This is my Saturday night entertainment.


While you are watching “the Voice”  I’ll be reliving the seedier side of my youth with two great bands.

First up.  The Rezillos

Followed by The Stranglers (who I’ve seen six times or so, but not for 30 years).

My beloved’s all time favourite song is by The Stranglers…(It’s about Heroine you know.)

 

 

Maxine Peake: Hamlet


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It’s not so uncommon to see ‘tour de force’ performances on screen because cinema and TV affords the actor the physical space and respite to tear the arse out of a performance.  It’s a one off and retakes allow them to experiment and finesse the part and to build in nuances.

But of course the stage has many ‘tour de force’s’ to reference, Olivier springs to mind in the Shakespearian silo, but they are fewer in number and elitist in observation.

Nevertheless, in the digital cinema world, to that august canon must be added Maxine Peake’s Hamlet.

Let’s ignore the gender issue here.  It’s a red herring.  The fact is that Peake is, by anyone’s measure, slight.

And yet the sheer energy she exudes performance after performance is ant like in its ability to punch above its physical weight.

Her skill is to mesmerisingly tic and twitch her way through a descent into moral madness.  It’s very compelling indeed.

And yet her slightness brings with it a vulnerability that really draws you in.  Captured on the big screen it only serves to emphasise the greatness of this performance at the Royal Exchange Theatre during last year’s Manchester International Festival.

If you get a chance to see one of these ‘live’ theatre screening jump at the opportunity.  You will thank me.

Week One: In Print


Brilliant post on my daughter’s first week living in Manhattan.

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This was always going to be an odd week. Week one with 90 strangers, from different cultures and backgrounds, chucked into a hotel together and watched to see how well they gel together; how much initiative they use to interact; how they cope with no WiFi because it costs $5 for 30 minutes – it’s 2015, what hotel doesn’t have free WiFi?!?!

It’s like the Hunger Games of social experiments.

So, naturally everyone made their way to the nearest pub and the week began with an overpriced, tasteless, Bud Light. But on a fancy roof top bar with an impressive view of the Empire State Building.

Arriving in the Big Apple

Day one was a bit of a blur. Starting with a 3.30am wake up call, then the fear of how overweight that one suitcase was going to be (still impressed it all fit), followed by a 60 minute connection…

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The greatest movie actor ever poll.


Thanks for your contributions folks.  We’ve had 66 votes so far and I’m delighted to see that I features amongst the ‘others’ for my legendary performance as Daddy Warbucks.

However we have a clear leader/winner.

Daniel Day Lewis.

Had this have been done five years ago I can’t conceive of anyone other than Robert De Niro (second place) simply walking this.  But it seems his later career claptrap has undone his reputation for many.

In third place it’s a three way tie between Jack Nicolson, Dustin Hoffman and Phillip Seymour-Hoffman.

Now for the ladies..

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You can continue to add your voice to the poll here or contribute below with your thoughts on this.

Do No Harm by Henry Marsh


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Henry Marsh is an unusual soul.

A consultant neurosurgeon with both a heart and a soul.

A storyteller.

A rebel.

An accomplished scientist.

Ok, in places he’s a slightly lumbering writer.  His poetic moments usually have a bit of a cringe built in somewhere but put that to one side and what you have is a unique memoire that, at times, leaves you close to tears (although I suspect many readers will be way past ‘close’).

I found it of particular interest because I have known more than my fair share of brain condition sufferers with a wide variety of outcomes.  Some truly devastating.

His book deals with death, cancer, brain tumours, aneurysms, alcoholism, detached retinas, spinal prolapses and other such matters.  So to read something as frank and uncompromising as this was at times too visceral to bear.

The book tells the story of Marsh’s career, non-chronoligacally, as a London neurosurgeon and what motivates, enrages and disappoints him. He tells it with with a curious mix of (occasional) pomposity and humility (by far the prevalent personality type).

In it he bemoans the changes that have gradually been imposed on the NHS in the pursuit of efficiency and efficacy.  Very rarely are either achieved in his opinion.  Technical progress in his field may have been massive but working practices (too few hours in theatre in particular) have regressed.

But what’s remarkable about this book is his seemingly wanton exposition of his own weakness and failures.  Maybe it’s a personal catharsis but despite his protestation that a lot of brain surgery is down to ‘luck’ you are left feeling that he is a consummate professional with a conscience that would make you want to be under this scalpel/saw/bone cutter/microscope rather than anyone else.

He explores his failures far more deeply than the successes, passing them off largely as ‘doing his job’  but he argues it is the failures that in the long term have made him pre-eminent in his field.

At times the clinical detail is gut wrenching both emotionally and physically, at others it’s simply breathtaking.  In particular the chapter on aneurysm is like the best thriller you could ever read.  How will this detailed case study conclude you wonder.

He never shies away from the big questions and ultimately you are left wondering at the greatness of the human condition and his professional ability to get to its very essence.

Highly recommended. (if you can stomach it.)

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Ex Machina. Review.


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You can lust after robots.

That is one thing this intelligent movie proves.

It’s not just from the pen, it’s now from the eye, of Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later scriptwriter) as he makes an impressive directorial debut.

The story is about Caleb, a star employee of Google (not exactly hidden), who wins a week’s stay at the owner’s secluded mansion in the country to work on a secret project.  This turns out to be the latest iteration in Oscar Isaac’s (Google boss) quest to create the perfect AI robot.

Caleb’s role in all this is to perform a Turing test on the robot (The Turing Test is when a machine attempts to fool a human being into thinking it is human).  This is helped by the fact that the robot in question is the dazzlingly beautiful Ava, played by Alicia Vikander.  Her screen presence, often shorn of hair, is electrifying throughout.

Naturally the test escalates as Ava appears to seduce Caleb (and who can blame him for falling for her allure).

The film asks us to consider whether artificial intelligence can rise above the purely mechanistic and create genuine emotion and human thinking, doing so in rich, but sterile, surroundings.

Is Nathan (the boss) playing God and can Caleb (probably a deliberately biblical sounding name) stop what may be one step too far for humankind?

And if Ava really is capable of human thinking can she outwit the experiment and establish authority of her own.  All is revealed.

Much has been made of the film’s title – that it is a meaningless construct – but it seems fairly obvious to me.

Can the machine (Ava) become an ex-machine?

 

 

 

 

H is for Hawk. Book review


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H is for Help.

H is for Haunting.

Either could have been the title, but the fundamental of this book is the hawk that occupies it’s central plot.

Mabel is a young goshawk bought by Helen MacDonald in the wake of her father’s death.  She sets herself a distraction from her profound grief to train this wild beast to the exclusion of everything else in her life.

It’s a return to her childhood where she had a fascination for hawking, partly fuelled by a 1950’s treatise on the subject written by closet homosexual T.H. White and author of what became both Camelot and The Sword in the Stone.  It’s a book she disliked intensely at the time but that she has come around to as she sets out to make Mabel a controllable accomplice (she’ll never be a pet).

I’ve never read a book even remotely like this.  Macdonald is a poet and that certainly comes through in some of the long descriptive chapters that capture her state of mind (not healthy) and the world she is drawn into.

Rarely can anyone have written such a loving description of the English countryside with its unwritten rules, its foibles and its power.

In fact rarely can a book like this have been written.

It operates on three levels.  An unburdening of Macdonald’s grief for the death of her beloved father.  An unsympathetic biography of T.H. White and a rip-roaring coaching manual on goshawk rearing.

It’s not an easy read but it’s a profound one and it threatens to become a modern classic in a category all of its own.

I would highly recommend it.

Intelligent Horror. It Follows


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It Follows begins how it ends.

Mysteriously.

A young woman runs from her suburban home half dressed, terrified, confused.

She crosses the road haphazardly, then runs back to her house picks up her bag and escapes in her car, with her father shouting after her trying to work out what the hell is going on.

It is not explained.

The movie then unfolds.  No captions.  No narrative.  It just unwraps itself in a way I have never seen in horror.

Whilst it nods at convention (the music is unquestionably influenced by early John Carpenter and the cast is a bunch of Sorority kids) it is completely original in every other way.

It’s beautifully shot, carefully scripted without a single ham line and has a plot that is entirely unpredictable.

The basic premise is this.  A “thing” (monster, demon, zombie, entity: call it what you like) is passed between couples having sex.  And then it follows the ‘host’ until it is passed on to the next host, again following sex.

It manifests itself as a sort of walking zombie that follows the host.  Should it catch them it will not only kill them but possibly all those in the chain behind.

That’s easy to understand.  What isn’t is how our heroine Jay, played beautifully by Maika Monroe, attempts to resolve her plight.  Really, this is a rare horror performance, understated and properly acted.  Her fear is palpable.  And she doesn’t go wandering into unlit basements every five minutes.  It’s up there with Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween.

However, the plot becomes pretty confusing, but it kind of doesn’t matter because throughout this great movie you’re just taken in by its vitality, outstanding cinematography, freshness and the endless MacGuffins.

Seriously there must be 20 times you’re expecting to be scared to death (Hitchcock style musical and SFX builds) only for nothing to happen.

Anyone walking slowly in this movie could be the ‘entity’ and that’s repeatedly used as a trick.

Another great thing about it is the setting in Detroit.  It’s never overplayed but it adds a decaying creepiness that is entirely appropriate.

It’s a great addition to the world of horror.  Not as terrifying as some say, but absorbing and pure quality from start to startling finish.

 

In the post Oscar slump let’s decide best movie actor of all time.


I was horrified to read this citation on IMDB whilst watching The Godfather for the nth time last night.

Marlon Brando is widely considered the greatest movie actor of all time, rivaled only by the more theatrically oriented Laurence Olivier in terms of esteem. Unlike Olivier, who preferred the stage to the screen, Brando concentrated his talents on movies after bidding the Broadway stage adieu in 1949, a decision for which he was severely criticized…

Anyway, I put my horror out there on Facebook to see if I was alone in feeling this was a ridiculous statement.

I was not.

200 or so Facebook comments later we’d drawn up a late Sunday night shortlist that stretches to a grand old baker’s dozen.

Now it’s your turn.  Vote on who you really think is the greatest.

You can vote for three actors and in a week I’ll tell you the result.  Please feel free to share this via your social media channels.  The more the merrier