Thursday, 29 May 2008

Doctor Who Exhibition - Earls Court, London

You should have heard the screaming.
While an angel stood poised to attack, Santa Claus waited patiently for the right moment, a shop window dummy inconspicuously flexed its fingers, tin men stood on sentry, waiting for their orders from a crippled robot, and further along, pepper pot shaped soldiers sprang to life and launched their assault.
The Tardis had landed in Earls Court, London, and where the Doctor travels, death follows.
The Doctor Who exhibition had arrived at the Exhibition Centre, bringing with it the Autons, Slitheen, Cybermen and the Daleks.
Yet while many of the exhibits were various enemies the Doctor has faced over the last four series, he is not alone in his fight to eliminate them.
Some of Billie Piper’s outfits were on display, I especially liked the pink shoes she wore in “The Idiot’s Lantern”, as well as those worn by the Doctor, Captain Jack Harkness, and the Master.
The Face of Boe also made an appearance. He wasn’t as big as he looks on television. K-9, on the other hand, was bigger than I imagined.
Indeed, some of the props were huge. The scale model of the Empress of the Racnoss in “The Runaway Bride” and the telescope in “Tooth and Claw” just about managed to fit in under the ceiling.
Others were comparatively tiny. The Big Ben model which was damaged in “Aliens of London”, and a tower block of flats in particular looked like a doll’s house.
However the villains in the show are the most exciting. Roger Lloyd Pack’s Cyberman, perpetually seated in its life-supporting wheelchair, looked very impressive despite its disability.
While there are no Daleks roaming free in the building exterminating the troublemakers, they still manage to terrorise, and are undoubtedly the stars of the show.
The first Dalek is the rather humane creature we met in series one’s “Dalek”. Its armour is open, revealing the small alien being inside. It looks rather pathetic, one almost feels sorry for it.
Then comes the exciting part. Further on, a solitary Dalek stands silent and still with its back to the curious audience. Curiosity turns to fright when it suddenly moves and turns, headlights flashing, egg-whisk and plunger flailing as it screams out its death to humans policy.
Two more join it out of nowhere, and the familiar cries of “EXTERMINATE!” ring through the room. The first Dalek elevates itself as flashing lights imitate the ray beams that emanate from their egg-whisks.
In that brief moment, the Daleks quickly stole the title of Highest Decibel Scream Generator from the Weeping Angel statue. It was like having two dozen Maria Sharapovas in the room.
While the setting for the Daleks was very complex so as to hide any wires or other equipment, it was far from having a technician pushing a cardboard cut-out around. Their fluid, elegant, unaided movements were a joy to see in person, and there is a small tinge of fear mixed with excitement as its eyestalk scans the room and seems to settle on you.
There is a lot to see and do for the younger children, despite some exhibits being rather scary. Providing a voice to a Dalek proved very popular, although the girls simply sounded like Baby Daleks.
For the kid in every adult, it is interesting to see how aspects of the television show are made and the props used to film it, although the inside of the Tardis may shatter the magic.
However for any Doctor Who fan, it is well worth seeing. Get there before the Tardis disappears again to hurtle through time and space, and carry our Time Lord far away from London so that he can once again save the universe.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

From the abundance of fedora hats travelling around London recently, one would almost think that there was a new Indiana Jones movie on general release.
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hails the return of the snake-fearing, whip-bearing archaeologist, and it is a welcome return. The back may not be as straight, and a paunch is evident, but the sense of adventure and the now familiar smirk is prevalent.
During a comparatively uninspired set of opening credits, a KGB envoy arrives at a top secret government location in the Nevada desert to the strains of Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog. There they proceed to kill everyone in sight.
Jones (Harrison Ford) is hauled out of a car boot along with his sidekick Mac (Ray Winstone), and ordered by head honcho Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) to locate a specific box in a warehouse containing all of the artefacts the US government does not want the public to see.
Among these artefacts is the Ark, but it is a box containing mangled remains that Spalko seeks. Despite Indy’s best efforts, she escapes with it.
Accused of aiding and abetting Communist spies, Indy is given a leave of absence at his college. Before he sets off for London, he is approached by a James Dean-like figure named Mutt Williams (Shia LeBouf), who tells him of the kidnap of his mother and Indy’s old friend Professor Oxley (John Hurt).
Off we go again.
The two travel to Peru to track him down, and learn that he has discovered the location of the fabled Crystal Skulls, which together can give the power and knowledge of mind control. They find one of them buried with a band of Conquistadors who supposedly discovered El Dorado, before they themselves are kidnapped by Spalko’s agents.
Taken to a small settlement near the Amazon, they are reunited with Oxley and Mutt’s mother, none other than Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen).
Having stared into the eyes of a Skull for too long, Oxley is something of a gibbering wreck, but he is able to communicate to Indy the whereabouts of the other Skulls, which are thought to be extraterrestrial.
A poorly executed escape attempt from the clutches of the KGB sees an exhilarating chase through the jungle, during which Indy learns that Mutt is his son. Following an ant attack and a perilous journey down the river, Indy and company arrive at the lost city. However they are being tracked, aided by one of Indy’s group.
While the alien element seems a little harder to stomach than the previous supernatural forces explored in the previous movies, it brings more of a sense of the unknown to the story.
Ford is clearly relishing the reprisal of his role, as is Spielberg in his role as director. Blanchett and her goons played the Commies as seen through the eyes of late 1950s America: as evil, interfering, one-dimensional baddies, right down to the deliberately awful accents.
Allen’s chemistry with Ford was spot-on. Indy and Marion’s love-hate-hate-love relationship was as strong as ever, particularly in one humorous scene where not even gags could keep them from arguing. Indy warmed astonishingly quickly to his role as a father, and to his son, a chip off the old block it would seem.
However the CGI, although it makes certain things look more realistic, is overused, and a scene involving Henry Jones III swinging through the trees like Tarzan made me pray that a vine would snap.
Crystal Skull is not Indy’s best outing, which is surprising as the screenwriter David Koepp worked with Spielberg on Jurassic Park, and although the dinosaurs stole the show they worked spectacularly well together. However it is entertaining enough, and the good old fashioned humour is still there, although purists will be firmly split in two.
Whatever the success of the movie, the fedora hat phenomenon is sure to spread beyond London and cover ground quicker than the ants.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Apple iTouch - 32GB

Much as I grew to loathe the Apple Macs while at university, I have fallen for the iTouch faster than Romeo fell for Juliet.
Having waited a long time and not bought one, my patience was rewarded by the release of the 30GB version, as the smaller memory iTouches would have been too small.
My brother has recently became the proud owner of a Blackberry through his work company, but beside the iTouch it looks like the bricks the elite few had in the 1970s.
The iTouch is much sleeker, more space-age. It is also much more fun to use. Touch, slide, touch, slide touch, enjoy. Indeed many hours of enjoyment can be derived from the waif-like device before any media has been uploaded.
Of course it is when such media has been uploaded that the real entertainment commences. Scrolling through your music collection has not been so enthralling since the height of 12” vinyl records, when people knew how to make album covers.
In a way, the same principle goes with the iTouch. Album covers can be scrolled through at the flick of a finger, and while seeing the cover of Bat Out Of Hell on a 3.5” screen is not as breathtaking as on a 12” vinyl, it looks good nonetheless.
As television shows are now available for download through iTunes, hopefully the movies will follow, although the hard part will be deciding what to keep when the space runs out. The picture is good, the sound clear, but watching the battle of Helm’s Deep on the small screen does not quite have the same wow factor. Also your eyes may end up permanently crossed should you wish to watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy on the iTouch.
It is also a wonderful little photo album. Now I can take all of my favourite photographs anywhere, and at a decent size and resolution. Now I can gaze with a dream-like grin at the photo of Mum and myself with the actor David Hyde Pierce wherever I take the iTouch, and as it does everything except the washing up, I am guaranteed to take it everywhere.
However there are minor issues with the iTouch, namely that some websites take a while to load, the finicky miniature keyboard takes a while to master - and I have slim fingers - , and connecting it to a wireless account can sometimes be tricky. To keep it clean, one either has to sand off their fingerprints, or have a cloth to hand.
Also, battery life varies depending on the functions performed. It can last for weeks if it is solely used as an alarm clock, however this is very unlikely due to the novel nature of the gadget, and watching a 40 minute television programme can drain the battery by more than half.
Nevertheless, after having the iTouch for a week, I came to the realisation that I no longer need a computer. I can check and reply to my email, surf the internet, check the weather, download songs from iTunes; I can even create word documents on the Notes and email them.
Theoretically, I now only need a computer to print something out, download a video from iTunes, or play on The Sims 2; and Apple are sure to figure out a way to put all of these features on the iTouch. Maybe some way to transfer photographs directly from a camera or memory card would also eliminate any need for a computer.
Until then, I’m afraid Windows still has the monopoly on my core computing loyalty.

The Bourne Identity - Robert Ludlum

Despite having seen the movie of The Bourne Identity, I could recall very little of it. Therefore reading the book made me feel a little like Jason Bourne: fragments, names, and faces coming back to me at irregular intervals, but with no context in which to place them.
A man is discovered unconscious in the sea at Île de Port Noir, a small island on the coast of France. He has no memory and no name. His face carries signs of plastic surgery, and a tiny microfilm implanted into his thigh bears a number which leads to a bank account in Zurich.
At times of extreme duress and danger, he exhibits certain fighting and survival instincts, for which he has no explanation.
After his recovery under the care of the alcoholic, British doctor Geoffrey Washburn, he finds the bank in Switzerland, which holds four million dollars in his name, Jason Bourne. He transfers varying sums of money to different banks around the world, and the alarm bells begin to toll.
He has been recognised by someone who thought he was dead, who wants him dead. News of his emergence reaches the ears of the CIA, and of a professional assassin named Carlos. Bourne finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place as he tries to understand his past, which comes back to him intermittently in flashes, remembering a place, a building, a street.
In a desperate bid to escape his pursuers, he kidnaps a woman named Marie St Jacques, a Canadian financial whiz. Together they try to piece together his past, and keep each other alive. Who is he? Who does he work for? Whose side is he on?
From cover to cover Robert Ludlum’s thriller does not let up on suspense, mystery, or pace. Cliffhangers are not solely confined to the end of a chapter, but are scattered throughout at the end of paragraphs.
Not only does Ludlum show a great deal of skill in bringing his complex plot together, but a thorough eye for detail and the occasional glimpse of subtle wit is evident.
While all of the characters are described physically in detail, the impression is given that it is left up to the reader to envisage Bourne for themselves. After all, he has been missing for six months, has had plastic surgery, and there are no photographs of him, he is a “chameleon”.
The plot is set to a background of beautiful European scenery, jungles in the Far East, with the aid of modern technology, financial loopholes and wiring, and all without a mobile phone in sight. What more could one ask for?

Monday, 19 May 2008

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Within the first ten minutes of The Last Crusade, we learn many things that shaped the character and fashion of the archaeologist. A young Indiana (River Phoenix) steals a crucifix from a group of diggers in Utah, claiming it should be in a museum.
In the ensuing chase Jones Junior boards a train transporting a circus, falls into a large box full of snakes, fends off a lion with its taming whip and, just when he thinks the relic is safe, it is taken from him. He is, however, given a fedora hat in compensation.
Fast forward two decades and Harrison Ford’s Jones is once again dragged away from his day job as a university professor to examine a stone tablet that holds the location of the Holy Grail. Unfortunately, the part giving the location is broken off, and the missing words can also be found in the tomb of a knight, buried in Venice.
Meanwhile Indy’s father, Henry (Sean Connery) has been kidnapped while on his own Grail quest by the Nazis. Hitler is intent on having the chalice for himself, as he believes it will aid him in his mission.
Indy travels to Venice with Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot), where he meets the attractive Dr Elsa Schneider, played with a Bond girl-like panache by Alison Doody. She takes them to a former church-turned-library, where Indiana learns that X really does mark the spot. He and Elsa find the knight’s tomb, and the location of the Grail: Alexandria.
However the Nazis have discovered that Indy is in Venice, and so the real fun begins. Following a chase along the canals, Indy learns that his father is being held captive in a castle on the Austrian-German border. Again accompanied by Elsa, Jones sets out to rescue Jones Senior.
In doing so, Indy learns that Elsa is a Nazi spy, and never to trust his father with a cigarette lighter. Having escaped the castle, a cavalcade of motorcycles sent after them is swiftly dispensed with, as are many other forms of enemy transport that follow.
After a few more chases in which the Nazis fail time and time again to keep up with the Joneses, they all reach the temple at Alexandria together. Who will find the Grail first?
The movie is full of entertaining, amusing, action-packed sequences and high jinx chases. Jones Snr quickly turns from something of a hindrance and the character who states the blindingly obvious to a useful, informative ally in the quest to find the Grail. The banter - both verbal and physical - between Ford and Connery is one of many high points in the film, as are the scenes that explore their tortured relationship.
Spielberg’s direction and John Williams’ famous score keep the movie rolling along as quickly as the big ball in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and with the kind of pure, unadulterated joy and humour that very little action movies now carry (Stephen Sommers The Mummy series being the exception).
Having finally seen the entire trilogy, I can now look forward to seeing what the next instalment brings.

Friday, 9 May 2008

From Russia With Love - Ian Fleming

From Russia With Love is said to be one of President Kennedy’s favourite books. It is easy to see why.
I have not seen the movie, nor read any of the Bond books, so this was a first for me. Initially it started slowly, especially when compared to the opening pages of The Bourne Identity. It is not until about 90 pages in that we first meet the legendary 007, and the book is only 260 pages long.
SMERSH, the Russian security service, is keen to embarrass the security of another country by assassinating a member of their services, and so eliminate one more threat to the Russians.
After scouring Europe, the small group who have decided to carry out the plan settle on England, and finally hone in on our Jimmy.
Bond is sent to Istanbul, where he will meet Russia’s answer to Greta Garbo, a young Corporal in the security services named Tatiana Romanova. She is apparently in love with Bond, having seen his file while at work, and is willing to sneak a much desired cipher machine called the Spektor into England, and Bond will be her passport.
They meet, and so ensues the obligatory sex scene. Tatiana insists on taking the Orient Express to Paris, despite Bond’s flight plans. A four day trip on the luxurious train begins, accompanied by a fond acquaintance of Bond named Darko Kerim, and three unwelcome Russian spies, two of whom are swiftly dispensed with.
The first three days of travel pass in comparative peace, but on the fourth day the real action begins. Fleming gives the impression all the way through the book that he is building up to something big, and he does not disappoint.
It all takes place within the last 70 pages, and when it began, I felt as though I was riding the rails on the grand train, hurtling through Western Europe quicker than the plot, and wishing that the Orient Express had seatbelts.
The book, like the movies, is littered with likeable, un-likeable, ugly, and beautiful people. Fleming paints a very vivid picture of their build, gait, personality and character within a few lines; and does the same for his locations. While on my train journey I could easily imagine pulling in to the hot, drab, Turkish stations along the way, and seeing the landscape from the dry, bleak land of the Middle-East to the lush green of the Swiss mountains.
Despite its slow beginnings and a surprisingly high amount of suspended belief, From Russia With Love is great escapism, and has something for everyone. A handsome British spy, a Russian beauty descended from royalty, revenge, love, and the most romantic train journey in the world turned deadly.
This is the book that made Fleming’s name, four years after Casino Royale (1953) was published. Yet Bond did not become the icon is he is today until after Fleming’s death. It seems that From Russia With Love is not the only thing to have a slow start.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Iron Man

As far as this year’s blockbuster movies go, Iron Man has already set the standard, and has set it higher than Iron Man can fly.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Junior), a technological genius who inherited an advanced weaponry company founded by his father and his friend Obadiah Stane (an unrecognisable Jeff Bridges), finds himself kidnapped by Afghan insurgents and ordered to build them his latest weapon, the Jericho.
Instead, following an attack in which he was almost blown up by one of his own weapons, he builds himself an artificial heart, capitalising on a design by his temporary helper, Yinsen, to keep him alive. He then builds the prototype of what will become his Iron Man suit in a bid to escape.
Initially it looks like a home-made Cyberman, but it does the job. However it crash-lands in the desert, leaving behind a nice jigsaw puzzle for his kidnappers, led by the mono-named Raza.
Stark, meanwhile, has been rescued and is safely back in his Los Angeles home - however its cliff top location with a sea-view does not look quite so safe - , although his three month disappearance has been quite a headache for the company and the security services. Stark’s extravagant, playboy lifestyle is well documented in the press, and his absence from the social scene has caused quite a stir.
Having seen that his weapons are being used to kill the people they were meant to protect, Stark disassociates himself from Stark Industries, and commits himself to developing his suit. After a few minor hiccups like decimating his expensive car collection, and some amusing encounters with a fire extinguisher, he perfects his design.
Cue some very large explosions, and an edge-of-the-seat rendezvous with two US F-22 fighter planes over Afghan airspace.
By now Raza has pieced together the original suit, and is poised to benefit enormously from the design plans by trading them to…Stark Industries.
Downey Junior, looking like a young Al Pacino, plays Stark as s a flawed, yet likeable, anti-hero. Iron Man is sure to be his stepping stone back into mainstream film, and he has made a welcome return
Gwyneth Paltrow was well cast as Pepper Potts, the Miss Moneypenny-like secretary to Tony Stark’s Caractacus. He had even built a car that looked like the bad-ass lovechild of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Batmobile.
Iron Man is a movie low on clichéd superhero antics. Indeed it takes a rather long time before Stark has even built the prototype. However given the unique lead-in to the creation of the superhero, and current events in the Middle East, it is far from the long trudge one would expect.
The script is full of witty one-liners, and director Jon Favreau creates many exciting, comic book-like shots and action sequences.
However I was surprised to see Stark driving an Audi R8, a car with fairy-light style headlights which Jeremy Clarkson once described as looking like a “council house at Christmas”. Other than that, the technology and the machines featured were as impressive as the movie itself.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Wii fit

The last time I laughed so much was...alright, I can't remember the last time I laughed so much.
However I do remember the last time I moved so much: it was January 2007 when I finally got my hands on a Nintendo Wii (I hadn't wanted one until after Christmas when I saw my nephew's in action).
Fast forward 16 months and Wii Fit arrived, and proved to be yet another marvellous distraction from serious university studies.
Now we all have the chance to be the new Eddie the Eagle, only better. The ski-jumping balance game fulfils a wish of mine, and I don't have to contend with 206 broken bones afterwards. However some of the novelty is lost as your balance monitor is in the top right corner, so all my time was spent looking up there when really I should be enjoying the action.
The slalom is more involved, and it's much easier to simply ski straight down the centre at speed rather than attempt to navigate the obstacle course.
Another highlight in the balance games is heading the footballs. Before the balls, football boots and panda heads start flying all of the Miis are shown jogging on the spot in their footie kit to warm up, then the fun begins.
Tightrope tension is also very diverting. From the Miis of my family and friends watching with bated breath as I creep across the wire, to the frustration of failing and having to do it all over again.
The aerobic exercises also use the Miis. My parents throw hula-hoops at me, my Mum and my four year old nephew overtake me while I'm out jogging (the latter I can understand, but the former - aargh!), and our family friends join us on stage as we perform a step-dance routine to a crowd of adoring fans.
Even the yoga can bring on fits of laughter (no pun intended). My impression of Del-boy falling through the bar while attempting the one-legged tree pose has been the high point so far.
After that, any laughter is purely ironic as the poor scores are displayed on our 40" TV screen for everyone passing our front window at rush hour to see.
The muscle workouts prove to be more challenging, and less amusing to watch or do. Time flies while playing Wii Fit, and it does not feel like exercise until the next morning when you can barely move after a long session. Locked games and workouts are unlocked surprisingly quickly, but it takes rather longer to get a four star rating in any of them.
The technology behind the game is undoubtedly impressive. The balance board's sensors are incredibly sensitive, and don't let me get away with anything.
Anyway, what am I doing writing about Wii Fit when I can be playing on it?! I'm off to do my Eddie the Eagle - no...not Eddie the Eagle...I'm...Catherine the Crane! Here I go...
Wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Son of Rambow

Although older generations may be aghast at the thought of ten year olds watching Rambo: First Blood, I myself never batted an eye.
Back in the 80s, when the movie was set, it may have seemed less common.
Son of Rambow tells the story of two young boys who meet accidentally in the school corridors. Lee Carter (Will Poulter), the school rebel, ropes the younger, naïve Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) into being a stuntman for the movie he is hoping to send in to a competition.
While at the nursing home where Lee’s family reside, the imaginative Will accidentally sees Rambo, and is inspired to create his own story wherein he is the renegade’s son.
Lee is initially keen to cooperate, but as Will’s creativity spreads around the school, and the allure of fame is potent among the other students, Lee becomes increasingly left out. It turns from a “just the two of us” style jaunt to a fully blown amateur blockbuster with more extras than the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Will is thrilled to be at the centre of all this attention, and his blood-brother status with Lee becomes sour.
Of the three sub-plots in the film, the foreign exchange students turn out to be the best. The radical, individual French student Didier Revol (a memorable performance by Jules Sitruk) comes strolling into a quintessentially English school wearing his red boots and earring, and causes quite a stir. Initially I didn’t know whether the character was a boy or a girl. Even after a scene in which he had evidently kissed about ten girls I was still unsure.
Didier quickly acquires a fan base and his own personal escort, but after experimenting with various dangerous and amusing ways to light a cigarette, becomes bored until he learns about Rambow. He offers his services as a very over the top actor, and then the floodgates open.
The stories involving the two boys’ backgrounds are more emotive. Lee’s parents are away, leaving himself and his older brother Lawrence (Ed Westwick) to run the home. Will’s father had previously passed away, so he and his sister are brought up by their mother (Jessica Hynes), a devout member of a religious group named The Brethren, whose draconian rules make it difficult for him to meet up with Lee.
The nostalgia factor is immense. From the wood-surround televisions to the easily smeared lipstick to the old Fairy Liquid bottle, every shot had something to find to make me smile. Will could ride his bike and run along the middle of the road without fear of being hit by a car, and there were no ‘elf ‘n’ safety people to ruin their rather dangerous stunts.
Through the colours of the locations, director Garth Jennings even makes the film look as though it was shot in the 80s, but with a better quality camera. The sixth form common room was quite something to behold.
The two young actors are rightly the stars of the show. The chemistry between their contrasting characters is just right, and they carry their emotional and tempestuous scenes well.
Although the comedy is not always laugh out loud funny, the innocence and sweet charm of it is, like the movie, guaranteed to raise a smile.

Meat Loaf, Royal Albert Hall, 16th October 2006

There was a buzz in South Kensington on the night of Monday 16th October that is not usually there. Meat Loaf was in town to promote his forthcoming album, Bat Out Of Hell III - The Monster is Loose, with a one-off gig at the Royal Albert Hall.
Although sceptics are wary of the latest album in the Bat trilogy due to the lack of contribution from its creator, songwriter Jim Steinman, there was no sign of any of that scepticism that night.
When Meat Loaf appeared on stage and got going, there was no stopping him. In two hours he and the band, accompanied by a 16 piece all female orchestra, had powered through thirteen vocal-tearing, Springsteen/Wagner style songs with only one unprecedented twenty minute break.
For those who are wondering how it took so long to do thirteen songs, an average Meat Loaf/Jim Steinman song lasts on average seven minutes, longer in the live versions.
As Meat delivered classics such as Paradise By the Dashboard Light, I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That), and Bat Out Of Hell in his unique and powerful voice, he strode and moved about the stage with an energy that defied his 59 years and size, although he has lost a lot of weight since the first album.
The audience responded to him wonderfully, the vast majority using their seats solely as a place to put their personal belongings, singing and clapping along to every song, laughing at the “phone call” with Brad Pitt (they starred in Fight Club together), and shaking the foundations of the venue in their call for an encore.
Songs from the new album were well received, particularly “Bad For Good”, the title track of Jim Steinman’s only solo album in 1981, and therefore known by a lot of the audience. Also familiar to many was “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now”, another Steinman creation, sung as a duet with former M2M member Marion Raven.
Even the non-Steinman penned songs “Blind As A Bat” and the more metal sounding “The Monster Is Loose” were welcomed into the family, so to speak.
The show-stopping number of the night came from a little known but well loved song titled “Objects In The Rear-view Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are”. It was not just because it has been so long since Meat performed that song, but also because of the emotion and soul he put into the performance that the audience nigh on brought the roof down.
Finally, the concert ended with “Life Is A Lemon And I Want My Money Back”. From listening to people on the way out and on the internet, there weren’t many people saying that on reflection.

The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl, based on Philippa Gregory’s novel, is a mildly entertaining retelling of part of King Henry VIII’s life.
The other Boleyn girl is Anne’s sister Mary, who is the first to catch Henry’s eye, played with a surprising flatness by Eric Bana. Henry VIII is a character to relish. Jonathan Rhys Meyers dug his teeth into the role for The Tudors and played it for all it was worth, and seems to bring out the character of the king I grew to know in GCSE History much more effectively than Bana, who spends much of his time brooding in the shadows with his fist under his nose.
Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson play Anne and Mary. Despite their best efforts their affection for one another is never quite realised.
The Boleyn family are in financial straits, so Anne is charged with “diverting” the King so that he might make her his mistress, and so reward her family with land and money. However it is Mary who charms her way into the King’s favour, alas she has just wedded William Stafford.
Stafford and the sisters are given a position at the King’s court, and the former is rather willing to sacrifice his wife for her family’s sake.
Mary is the first to be invited to the King’s bedchamber, and Johansson looks so young, sweet, and naïve that Bana seems a lecherous older man in comparison.
This movie was never intended to be historically accurate; however the limits were really pushed in a scene during which Henry was encouraging Anne’s advances while Mary lay in her bedroom holding their newborn son.
Henry see-saws between the women so frequently it is surprising that there was no hair-pulling between them. When he finally settles for Anne, she refuses to have him until he is rid of Queen Katherine.
Anne is portrayed as a conniving young woman who is restless in trying to ensnare the King. Here she is the one who encourages him to break with Rome.
However Henry is reluctant to let Katherine (Ana Torrent) go. Katherine, as always, is shown as a woman with a good head on her shoulders, which is more than can be said for Anne, literally and figuratively. When Henry does annul the marriage and splits the Church, he practically rapes Anne in an attempt to convince himself it was worth it, that she will give him a son.
When their daughter is born Anne goes through what can only be described as the most severe form of post natal depression known to womankind. After the miscarriage of her son, she is so terrified that she is willing to commit incest to give Henry a boy.
Portman carries those scenes well, and despite her misdeeds it is difficult not to feel sorry for Anne. Portman had already proved - in V For Vendetta - her ability to adopt an English accent, and Johansson also does it well. As in Girl With A Pearl Earring she acts with her eyes and expressions. I half expected Colin Firth to turn up and paint her.
David Morrisey gives a pantomime-like performance as the wicked uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, who sets the whole thing in motion along with the girls’ father.
Kristen Scott Thomas is wonderfully understated as their world-weary mother who goes through great pains over her children’s circumstances, yet can do nothing. I almost cheered when she slapped her husband, Sir Thomas (Mark Rylance).
Some of the shots look like a Holbein painting, and the movie seems like a precursor to the superior Elizabeth.
Director Justin Chadwick does not turn the movie into the bodice ripper the novel set out to be. It is left up to the viewer to decide whether this is a strength or weakness. Personally, I find that a director who assumes the viewers have an imagination shows them some respect.

Sony Bravia 20" KDL20S2030U

It was love at first sight. Ever since I saw the Sony Bravia 20” KDL20S2030U in the Sony shop in Sunderland I have lusted after it as Niles did for Daphne in Frasier.
Alas, the £550 price tag was a tad beyond my budget. However after some patience, perseverance and a very useful online-money-saving article in the Sunday Times, I found it on play.com for £299.
It arrived four days later, and on seeing it fell in love all over again. Surrounded by black matte casing, it is a beautiful, elegant, compact device; and looks impossibly smart and modern in any bedroom.
It also seems more tasteful and classy than the 40” Bravia in the family living room due to its smaller size, although the 40” is undeniably impressive.
The 20” is easier to carry, and is simple to install and set up. Plug it in, plug in the aerial, turn it on, and press the select button three times. That’s all there is to it.
It is a pretty thing to look at, and a joy to behold whether it is switched on or not. The remote control, despite it’s long length, has very few buttons on, and is effortlessly simple because of this
The picture is crisper than the 40”, and the colours are stark and bright. The Dolby Surround sound is clear, and the text and interactive service is easy to navigate and quick to respond.
Compared to our chunky old Toshiba, the Sony Bravias are mind-numbingly simple to turn on. The power button is far easier to locate on the top of the monitor. It is a small but very responsive button, a welcome change from stabbing your thumb into the Ancient Egyptian building block that is the Toshiba, while keeping hold of it for fear it will wobble, following a five minute search for the hidden, big, clunky button on the Toshiba.
The simplicity of the power button is a wonderful encouragement to turn the set off properly every time instead of putting it into standby, even just for five minutes. It therefore saves vital energy, too.
However our relationship is not perfect. Changing the channel seems to take a while, and the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) does not give a synopsis of a specific programme.
Also, a built in DVD player would have been welcome to save on an extra plug and two extra wires, but in a television as attractive as the Sony Bravia, these are minor quibbles.

Curtains - 2nd April 2008

Given my disappointment that David Hyde Pierce had failed to materialise in London with the rest of the American cast of Spamalot, imagine my delight the day before I went to New York to learn that he was currently taking the lead in a musical on Broadway.
Just 25 hours, no sleep, two plane journeys, two train journeys, a quick meal and a hop around the corner later I was in New York watching his Tony award-winning performance.
Curtains, a new musical penned by John Kander and Fred Ebb (Chicago), is a comedy telling the story of a detective investigating the suspicious death of a rather abysmal and unpopular stage actress named Jessica Cranshaw (Patty Goble) on opening night in Boston in 1959.
Cranshaw’s dreadful routine threatened the show’s longevity, therefore everyone involved in the production is a murder suspect, so musical fan Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Pierce) keeps everyone housed in the theatre while he tries to crack the case. He also becomes involved creatively in the show, a western themed “Robbin’ Hood!”, putting forward ideas that will ensure its success when it eventually travels to Broadway.
Cioffi is smitten with actress Niki Harris (Erin Davie), a sweet young lady who is keen to help him solve the mystery. She keeps bringing him threatening notes from the killer that she finds, and which she accidentally keeps getting her fingerprints all over.
Many jokes centred on backstage stereotypes, and more than a handful touched on Pierce’s role as Dr Niles Crane in Frasier, although initially not all of them were picked up by the audience. However this being America, the gay jokes, of which there were many, went down very well, as did Niki’s paranoid quip about murder being “like a hobby” in Britain.
The one particular Brit she was referring to was the director Christopher Belling, played by Edward Hibbert with his usual camp, hammy acting.
Debra Monk gave a wonderful showing as the bitter, sexually frustrated producer Carmen Bernstein, and had a marvellous, brassy voice that suited the big, bold, Broadway tunes of Curtains. Carmen is determined not to give her daughter Elaine, aka Bambi, (Megan Sikora) a major role in the musical for fear it would be seen as nepotism rather than Bambi’s evident talent.
Karen Ziemba as composer turned new leading lady Georgia Hendricks proved to be a far superior actress and singer than her unfortunate predecessor.
After 11 series of hearing Pierce talking in the clipped, refined tones of Niles, initially it came as something of a shock to hear him adopt a Bostonian drawl (think Matt Damon in The Departed), however I quickly became accustomed to the change.
As for his singing voice, it was not the typical, carbon copy leading man on Broadway intonation. It had a 1950s twang, and could be rich, light, deep, high, and occasionally raw, just the way I like it.
He also had the most diverse, natural facial expressions I’ve seen on stage, although that could have been because I watched him through the binoculars more than I have other stage actors. He was also capable of conveying so much emotion through his beautiful eyes, and I didn’t need the binoculars to appreciate that.
As with Chicago, there was as much dancing as there was singing, only better. The tunes, songs and lyrics were more memorable, most notably Thataway, Show People, and In The Same Boat. The irony of What Kind Of Man? in which the producers of “Robbin’ Hood!” slated the negative critics was not lost on me.
Despite the BBC having destroyed what little interest I had in any sort of dancing, I was able to admire and enjoy the choreography, both perfectly synchronised and perfectly un-synchronised.
In the dance scenes Cioffi’s character had a hint of a Niles-like quality about it. Pierce sometimes seemed to be complimenting the physical awkwardness of his most famous character. At other times he obliterated it completely, especially in a Fred and Ginger inspired dance with Niki.
Despite the permanently cold theatre and the inedible $3 American chocolate, given the wealth of acting talent, likeable characters, memorable songs and mesmerising dance routines, it will certainly not be curtains for this musical.
Curtains is on at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on West 45th Street, New York, until Sunday 29th June 2008