Why I don’t think War Horse (the play) is that great: Theatre Review.


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War Horse is a major crowd pleaser.  It’s an adaptation from a children’s book by Michael Morpurgo which, written from a horse’s point of view, tracks his story from birth through to the end of World War One and the relationship he has with his young owner; a teenager called Albert.

But in the stage play the first of the big changes is that the story switches to a third person POV, in which we observe the story from our own perspective, rather than the horse’s.  I suspect that immediately weakens the emotional sensitivity of what many consider a classic children’s novel.

I first saw the NT live screening of the National Theatre production a few years ago and put down my disappointment to the fact that I wasn’t witnessing the show in the flesh.  So last night was my chance to recalibrate my opinion with good seats in the Dress Circle.

The fact is the story is relatively far fetched, not impossibly so, but I found it difficult to engage with anyone in the play, male or equine alike, and so found the story slightly fantastical.

The next problem to overcome is the acting. In this touring production, showing at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre, it is, at best, passable.  And the script, at points, is just plain silly – with too many ‘All ‘Allo type dialogue moments. (For those of us old enough to know or care it’s an appallingly mediocre BBC sitcom set amongst the French resistance in occupied Germany written in Franglais and faux German.)

I found my attention wandering constantly after the early impact and occasional highlights, of the excellent puppetry by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, wore off.  For sure, the horses are wonderful (but the Goose is even better).

The staging can be highly dramatic and some of the (extremely loud) battlefield scenes, as the titular Joey becomes a ‘War Horse” and endures the travails of the front line, are quite spectacular and genuinely original.  But it can also be a bit limp.  The device of the torn paper on which rather uninspiring animations are projected has the effect of compressing the stage and forcing your shoulders down to peer into an almost letterbox-like action area.

The fact is, special effects do not make a great entertainment experience on their own.  A spectacle, yes.  But the structure and framework (script mainly) is so weak that it becomes a constant anticlimax with little in the way of emotional engagement.

I wouldn’t recommend this.

 

100 (actually 105) days of not drinking alcohol.


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I love wine.  I love beer.  I love whisky.

But I drink too much of each.  Period.

So, in January this year I began my now almost customary Dry January (starting on 7th of the month because I was working on a theatre production until then and, of course, that involved drinking each night – not forgetting the after show).

Over the years I have more and more looked forward to, rather than dreaded, Dry January because it has become something of a physical reset button.  Maybe a mental one too.

Now, I don’t do ‘Mindfulness’ in fact I shit on mindfulness.

So, if that’s what floats your boat you won’t find any of that chat in the following paragraphs. (What I will say, though, is that 100 days without alcohol changes your perspective on stuff.  It energises you and if there were no twats in the world you would become very, very calm.  But there are.  Twats, that is. Lots.)

This ain’t no mindfulness lecture.

What do twats do?

Well, for one, they call me boring for not drinking.

My wife hasn’t drunk for six years and that doesn’t make her boring.  She lives with me for fuck’s sake.  It isn’t possible.

One of my friends said to me last week, “Mark, you know when we (twelve blokes) go to Primavera next month and if you decide you aren’t drinking, that’s cool.  Your choice.”

No, David Reid, (for it was he) you were cool for saying that, unsolicited.

Why, not drink for 100 days (105 so far actually)?

I honestly don’t really know why.  Well, maybe I do and I’m just not admitting it to myself.

Some of it has to do with the second sentence in this post, and the research that shows that it’s not young people who are over-indulging most these days – it’s 55 year olds like me that are.  That worries me.

More time, cheap booze, plenty disposable income = drinking too much.

Drinking too much = decreasing return on investment and increasing chance of cancer.

But, you know, as Joe Jackson says (sings), everything gives you cancer.  There’s no cure, there’s no answer.

So it can’t be that.

Let’s just say, I’m experimenting.

The experiment so far.

Hypothesis.  Drinking less than the garden pond of beer/wine/whisky a week that I did will have an impact on your body.

Observation. Yes.  It does.

I have lost at least two inches –  I’d say 3 – 4 actually – around my gut.  But this has been helped by my increased exercise (running) and my increasing adherence to a form of fasting diet. No food till noon.

My face is thin as a linguine strand, sadly atop a conchigilie, but, in time, this conchigilie is morphing into a macaroni.

(Shut this fucking pasta strand (no pun intended) down NOW.  Ed.)

My legs are fucked to bits though.  Knees, hamstrings completely kabooshed as I pound my fat carcass around the streets of South Queensferry.

But it’s getting easier.  Not to watch.  To do.  I wear lycra you see, and nothing is as inelegant as a still-a-bit-obese middle aged man in lycra – but it holds my muscles together and stops my breasts slapping my face.

I sleep better.  I can’t actually stay awake past about 10pm.

I work better.  If I had any.

I am calmer.  Am I fuck.

I remember shit.  Oh yes baby.  I remember everything.  Fucking EVERYTHING.

I am fun.  Debatable.  But I have been to many gigs (and enjoyed them), theatre shows, nights out, parties and not been a wanker.  In my opinion.

I piss like a horse.  I don’t know why, but I do.  Maybe I have pissed 2 inches off my gut.

My shit is exactly the same colour every day.  Tan.  Never black.  Consistent texture too.

I am less sarcastic.  So I am told.  But this post surely undermines that.

I am richer.  This has many caveats but, yes, I have saved some money.

How do I replace the bev?

The answer partly lies with Nanny State by Brew Dog, Piston Head Lager and Erdinger Alcohol Free Isotonic Drink, with a lemonade top because it is gash otherwise.

Thank you Nanny State and Piston Head.  Erdinger, you only get a pass.

The other answer is a new found love of coffee.

Will it continue?

I don’t know, do I?  I am an addictive personality.  I only have on and off switches.  So when you see me in my natural pre-this-post-state don’t throw it back in my face please.

Can you do it?  And what advice would I give?

Yes you can.  Don’t make too much of it.  Set a date a few weeks in advance so that you can blow out before you start.  Starting with a hangover is an EXCELLENT idea.

This blog is good.  Far more thoughtful than this car smash of an advice-piece.

Now, head off to the bar and get me a lime and soda.  Please.

 

 

 

 

A Quiet Place: Movie Review.


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This horror film works extremely powerfully on a number of levels.

It perfectly demonstrates Hitchcock’s thinking “There is a distinct difference between ‘suspense’ and surprise’, and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. – if filmmakers keep spectators unaware, they can create “fifteen seconds of surprise,” but if they inform them of the impending encounter, they can produce “fifteen minutes of suspense”

In A Quiet Place director (and co-star) John Krasinski (who directed three episodes of The Office – not exactly a training ground for this) has clearly listened to Hitchcock because everything about this superb movie is driven by suspense.  I counted ten times when I leaped from my seat, but I was on the edge of it from start to finish.

It’s lean, taut, beautifully shot, expertly sound-tracked and superbly sound-crafted (absolutely essential in a movie that’s about noise).

His acting, and that of his entire family (particularly the outstanding Emily Blunt – his real life wife), is razor sharp.

And the whole thing is done and dusted in a creditable 80 minutes flat.

Bish, bash, bosh.  Job done.

Scared the shit out of you.

Now, go home.

Really, this is film craft at its finest and goes straight into my top ten horrors of all time alongside…

  • The Shining
  • It Follows
  • Get Out
  • Alien
  • Jaws
  • Psycho
  • The Exorcist
  • Rec
  • Paranormal Activity

What brings these all together (with the exception of The Shining and possibly Rec) is the lack of REAL horror.

Less, in my book, is generally more.

What makes this movie so damned good is the relationship Krasinski builds between members of the family.  His willingness to dispose of lead characters with a minimum of fuss makes the whole much more believable and credible and the fact that the story treats its audience with respect.  It has a strong beginning, middle and end although we join the story some 89 days into its telling.

The visual clues are subtle.  The emotions real, small and detailed.

He makes few plot mistakes (although the ‘nail’ set up is a little contrived and ‘the spaceship’ has a pretty big ‘guess what’s coming’ flag attached to it).

The gore is minimal which is how I like it.

Now, look at that list above and you can see a golden age of horror emerging: A Quiet Place, Get Out, It Follows, Rec and, just missing the list, French horror, Raw, are all pretty recent.  They are all minimalist but they are all a) brilliantly directed and b) finely acted. The craft skills are evident in abundance in all five, but none of them need a lot of gore to engage their audience.

I hope Krasinski gets his just rewards for this.

Reverse Evolution. How Dr. Martens are trying to defy the laws of Darwin.


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During Darwin’s trip to the Galapagoan Islands he noticed that, island by island, the local finch populations had adapted their beaks in shape and functionality to perform the rudimentary tasks required to feed themselves from the available food source. Et Voila! the theory of evolution began.  Small positive changes over a period of time that made the species stronger, fitter and better equipped for long term survival.

So it had been with the Dr Marten boot, which too displayed Darwinian evolutionary principles, from its birth in post WWII Germany until the early 21st century when its popularity, in decline at that time, nearly bankrupted its makers; R Griggs and Co in 2003.

The Dr Marten started out as a working man’s boot/shoe with their comfortable bouncy ‘Airwair’ sole that made them de rigour for factory workers, posties and coppers before becoming the anti-style statement of a succession of youth movements, all of whom could, in one way or another, be described as anti-establishment.

But the DM (my preferred moniker for the Dr. Marten shoe or boot) has unquestionably  evolved, virtually shapeshifted in fact, since its heyday in the late 1970’s and early 80’s.

My own discovery of DMs (the 1461) came in the late 70’s as a spotty university student (may have been my latter school days, but I can’t really nail it).  I wasn’t a punk – the discovery was largely based on comfort.

Sure, the ‘comfort’ proposition came with a caveat. They were difficult to break in.  The ankle area around the Achilles Tendon would take a severe bruising and chafing for several weeks, but it was worth worth it in the long run because what followed was years of indestructible comfort.

I have never felt confident enough to choose the yellow stitching variety – so strongly associated with rebellion. Although I did once purchase brown – not even ox-blood – 461’s  when brown shoes and blue jeans briefly defied the long term rules of fashion.

I wore them with a suit – my own private rebellion at a time when DM’s were in serious decline and seriously lacked style credentials.

I didn’t care. (That’s why I am an archetypal DM wearer.)

When I became the proud father of teenage kids I desperately tried to persuade them to wear DMs because, to me, they were such an anti-style statement that I foolishly believed they (my kids) would look cool.

They wouldn’t.  Because they, as ‘millenials’ (Christ, I fucking hate that word) had no rebellion in them and so need for DM’s

Perhaps inevitably popularity declined.  Rebellions ran out towards to the end of the millennium.  ‘New Labour’ was a reflection of us all going soft perhaps.  It was Toryism in disguise after all.

The role of the DM to kick holes in authority, with its comfortable bouncy soles and high quality leather upper (sometimes hiding steel toe-caps) was in, at the very least, abeyance.

And so the DM had to reinvent itself.

It started with a business transformation, making what may have seemed essential but will come back to bite in the long term, by moving their manufacture from England to Taiwan and China and, not that long after that in 2013,  the company sold to a private equity company,

The result?  Quality has taken a kicking.  The soles split easily.  The uppers tarnish, flake and generally do not serve their functional purpose and, actually quite quickly their new found fashion icon role.

And yet, as the shoe’s quality product credentials have plummeted, its ‘coolness’ has increased.

This is reverse Darwinism.  Evolution in a horrible, spastic contortion where DNA gets mangled for short term fitness at the cost of long term survival.

How many people under 20 have you seen wearing Ramones T Shirts?

“Who are the Ramones” you might ask them.

Glassy eyed looks might be the response.

So it is with the DM.  It now comes in what seems like 5,000 styles.  A veritable cornucopia of designs largely spray painted onto the blank canvas of the 460 boot and 461shoe.

These new, shit, versions cost 2.5 times as much as I paid for the originals. This is not the result of inflation – were inflation at play they may cost £60-70, but they are £115 or, if you want what me and my pals used to buy (the ‘Vintage”), you’ll pay 3 to 3.5 x as much at £150 – 170 a pair.

British fashion is really rubbish sometimes.  The Mini is another good example of a brand having a purpose (size and economy) and that purpose being OVERWHELMED by fashion.  The Mini is no longer small.  It’s not a fucking Mini any more.

Anyway, here endeth my rant.

I have three or four very old pairs of DMs.  They are intact.  I wear them regularly.  I will not be buying shit Asian imports at £115 and/or paying £150 for the same shoe at double its real value.  I will seek dead mens’ shoes in charity shops and vintage stores to keep my love affair alive.

Long live DMs.  Death to the new fashionista version.

 

 

 

 

Isle of Dogs. The New Wes Anderson: Movie Review


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Is it an ode to Millwall?  Is it a statement of undying adoration for our four legged friends?  Is it a literal description of his movie which features an archipelago where Japanese canine’s are despatched offshore?

Whatever it is Wes Anderson’s latest minutiae-packed art form is a thing that inspires awe.

You simply have to ADMIRE Wes Anderson’s work because no-one (not even Guillermo Del Toro) approaches his craft with such precision, such forensic detail and because this latest epic is created in stop frame animation he has the opportunity to go microscopic; boy does he take it.

I’ve never seen a stop frame animation so beautifully lit.  Nick Park is no slouch but he prefers grand gestures, huge laughs and bold statement.  Nothing like this detail.  This art.

That all makes it sound sterile, fussy perhaps, but it’s not.  Under the art lies a beating heart of humour and passion for our fine four legged friends that no-one else could get even CLOSE to emulating.

It’s a bit too long, I’ll grant you that.  And some think its Japanese-ist (I don’t buy that).  It’s not a pastiche of Japan, as some say, it’s an homage.

The thrilling ‘Taiko’ drumming that sets the wheels in motion relentlessly underscores a movie that takes Japaneseness to thrilling heights of respect, with some humour of course – it’s Wes.

The, rather slight, story, is about a vile Japanese city-dictator, and cat-lover, banishing all of Megasaki’s  scabrous dogs to a toxic island of waste.  Thereafter it follows the quest of a young boy trying to rescue his pet, Spots, from this hideous prison.

The voices are great, but best by a mile is Bryan Cranston’s as the lead stray, Chief.

You can read the detail elsewhere.  But a Wes Anderson movie is a Wes Anderson movie and for that reason it has to score highly.

It’s stunning, gorgeous, brilliant and nearly as good as Grand Budapest Hotel.  But not quite.