Friday, 26 December 2008

Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death

How is it possible that two small black circles can convey so much emotion? They can, when they are set in the face of that clever, loyal, silent, lovable dog that is Gromit.He and his clueless master Wallace once again graced British screens on Christmas Day. In A Matter of Loaf and Death, the two now run a successful bakery, mainly due to the fact that all the other bakers in town are being murdered. Wallace then happens to make a new lady-friend, Piella (at this rate, he’ll soon be competing with James Bond), a former model for a bakery brand.
Murder mystery it may be, but even young children will hardly bat an eye at the untimely death of Baker Number 12. Rather it is the maltreatment of Piella’s little dog that will be one of their most traumatising viewing moments, somewhere up there with Mufasa, or Bambi’s mother. Poodle she may be, but even I wanted to take poor Fluffles home and give her a proper bed; not a cardboard box in her mistress’ grand bedroom in a palatial mansion.
There was infinitely more chemistry between the two dogs than the humans. I am not ashamed to admit that some scenes with only the former in them made my eyes rather moist. Peter Sallis, as ever, was delightful as Wallace, and Sally Lindsay gave Piella the ideally irritating, posh voice that such a character called for. Gromit was as quiet and expressive as we have come to expect.
It is a visual delight, considering how sophisticated claymation now looks compared to 1989’s A Grand Day Out. The near smooth movements of the characters are a testament to the time, patience and dedication that goes into making this half-hour programme. It is so packed full of visual and verbal gags and puns that it requires a frame-by-frame analysis to find them all. This latest adventure is as quaint and enjoyable as the rest, with a suitably over the top climax; however at times, it somehow did not have quite the same spark as its predecessors.
Despite this, Wallace and Gromit remain a welcome, home-grown antithesis to the CGI animation and cheesy live-action that has been flooding across the Atlantic of late. A Matter of Loaf and Death even took the top Christmas Day viewing figures. Finally, a genuinely deserving Christmas Number One.
According to the animators, it is very difficult to show Gromit’s emotions. All I can say to that is: Cracking job!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Classic Matches - Wimbledon - Murray v Gasquet DVD

Will the real Andy Murray please stand up?
From the moment the two tennis players arrived on Centre Court, it seemed like an impostor had picked up Andy Murray’s racket. After three rounds of a comparatively simple passage through to the fourth round, with polite home support, his match against Richard Gasquet of France was going to be anything but.
Both players began brightly enough, although as the first set wore on, Murray’s service game began to suffer. Serving to stay in the set at 6-5, despite saving two break points with some exceptional athleticism, Gasquet prevailed. The Frenchman simply did not allow Murray to play his game, and took the second set 6-3. With Gasquet then two sets and a break up, and serving for the match; Andy Murray arrived on court, and boy, were we glad to see him.
For the first time in the match, Murray had three break points, and soon, for the first time in the match, broke Gasquet’s serve. Another service hold from both took the third set to tiebreak. The DVD is worth the money just for that exquisite, seemingly impossible shot with which Murray won the third set - and for his and the crowd’s unforgettable and unprecedented reaction that followed. That part of the disc will quickly become worn from the number of times it is bound to be played over and over again.
So what else does this DVD bring? Britain beating France, for a start, what more do you want? The tennis itself is simply scintillating. Rallies are not solely confined to the baseline. Powerful forehands, bullet-like backhands, intelligent passing shots, a daring lob, and of course that unpredictable Murray drop-shot. One can easily imagine him in the Wimbledon final with Championship point, putting in a drop-shot. Should that ever happen, most of the crowd will be taken away in body bags.
This match has action, drama, emotion, and a twist that you will not see coming…unless you saw the broadcast or read about it in the papers the morning after. It’s like Gladiator, only epic. The roars from the crowd were certainly more befitting of the Coliseum in Roman times than Centre Court at the All England Lawn Tennis Club; and it is heartening to see how everyone in the Court and on Henman Hill (sorry, Murray Mount) warmed to the young Scot, and gave him ovations the like of which even his predecessor has not seen.
For all the exciting rallies, twists, dips and turns the match took; it was Tim Henman who caused the biggest sigh of disbelief from the ten million television viewers when, in the commentary box, he obliviously asked: “Is it always this nerve-wracking?”. At least now he knows what torture he has been putting us through all these years; and at least this time, we came away smiling.
This is the kind of match that turns knee cartilage into jelly. Even knowing the result does not make the getting there any easier. It is terrifying to recall how close Murray came to defeat, and inspiring to see how he made such an incredible comeback. Yet this is why this match is worth putting oneself through again and again; whether for the thrill, the entertainment, the pride, or simply to marvel at the skill of these two young men.
However, of course, the DVD producers then had to go and ruin it right at the very end by flashing up a statement informing us what happened to Murray in the following round. They just couldn’t let us enjoy that moment of glory, could they? To recompense for this, they’ll have to release a DVD of Murray’s match at the US Open against the man he met in the quarter final of Wimbledon.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Michael McIntyre: Live and Laughing (Audiobook)

Michael McIntyre is a rare thing: a modern comedian who can make me laugh. I’m not just talking about the odd chuckle or smirk, but a full-bodied, yet silent laugh that cramps up the stomach and refuses to let air into the lungs as tears roll down the cheeks.
His comedy is nowhere near as crude, vulgar, or over-reliant on profanity as so many of his contemporaries. Even if he does swear or venture into the bedroom, his accent, as he admits himself, is camp enough to enable him to get away with it.
Live and Laughing is the perfect introduction to McIntyre’s brand of humour. He begins with something we can all relate to: traffic. From driving on the motorway with a police car alongside, to being stuck on a country lane behind a tractor; the imagery that is conjured up in the mind is simply side-splitting, like some-thing you might see on a Top Gear challenge.
As a northern lass, I was intrigued by his take on the Geordie accent - although being from Sunderland, do not consider myself a Geordie -, which, according to him, has only one vowel. No prizes for guessing which one. This particular routine evoked memories of Bobby Pattinson, the Geordie accent extraordinaire, who incidentally, was the last person to make me laugh quite so hard.
McIntyre wonders at the point of having stewards to direct people to their seats on a plane, explains why no one can recognise their own mobile phone number, and why, in every house, there is a “man drawer”. You know: the one that has umpteen dead batteries, Allen keys, extension leads and expired foreign currency hoyed into it. Also, ladies; if you’re wondering why you are not allowed to venture into the loft, wonder no longer.
The subject of family life, as always, is one that is full of emotion, as well as humour. When he speaks of the joys and socially awkward moments in raising his two young boys, you can hear the affection in his voice. However the anecdotes play out like a scene from Malcolm in the Middle, making the McIntyre clan sound like the dysfunctional family from hell.
He has even came up with an ingenious solution to getting out of a situation in which you have unwittingly called someone within hearing distance a rude name…providing you do not have to be in an enclosed space with them for a long time afterwards.
However one thing I will hold against him is that he has ruined pineapples. All those years as a child I spent drinking pineapple juice in The Wheatsheaf at Embleton, not far from Keswick; all that innocence has been dashed to pieces.
Refreshingly and genuinely funny as Live and Laughing is, the one thing that lets this iTunes audio book down is the sound quality. It is tinny and echoic, giving it a rather old-fashioned ambience, as though it was recorded straight onto a video cassette (remember those?).
Yet, in such a time where phoning a real comic genius to brag about having sex with their granddaughter is considered funny, it is heartening to know that McIntyre is also out there as the perfect antidote for this generation. Long may he be that antidote.