13 February 2008

Nowhere so busy a man as he

The past week has been quite hectic here - one of those periods in which you start looking forward to an easy night indoors even. Like tonight!

On Tuesday last week it was pub quiz night out in Stoke Newington. It was film & music night, so I was really looking forward to it. The questions were rather challenging! For example, I knew that Harry Secombe played Mr Bumble in Oliver!, but having never seen it I had no chance of knowing four other key players. Luckily the chaps displayed an eidetic memory and pulled us through. Another stumper was the simple true or false question: during WWII the Academy awarded Oscar statuettes made of plastic - true or false? (Answer at the bottom of the post). In the end despite a distinct lack of knowledge of the works of Craig David we still managed third place, taking home a king's ransom of a fiver each. Thinking of turning pro soon.

On Wednesday I went to see Control, the Ian Curtis / Joy Division biopic with Felix & Gavin. As befits a film made by the legendary rock photographer Anton Corbijn (who photographed Joy Division in their heyday), every shot was artfully composed and the rich black and white film textures were sumptuous - everything looked like a shot from the best photo studio. The young actor playing Curtis, Sam Riley, looked the part and did a good job of conveying the difficult psychological arc of the character, and of course the music was tremendous - a real evocation of the raw directness of the Factory talent. But on the down side, the script felt a little join-the-dots in places (when they all pile into a Cortina to play their first gig in London and one of the band members is nervous, another character says, 'He's just nervous because we're playing our first gig in London'. Yeah, we get it. At times the strength of the music threatens to overwhelm the story and render the film a mere string of tastefully accurate Joy Division music videos. And while Samantha Morton is a top-notch actress and gives a good performance as Ian's wife Debbie Curtis, it just didn't feel 100% authentic - she was just a bit too old to play the character. Still, for fans of the band or the scene it's a must-see complement, particularly if you've already seen and enjoyed 24 Hour Party People.

It was turning into something of a movie week, because the next day after work I met Craig, Claire and Craig's mate Ivan in Shaftesbury Avenue to see the much-talked-about Coen Brothers film, No Country For Old Men. On the one hand I can see why it's been so popular and been nominated for eight Oscars. Javier Bardem is superb as the vicious psychopathic criminal, and all the other cast members give pitch-perfect performances - particularly Tommy Lee Jones' sheriff and Josh Brolin's rugged chancer taking on the unstoppable killer. And I did enjoy wee Scot Kelly Macdonald and her perfect Texan drawl as Carla Jean (well, it sounded great to me). And the broad Texan vistas were stunning on the wide screen too. But... I guess thrillers aren't really my cup of tea, and this one in particular was just too violent for my tastes - I preferred the old fashioned approach they used to take of keeping the grisly stuff off-camera to heighten the drama. Depicting the gore unflinchingly might win points for honesty but it also drags an intelligent film like this too close to the slasher genre that is rightly regarded as a B-movie genre. In any case, the movie got us all discussing its positives and negatives after we emerged, so we went to the nearby Cambridge pub on Charing Cross Road to carry on the debate.

The weekend turned out to be an absolute cracker in London - astonishing blue skies and balmy sunrays the whole time. On Saturday I went up to Hendon in north London to visit the excellent RAF Museum London to look at its selection of aircraft exhibits ranging from flimsy WWI fighters to modern jet fighters. I think my favourites would have to be these two - the sole remaining example of the graceful Supermarine Stranraer flying-boat and a rugged-looking Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer that saw active service designating targets for RAF Tornados and Jaguars in the first Gulf War.

At home that evening I watched an interesting BBC2 doco on the Dead Sea Scrolls. On Sunday I took advantage of the weather and went for a run along the Heath, went to Hammersmith for a haircut that turned out to be a tad shorter than I'd envisaged, and then headed into the West End. Town was heaving with people who had come in for the Chinese New Year parade that had finished half an hour before, and many of the streets were pedestrian only. I stopped in at the National Portrait Gallery to see the Photographic Portrait Prize 2007 exhibit, and then weaved through the crowds in Leicester Square to watch the fireworks display at 6pm. It was good fun and ear-pummellingly loud. (I took a couple of short videos to give you an idea: (clip 1) (clip 2), and here's a reasonable picture).

Then it was a short stroll to the Prince Charles to see my third film in recent days, the Wes Anderson India comedy travelogue The Darjeeling Limited. The three bickering brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody and Jason Schwartzman) are endearingly petty fractured souls searching for their mother who has rather advanced personal space issues. There are no profound stories at work here though - it's just a chance for some appealing comedy and a lot of stunning Indian scenery and local colour. Anderson is quite the internationalist, always highlighting exotic influences in his off-kilter films - the Portuguese-singing ship's crewman in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (Seu Jorge) being another example. Definitely a film worth watching, particularly if you liked Anderson's other works, and perhaps like me felt that Zissou (etc.) was a little bleak.

And finally on Monday night I met a few pals (Felix, Gavin, Craig, Claire and Helen) at the 5th View cafe at the top of the Waterstone's bookshop in Piccadilly for some wine and nibbles in commemoration of the first anniversary of my departure from New Zealand. The year's gone quickly! Roll on the next one; the first major occasion of which will be my trip to Andalucia, which begins on Saturday.

Before I go, I seem to have got into the habit of posting videos, but apart from the fireworks I've got none of my own this week. So instead I'll give you this clip of Irish comedian David O'Doherty performing his signature tune, 'FAQ for the DOD'. Al, Will and I saw his act in Wellington during a comedy festival a few years ago and he was great fun to watch - a laconic chap with a good line in self-deprecating humour and silly songs on his miniature keyboard.



Nowhere so busy a man as he than he, and yet he seemed busier than he was.

- Geoffrey Chaucer

(Pub quiz answer: True - the Oscars during WWII were made of plastic! I got that one SO wrong...)
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