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December 21, 2006

East Side Story

Writing about web page http://www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/rent/index.html

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Will I lose my dignity?
Will someone care?
Will I wake tomorrow,
from this nightmare?

It’s a shame and a blessing this song is so utterly depressing, as it means we’ll never do it in Rev.

RENT is anything but depressing. Unfortunately I’ve been too late with my career moves [1] to see the stage version, but with widescreen and surround sound and an amazing adaptation, the film takes away the need to spend a fortune to watch this live. Instead, after having seen it 3+ times in one week, I can honestly say it doesn’t lose any of its impact.

Apparently, I’ve been informed, the film gains its strength from the director’s approach. Chris Columbus – famous for directing and producing such great films as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Stepmom, and Home Alone – managed to attract some of the original Broadway cast, and as such kept some of the stage elements of the screenplay, hardly focussing on a single person, but showing the interactions between the characters. It seems to draw out the similarities between the characters, rather than their differences, which is a good thing when we’re talking about seasons of love.

I’m not too sure why I love it so much. Usually I try to find a reason to give less than 5 stars in a review, but I’m actively trying to have everyone I know to see this film. It’s got characters for everyone to enjoy – although most of them are artists (bohemians) to some extent, there is the geek, the introvert, the extrovert, the madwoman, the businesswoman – and it’s got diverse musical influences with 80s house, gospel and soul, 90s rock, though mostly in a musical flavour.

Earlier today, I told someone it’s about New York, love, bills, and AIDS. Rich (my other housemate) thought he’d elaborate and said he appreciated the juxtaposition [2] of the wealthy, moneymaking individuals, and the poor but loving and funmaking group of tenants. I appreciate that it isn’t a musical just about a romantic story, but that it shows so much about the society of the setting.

I was a bit worried after seeing the placid film adaption of Phantom of the Opera, which seemed to have combined the worst parts of stage and cinema. However, RENT is simply wonderful, so let me know when you want to see it! [3]

1 Most tragically, being born too late to actually be aware of this musical in theatres in a place I could easily get too at a later stage in my life.

2 He didn’t actually say juxtaposition I think, but Alice of Vicar of Dibley used it earlier today and it got stuck in my head.

3 But please wait until I’ve actually managed to leave the country despite the fog, and then wait till I have come back in the new year.


November 28, 2006

Oh. His. Word. Part II

Follow-up to Oh. His. Word. Part I from [TBA]

Between all the queueing, there was some gospel.

Ever been to what used to be Soul Nation? It was a bit like that inside, but then not as sweaty. And not as smoky. And not as aggressive. Basically a massive Christian dancehall party. Well. And with gospel songs. The DJ and compere played the impatient crowd (having paid 30 quid and already waiting 2 hours for the main act) just about right, having them sing one of the most uplifting and groovy gospel songs (In the sanctuary, by Kurt Carr) as one massive gospel choir. The support didn’t do too bad either, though apart from an great upcoming voice (Roger Samuels) lacked in quality what it had in energy.

Then there was Kirk.

Kirk Franklin is probably the most successful gospel artist alive. Not related to Aretha as far as I know, and mainly working behind the scenes and letting his lyrics and choir do the work for him. He has worked with many famous artists such as Stevie Wonder, Mary J Blige, R Kelly, and U2’s Bono. Anyway, if you’re interested I’m sure you can find out all the good bad and ugly about this man. Or if you’re more interested in what he does, here’s a clip of one of his most accessible stuff.

I’m actually not sure how to review what happened between Kirk entering the stage, and us breathing fresh air. Not having had any proper food all day nor having had much sleep this weekend kind of put me in some standby mode to begin with. I remember grooving lots and thunder clapping Bajan style and holding hands with random people and having a group hug with more random people and holding A Lovely Day for lots of beats over and over again and freaking out another random person for coming in with the Melodies from Heaven harmony. And I remember trying to take a photo with Ali’s phone but being so not with it that once I was happy with the everchanging composition I realized I had my thumb on the wrong button. And I remember the pianist singing in the singing contest whilst no one was paying attention. Even he could sing. And I remember miming the piano bit and Kirk jumping into the crowd and everyone singing bye bye bye bye bye, bye bye bye bye bye bye bye etcetera. It was great. Wish you were there. Low battery now though.


November 27, 2006

Oh. His. Word. Part I

Follow-up to Israel & New Breed from [TBA]

Once in a while I listen to Premier – a Christian radio station that plays some good funky gospel between 11pm-1am. It was there I found out about Israel Houghton playing London. It was there I found out Kirk Franklin was playing London. It was Thursday night when I found out. The concert was last night. Maybe not exactly impulsive, it was one of the crazier things we’ve done in the house.

Spent the weekend with Rev in Olton, Birmingham, doing the usual: singing songs (quite a lot actually, for a weekend away), sleeping and freezing on church floors. I taught a song I wasn’t too sure about, but everyone loved it, though according to Ali it might be because of my chicken on drugs performance, or my face lighting up whenever the tenors (i.e. Jonny and two girls) came in with their harmony.

Got back 1pm on Sunday, ready to leave for Hammersmith, London, 2.30pm. I cheered when tomtom said we would take the M40, but then it guided us along the M4 for some reason as well, where we spent the larger part of our journey down. Through some miracle we managed to find a parking space a 5 minute walk away from Hammersmith Palais, yet we could practically join the queue there. The doors were bound to open 6.30pm, but that’s about the time we joined the queue. That is, the queue to pick up our tickets. Which we didn’t get till 8pm.

We queued a lot actually. To get to Hammersmith, there was only one exit lane which was crammed. The fact that some thought they were too good to queue and do some last minute merging didn’t help. Similar problem in the ticket queue. So what do you do? It seems like most people just hope someone else says something about it. I thought I’d use my Dutchness and loudly proclaim my dilemma with people jumping queues. At least the people behind us knew we were on their side, so helped them stay ahead of the sneaks.

On the way back, tomtom had the great idea of sending us up the M1. She forgot there were roadworks. Even beyond tired, Ali used mathematical wit and picked the outside lane. Indeed, it was the fastest. Mainly because eventually all 3 lanes were supposed to merge on the inside lane. It was worth it though. We saw 3 Noonoos and a man with a fire spitting machine.


September 18, 2006

EIIR

Movie image
Title:
The Queen
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

It’s been two years since I’d gone out to see a hyped old people’s film. Something’s Gotta Give turned out to be strangely unsatisfying at the time, and this weekend I’d rather have gone to see Little Miss Sunshine but the nearest cinema showing that is in Birmingham apparently. So much for Coventry being 8th largest city in England. We picked The Queen over The Black Dahlia however, even though the latter features Josh Hartnett. It turned out to be one of the better decisions of the month.

The main surprise is that The Queen – the film and the character – is funny. Helen Mirren turns the monarch into a witty, quirky, quintessential Britain. The film picks up with the 1997 election of Blair, and soon arrives at its main event: the week of mourning from Diana’s untimely death to her burial. It tries to recount the events from the Queen’s perspective, and does so in a moving way. The Queen’s actions and reactions are portrayed as her perception of the British character – for who could be more British than the Queen herself?

The plot is helped a great deal by the royals’ communication with Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). In a way, he explains her story to his entourage, as if he tries to convince the audience, the British public, that the Queen does indeed have a heart.

There are only two problems with the film. One is the slightly odd casting of Prince Charles – although the actor does look like a cross between his fictitious parents Helen Mirren and James Cromwell, he looks too bright a character for the eversad prince. The second problem is that the film looks as if it could have been an excellent BBC docu-soap. Yet, it is the film’s great achievement that it can tell us the Queen’s character by the events of one week, all concentrated in less than 2 hours.


June 12, 2006

Naive

Title:
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

The wonders of iTunes are slowly conquering my music buying behaviour. I noticed this band in the top downloads and following results in the past, I know that I usually appreciate music by bands called The .... The sound snippets predicted a nice album for the summer and with MTV showing Naive every second I zapped by there was no way I could resist.

The three stars say it all. It's definitely not a waste of money, and the album is very coherent – not a selection of singles like the Kaiserchiefs' work nor fluctuating quality in the tracks that Snow Patrol have. As a result there's nothing exceptional about this album. Summer evening music. That's all I can think of.


May 01, 2006

Natural Born Killers

Title:
Rating:
Not rated

Right.

I guess it's about love. And death. A lot of death. A lot of bloody death.

At first I nearly got sick coz of all the gore. And then I stopped caring, so that I could watch the film. I guess that's how serial killers are born.

Watch this film if you are a fan of Tarantino's work, or if you liked Kill Bill I & II (in my eyes not exactly a tautology). Or if you like road or prison movies and don't mind too much violence.

If you're no fan of either, then at least consider the excellent soundtrack.


April 25, 2006

Israel & New Breed

Title:
Live in London
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Scene setting

Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. Capacity of a couple of thousand. As beautiful from the inside as the outside. Spot the 5 white people in the queue. No strip searching. No bag searching. No limits on photography (just a "no flash please"), just a small one on illegal recordings:

If you're caught making a sound or video recording of the concert, your camera will be confiscated. Hold on. No, you can keep your camera. We will confiscate your tape and use it for our radio shows!

Support acts

As we enter, the Hill City Mass Choir are singing a couple of well known worship songs with a gospel flavour. Despite a low early attendance – Ali worries as there is no one sitting in front of us, prompting her cause for concern being picked out to give her testimony on stage and talk about "christians" again – the choir give their everything and set the enthusiastic mood for the rest of the night. Turns out this was only their warmup…

Then we're urged to silence even as people are still coming in, as upcoming hot UK gospel artists Four Kornerz are about to perform. As we're all in a good mood and they're dressed with style, we give them a big cheer and enjoy their gig. Imagine Outkast singing about their love for God instead of you and your girl in your caddy, and you get the idea. The balance wasn't quite right yet (as with Outkast, I could hardly understand the lyrics), but the musicians were great, and yes, the dress sense was good smooth.

The compere of the night was Muyiwa of Premier Christian Radio – if you're interested in gospel or any chilled RnB soul music (that sings about a slightly different kind of love than Usher) then it's a good listen from 11pm onwards. He also performed with his backing singers to keep us entertained, but they lacked the energy of the previous two acts. They had humour though. HCMC came back for a few more songs now with the whole audience joining in – the night was organised by House on the Rock for their 10th anniversary, and both the choir and most of the audience were members. We were more than happy to be part of their celebrations!

Main performance

It's Israel's first performance in the UK (save the one in Birmingham the night before) and he must have been well surprised to get so much enthousiasm from the audience (congregation?). The opening act was a seemingly endless medley of his "greatest hits", his funkiest songs and just one big happy feast of recognition and praise and dance. Let's just say I was happy I brought a bottle of water!

For Nikki: I recognized Another Level; Who Is Like The Lord; Trading My Sorrows; Again I Say Rejoice; New Season; and highlight All Around.

And then I lost track of what happened. It involved lots of amazing solo performances of both band and singers. Whereas I'd expected a few more people, Israel worked with only one singer per part(!) but all so competent that the four of them sounded like 5 million Rev choirs together. After all the hype and funk and dance and oh yes gospel – cue Lord You Are Good – the reflective moment couldn't have come at a better time.

So yes, suddenly Mr Houghton was left on stage by himself (though not after the synth dude helped him sort out his keyboard) to tell us the story of his life. Cue lots of borderline cheesy humour – but who cares? we're having a great time! Also cue lots of audience cheering for recognizing themselves and a rendition of One Love as his Jamaican heritage is being welcomed by the island descendants in the audience.

Eventually, he got to his point and the second half of the concert. Again, my mind wandered off (in the first half it was just me being delirious with all the excitement, this time it was just taking the chance for contemplation) so I'm gonna guess and say Israel was going through some psalms and spontaneous worship. All by himself. By the time I woke up from my deep thoughts, the rest had rejoined him on stage for the finale.

I should say grand finale. I just checked with Ali and Rich and indeed Friend of God was the song to start the dance towards the end. By this time Israel's guitar was working properly as well, and he got to showcase another talent whilst the crew lead us through song. But the London talent got a shot as well, when during Alpha and Omega the band went mute and the hall was filled by the chanting and worship of 3,000 great singers at the height of their worship feast. Now there must have been 2 or 3 more songs here including an encore (after the audience kept on repeating their ooh-ooh-oohs for one song) but the final showpiece of gospel extravaganza was Not Forgotten – some kind of Arabic melody and breakbeat mixture, aka Ali's favourite song.

The Verdict

It's hard to compare a gospel concert to any other, and even within its own genre, this concert was unique. I've seen LCGC (London Community Gospel Choir) perform twice, and they're always engaging, and quality. But in this case I felt part of the concert. The concert was great because I was there (if that makes sense at all?) and took part.

Okay I'll try and explain. I've had the same feeling after seeing Lauryn Hill live ages ago at Pinkpop Festival; Manu Chao 4 years ago at Lowlands Festival (Me Gustas Tu had just been a big hit in the Netherlands); Basement Jaxx last year at the Carling Academy. These artists, and Israel last weekend, seem to welcome you to their ground, their home, and ask you to join in and party with them. I think Lauryn Hill only sang one of her own songs – the rest was just a big DJ hip hop music battle – yet I wasn't disappointed. Israel cut quite a few of his songs short, but I didn't care because it was my party too.

For the untrained spirits or souls there might have been too much worship and praise in this concert. Actually, it was just one massive praise and worship session! But that's what gospel stands for, so it's what you would expect from such an event. Even so, there was so much musical talent and so much energy from both the stage and the audience that there should have been enough to enjoy as long as you accept being welcome.


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