28 June 2015

Bing & Bob

It was in Hollywood, hick town or no, that he got paired with Bing Crosby, a much bigger star, in a small buddy comedy called “The Road to Singapore” (1940). This was the first of the series of “Road” movies—“The Road to Morocco,” “The Road to Utopia,” “The Road to Rio”—which made him a household name, and are his best shot at posterity. They really are funny, and curiously modern, and a key part of this, strange to say, is Hope’s sex appeal. He’s a self-confident wise guy—exposed as a coward but not as a nebbish. Riding the back of a camel with Crosby in “Road to Morocco,” he’s as at ease in his undershirt as Brando.

Zoglin is right that the meta-comedy, “the fourth-wall-breaking,” of those movies is still charming, and must have seemed startling at the time. After Hope stops to recapitulate the plot in “Morocco,” Crosby protests that he knows all that. “Yeah, but the people who came in the middle of the picture don’t,” Hope replies. This is a stunt, and we buy it because the characters are so companionable—the real subject of the movies was Bob and Bing’s friendship, and our sense that, as with Redford and Newman later on, they were funny, attractive equals. Crosby isn’t truly a straight man; Hope isn’t truly a clown. The Hope character doesn’t see himself as ineligible for Dorothy Lamour, just squeezed out.

The simulation of that brotherly relationship turns out to be an artistic invention of the movies. In truth, the two men barely tolerated each other. “He was a son of a bitch,” Hope remarked after Crosby’s death. Hope’s brand of sullen and Crosby’s brand of sullen were different: Hope’s outwardly genial and inwardly inert, Crosby’s fuelled by alcohol and anger, and perhaps by enough intelligence to make this great jazz singer, once described as the “first hip white person in America,” think that he was wasting his talent on these matters [...]

For a decade, from 1939 to 1950, Hope was consistently and even irresistibly funny, in a way now hard to analyze, since its later inferior, mechanical TV version is so close to it in style. Part of it is period parody. Hope is to the tough guys and hardboiled dicks of the forties what Woody Allen was to the smooth seducers of the sixties—at once boldly aspiring and obviously inadequate. “It only took brains, courage, and a gun,” Hope announces in his 1947 parody film noir, “My Favorite Brunette.” “And I had the gun.” We know that’s not a Groucho line, typically an overwrought boast that dissolves into wordplay. (“One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I don’t know.”) The key is the feint at courage, and the rueful confession of inadequacy. (As with his simple statement in “The Road to Zanzibar,” as he leads Crosby into the unknown: “Oh, come on, you follow me. In front.”)

- Adam Gopnik, 'Laugh Factory', New Yorker, 17 November 2014

15 June 2015

What Phil Savage wants from E3

What I want: New games! Ones that don't have a number after them. Or ones that do have a number after them, but only as a bold commentary on the over-reliance of franchisable brands. I want a dour studio executive to stand on stage and reveal a new sandbox roguelike about skateboarding horses. Not anthropomorphic ones, either. Just regular horses. On skateboards. Or perhaps a survival game where everybody has to walk on stilts? Maybe the floor is lava, and you wobble around the world QWOP-style, trying to push other players over. Look, I haven't thought this through. The point is that I want to be surprised.

- via PC Gamer, 12 June 2015

The Sunday morning train to Verona Porta Nuova

A lightning storm of epic proportions envelops Venezia Mestre, the mainland rail terminal of Venice, as I await the 10.19 regional service to Verona Porta Nuova. Flashes of lightning crease the sky every minute, and as the pounding rain increases in intensity I can only wonder of the chaos it must be inflicting upon the crowded tourist alleys of Venice itself and the slickened, pigeon-pecked paving of St Mark's Square. On time, the single-deck train arrives from the island to whisk a dozen or two Mestre passengers and me inland. Well, whisk might not be a strictly accurate description, because the regional service may reach a fair clip on the open rail, it is also designed to service the dense network of rural stations serving small towns along the route, every five minutes or so: Ponte di Brenta, Mestrin, Grisignano di Zocco. Italian train boarding is not a hurried operation, so it pauses for a leisurely few minutes at each stop, and as I'm in the front carriage I can observe the conductor leaning out the foremost door, checking that any passengers have alighted and new ones boarded safely.

For the first half an hour I have the front 2nd-class carriage to myself as the train emerges from the scraggy light industry of Mestre into satellite suburbs intermixed with wealthy farming country. An unexplained halt to allow a faster train to pass gives a moment to appraise the carriage. It's a tidy affair, with 34 seats decked out in suitably regal Italian blue vinyl, plus room for a wheelchair or prams. Each set of three or four seats has a small litter bin with a pair of built-in power sockets for passengers to charge their phones or laptops. It's all very tidy and civilised. All it needs is a gelateria and it'd be perfect.

At Padova (Padua) several more dozen passengers join the train, including three in my front carriage, two of whom are chatting on their mobiles. We are soon cruising through the lush flat fields of the Veneto farmlands, with square pale yellow-washed farm houses floating amidst a lapping sea of wheat and corn. There are no bends in the track: it is as if the Roman army built this ferrovia, the iron road.

At Vicenza all my carriage-mates alight, including the mobile-talking woman who has nattered in Italian for her entire journey. Their only replacement is a thin, quiet, elderly gent grasping a well-furled black umbrella and an art case. He departs a few stops down the line at the grape-growing town of San Bonifacio, where a man props his young cycle helmet-wearing son upon his shoulders to admire the arriving train. Tree-clad hills emerge alongside the valley route, peppered with steep crop-fields and the odd monastery. We pass a pallet factory (closed for the weekend), a tumbled-down farmhouse, and a fancy vineyard with a carpark dotted with bright white vehicles.

Soon the train nears Verona itself, stopping at Verona Porto Vescovo on the outskirts before entering the heart of the city to the terminus at Verona Porta Nuova. The journey has taken two hours - twice the time of the fast train but costing a mere €8.60 (NZ$13.50). Now it's time to explore another new city.

05 June 2015

Bagging a king pair

Mine occurred when Middlesex played the Pakistan tourists in 1974. I never could play leg-spin, an unfathomable mystery, so it was no surprise in the first innings I was lbw to Intikhab Alam. Second time around, it was a different leg-spinner Mushtaq Mohammad bowling from the Pavilion end, so as I passed him I asked him what he would bowl. “I will bowl you a googly,” he said. It is possible to over-intellectualise these things: I played for the leg break, the ball spun back in instead, through a gate the team bus could have got through and I was bowled. Mushie, a wonderful fellow, chortled away. “I told you I would bowl you a googly.” “Yeah, thanks a bunch Mushie,” I muttered as I went back past. “I thought at least I could trust you to be fucking devious.”

- Mike Selvey, Guardian, 4 June 2015

03 June 2015

That's a high wine-to-pounds ratio

South African wine at Lidl Finsbury Park, the dipsomaniac's friend.