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RINGERS AND SINGERS: A CULTURAL REVIEW

RINGERS AND SINGERS: A CULTURAL REVIEW

February 2015 has been a wonderfully diverse month culturally for me.  I have tasted the peak of perceived high culture with a visit to the Festival Hall and have also plumbed the depths of low culture with a visit to a Wrestling event and even lower with Quint Fontana’s guttural and scurrilous Pop Pals!

I jest of course as all events were culturally rewarding and provided an interesting juxtaposition for my latest blog piece which combines little reviews of some stuff I’ve been gone and done recently.  I have also watched loads of films as well but will deal with those in my February edition of Screenwash.

BEAUTIFUL – THE CAROLE KING STORY – ALDWYCH THEATRE

I’m not a massive fan of musicals per se but as a Valentine gift for my girlfriend (yes – I have a girlfriend now and she’s real) I bought her tickets for this show. Oh, and I went along too. It’s the story of Carole King and her rise from 16 year-old novice songwriter to the heights of fame as a solo artist. Singularly, and with her husband Jerry Goffin, she wrote a litany of hit records including: Up on The Roof, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, The Locomotion, Natural Women, I Feel The Earth Move, Pleasant Valley Sunday, You’ve Got a Friend and many, many more.

King is clearly a genius and her album Tapestry would become one of the biggest albums of all time. The musical is a joy and while I wanted a bit more about the relationship breakdown and Goffin’s depression it’s all about the songs really. In Beautiful you get hit after hit after hit brilliantly performed by the young, talented and energetic cast.

BRITISH EMPIRE WRESTLING – TOOTING TRAM AND SOCIAL

This was the first time I’d seen a Wrestling show and it was really entertaining.  I was really impressed by the mixture of physicality alongside loads of variety with male and female comedy characters, villainous wrestlers and proper athletes battering each other round the ring in a series of tremendous bouts.  There was an element of theatricality and pantomime but also genuine pain as there were no holds barred in many contests. It’s pretty cheap too so do check out their events. Next one is at the end of March.

POP PALS WITH QUINT FONTANA – STAR OF KINGS, KING’S X

Lounge loser extraordinaire Quint Fontana hosts a karaoke event with a difference as “stars” from the pop world (or are they comedians in disguise) perform before a joyous (i.e. drunk) audience in a King’s X basement.  It’s brilliant fun and Quint is a despicably funny host as he sups on his Tyskie beer, goads the audience and banters with the pop guests which included Ronan Keating, Jason Donovan and Christine Aguilera. To be honest it’s worth going just to see Quint have his nightly nervous breakdown!  Awesome!

RACHMANINOFF: INSIDE OUT –  FESTIVAL HALL

This was almost cultural overload as I tasted my first quaver of a classical musical concert at the Festival Hall.  Performing with grandstanding gusto the London Philharmonic soared with a virtuoso performance of Rachmaninoff’s greatest hits and music which I came to recognise from David Lean and Noel Coward’s story of understated love – Brief Encounter (1946).

With no actual frame of comparative experience I can only say that it was hugely enjoyable evening and one which was not only aurally pleasing but visually interesting too as the orchestra and conductor brought home the stunning compositions with incredible timing. At times I wondered about the musicians and characters performing (could make an interesting comedy or drama)  and felt giddy at the wonder of the music. Although that could have been the heavy cold I had at the time.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR UPDATE

During February Spurs had some vital fixtures and after a stunning last-gasp win against North London rivals Arsenal we unravelled slightly where results were concerned. Harry Kane’s brilliant header proved to be our last winner in February as Spurs went out of the Europa League on aggregate to an efficient Fiorentina team in Florence.  We started well but could not break them down.

In between we scraped a 2-2 draw with West Ham after fighting back from 2-0 down. Biggest blow was losing 2-0 to Chelsea in the Capital One Cup at Wembley. Mourinho set his team up solid from the start and while competed until the final whistle, our usual match winners Kane and Eriksen could not get us over the line.  After the highs of crushing Arsenal the bitter lows of defeat hit hard. We have 12 games in March to get into the top four or it’ll be more trips to Cyprus, Kazakhstan and Madagascar in the dreaded Europa League.

US OFFICE – NETFLIX BINGE-ATHLON

I have had to move twice recently due to reasons beyond my control so no longer have Sky Television beaming it’s entertainment juice into my living room and brain. Thus, I have gone back to my favourite online channel www.netflix.com and FINALLY began catching up with the The Office (US version)!  And oh my god it is genuinely one of the funniest and style-diverse situation comedies I’ve seen.

It uses character, songs, slapstick, embarrassment, gags, pranks, horror and pathos to propel it’s narratives as the employees of Dunder Mifflin get themselves into all manners of scrapes and cringeworthy situations.  Some great cameos too (I’m up to Season 6 now) as Amy Ryan, Idris Elba, Kathy Bates and even Christian Slater have popped up in episodes.  Anchored brilliantly by an ensemble cast notably Steve Carell as Michael Scott and my favourite, Rain Wilson as Dwight Schrute, this is comedy performance and writing of the highest order. Just TOO funny.

SAINTS AND WINNERS: A WEEKLY REVIEW

SAINTS AND WINNERS:  A WEEKLY REVIEW

Seasons greetings! Double busy leading up to Christmas with lots of cultural stuff going on so I’ve consolidated all my viewings, derring-dos and reviews of last week into one manageable post.  Enjoy!

**Contains mild spoilers**

 BILL BURR – I’M SORRY YOU FEEL THAT WAY (2014) – (NETFLIX)

The Massachusett’s born fortysomething everyman comedian is an absolute straight-talking joy.  He sails close to controversy on many occasions giving political correctness no mind at all. But it’s not shock for shock’s sake but rather well thought out and cutting rants covering domestic violence, plastic surgery, guns and the cult of celebrity.  I particularly love his cracking-take-no-prisoners-delivery and he is very adept at imaginary on-stage conversations which are relentlessly hilarious, hitting his targets full in the face.

DR WHO – THE MIND ROBBERS (1968)/SEEDS OF DEATH (1968)

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From the 6th season of the classic science-fiction serial, with Patrick Troughton as the eponymous time-traveller, these two episodic stories find PT on great form with Zoe and Jamie as his companions.  The villains of each piece are The Master (not that one) of the Land of Fiction and The Ice Warriors in Seeds of Death.  The latter foes are particularly nasty pieces of work although they do find themselves undone if you turn the heating up a bit. Troughton is a fantastic Doctor playing the fool while hiding a devious mind as he allows the enemy to think they have the upper hand before prevailing victorious.


DR WHO – SEASON 7 (inc. DAY OF THE DOCTOR)

I’ve really enjoyed Matt Smith’s final season as the Doctor and some of the episodes have provided some cracking televisual entertainment.  Some of the concepts and plot twists, I must admit, I found initially baffling but that was because the writing was so fast-paced and spirited.  But overall Steven Moffat and his whole production team deserve credit for a fun, funky and very dark (where Amy and Rory were concerned) season which also introduced a sparkling new companion in Clara (Jenna Coleman).

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Personal highlights for me included:  Asylum of the Daleks, The Angels Take Manhattan, Cold War, Hide and the 50th Anniversary episode The Day of the Doctor which had THREE Doctors and a history-bending game changer.  Brilliant to see John Hurt appear as The War Doctor and Tennant return also.  I am very pleased too that I have watched the Time of the Doctor too and I am finally onto Peter Capaldi’s Time Lord; which is how this latest obsession began.


HESHER (2010)

This obsidian painted comedy about family grief features Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Hesher:  a crazed-heavy-metal-anti-heroic-outsider-mentalist. Hesher crashes into the lives and the house of the Forney family as they attempt to get over a recent death.  And while he seems to be a negative reality void sucking the life out of them he kind of becomes an anti-angel providing some kind of weird and wonderful family therapy.

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It’s a difficult film to get into initially as it’s quite bizarre but ultimately it’s got a great little black heart of gold showing that togetherness will overcome.  Despite an A-list cast including Natalie Portman it’s very much a low budget-under-the-radar gem with a loud heavy rock soundtrack.


PAUL FOOT – SECRET CHRISTMAS COMEDY SHOW 2014

Myself and Brett Sharpe have formed the Dr Who-Paul-Foot-Spurs-Supporters Fan Club. It’s very niche but inclusive club which anyone can join if they like those particular cultural phenomena. Our inaugural Christmas outing was to a secret location in London and involved seeing the master of merry mirth — Paul Foot — putting on his own little show for his fans or connoisseurs as he calls them.  It was an incredible show made all the more marvellous because it was in an intimate venue above a pub. I cracked up throughout as Foot treated us to some of his greatest comedy hits including: RADA story; EUROSTAR story and how to get REVENGE on BED & BREAKFAST LADY.


RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) – BFI SCREENING

Here’s a surprise: I love Star Wars!  Not the prequels but the original films. I saw them all at the cinema and they are three of the most perfect piece of entertainment one could hope for. They captured the imagination of a wide-eyed seven, ten and thirteen year boy (that’s me!) when each of the trilogy was released. With their: spaceships, creatures, heroes, mercenaries, droids, monsters, light-filled swords, noble Knights protecting the Empire and rebels battling gigantic Death Stars – WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE!    I watched the final film in the trilogy at the BFI Southbank’s majestic cinema NFT1 and Return of the Jedi looked wonderful. I laughed, gasped and cheered in all the right places as Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, Han Solo etc. fight and defeat the Dark Side in a galaxy far, far away.


SPURS Vs NEWCASTLE – CAPITAL ONE CUP QUARTER FINAL

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I went to White Hart Lane to watch Spurs against Newcastle in the Capital One cup and what a terrific performance they put on. It was tight for a while against an under strength Toon – who had been in good form in the League – but a mistake from their young keeper allowed Bentaleb to score the first. Chadli made it 2-0 with a fine run and shot before Kane and Soldado finished the Northerners off!  The great news is we got Sheffield United in the semi-final so MUST have a positive chance of getting to the final at Wembley.  Since this game we also beat Burnley 2-1 at home so allied to our last-gasp win against Swansea the Pocchettino’s Spurs are on a grand roll for now.

ST VINCENT (2014) – FILM REVIEW

I love Bill Murray. The guy is a comedy legend and general all-round media eccentric.  He’s been in some terrible films and some classic movies. The one over-riding consistency in all his movies are he is ALWAYS brilliant.  In St Vincent he plays a curmudgeonly scoundrel who sleeps with hookers and drinks himself unconscious. When Melissa McCarthy’s single mother Maggie and her son Oliver move in next door Vincent becomes an unlikely babysitter to the boy.  It’s an okay film which promises much dark and bittersweet humour in the vein of Bad Santa (2003).

However, while Vincent starts off as a bit of a scumbag he is redeemed far too easily for my liking and while the script is very witty it runs out of steam just past halfway and even Murray cannot save an overly saccharine and sickening ending.  Also, Naomi Watts is wasted as an offensive stereotypical Eastern European prostitute while McCarthy is criminally underplayed given very little to do.  A disappointment overall as all the plot strands are resolved easily and without any real comic or dramatic thunder.

FROM HER TO MOD-ERNITY: MY WEEKLY REVIEW

FROM HER TO MOD-ERNITY – MY WEEKLY REVIEW

Here’s a written round-up of some of the stuff I’ve been watching, tele-viewing, cinema-going, generally experiencing, listening too, visiting in the last few weeks or so.

ALTERNATIVE COMEDY EXPERIENCE – COMEDY CENTRAL

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Pedant-king and all-round comedy god Stewart Lee picks the acts and overlords the 2nd season of The Alternative Comedy Experience.  It features many comedians arguably TOO off-mainstream, surreal, political or whimsical to be considered for a show such as Live At The Apollo; yet, there are mostly wonderful comedians on view.

I winged through the whole season pretty quick and my favourites included:  Stephen Carlin, Bridget Christie, Michael Legge, Tony Law, Paul Foot, David O’Doherty to name but a few.  Lee himself only appears in interview form but it’s a fine showcase for some of the more alternative comedy minds on the circuit.

DR WHO – CATCH-UPS 

The Horror Channel – SKY CHANNEL 319 – often shows some questionably poor films but it also shows some classic Dr Who’s from yesteryear.  I’ve watched a couple of the TOM BAKER stories — HORROR AT FANG ROCK and CITY OF DEATH – and maybe it’s nostalgia for my youth but I think he IS the perfect Doctor: manic, emotion, performance, eccentric, dark, yet funny too. And that booming voice has real authority. He just makes everything – however far fetched – seem so real believable. His delivery is Shakespearean.

Having watched all of Eccleston and Tennant’s episodes recently I’m now onto the youngest Doctor ever – Matt Smith!  The stories are great and while his assistant Amy is bland yet lovely, I’m warming to Smith. He’s like an excitable Tigger on speed with a quirky energy and a hint of darkness. I want to see him really go dark the way Eccleston did at times but in the episode AMY’S CHOICE we got a hint of a darker side in the form of the Dream-Lord played by fine actor Toby Jones so I look forward to more of that element in future, past or present episodes. Also, I loved the VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR episode in which the Doctor meets Van Gogh; artistry, depression and a beastly blind being is hellbent on destruction in a very touching episode written by Richard Curtis.

DRAYTON MANOR THEME PARK

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Me and my son Rhys (13) love going to theme parks. My motion sickness seems to be getting worse but I braved the 130 mile journey and drove to Drayton Manor near Tamworth in the hope of holding my breakfast down. It was an overcast but occasionally sunny day and thankfully off-peak so we avoided legions of people and massive queues for the rides.  It was a fun day out and we went on most of the rides and visited the zoo they have there. It’s no Thorpe Park or Alton Towers but it’s still a great place to visit.  While my stomach turned over a number of times I kept my lunch down so a winning day all-round.


THE EQUALIZER

Denzil Washington is probably the best movie actor around as he has a knack of turning average scripts into something very watchable and this is no different. I can see why he was attracted to the character of Robert McCall as he is a Robin Hood type who uses his special training to assist those in the neighbourhood and eventually turns his brutal killing abilities to something more global.

This is nowhere near as good as the Fuqua/Washington double-teamed Training Day (2001) for which the actor received the Oscar for Best Actor or the equally brutal Man On Fire (2004) which is something of an underrated classic in my view but while instantly forgettable it’s still unashamedly entertaining and had me gripped throughout the slightly overlong running time.


HER

Spike Jonze eccentric “love” story follows a similar path story-speaking to an episode of Big Bang Theory I saw where Raj fell in love with Siri his Iphone voice system.  Of course, Jonze develops the theme of technological romance further over the running time with a beautiful, funny and at times very human dramedy.  Indeed, while many people reach for the Internet to find “love” either through pornography or online dating the brilliantly named Theodore Twombly actually falls FOR his computer itself.

I loved everything about the film: the look, cast, design, direction, performances and above all else the cute and always surprising screenplay. Joaquin Phoenix is full of hangdog desperation at the break-up of his marriage and subsequent loneliness. Scarlett Johansson provides the alluring voice of the “Operating System” he reaches out for as their relationship takes some surprising turns.  It’s a perfect “first world” piece of cinema which charmed me and almost melted my icy heart.


NATIONAL MOTORCYCLE MUSEUM

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My son Rhys has expressed an interest in motorbikes recently and as we were in the Midlands I thought why not check this place out — in Solihull — on the way back to London.  It’s a wonderful place if you love motorbikes with hundreds and hundreds of two-wheelers from the earliest days of industry to the modern age.   I’m not a petrol-head myself but I was impressed by the array of different bikes on show and felt proud that the country I came from had produced so many beautiful machines and many which had served us during the wars and set many a world speed record. My son  was disappointed there were no Harley Davidsons on show so I reminded him in was a “National” and not and “International” museum. Kids eh!?!


OLD BOY (2013)

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Overall, it’s not bad entertainment but if you haven’t seen the original then do watch Park Chan Wook’s classic instead.  While Josh Brolin in the lead is great Sharlto Copley’s ridiculous English accent ruins much of the tension in the latter part of the film.

It’s still a great story of a dislikeable guy imprisoned against his will and much of the power in the story derives from the mystery of not knowing why he is held captive.  The first half of the OLDBOY (2013) remake directed by Spike Lee was pretty decent but the 2nd half seemed as if it was cut to pieces ensuring loss of dramatic impact during the sick twists at the end. It’s slick and a bit silly but the original remains an utter classic of World Cinema. WATCH THAT INSTEAD!

SPURS LATEST (up to 22/10/14)

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After Spurs scrapped to a 1-1 derby draw with Arsenal in the Premier League I went to see them play Besiktas at White Hart Lane in the Europa League. Harry Kane put us  a goal up but Besiktas did well and only some fine saves from Hugo Lloris kept them at bay. To be honest the Turkish team were the better side in the 2nd half. Indeed, they grabbed a penalty equalizer after a silly handball from Chiriches. Ba made is 1-1.

Spurs have since been defeated by Manchester City in a game which had 4 penalties – two of which were missed by Soldado and Aguero.  The Argentinian did however, score the four goals which put us to the sword.  The referee was a disgrace really with some dodgy decisions and while we played okay in patches we were outclassed really.  I have low expectation of this season but can see glimpses of what the new manager is trying to achieve so we will see what the season brings us.

SLEAFORD MODS

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I suffer from arrested development where music is concerned.  I have very specific rock and roll roots on the whole and my favourite kind of music is what some might say is 80s/90s/00s “indie” rock.  I do like a bit of rap, heavier rock, dance, electro stuff too though.   I do listen to new music but I’m firmly entrenched in my preferred genre and only occasionally does a new band capture my imagination.

My new favourite musical thing is SLEAFORD MODS. A Nottingham-based duo who combine sparse keyboards, drum loops and angry, yet humourous, lyrics spat out from the mouth of Jason Williamson.  He is an authentic Midland council estate voice (reminiscent of Mark E. Smith) who rants against media phoneys, social media and delivers poetic rhymes about everyday struggle. Before the Arctic Monkeys became hipster pricks I had great hopes for them. I doubt Sleaford Mods go the same way and become complete Camden cunts.  Check out Divide and Exit – it’s a brisk-sweary-real-down-to-earth-shopping-trolley-in-a-canal-treat.