Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Writing. Writing Songs. Writing Movies. Writing for The Guardian. Writing for a Blog. Writing. Writing. Writing for Empire. Writing an essay. Writing.

So, you may have noticed that on the sidebar, I’ve added a list of people’s names. Well, they are people that I wish I could write as well as, for various reasons. Note that the list is not exhaustive because I’m always forgetting geniuses – agh, Spektor’s not on there! Something really must be done.

Anyway, I’m trying to make it a lil’ project to try and describe, in some shape or form, why I wish I could write like this people.

And today, I shall start with Elvis Costello.
Birthname Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus, and one of my favourite artists of the rock/punk rock/pop/New Wave persusasion, his songs have featured in Notting Hill, Cold Mountain, High Fidelity and many others. What stands out for me in his songs is their biting, angry tone, and how well they fuse with underground punk sensibilities to pop tunes and to demonstrate his talent as a songwriter. I was listening to “Alison” all this morning as I was trying to get myself out of bed, and –
Oh it's so funny to be seeing you after so long, girl.
And with the way you look I understand
that you were not impressed.
But I heard you let that little friend of mine
take off your party dress.
I'm not going to get too sentimental
like those other sticky valentines,
'cause I don't know if you are loving some body.
I only know it isn't mine.

Alison, I know this world is killing you.
Oh, Alison, my aim is true.

Well I see you've got a husband now.
Did he leave your pretty fingers lying
in the wedding cake?
You used to hold him right in your hand.
Bet he took all he could take.
Sometimes I wish that I could stop you from talking
when I hear the silly things that you say.
I think somebody better put out the big light,
'cause I can't stand to see you this way.

Alison, I know this world is killing you.
Oh, Alison, my aim is true.
My aim is true.
This line stood out. It’s just so deep, sad, angry, but not, as some people think, about murder.

I also love the funky smash hit '(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea', a song time directed at the excesses of film industry, and again, the rambling, 'broken' melody is ideally fit for Elvis' voice here, as the strain he demonstrates only helps to accentuate the his tension and dislike of all the Chelsea rentboys. Also, it features a wonderful synth/guitar interplay letting out steam after each of Elvis' hyper-strained '...I don't w-anna g-go to Chelsea-ea-ea...' It’s just too cool for words.

Costello is someone who sacrifices musicality for meaning, and as a result, many of his songs don’t flow to follow his lyrics. But I just think that gives them an extra quality, and adds to their greatness. Anyone who can write everything that's in their heart and soul in such a biting way, fit it to music and allow th audience to feel the full extent of their thoughts is, in my eyes, nothing short of a writing genius.

Finally, for the Costello song that really left an impact in the way a good movie can, I pick I Want You, a scarily intense ode to his ex-girlfriend, Bebe Buell (also inspired Todd Rundgren's "Can We Still Be Friends" and Elvis Costello's "Party Girl", "Every Day I Write the Book", "The Only Flame in Town.) Bebe Buell got pregnant by Elvis Costello and panicked, thinking he was deserting her with a fatherless child and no child support. She went to an abortion clinic, and, just as the procedure began, changed her mind. The doctor said, "It's too late to change your mind." Costello never spoke to her again. And the song, like a fellow musician described, is probably the most painful, shattering, exhausting, sad, beautiful, dangerous and sexy song ever written. It’s very hard to like, but you’ve got to admire it.

Anyway, for a man who said “My ultimate vocation in life is to be an irritant”, I’d say that Costello pretty much fulfilled his wish. But in doing so, he has graced us all with his incredible work.

01. Alison
02. I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea.
03. I Want you
04. She
05. Party Girl

Tomorrow, I may write about the marvellous writing of The Guardian's Sean Ingle, someone who, after I saw them on Sky, has overtaken Peter Crouch and Jake Gyllenhaal in my "to-stalk" list. Yes, really. Eek!

Though, considering how I haven't actually read that much from him, I may be sensible and write about Kim Newman, one of the few good writers for Empire. We'll see.

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Anyway, just remember: my aim is true.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mr. Shakespeare.

In honour of this very special occasion,Coffee, coffee, and more coffee is holding a Shakespeare on Film blogathon. My contribution to this will be…

Top 5 Cinematic Hamlets.

05. Ethan Hawke in the 2000 Michael Almereyda version.
Mr. Hawke does a fantastic job in the role, giving us the moody, confused, lovesick, and ultimately self-destructive adolescent that Shakespeare intended. His performance fits the contemporary style of the movie’s perfectly. Quite fine too. :P

04. Derek Jacobi in the 1980 Rodney Bennett version.
An actor who has appeared in many Shakespeare adaptations, including playing Claudius in Branagh’s 1996 version, Derek Jacobi captures the true essence of the character, from the beginning to the brutal climax. His experience of Shakespeare shows through, and, through him, Hamlet is a dreamer, a plotter, a voyeur in the corrupt court of Denmark. He makes the four hour epic worth the watch.

03. Kenneth Branagh in the 1996 self-directed version.
Probably my favourite cinematic version of the play, and, in my opinion, the truest to the original source. Some have dubbed his performance Hammy, but I think he played out his character exactly as Shakespeare intended, with the audience continually second guessing his supposed madness. His sharp, irresistible performance is one of a kind, and manages to stand out in a supporting cast that boasts the likes Judi Dench, Julie Christie, Helena Bonham Carter and Jack Lemmon.

02. Simba in The Lion King.
Yes, really, The Lion King. The Hamlet influences are clear, think about it! And Simba was such an influential movie character to me ever since I was little, that I just had to list him. In The Lion King, the role of the young prince whose father is murdered is embodied in the rookie form of Simba, whose naiveté procures him more than his fair share of hardships and troubles. But watching his trials and tribulations are an utter delight for the audience, and I adore every second of this movie. Although much of entertainment make it appear like nothing but a Disney singalong, if we probe deeply enough, we can find connections to some of the greatest literature of all time. Can you feel the love?


01. Laurence Olivier in the 1948 self-directed version.
The pace is slow, at times it feels stiff and artificial, the woman who plays Ophelia is a joke, but this movie has to be seen, if only for Olivier’s master class in acting. As the man who cannot make up his mind, his subtle acting brings to his role a deep understanding of his character's inner struggles and dilemmas, both moral and practical. Through him, Hamlet is every bit the enigma we read about: dignified and noble, reserved and mistrustful, emotional and ruthless, and deeply, deeply frustrated. And his soliloquies shall blow you away. Already an international star from his turn in Henry V, he won an Oscar for his work here, but didn’t bother to turn up to collect it. Probably because his performance surpassed any awards; it truly is that good.

So, hope the Bard has a good one.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Movies I've Seen This Easter.

My favourite performance in it// my favourite element of the movie// grade// worst thing about the movie// additional comments

Easter is nice.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Chris Columbus, 2002)
My favourite performance in it: Rupert Grint, as always.
My favourite element of the movie: The lovely tingly score as well as the unintentionally hilarious acting from Danny Boy Radcliffe and Emma “I can pout” Watson.
Grade: B+.
Worst thing about the movie: Sequence in which Emma Watson ran down the hall and hugged Radcliffe. Retch.
Additional comments: My second favourite of the four movies.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1947)
My favourite performance in it: Rex Harrison as the grumpy ghost Capt. Daniel Gregg
My favourite element of the movie: Just how romantic and cute it was.
Grade: A-.
Worst thing about the movie: The ending, very predictable and “1940s”.
Additional comments: Interesting lil’ tidbit: In Blithe Spirit, Rex Harrison plays a character who is himself haunted by a ghost!

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939)
My favourite performance in it: James Stewart. Impeccable.
My favourite element of the movie: Jefferson Smith, a character of true integrity who doesn’t succumb to the corruption in politics.
Grade: A-.
Worst thing about the movie: At times, on the wrong side of clichéd.
Additional comments: “Either I'm dead right, or I'm crazy!”

Shattered Glass (Billy Ray, 2003)
My favourite performance in it: A toss-up between Peter Sarsgaard’s shouty editor, and Hayden Christensen, usually so awful in his Star Wars role, as Stephen Glass.
My favourite element of the movie: The plot. Utterly thrilling without there being any overblown action sequences.
Grade: A-.
Worst thing about the movie: Chloe Sevigny, an actress I just find annoying.
Additional comments: Peter Sarsgaard was nice-looking in an ugly way in this film. Yup.

Dumplings (Fruit Chan, 2004)
My favourite performance in it: Bai Ling as the cook.
My favourite element of the movie: The soundtrack, the stunning cinematography, which juxtaposed ugliness with beautiful shots, and the acting, which was in-your-facely good.
Grade: B.
Worst thing about the movie: AGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So f-cking disturbing. FilmFour screened it as part of their Horror season, but judging from the weird trailers where they showed a woman walking as in sort of a trance, I merely assumed that this was a psychological horror of some kind. But it was certainly more than that. Too disturbing for words.
Additional comments: Even though it’s disturbing, it is v., v., interesting.

The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965)
My favourite performance in it: Julie Andrew. Charming, but never annoyoing.
My favourite element of the movie: The sounds, most of all "My Favourite Things" and "16 Going on 17".
Grade: B.
Worst thing about the movie: The kids. Now they were annoying.
Additional comments:

These are a few of my favourite things...

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens,
brown paper packages tied up with strings,
these are a few of my favorite things.

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels,
door bells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles.
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings.
these are a few of my favorite things.

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes,
snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes,
silver white winters that melt into springs,
these are a few of my favorite things.

When the dog bites, when the bee stings,
when I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
and then I don't feel so bad.

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens,
brown paper packages tied up with strings,
these are a few of my favorite things.

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels,
door bells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles.
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings.
these are a
few of my favorite things.

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes,
snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes,
silver white winters that melt into springs,
these are a few of my favorite things.

When the dog bites, when the bee stings,
when I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
and then I don't feel so bad.

The Human Stain (Robert Benton, 2003)
My favourite performance in it: Wentworth Miller. He was incredible, I didn’t care at all about the central plotline between Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman (eww) at all, but the Wentworth Miller flashbacks were utterly wonderful. He is a really underrated actor, and I have such a craving to re-watch Prison Break. However, Gary Sinise was also wonderfully understated.
My favourite element of the movie: Wentworth Miller flashbacks.
Grade: C-.
Worst thing about the movie: Kidman’s performance, as well as how pretentious it felt.
Additional comments: The Last Kiss' Jacinda Barrett is in this movie, and I didn't even recognise her! (she was blonde.)

And the movie that I’m dying to see, but haven’t found time (or friends willing to go out and see it) is Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. It sounds incredible!

Friday, April 13, 2007

My Most Anticipated Films of 2007.

Yes, I realise I’m over four months late, but better late then never!

01. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
My least favourite of the six books so far, but then again, Goblet of Fire was my favourite book, and because I had such high expectations, it was my least favourite of the four films, so I won’t expect too much from this (other than a masterpiece), and hopefully be satisfied with my lot. This is the book in which Harry has OWLs to study for, the entire ministry of Magic trying to make him look bad, and he even has time to find himself a fancy girl – Cho Chang, and um… they snog. I know this because a) it was written in a very drawn out, cringeworthy way in the books, where there was even mistletoe (humph), and b) The Sun, which is not a newspaper I read, of course, made a big fuss about how Danny Boy had to shoot the kissing scene twenty or so times. Nauseating.

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So anyway, Once again, the adult cast that has been lined up here are absolutely fantastic, with all the A-listers from the previous movies, along with the inspired casting of the usually sweet figure of Imelda Staunton, as the sadistic Professor Umbridge, and she’ll be trading in her tea-cosies for her wand to severely damage Daniel Radcliffe. Also worth noting is that neither Patrick Doyle nor John Williams takes composer duties her, but it goes to relative unknown Nicholas Hooper, and Rupert Grint still plays Ron, so even if the movie’s bad, I can enjoy another Oscar-worthy performance from him. (lol)

02. Atonement
This is my favourite Ian McEwan novel (though I don't like him much so that's not really a huge compliment). Furthermore, the characters are all so complex that I started sympathising with Robbie and Cecilia, but finally becoming completely interested and passionate for Briony. Now, without killing the plot any further, I’ll add that it’s directed by Joe Wright, who did a great first-timer’s job on Pride & Prejudice, and Keira Knightley stars as Cecilia, my favourite Scottish actor, James McAvoy, as Robbie, but, perhaps, best of all, the massively underrated Romola Garai (of I Capture the Castle fame). And Dario Marienelli, who score P&P, provides the music! This movie is gonna rock.

03. The Simpsons Movie
I’m so, so, so, scared about this. The Simpsons is my favourite TV programme of all time, and I don’t think they’ve ever had a bad episode. But… as a movie? Time will tell, I guess.

04. Love in the Time of CholeraAgain, it’s out of love for the book, and also the cast – Catalina and Fernanda!

05. His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass
06. My Blueberry Nights
07. The Other Boleyn Girl
08. Ratatouille
09. Zodiac
10. The Bourne Ultimatum
So… what about you?

Oh, and I know no-one asked, but here are my favourite songs:
01. Samson (Regina Spektor)
02. Son of a Preacher Man (Dusty Springfield)
03. Hallelujah (Rufus Wainwright)
04. Hey Jude (The Beatles)
05. Under Pressure (Queen ft. David Bowie)
06. November Has Come (Gorillaz)
07. Lullaby (The Dixie Chicks)
08. Teardrop (Massive Attack)
09. Rocky Racoon (The Beatles)
10. All These Things that I’ve Done (The Killers)
11. Sinnerman (Nina Simone)
12. The Heart of the Matter (India.Arie)
13. Too Young (Phoenix)
14. It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference (Todd Rundgren)
15. Lean on Me (Bill Withers)
16. Love Affair (Regina Spektor)
17. Jackson (Johnny & June Carter Cash)
18. Don’t Stop Me Now (Queen)
19. I Wish I Knew How it Feels to be Free (Nina Simone)
20. Pennies in My Pocket (Emilio Estefan)
21. Golden Slumbers (KD Lang)
22. Talk Show Host (Radiohead)
23. Earth Song (Michael Jackson)
24. Black Horse and Cherry Tree (KT Tunstell)
25. Juke Box Blues (Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash)

26. Chelsea Dagger (The Fratellis)
27. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles)
28. I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea (Elvis Costello)
29. Fidelity (Regina Spektor)
30. Vincent (Don McLean)
31. Hands of Time (Groove Armada)
32. Romeo + Juliet (Dire Straits)
33. Momentum (Aimee Mann)
34. Dirge (Death in Vegas)
35. Billie Jean (Michael Jackson)
36. Let’s Stay Together (Al Green)
37. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (Nina Simone)
38. Chasing Cars (Snow Patrol)
39. A Love that Will Never Grow Old (Emmylou Harris)
40. Numb Encore (Jay-Z ft. Linkin Park)
41. Best of My Love (The Emotions)
42. Head over Heels (Tears for Fears)
43. Dancing With Myself (Nouvelle Vague)
44. Wicked Game (Chris Isaak)
45. The Killing Moon (Echo and the Bunnymen)
46. Big Yellow Taxi (Counting Crows)
47. Good Foot (Justin Timberlake)
48. My Father’s Gun (Elton John)
49. Michelle (The Beatles)
50. Jolene (Dolly Parton)

51. Cats in the Cradle (Harry Chapin)
52. Kothbiro (Ayub Ogada)
53. Mr. Brightside (The Killers)
54. The Absence of God (Rilo Kiley)
55. Because of You (Kelly Clarkson)
56. Down to the River to Pray (Alison Krauss)
57. Wildwood Flower (June Carter Cash)
58. Strict Machine (Goldfrapp)
59. Braille (Regina Spektor)
60. The Girl is Mine (Paul McCartney ft. Michael Jackson)
61. Wishin’ & Hopin’ (Dustin Springfield)
62. Hollaback Girl (Gwen Stefani)
63. Can We Still Be Friends (Todd Rundgren)
64. I Dug Up a Diamond (Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris)
65. Here Comes to Sun (Nina Simone)
66. Wise Up (Aimee Mann)
67. Clint Eastwood (Gorillaz)
68. Coward of the County (Kenny Rogers)
69. Funky Town (Lipps inc)
70. Vogue (Madonna)
71. Sounds of the Underground (Girls Aloud)
72. Oedipus (Regina Spektor)
73. Monkey and Bear (Joanne Newsome)
74. Bones (The Killers)
75. Kiss Me (Sixpence None the Richer)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Barcelona.

My not posting for the last coupla days hasn’t been what some of you have feared (or hoped, depending on who you are) – that I’ve suddenly upped and died. Nope, I have, in fact, been travelling through Spain’s culture capital – Barcelona.

Busy roads, Artistic areas, uncompromising drivers, friendly atmosphere and delicious food is probably how I’d sum it all up in a sentence. I went for five days, and visited lots and lots and lots of lovely places and ate lots of nice food. Frustratingly, many of the residents of Barcelona, though eloquent Anglophiles, simply refused to speak anything other than Catalan out of sheer pride, so it was somewhat of a challenge trying to break language barriers in the babel of languages that were spoken, but good fun.

Now, I can’t be bothered to write anymore, so I’ll just treat you to my photos, because I know I’ve behaved awfully by going on holiday without saying goodbye. Teehee!

From La Sagrada Familia:
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From Camp Nou:
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From Las Ramblas:



From L’Aquarium:






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All in all, it was great to have the rest, fantastic to taste the culture from another part of Europe, and if I’ve learnt anything from this holiday, it’s that I’m not anywhere near as cosmopolitan and clever as I like to think I am. The museums in Barca are where it’s at, much more intense and difficult than I could ever imagine, so all in all, I was pretty content to volver to my comfy home in England.

If you'd like more photos, just ask.