Thursday, 21 May 2009

Hedge Fund Wives by Tatiana Boncompagni

Tatiana Boncompagni’s "Hedge Fund Wives" is the story of Marcy Emerson. When her husband John is promoted to be a big-time hedge-fund manager, she quits her job and moves to New York with him to start their new life. However, she finds it difficult to fit into their new social circle of wealthier, snootier hedge fund wives. Against the backdrop of the US recession, while their new colleagues are losing money, John has not yet had to deal with such shortcomings, which makes it all the harder for Marcy when she discovers that he is having an affair with a young, prettier, blonder model.
Yet there are those around them of a higher pedigree who are also facing scandal of their own, and not just financial. Just to pick one, Marcy’s newest, closest friend, gourmet recipe book author Gigi Ambrose, is facing a backlash over her latest book, as it is deemed insensitive due to the fact that the economy is in freefall.
Aside from the scandal and heartbreak, the glimpse into how the wealthy live is enough to turn any shop-a-holic green with envy: the houses, clothes, shoes, furniture, d├ęcor, art, and perks are to die for; and the numbers of the salaries…they were astronomical. The last time I got a headache like that over a row of zeroes was in the opening chapter of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, in which he explores the creation of the universe. Indeed, the lives of those at the top of the New York social hierarchy makes life on the Planet Raxicoricofallapatorious look normal.
Boncompagni’s insight into the lives of the super-rich is mind-boggling, hilarious, and toe-curling. No doubt some of the anecdotes are from her own experience of mixing with those who own, create, and grace the pages of Vogue, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, for whom she has written. Being her own personal accounts makes them both all the more realistic, and all the more unbelievable. Some of the scenes would fit comfortably into a French and Saunders sketch, a scene from "Absolutely Fabulous", or a Joan Rivers gag.
While I envied Marcy’s wealth, home, and most of all her ability to get a job; I could not help but sympathise with her over her fall from grace, and admire her resolution to get back up again.
"Hedge Fund Wives" is the perfect companion to a lazy Sunday afternoon, preferably with a cold drink and some silky-smooth chocolate by your side. It may even spur the poor unemployed like myself to get a good job, if not purely for the sake of spending the wages on Fifth Avenue.

Many thanks to TJ Dietderich of Planned TV Arts for suppling me with this book!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Singin In The Rain - Sunderland Empire Theatre

Actors are famously superstitious when performing a certain Shakespeare play, but I wonder if they are also superstitious when performing Singin’ In The Rain. At least the putting up of more than a dozen umbrellas indoors did not bring any bad luck on opening night at the Empire.
Set in 1927, it tells the story of Hollywood’s golden couple, silent movie stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont. However, when the talking-picture is invented, their studio company, Monumental, decides they must follow in the footsteps of The Jazz Singer, and make a movie with talking and sound. However, Monumental has a slight problem in that Lina, for all her artificial beauty, has a voice that would make Van Gogh cut off his other ear.
Thankfully, they are able to get around the problem by having young actress Kathy Selden, who has the voice of an angel, and the heart of Don Lockwood, performing Lina’s lines in the movie, both speaking and singing. Matters are complicated when Lina, who wants Don for herself, learns of the love between her two co-stars.
There was water falling in the theatre long before the titular song at the end of Act One: the scene in which the film company attempt to shoot their first talking-picture movie against a myriad of continuous technical problems had the audience weeping with laughter. In all the shows I have seen at the Empire (and that includes a pantomime starring Ant and Dec), that was by far and away the funniest thing I have ever seen on that stage.
The wonderful Tim Flavin made for a fine Don Lockwood: personable, witty, and delivered the intricate tap-dancing with a suave grace and athleticism. His solitary performance during “Singin’ In The Rain”, was just one of many highlights during the show; the others being the humorous “Moses Supposes”, and “Lucky Star”, the latter an ethereal performance by Jessica Punch as Kathy Selden.
Graeme Henderson as Cosmo, Lockwood’s former showbiz partner, and now musical director at Monumental, stole the show during his classic slapstick comedy routine in “Make ‘Em Laugh”. Then Amy Griffiths’ Lina Lamont stole it during the kind of intentionally dire, audially atrocious, wonderfully comic performance of “What’s Wrong With Me?” that would have had Cowell, Holden and Morgan hitting their buzzers before the end of the first line had been sung, and telling her exactly what.
When the first large screen showing Lockwood and Lamont’s latest movie appeared, it was as though we had been transported back to the days when the theatre was a cinema; and although the movie was deliberately naff and hammier than Brian Blessed in a Shakespearean comedy, it was almost startling to be reminded of the Empire’s past in a subtle, yet effective manner.

Friday, 8 May 2009

State of Play (2009)

Speaking as one who has not seen the original BBC drama on which this movie is based, I am afraid I cannot compare the two. However, I am now keen to do so. This new State of Play is a clever conglomeration of British and American political scandal, it is this generation’s version of All The President’s Men, with scenes that would fit into a revival of Drop the Dead Donkey thrown in for good measure.
Russell Crowe stars as Cal McAffrey, a journalist for the Washington Globe investigating the death of political researcher, Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer). Baker had been doing research on a huge American company called PointCorp, for McAffrey’s old college friend, Congressman Stephen Collins, played by Ben Affleck.
With the help of Rachel McAdams’ political blogger Della Frye, a branch of journalism for which McAffrey has nothing but scorn, he stumbles across more and more seemingly unrelated sideshows. His persistence in following them up drives his blunt, sardonic, prickly editor (a surprisingly and enjoyably uncouth Helen Mirren) long past despair. She is more concerned about the plight of her rapidly declining newspaper to care about it printing the truth.
As with any good investigative story, watching the loose threads get neatly sewn together is part of the satisfaction. Crowe as McAffrey is concise enough not to complicate the complicated, and comes across as a likeable journalist; while director Kevin MacDonald (who gave us the powerful, atmospheric The Last King of Scotland) keeps the tension and uncertainty taut. Even Ben Affleck manages not to be as wooden as my pine furniture under MacDonald’s guidance.
There is still a sprinkling of humour through the strain, much of it between McAffrey and Frye over the conflict and bitterness between their respective fading print journalism, and the expanding blog culture. “I’ll have to read a couple of blogs before I make an informed decision”, he tells her when she asks him about circulating rumours of Collins’ private life.
In all honesty, the only thing that spoiled it slightly - without wanting to give too much away - was the timing of the UK release: we are now (believe it or not) only four episodes away from the end of series seven of 24. For those that have watched the last twenty, certain subjects in State of Play will not seem anywhere near as dangerous or frightening.
Speaking of TV dramas, come on, BBC! Remind us why this movie was made in the first place!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

"Oliver!" - Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London

There was no sign of a recession in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on Saturday. From the packed auditorium, to the at times rather crowded stage, not to mention the sight of the man whose name is in lights above the main entrance.
I was going to nominate whoever persuaded Rowan Atkinson to play Fagin for a Knighthood, but I see Cameron Mackintosh already has that honour. From Fagin’s very first line of one syllable, the audience warmed to him with gusto; or as much as is possible to warm to a crazed, creepy uncle type who teaches young boys to steal, and has no concept of soap.
Yet for all that, he rightfully received the biggest laughs and the longest applause, “Reviewing the Situation” being the night’s highlight. For someone known mainly for only two characters, there was a slight trepidation that Atkinson would slip into one of them; but although “Teddy” had a small cameo, I never once thought of Mr Bean or Blackadder.
Halfway through “Food, Glorious Food”, it was obvious that this production would be as delectable as the “hot sausage and mustard”; and from Harry Stott’s first solo in “Where Is Love”, the auditorium took him to their hearts as their tousle-haired orphan. The cast of over thirty young boys were wonderful, and although poor Oliver is condemned to be perpetually upstaged by the Artful Dodger, even he could not compete with a little lad called Nipper, played by nine-year-old Daniel Huttlestone.
This angelic, blond-haired, blue-eyed little nipper turns out to be the cheekiest of Fagin’s urchins: pilfering from, imitating, and insulting his elderly mentor. It’s always the one you least suspect, isn’t it?
Lionel Bart’s memorably addictive soundtrack is given a new lease of life thanks to modern sound equipment. “Consider Yourself” takes the term “all-singing, all-dancing” to a whole new level; I didn’t want it to end, it was glorious. This was due in no small part to Eric Dibb-Fuller’s mischievous turn as the sneaky, swaggering, affable Dodger.
Jodie Prenger made for a delightfully sexy, feisty and yet vulnerable Nancy. From the boisterous exuberance of “Oom-Pah-Pah” to the softly defiant “As Long As He Needs Me”, her powerful voice delivered both cockney character and raw fervour. I will have to read the novel to try to discover how she came to be the preferred company of Burn Gorman’s dark and menacing Bill Sikes.
Dickens’ tale is played out during certain scenes on a clever, elevating two-tier system, allowing us to see what is happening above ground, as well as what is happening below in Fagin’s underground lair.
Given the enthusiastic performances and unforgettable songs, I hope the cast and crew will consider themselves at home at the Theatre Royal for a long time to come.

Friday, 1 May 2009

"Demonkeeper" by Royce Buckingham

Demonkeeper is a young adult horror novel by Royce Buckingham that is as dark and light as a Tim Burton fairytale. For most children, living in a house inhabited by monsters would be the stuff of nightmares; but for teenager Nat, it is his job. Left an old, creaky house and all its pesky occupants by his now deceased predecessor and mentor, Dhaliwahl; Nat is charged with becoming the new Demonkeeper. Things quickly go awry when, on the one night he leaves the house, the most violent and lethal of the demons escapes. Nat must track The Beast down, with the reluctant help of his new (human) friend, Sandy, a bookish, neat, and frankly desperate girl who is even worse at parallel parking than yours truly.To make matters worse, a former pupil of Dhaliwahl’s who had fallen out of favour arrives back in town with a score to settle. Initially known only as The Thin Man, he has his own plans about catching and using The Beast.Despite being billed as horror, there is a healthy dose of humour that would not look out of place in a Pixar movie. From the description and antics of two young boys who get caught up in the melee, to the characters of Nat’s three little “helper” demons, even The Thin Man’s real name unintentionally made me laugh. Perhaps not everyone will agree with Dhaliwahl’s assertion that “Marriage is attempting stability. To be a keeper is wrestling always with chaos”. For some, they may be one and the same.Although there is a good deal of comedy and wit, there is also some undeniably horrific, primeval action. Even the delicacy of choice for The Beast is tragic, in a way. Buckingham’s book covers the not so subtle fears like demons under the bed and noises in the basement, and the darker, ultimately more frightening fear of simply being alone; making it a much more wholesome tome than your average Goosebumps.