Monthly Archives: October 2007

The year’s best Irish musical

Last night saw a trip to Cambridge’s very own Wagamama before nine of us squeezed into a half-empty cinema for Once (caution: unmarked spoilers), the best and probably only Irish musical since The Commitments.

One of the characters in The Commitments was played by Glen Hansard, who stars in Once alongside Markéta Irglová. They’re both musicians rather than ac-tors, Hansard being lead singer/guitarist of popular Irish beat combo The Frames.

Glen Hansard is also a friend of Isobel, one of the nine of us at the film; they’re both from Dublin, where the film was shot. Isobel works with Andy and Louise at Qualcomm; her other half Simon works at Taptu with Neil, with whom I worked at ANT.

To complete the circle, Andy, Chris, Melanie, Chef, Lynda and I are going to Dublin for a weekend in December to see Ross, who turns 30 at the end of the year.

I’ll do a diagram later if you want. I think that means we qualify for Baftas.

It’s a very naturalistic film, shot on a budget that wouldn’t cover Tom Cruise’s toenail polish. No studio sets, no special lighting, no crowd control. Some street scenes were filmed with long lenses (and without permits), passers-by oblivious to the acting.

There’s a slight documentary feel about it – until the songs kick in. But unlike yer Sound of Musics or yer Bollywoods, the songs are built into the story. The cast don’t drop everything and start supercalifragilisticexpialidociousing with comedy chimney sweeps: the plot revolves around our (unnamed) male protagonist’s ambitions for a singing career, and our (unnamed) female protagonist’s assistance. And it’s a love story, of course.

Hansard and Irglová together wrote almost all the songs, and they’re pretty good. YouTube’s full of examples; give Taptu a whirl.

Definitely one of my films of the year. I look forward to any sequel, undoubtedly called Twice. Hahaha.

Avaragado’s rating: nine potatoes

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Not the film with Charlton Heston

The zealot from last September is now a regular fixture on Saturdays, spreading his bigotry to town and gown from his prime proselytising position between the sausage and pancake vans opposite Next on {Sidney|St Andrew’s} Street. I often sidle up to listen as a poor unsuspecting heathen like myself is trapped by his superior rhetorical skills, despite the patent nonsense he spouts.

He always has followers buzzing around and sometimes engaging with outlying mini-hecklers, the ones like me who mumble under their breath but dare not interrupt the deranged rantings of the central loon lest he smite them with his flipchart. I have never been so smitten (smite, smote, smitten) but occasionally a helper zealot has unsuccessfully thrust godly pamphlets at me.

I feel I ought to go forth into battle for the forces of light one day. I think the Ten Commandments are fair game, since they have a page of the flipchart all their own. The zealot, naturally, believes in their literal truth, and that’s where as a geek I think I could have some fun.

If you look at the bible, as I haven’t, you find that there are more than ten imperative statements in the passage about commandments. Our chief weapon is surprise, surprise and fear, fear and surprise… And naturally enough where two or three religions are gathered together, they shall find some common ground upon which to disagree. So there are at least four different permutations of these statements distilled into ten commandments. Anglicans believe “I am the lord thy god” to be merely a “preface” to the commandments, whereas others consider it a fully fledged commandment – number one, in fact.

But the zealot would have an answer to that: he’d say that his chosen interpretation is right, and the others are wrong, and that god would judge him when the time came, like Simon Cowell on a silver cloud.

My next tactic would be this: are the commandments in priority order? I’d assume so, as they’re numbered. It’s not a bulleted list, a holy PowerPoint slide with each commandment animating hi-lariously onto the screen accompanied with some dodgy clip-art and a stolen sound sample of a lightning bolt.

What would god’s PowerPoint template be, in any case? TABSTON.POT probably, it would have to be 8.3 as they didn’t have long filenames in Windows in the olden days. Four colours: black, grey, red, white. Red for the clip-art devil.

Let’s assume they’re in priority order, and let’s assume we’re talking about the Anglican commandments as opposed to the Roman Catholic ones or Jewish ones or whatever.

So why are the first four about god? No other gods but me (“Simon Cowell or else”), no idols (“No photos”), no wrongful use of god’s name (“That’s Mr Cowell to you”), and keep the sabbath holy (“X Factor repeats on ITV2 only”).

Are those four more important than the other six? Is it really more important to “keep Sunday special” than to covet thy neighbour’s telly or kick a tramp to death?

And why does god need four commandments, anyway? Why is fully forty percent of god’s holy mission statement devoted to navel-gazing? Does god, in fact, have a navel at which to gaze?

Aren’t there more important things to include in the ten commandments than “the name’s god, buster, and don’t you forget it.” How about a positive one, like “Look after the old, as you’ll be old one day”. Or more fundamentally, “Treat others as you would expect to be treated”. Yes, that’s in the bible, and it appears in the works of many faiths, as you’d hope: it’s a fundamental moral principle known as the Ethic of Reciprocity. Why isn’t it one of the ten commandments?

There should be a new reality show. One week the public could vote for their favourite commandment, and the least favourite would be struck from the record. The next week ten celebrities could propose replacement commandments: David Dickinson on the importance of a tidy house, Ronan Keating on nurturing talent in the young, Ricky Gervais on not letting arrogance go to your big fat head. The public would vote again, and we’d be back up to a full complement of ten commandments. Repeat for eighteen weeks, see what you get.

It’s a sure-fire ratings hit.

Anyway. The zealot would probably say that the first four commandments are about god for purely administrative reasons. First rule of Fight Club, etc. He’d explain carefully that they’re not actually in priority order. So my next question would be, in that case: what do we do when there’s a clash?

It’s not unheard of for my parents to have a party on a Sunday, have a few drinks. Not exactly holy, a great deal of idleness, debatably sinful. If I don’t go because I want to keep the sabbath holy, I’m dishonouring them. Break one commandment to keep the other. But which?

DOES NOT COMPUTE! DOES NOT COMPUTE! WHAT IS THIS THING YOU CALL LOVE, KIRK-UNIT?

In this scenario I imagine I’d be able to invoke one of the holy get-out clauses. “You must do what you think is best, and god will judge us all in the end.” That is an ecumenical matter.

Apparently “thou shalt not murder/kill” (there’s debate over which word is correct) is helpfully suspended if you do so in self-defence; I heard the zealot say it, so it must be true. So presumably I can steal, if I do so for the greater good: imagine unlawfully liberating a crucial piece of whistle-blowing evidence. And surely I am free to covet my neighbour’s assets, if doing so makes me work harder to be able to buy newer models of them (benefiting myself and others in a positive way) and thus later gloat (the prohibition of which is not a commandment).

Let’s be honest: these aren’t commandments. They’re guidelines, common sense, “don’t eat yellow snow” with beards and togas. I’m surprised a happy-clappy archbishop hasn’t already repurposed them into “Your Ten Rules for Living”, a new paperback in the shops for Christmas, only £6.99, with a cover photograph of a smiling woman eating muesli.

I ought to try all that on the zealot. What harm could it do; I’m going to hell anyway.

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The other one

A few weeks ago, you may recall, Chris, Chef and I saw “TV funnyman” Richard Herring perform his stand-up routine. I neglected to mention then that I am a personal friend of Richard. I say personal friend, he’s an acquaintance really. Well, sort of acquaintance. OK, we exchanged a few words after the show (me, on spotting him scampering to the bar about a minute after leaving the stage: “That was quick!”; him: “Got to get to the bar”). Anyway, his comedy partner and officially 41st best stand-up Stewart Lee performed for one night only at The Junction on Sunday. Chris and I, minus Chef this time, went along to see him.

Pre-show we downed a swift pint at the Cambridge Blue Kingston Arms and made a speedy visit to the Golden Curry. From there it was a ten-minute adventure along mysterious back streets to C’hinton Road and the chav-haunted concrete box piazza known as the Cambridge Leisure Park. The event took place in Junction 2, AKA The Shed – a venue supposedly designed for small-scale drama and dance, AKA pretentious gurning and flapping about.

Plastic beers in hand we took our seats a few rows from the front. The support act was great but I am forbidden from describing it here by edict from Stewart Lee, and like all good citizens I always do as the 41st best stand-up comedian instructs.

As a few weeks ago, it was odd to hear one half of the double act without the other, but there was always a presence: the occasional line with a whiff of Herring. I’ve always liked the distinctive Stewart Lee style: articulate, verbose, exaggerated. Or something.

Mostly very funny, though with a weak ending I thought. (The ending would have been stronger but for the sudden distraction of what seemed to be an outrageous violation of the law: a small cloud of cigarette smoke billowing up from an audience member between us and the stage.)

Avaragado’s rating: five sardines

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Gastro-pub-enteritus

On Friday night Andrew and I decided on the spur of the moment to go for a meal at Cambridge’s (allegedly) first gastro-pub, The Punter (né Sino Tap, né The Rope and Twine, né The Town and Gown). Unlike previous name changes, which were accompanied by a lick of paint and a quick dust down, this latest refurb cost a bit more than a trolleyload at B&Q; the entire pub has been gutted.

Whereas previously the bar sat in the middle of two separate seating areas, it now lives where the old fireplace was, with one large seating area. The toilets have moved, the kitchen is now out in the old back bar (unused since the T&G era), and the former dancefloor is now a proper dining room, alongside a wood-panelled function room.

The transformation is amazing and extremely well done, if not entirely wheelchair-friendly (it’s a listed building and several hundred years old, there’s only so much you’re allowed to do). This was apparently a controversial redevelopment, but I reckon someone visiting the pub for the first time wouldn’t realise how much has changed.

On arrival Andrew and I looked around, retrieved our jaws from the floor, checked that the 10%-off voucher that came through my door the other day was still valid, and bought some drinks. We found a table off to the right, in a relatively unchanged area, and reminisced about the olden days.

To eat, Andrew chose the duck with bean cassoulet (verdict: excellent) and I tried the garden pea risotto (unusual, fine, no complaints). None of yer generic pub grub here. For dessert Andrew had the tart, I the spotted dick, and we made all the jokes ourselves thank you very much. My only complaint would be that the beer was on the turn. No, not that kind of turn.

Avaragado’s rating: two runner beans

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Surreal discovery of the day

I used to make films pretending to be Alan Whicker.

I’ve been going through some ancient cine films, deciding which ones are worthy of transferring to digital format before they crumble away. To make it easier I’m using a small reel-to-reel editing thingy bought about 30 years ago and retrieved from an attic.

So it came to pass that today I began playing one reel and suddenly encountered my 11-year-old self, complete with fake moustache and sub-Yarwood impersonation, presenting an edition of Whicker’s World from our back garden. I then interviewed my real self, which was a wondrous feat of editing in those days but, like Alistair McGowan’s Big Impression, hampered by a frankly poor script.

Other reels, silent and noisy, contained:

  • Parodies of contemporary adverts. I don’t remember any TV adverts for Refreshers, but there must have been one as I parodied it with my brother.
  • A half-hearted attempt to commentate on a game of football played across the road in our mates’ driveway. The commentary temporarily gave way to some slow-motion and later fast-motion action.
  • Some embarrassing singing and dancing to finish off a reel. In hindsight, this was probably a sign.
  • Time-lapse photography of the tide going out and a candle burning down.
  • Tedious squirrel, sparrow, robin and crow action.
  • Water skiing on holiday, both alone and in a row of three. This includes the memorable moment as we headed for the beach in which I fell over and whoever was to my left apparently skied over my head. I may have to perform Zapruder-style analysis to determine the facts.
  • Stop-motion animation by the bucketload (my brother’s forté, some of it very good given age, equipment, etc).
  • Special effects extravaganzas of the stop-the-camera-do-something-and-restart variety. These include the genre classic “The Man from Mars” (starring Kelvin from over the road).
  • Pointless filming of whatever was on the TV. There’s about 30 seconds of a random football match introduced by a flared Des Lynam, and another 30 seconds of what appears to be a Huckleberry Finn cartoon. The pointlessness is enhanced by the shoddy camerawork and lack of sound.

The plan is to entrust these historical artifacts to Special Delivery and have a Man transfer them to Mini DV, after which I can suck them into Adobe Premiere to edit and eventually create a DVD of the more interesting bits. One or two items may appear on YouTube, once the embarrassment has dulled to a low hum.

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Run, Fat Boy, Run

Last night the usual gang of five went to the Vue to see Run, Fat Boy, Run, the new David Schwimmer-directed, Simon Pegg-starring film. I thought the ginger one was just acting in this one, but he has a screenplay credit too.

It’s a by-numbers Brit romcom, heavy on the product placement from a manufacturer of overpriced swoosh-bearing footwear. (I mean, one present of trainers I could live with, but two?) Two men battling for the affections of one woman – check. Precocious child – check. Comedy hangers-on – check. A galaxy of Britslebs in cameos – check.

Supposedly Bill Bailey appears dressed as Gandalf in one scene set during a marathon; I must have missed that one. I did spot Noel Fielding walking past in another scene. The funniest guest appearance is by David Walliams, playing a near-clone of his Mr Mann character from Little Britain.

The film won’t win any awards, but it made me laugh, so that’ll do.

Avaragado’s rating: two gingerbread men

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