All entries for May 2007

May 24, 2007

UK, the greatest nation on Earth. Truly.

Writing about 'This is the greatest nation on earth' from Chris Doidge's Blog

A couple of weeks ago, in his resignation speech, PM Tony Blair declared the UK was the greatest nation on Earth. And this seems to have stirred quite a debate.
In order to agree or disagree with him, though, one has to look into what it means to be the greatest nation on Earth.
  1. Nation – what is a nation? To me, it means a set of cultural heritage, that binds people together. It is more than waving a flag around – oh no, that is only for people who uphold a vision of the nation that is different from what actually is, and need a symbol to rally to. [aside]Interesting enough, by the way, that these were brought in the French presidential debate.[/aside] The nation is some marks you can actually identify, in this case, the UK with.
  2. Greatest. Tony Blair chose his words carefully – he did not say most influential or most powerful, or any such thing the French might come up with. He said greatest; and in terms of nations, what does it mean? It could mean loveable, but that would be entirely subjective, and not quite fit in. Though I am sure the ex-PM is in love with his nation. What I think he meant there is that, no matter what, the UK has still a unique feel, an unbreakable set of chartacteristics, and a creative culture. And he is well right.

The UK is, nowadays, patly based on immigrant population. They remain within small or large communities; but still take on a big chunk of British culture – from the language to tea. And the oddity to drive on the left. Etc. etc. – they may be thought of as foreigners, but truly they are British. And that’s without having to wave a flag around.

This is why, truly, the UK is the greatest nation on Earth. And I am proud to live in it.
(Disclaimer: abuse at the French is purely jocular)


Spidey

Title:
Spiderman 3
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

The main problem with Holywood sequels is that they try to top off what has been done before. Thus, Spiderman 3 could be dubbed bigger, better, with this time not one, not two, but three villains. Quite ambitious to bring the Sandman, Venom and Goblin mark II in one single movie.
And, to be honest, it doesn’t work. Well, that is, at the beginning: too much time is spent on the Sandman’s background, without quite convincing us; and Spidey/Pete’s bliss is borderline boring. You see a new Spiderman, full of pride, which is quite a leap from the one we had seen in the first two parts.
However, this all serves a purpose, and builds up to what can be named a masterpiece. For this movie revolves around one central theme, as did the previous two; but more subtly, and with a more general scope than before. What Spidey 3 is about, ultimately, is not exploring the dark side of the superhero – because that cannot work – it is about forgiveness. And it is seen from every possible angle: forget but not forgive, at the beginning – which clearly leaves some guilt in the “culprit”; Aunt May’s “forgive yourself first”; revenge; forgiveness that brings peace of mind; rejected forgiveness… I don’t think there’s any other way to tackle the issue; and yet it does not feel hackneyed in the film; on the contrary, thanks to the long and slow-paced beginning, it just feels right.
So we’re ready to forgive some awkward scenes (such as the French maître d’), and to focus on the amazing performances given by the lead cast: Tobey Maguire is, as ever, very good – even when he becomes the baddie; Kirsten Dunst is annoying but only when she’s supposed to be, and, for this once, does not give a flat, boring pretty-face act; and finally, Harry is just great! Suspension of disbelief works in every single scene he’s in; and that was important in order to make a farfetched twist quite believable. The supporting cast is quite good as well, especially the arrogant Eddie.
So, yeah, the storylines from the previous two movies are dramatically altered (who killed whom?), and yeah it’s overcrowded with villains – but it is all for the best, and iit works!

Spiderman 3 will be shown next term in the Student Cinema – worth the 2 or 3 quid!


May 21, 2007

An ideal break from revisions: Notes on a scandal

Title:
Notes on a scandal
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

It’s time, it would seem, for another review. The very good Notes on a Scandal was on last night at the Student Cinema; and will be shown again tomorrow tuesday (21st May) at 7.30pm. In the following review, I will give out bits of the plot; but since it is not an action/suspense-led movie, they are not spoiling much.
The film is, basically, about Cate Blanchett, playing a young arts teacher, falling in love with one of her 15-year-old pupils, as seen by Judi Dench, who plays an old, upper-lip teacher believing she loves Blanchett. One could see three acts in the film: the beginning of a friendship; Dench discovers the scandal and decides to use it to her personal benefit; and the end of lies. Just like on-stage drama; which would probably suit the story a bit better.
However, all the boxes are ticked: it is an interesting, nice story; the casting couldn’t have been more accurate, at least for the leading two ladies: a manipulative, old shrew Judi Dench (the best actress in British cinema); and a young naive/candid Cate Blanchett. The story editing works perfectly, the pacing is right and conveys the feelings of the cast; directing and photography are (just) ok, and the music is awesome, even though it suffers from what I now shall call the Murray Gold syndrome: it is so good that post-producers decide to put it in the film just a tad too loud.
So, with no apparent flaw, surely, this would deserve a five star? Well, no. The story is, ultimately, about lies; and whilst the film manages to show bourgeois happiness is just a facade, it fails to go far enough in denouncing Judi’s lies – lies to herself, especially about her love and friendship with Blanchett. Hers is the quest for power over other people, and the delusion of having it, but not love. The same is true about Blanchett, who lies to herself about the state of her marriage, etc. And I resent Notes on a Scandal a bit for not focusing on this, just a tad more than it did.
Still, an all-around enjoyable film (yes, like every film that is on at the student cinema: Epic Movie was a fragment of your imagination and was never ever shown in L3!); and it also deserves praise for being only 97 minutes long, which is rather a counter-trend in post-Lord of the Rings overlong/overstretched cinema.
An ideal break from revisions!


May 20, 2007

Excellent PR stunt.

The very controversial new president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, is manipulating the media with quite an impressive ability. And, I’d say, has done so for quite a while now.
His latest PR stunt is quite twisted: right after the election, he decided to take a leave – for a “well-deserved rest”, and to “inhabit the presidential function”. Bang. Controversy all over the media in France, and the socialists just go for it. Scandalous; where does the money come from – and when it turns out it’s not the taxpayer’s but an industrial’s – has there been traffic of influences? Truly enough, the amount spent during these days was quite high (I can’t remember the exact figures, but it’s not very relevant anyway). And true, it is quite weird that a newly-elected president leaves the country right after the election. But it is entirely within his rights, all the more so as he was not invested yet.
What are the real consequences of this controversy? Something that, I’m very much afraid, we’ll have to endure during the next five years to say the least. Media that are focused on the person – the president himself – and not on the policy he seeks to implement. They fell for it this time, and also did before and during the campaign, when all you could hear was that he was a dangerous man, quick to lose his temper etc. – and the much mediatised divorce from Cécilia. Talking about her, weirdly enough, she reappears in the front of the scene – and guess what? the media don’t fail to notice and say it.
When the media focus on the person, instead of on his actions and policy, we enter a very dangerous society; and the cult of personality is only one step ahead. An example – about slavery. This year is the 200th aniversary of the abolition of slavery; and Sarkozy, as he should, attended the ceremony (note he didn’t attend the ceremony for the end of World War II, which is a bank holiday in France) – the media picked up on the fact that he had condemned “repentance” as “self-hatred” during the campaign, and insisted on the fact that he contradicted himself. Instead of looking at Sarkozy’s actions, once more, they focused on the person, taking his words about repentance as unalterable truth.
Now – it is true that the personality of a president is important – especially when world politics as concerned; but focusing on it is a very, very slippery slope.


Travis' latest album

Title:
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

Travis are back, after a three-year hiatus, with a fourth album, The boy with no name. It is definitely more pop than rock, this time – and marks quite a change from 12 memories. The boy with no name draws upon all the positive sides from the previous albums (some instrumentals remind of Quicksand; Selfish Jean belongs definitely more to Good Feeling than any other album, and My Eyes rings a bit like Fear. And the pop bits are from The Invisible Band, and remind especially of Side.
So, it should be a masterpiece. And yet the magic doesn’t work – granted, some pieces are just awesome – especially My eyes – but all these songs are just – well – sung. They do not convey any feeling, where the whole of The invisible band was transmitting a general feeling of hope, The man who sadness and insecurity, Good feeling buoyant happiness, and 12 Memories anger. And not conveying any feeling makes The Boy with no name achieve only a three stars. Interestingly enough, the video to the first single, Closer, happens in a supermarket – and that’s basically what some of the songs are: supermarket music, lacking energy and originality.
Pity, because we all know that Travis is able to do so much better!
So – yes – individually, there are some great songs: My eyes, One night, and Selfish Jean. But as a whole, the new album is a disappointment.


May 19, 2007

The Perfume (the movie)

Title:
The Perfume
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

The Perfume – the movie – was, at its very core, ambitious, this for many reasons. Most obviously, it is extraordinarily difficult to transpose the olfactory sense, which is at the very centre of Süskind’s novel, onto a media that is mostly graphical. Secondly, the book itself is a masterpiece and has some wonderful descriptions, which, again, inevitably would fail to be rendered on a screen. Also, the leading part (almost the only part) is that of a twisted soul, but one which has charisma and appeal: casting had to be really fitting for this role. So – quite a challenge!
It would have been easy to focus on how obsession drives Jean-Baptiste crazy- though that would have departed slightly from the book. Too easy, probably – and studies about obsession-driven people are abundant in nowadays’ cinema (The Prestige is an exampe of them, and a very good one); so this path was not chosen. Being factual is, also, not an option- because the olfactory sense is the most subjective of our senses. The film is avoiding all these clichés and focus on one (maybe the main) aspect of the book – that, ultimately, Jean-Baptiste is some sort of Devil. Which is more obvious when you think of it – hints are plotting the whole book and film, for instance Jean-Baptste’s last name, Grenouille (frog, a creature associated with the Devil as far as I can remember). Whilst this becomes progressively obvious in the book, the same is not true of the movie – and one can easily mistake such references for random elements of the script: the word weird came quite a lot when I discussed about some scenes with friends. But – think about it – the deaths that occur to Jean-Baptiste’s carers right after he leaves (malediction element), deception, crime/murder, obsession with perfection – somehow trying to better God – and, more interestingly, the orgy scene towards the end of the film – symbolising lust. Now, this scene – which is gratuitous if you don’t have the Devil interpretation in mind – is quite controversial. It leads to quite a lot of giggling from the audience, but still is pivotal for the whole film: this is the culmination of Grenouille as the Devil, with him finally deceiving everyone into lust; but also entailing the central notion of Redemption : the first tears in Jean-Baptiste’s eyes, and the acceptance of death through the arms of the father as final redemptory act. Every symbol is there, even the cross. Now, as far as I recall, there is no orgy in the book, so this scene was added. And it is a stroke of genius. For once, story alterations actually add depth to a story, instead of, say, just adding a plotline (as the Aragorn/Arwen relationship in The Lord of The Rings). The very last scene keeps on adding some depth to the fallen angel ongoing theme: as the voiceover says, all that mattered was for Jean-Baptiste to be loved.
So the adaptation is, overall, genius. There are, however, still some defaults: the story being, ultimately, centred on Jean-Baptiste, so much time should not be spent on showing that the perfumer’s business was derelict, no matter how famous the actor is. Why do producers feel they have to use famous actors? Cameo is perfectly fine as far as I’m concerned! Also, one may say that, because of this focus on the Devil side of things, the story becomes very linear, and lacks transversal dimension. Which is true, but it somehow works in this particular film! Graphically, it is superb, except from the first couple of scenes: in order to show the olfactory sense at work, the director flashes evocative pictures. Quite fortunately, he quite rapidly gives up on that – fortunately, because the movie is about smells, which you, intrinsically, cannot show. The help comes from the amazing performance of the lead actor. He manages to pull off a tormented, yet disgusting and touching performance, as well as makes us see him smell. Suspension of disbelief is really easy (well, until the orgy scene) and that is moainly thanks to him. From the orgy scene onwards, he switches to allegory mode, which – again – works perfectly well!
But the film is not all good: there are a few minor issues. The voiceover is the one that I have most difficulties with: it is clearly a wrong choice when all you’re doing is following Jean-Baptiste around. It is, really, a lazy choice. But it gets worse: it would have been fine to have some voiceover; however, to have it speak like someone telling a children’s tale just doesn’t work. Because the story is so adult, and the tale mode does not work when you’re talking about the Devil. The other thing i hold against the Perfume is the music. Except for the one bit before Jean-Baptiste’s final murder (which is, by all my standards, brilliant), the music is unoriginal at best.
But this is all I can find to say against the film. Did it achieve what it had set out to do? Only partially – it fails to show as clearly as the book that Jean-Baptiste is an incarnation of the Devil, which makes it a failure for, say, half the audience- I personally did not like it that much the first time I saw it! So to all of you my dear readers, this film deserves a strong four. Go watch it again, or buy the DVD, because it is worth it!


42.

Title:
Doctor Who
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

42. Now that’s what I call a filler. The plot itself is very simple, almost hackneyed in Doctor Who; and… well… it’s a quickie that works well because of some nice ideas: a living Sun, Martha separated from the Doctor and realising she is about to die gave a quite interesting twist to the Smith & Jones relationship. I could go on. The nice thing about this episode (and, quite frankly, what saves it) is that it is nicely wrapped up. There are, practically, no loose ends – well, there’s always the couple of odd scientific nonsenses. I personally quite enjoyed the voice that counted the time left before impac. As in Smith & Jones (magnetic overload”), one is left to wonder why this message is implemented in the ship. But, what is more fun – it takes the voice over one second to say the remaining time; and yet you see it ticking of (and saying) the seconds! Another good (?) thing iis that, this time, when the Doctor nearly died, I actually considered a regeneration (probably because he mentioned it); and yet his salvation was more realistic than the near deaths we were getting used to over the past couple of episodes! So thumbs up to the production team for managing to pull off a nice little story. I am also excited by the fact that they’re already wrapping up for the finale… ooh elections I can’t wait!
Oh, one more thing: Murray Gold, your music is superb – but please tone it down a bit… Ta! :-)
A weak four out of five, then, and because it’s Doctor Who!


May 11, 2007

Oh boy, am I excited!

Writing about web page http://www.bigfinish.com/bigfinish.shtml

As read on the forums at Outpost Gallifrey, about the competition that the related webpage is about:

(...) On schedule to have announcements by the end of this month. 200 stories left to read. Think I might have found the winner already…

Obviously, I have entered a story for that competition (poor Big Finish received 1,073 submissions in total) – and I must say I am pleased with the concept, even though there’s a couple of things I am not overly happy with in my story – but hey, that’s what working with an editor is for!
Anyways, win or lose (the latter being more likely, but not 100% sure!) it will have been fun to write this; and thumbs up to Big Finish for organising this competition and being so efficient in their selection – I mean, they’ve been reading lots and lots of pieces of work :-)

Oh, don’t forget to buy the Short Trips anthologies, because as an editor (ConcreteElephant, the other quote is by the same user) said on the same forums (www.gallifreyone.com):

The general quality has been good, which has made the whole thing much more time-consuming and fiddly. It’s quick and easy to reject rubbish ones. So it’s bad news for us that there’s lots of very talented people amongst you. Some of the stories have been very, very good indeed. Bah.

If I don’t win – :-( – well I’ll put my story online, but no matter how much you want to read it – and I know you do – please keep your fingers crossed until the announcement of the result! Ta very much!

Edit: 14th May – as read on the forums

Not long to wait now… We have shortlist. Ian and I need to go through it, then our choice needs approving by all the Big People who have to approve these things, and then we can make an announcement.


May 07, 2007

Mediterranean Union

Writing about web page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mediterranean_Union

It would seem that M. Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France to be, has the vision of a Mediterranean Union, that would comprise Maghreb, Machrek, Turkey and some European states. He sees it as a sort of “replacement deal” for Turkey – which he doesn’t see as part of the EU, despite the long negociations that have been going on.
During the pre-second round debate, he stated that Turkey’s membership to the European Union would mark the death of a politic Europe, and advanced that Turkey was not geographically part of Europe. Whilst I am not much in favour of Turkey’s membership as of now, the reason for my position is that I think the 27-strong Union is not ready yet to get another member – I am not opposing Turkey’s membership in a certain future; I do not know enough on the country’s politics/economy to judge on the matter.
However, I know what view I have of Europe – today’s European Union is hardly more than a economic union, with the added advantages of free circulation of people and Erasmus. Its body has only fines as a means of pressure towards “rogue” members – it is definitely not a supernation or a political Europe. The Europe that I wish to see is a supernation, a political Europem with a strong executive body. I wish to see a Federal Republic of Europe. Now, whilst my view on this may not be shared (and is probably not) – a Mediterranean Union would be the death of this dream and of a political Europe:
How do you expect, if you want Europe to be a political union, to have half its member be part of another union; it is hard enough as it is to combine being a member of NATO and of the EU at the same time. So, M. Sarkozy, by allegedly wishing to save the political Europe, is undermining it.
I can’t wait to see what his proposed “mini-treaty” for Europe is… (oh boy England is growing on me, I’m already sarcastic!)


Dreamgirls

Movie image
Title:
Dreamgirls
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars
_Dreamgirls_ is on tomorrow at the Student Cinema. I watched it last night – and the word that comes to mind is uneven.
Weirdly enough, it’s not even a matter of “the actors are good, but the photography is not, or the writing”. No. Every role there is in movie-production is uneven in this movie.
  1. Let’s start with the story – the movie opens on a concert, sort of the début of the Dreamgirls, a trio of singing girls; and it moves on following them to their final concert (how original!). In the middle of this comes the ransom of glory, and the evolution of relationships within the diva-becoming trio and with the manager (a flirtatious man…). Without giving away more of the “plot” – at one point the movie splits between two storylines, one concerning Effie, one concerning the other Dreamgirls. The latter is, well, poorly done – hackneyed if you wish. If you want to watch a movie about the consequences of power and business-music, watch Ray. If you want to see flirt between artists, and the consequences of drugs, watch Walk the line – both of which are excellent films. The only original aspect of this storyline is that it tackles the influence on music itself of business-led music.
    The Effie storyline, however, is far more touching – and well done. And at least you can follow the change in her personality. Mind you, it is quite a simple storyline, but it is also original as it focuses on the What happens after?
  2. Cast. Every performance was uneven, generally getting better towards the end of the movie. Beyonce was particularly appalling in her moments, but also very good at times. She was, in my opinion, a controversial casting choice, considering her own history within Destiny’s Child – which echoes a bit in the film. There is an exception to those uneven performances:
    Dreamgirls won the Oscar for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role”, for Jennifer Hudson as Effie. And it was deserved – her acting was simply fabulous all the way through, and she has a great voice. Only for her, it is a movie worth watching.
  3. Photography and directing. Well. Again, uneven. There are some bits which are overdone, some that feel just fine. What they got approximately right, though, is the changing of times. Well. Approximately: you can feel a scene is in the nineties/eighties/seventies/sixties but at times they chose a scene that was reminding of the wrong period… The editing cut, however, was wrong for the middle one hour of the film. I’ll come back to it in my conclusion.
  4. Music. Now when I watched it – in the beginning of the movie, I thought “what a fantastic music!” And it is true for most of the movie. Some songs are poor, though – but nothing quite as wrong as Beauty school drop-out from Grease. So yeah, if you can’t watch the film tomorrow, at least get by any (legal) means of your choosing, the soundtrack.

The main problem of this film, is that it doesn’t belong in the drama category but still tries. It is as though the director was undecided whether he wanted to make a documentary, a TV soap, a musical, or a movie. It feels like a documentary most of the time – but just lacks the narration. It feels like a soap at times, but this never lasts. And this is not just down to the director – the acting goes on accordingly, and so does the music (!)

Conclusion? Dreamgirls is a nice movie, worth watching – at least for the music and for Jennifer Hudson’s performance; but not a masterpiece. It helped me spend a not-too-bad evening last night (see previous entry) but not enough to keep me off drinking a bit afterwards.

Upcoming movies at WSC:
  • Apocalypto on thursday
  • The Last King of Scotland on friday 6.30 and 9.30
  • Rocky Balboa on sunday and tuesday
  • Epic Movie on thursday
  • The Perfume on friday 6.30 and 9.30

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