.

I'm not sure I want it enough. Another of my heroes is Eddie Izzard. I was lucky enough to interview Izzard a few weeks after my first gig and he told me "You've got to want it more than blood." He followed that up with. "I've no idea what that means but I've been saying it a lot lately." Then he ran 50-odd marathons. The magnificent nutbag.

I get his point though. I think maybe I do want it, I want it so much that the idea of not being good at it is crushing. The fear of failure is always a big problem for me. It's why I didn't make sweet love to Didier Drogba that time he asked at Mid-Rhondda Working Men's Club's Christmas disco. I'm pretty sure I could have done it, and brought him to a full and satisfactory climax, but what if I'd failed? The Drog would have told Ashley Cole and John Terry about it - and the thought of John Terry laughing (or being happy, or continuing to live his privileged life with so little human decency ) sickens me.

"No", I thought, "better to not shag Dider Drogba and not risk failing. I can't give John Terry the satisfaction."

But given the chance again, I would do it. I'll say this on the record here and now. If Didier Drogba turns up at Mid-Rhondda Working Men's Club and asks me for a bumming, I'll give him a bumming he'll never forget.

My point is, it is better to try and quit than to not try at all. However, at this stage, quitting comedy would be the cowards way out for me.

It's time to prove I can do this. It's time to shit or get off the pot, as Frank Sobotka might say.

Five questions for the stand-up ... (this is what journalists call a panel)
1) How is it possible to be so riddled with self-doubt and rampant egotism at the same time?

2) How do you raise yourself to attack a five-minute spot with only the other open mic spots watching you as you can for a big gig? And by a big gig I only mean about 90 people.

3) Do you have other stuff going on in your life and if so how do you find time to play a lot of gigs every week and still see your girlfriend, play football, work, watch The Wire, go to gigs, etc.

4) Presuming you are any good, how long do you have to do this unpaid five minute stuff until someone books you?

5) Am I funny?

Monday, 29 March 2010

Rafa Benitez: What goes on in this man's bright red clockwork head?

Liverpool 3, Sunderland 0.

If you don't like in-depth football chat, look away now.

This game followed Liverpool's 2-1 defeat at Manchester United, in which they were at best, as lacklustre as they have been all season, albeit it after a great first 20 minutes.

Just as last season, with Liverpool's league hopes now all but dead in the water, Rafa decided to free his team up to become more attacking.

He changed it tactically. Gerrard had been a supporting striker behind Torres against United, with Lucas and Mascherano as deep lying midfielders, passing sideways and backwards instead of forwards, which meant their two most attacking players were isolated up top and unable to influence the game when it seeped away from them. Kuyt, a Dutch international striker, was played wide right as he has been throughout his Liverpool career.

Against Sunderland, Benitez put Gerrard back into the centre of a four-man midfield - where he is clearly happiest and most effective - put Kuyt into the support striker slot, where his lack of pace is balanced against his ability to hold the ball up. Benitez also deployed Babel and Maxi, two international wide-players, as wingers.

In the interests of balance, Benitez was also able to field an almost first-choice defence (except Insua - Liverpool need Insua-rance when he plays) because Agger and Carragher played centre half, while Johnson was back from injury - his goal proved that he influences their attacking play as much as their defensive play. A good performance is rewarded with a three goal victory.

A BBC reporter's question to Rafa Benitez in the post-match interview; "So, Rafa, what was so different about Liverpool today?"
Rafa. "I don't know. We try to do the same things all the time."

No Rafa, you don't. You seem to try to do the same thing all the time, which is to play players out of position (Gerrard, Kuyt) play inferior players at the expense of better players (Lucas not Gerrard? Really?), play one of the massed ranks of your awful full-back purchases instead of Riera, Babel, Maxi or Benayoun), and just keep good players on the bench (Benayoun has a right to feel aggrieved and if Aquilani is good enough why the hell did you buy him?).

You seem to confuse and anger your players. You have lived off your Champions league win for far too long and without that trophy you would have been sacked already. The Liverpool board - obviously not a haven for sense or stability at present - were insane to give you a new five-year contract and you are now using that as leverage in remaining at the helm, while telling fans you will not walk away. At least not without your pay-off. It it, at best, disingenuous.

The Premier League doesn't need a strong Liverpool - the competition is as entertaining this year as it has been a decade and one club will always replace another in football's inevitable decline and rise - but a strong Liverpool is desirable.

For that to happen, Rafa needs to go.

He complains he has not been given big money to spend, yet I would argue that it is a rare instance of the board showing a degree of sense because his buying record is awful. Torres, Reina and Mascherano aside, how many of the 80+ players Benitez has bought have improved Liverpool?

He seems unable to find a 'diamond in the rough'. he has no eye for a bargain, or if he does, he insists on ruining them when they get to the club; Babel is a clear case in point - look at how the very raw Nani has been brought on by Ferguson compared to how Babel, one of the most coveted young players in Europe at the time, has gone backwards under Benitez.

I know they are slightly different standards for comparison, but down at Cardiff City Dave Jones continues to unearth quality signings at bargain prices, get us to an FA Cup final and into play-off contention when we should be in administration. He has an eye for a player, he gets the best out of people via strong man management and he does it all with no budget. Yes he has his faults - in my experience he's needlessly argumentative, he uses subs pretty poorly and could play the fans a lot better than he does; and he has also signed quite a few duds - but in the plusses and minuses columns, he is definitely a big plus. In a similar situation he shows what a good manager can achieve.

Rafa's problems are of his own making, the boardroom turmoil provides a nice smokescreen for his failings which he uses to optimum personal effect.

Rafa needs to do the decent thing and quit.

A new start: Why I owe thanks to meat-faced Jeremy Kyle

Hello folks,
I've got more blogging time than I used to so I thought I'd start this rubbish up again. You'll be happy to know I'm abandoning the awful creative writing experiment I previously used this site for, in favour of a more straight-laced series of rants that are too long to fit on Twitter and don't need to be liked on Facebook.
This will be about football (breakage and appreciation), music (good and bad), my abomination of a comedy career and various other things, like Animal 24/7, a day-time TV programme in which a Davd Moyes-a-like talks about thin dogs with fleas like it signals the end of humanity as we know it.
I wouldn't even be as bothered as you are, proxy-David, if I was that thin and had fleas and lived in a tramp's attic. You're not presenting 999 with Michael Buerk. Not even Michael Buerk is presenting 999 with Michael Buerk. And there's a reason for that, we already have Casualty. or Holby City, or Holby Blue (which was never as good as the title promised) to fill that format.
"This man was climbing up a slightly wonky looking ladder without safety socks while operating a rotary-bladed helmet strimmer. He could never have guessed that on this average Sunday morning, he would behead The Duke Of York in an incident the Queen would later describe as "funny, like, but obviously quite bad as well."
This is why I do not watch daytime TV. When I became a freelance my main worry was discipline. I didn't consider myself particularly disciplined as a worker and thought I needed the yoke of a gaffer to make me work. But I've been surprised with my subsequent work-rate.
In three months so far I have got myself in the NME, done some project management, a lot of copywriting - which is sustaining me financially while I seek more access to valid journalistic avenues - even done a little PR. And obviously applied for a LOT of jobs, which is a job in itself.
My work-rate was fueled by panic, mostly, but I've now hit a point where I'm starting to relax, to believe that work will arrive from around the corner and that as long as my brilliant girlfriend continues to rent me like a pedallo then I can make a proper go of all this.
The first week without a job I decided that, after 15 straight years of work without a break, I was going to have a few days off. Maybe even a week. I sat down on the sofa with a bowl of cereal and watched an episode of Jeremy Kyle.
The ensuing desire to vomit was not in anyway due to the fact that cereal is a crushingly boring foodstuff that looks the same in defecation as it does in ingestion, but the state of the chavs that were on the show and the sanctimonious way in which Kyle addressed them - "I'm exploiting you and belittling you, but it's for your own good. Although mainly for my own good, obviously. Now shut up and take the full length of my sneering abuse-cock."
Worst of all is Kyle's face. It's like someone has played that game where kids put dog shit in a bag and light it on fire on someone's doorstep, and it has then been stamped on by the alarmed resident. Then the remains of the charred crapsack have had a face painted onto them in a prostitute's make-up and its been given a TV show to present. He makes Matthew Wright look like a matinee idol with a PhD.
Anyway, my point is that this one episode of one show was enough to put me off day-time TV and drive me back to the computer. Anyone who choses to continue watching simply doesn't want to work.
It's all about choice, as the politicians might say.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Another overdue lump of this overly long shit

Hello you two, I've just logged onto the blog due to boredom and found that two people - yes two whole people, or potentially one person voting twice, hmm - had voted on the vote-o-meter thing on the blog. I was amused. That's one more people than I knew had read this stuff. I've recently decided to attempt a children's book with a mate who draws things quite well. I doubt it will ever materialise but if it does and I make a shedload of money like that awful Rowling woman then rest assured you will see none of it. I'll spend it on a giant bronze podium for the garden so I can stand on it twice a day and read James Ellroy to the peasants. Anyway, I wrote another bit of this thing because it is beginning to gather a little momentum in my head. It is going somewhere, trust me, I've visited a doctor. Remember the rules here, this is unedited, stream of consciousness writing. There will be errors and clumsy stuff. Deal with it.

Gray was uneasy about the last words to leave Vadas thin lips and the doctors's vaguness was doing nothing to improve his mood.
"He shows absolutey no signs of being in a physical struggle," said Dr Hammond, sure of that at least.
"There isn't a mark on him. No defence wounds on his hands, wrists or arms, or even legs and feet, to indicate he fended off an attacker, suggesting he was more likely the attacker rather that the attacked. But by the same token, he show no signs of the bruising that would develop after an attack of the ferocity you describe. He would be certain to have sustained at least some kind of damage from resistance by a large group. It's like he wasn't even there. If you hadn't told me where you found him I wouldn't have even have considered it a possibility."
Gray rolled the words around in his mouth. They didn't fit.
"Dr, it sounds to me like you are saying that he wasn't even present during the attack. Are you suggesting that he wasn't, that someone could have put him in the hold after those people died.?"
"Given the physical signs then that's entirely possible," began the doctor, but Gray sensed there was something further."Spit it out Doctor," ventured Gray.
"Well," edged the physician, "there's something strange about him. Nothing I can really put my finger on but, he just..."
"I don't have all day Dr," said Gray, his patence thinning.
"He's too well. In too good a condition. He should have wounds, he should be suffering from exposure, dehydration, starvation. He should be weak. If I had to guess I would say he is some kind of profesional athlete, perhaps a soldier, but even by those standards he is unusually strong. His muscle development is truly impressive. And his recovery rate since he arrived here has been nothing short of incredulous. He is showing some unusual discrepancies in his blood and we are continuing tests on that, but it isn't a virus or disease we recognise. With your permission I'd like to keep him here for a week to ...
"That won't be possible," said Gray, cutting the Doctor dead politely.
"Then just a few days. We need to find out what this is and I'd need help from..."
"Not a chance in hell," snapped Gray, his impatience fracturing at his repetition. "This man is potentially a very violent killer responsible for the murder of 80 people and I will not allow him to stay in a public facility any longer than is absolutey neccesary. I wan't this man in a cell as soon as is possible."
Dr Hammond looked at his shoes and bit down on his tongue.
"Mr Gray. Imagine the possibilities of a virus that made people stronger, aided recovery, imagine how many patients this could help to treat. How many diseases. I mean, in cancer treatment alone this could revolutionise ..."
Gray stepped forward and raised his open palm to the Dr's face. The time for professional courtesy was over.
"Doctor, this morning you told me this patient was ready to be discharged to our care and that is exactly what will happen tomorrow. I have a space in cell waiting for him and if you coninue to obstruct me you might just find yourself next to him. I will return tomorrow at 9am and I expect him to be ready. Goodbye."
Gray left the office door swinging as he left the doctors office. Walking past the room holding Vadas, Gray noticed the stranger hadn't changed his position, lying on his side facing the window, but is eyes were wide open. Vadas was starring though him, not at him. Gray's eyes locked into the patient's. Vadas, unmoved by the eye contact, remained impassive for a moment before snapping to a blink. Then he caught Gray's stare. Vadas rolled over in his bed, turning his muscled back on the policeman, and Gray decided at that moment to bring three officers to remove him the next morning.

Random thought at 1.59am on January 4, 2009. I'm watching Live At the Apollo and Russell Howard is doing material I have seen and heard lots of time before. A commedian once told me that after shows half his fans ask him why he did old material, and half ask him why he didn't tell their favourite old joke. Why would someone want to hear a joke twice? Surely a new laugh is better than an old one?

Saturday, 8 November 2008

pointlessness in an electronic box

I'm not evn sure I'm payin attention to this anymore let alone anyone else. But if you are out there (Carl?) then here is a little bit more. I just haven't had time to do anything for months now. Not even write junk on the intramanet late at night. So just to prove I am still alive in blogland, here are some words.


The survivor did not open his eyes at first. Consciousness dawned with a whole new fear. He felt hard nylon sheets against his skin. He listened. A rthymic bleeping that matched his hearbeat and only his breathing in the silence beyond it. Antiseptic stung his nostrils, after so long in the hold his nose had bcome innured to smell. so long had he been locked in the fetid stench that he had become inured. His eyes snapped open. The hospital room was hard white on pupils that had seen only darkness for the days he had been locked in the hold, to scared to sleep. He raised his hand to examine the pulse monitor wired to his wrist but movement in his peripheral vision jolted him. A nurse stopped at the wide window to his room, starring at him over a clipoard. He blinked at her. She turned and walked out of view. A wooziness crawled up his spine and into his head.

"You look well." said Gray. "Very well."
The survivor slowly widened his eyes and scanned the questioner and the suited man next to him, who repeated the unfamiliar noises in words he recognised.
For the first time he could speak to the man who pulled him from that hole.
"Are you police?" asked the stranger.
"Yes, I am. Tell me your name."
"I am Tamas Vadas."
Gray absorbed the information. He nodded to himself and said: "You are still not well yet so I will spare you questions for now but I want you to think about what has happened so that when we do talk about it tomorrow you will be prepared for it. I will ask you just one question now. How did you survive?"
Vadas turned his face to the window. "I know you will not believe me but I do not know. The last thing I remember is a woman tending to my fever. Then I think I slept. When I woke ..." he turned back to face the policeman, his throat quivering and his shotgun eyes disintegrating. "I woke in hell."
Gray felt his teeth pressing together as the smell of the hold flooded the room. He beckoned to the interpreter with a finger wheeled out of the room, stopping at the door. He next words were delivered slowly.
"Mr Vadas, you need to think very carefully about what you will say to me tomorrow. Or you risk swapping one hell for another."
"And if you think about what I will tell you," snapped Vadas, "you will understand that a cage is the best place for me."

random observation at 1.45am on Saturday November 8, 2009
Facebook instant messenger has just found me chatting with a girl I once fondled in a lane at an age when I shouldn't have been fondling girls in lanes. Is that a good thing or a bad thing. What do you say to each other? We had a strangely intimate conversation for an oddly long time. I'm not sure how I feel about that.