Garden State

Certainly not the best film ever but it was a promising work for Braff and I’ll be looking our for more.

Film poster for Garden StateI had heard and read almost nothing about Garden State until I saw it tonight. It’s written and stars Zach Braff who is, apparently, a big hit in Scrubs (but I don’t watch it) and was in one of my favorite movies, The Broken Hearts Club (but I’d forgotten him).

The background to the plot is that Andrew Largeman (Braff) is a twenty-something actor from New Jersey who now lives in Los Angeles (which supposedly mirrors Braff’s own life). Largeman returns home for his mother’s funeral after not having been back for a decade. He has almost no relationship with his father, a bunch of slacker friends and a lot of history.

So. it’s another middle class slacker movie but it’s quite well done. It’s got elements of humour (both in dialogue and the visuals) and is well shot. Despite the slow pace of some of the film, I found myself remarkably engaged. Usually I that find films where nothing happens are hard work regardless of the abilities of the actors and directors. It simply wasn’t the case here: the opening scences of Largeman motionless in an all white bedroom listening to his father’s messgae grabbed me and I was hooked.

There are two aspects of this film that I think stand out. The first is the soundtrack. I feel a good soundtrack is usually unobtrusive and you tend not to notice it. This is one film where you have an exception to that rule. I noticed how great the soundtrack was but it didn’t take anything away from the experiennce. The imdb entry for ths film notes, “When Braff sent the script to people, he would also send them a copy of the songs which would eventually be the soundtrack (which he handpicked). That is why on the actual soundtrack album, all of the songs are in the order that they appear in the movie” [source].

The other aspect I really liked about this film is the way the depths of the Largeman character are only revealled gradually as we go through the film. Obviosuly, it’s a very common trick of any story but – sometimes – movies reveal too much too soon in a bid to hook the audience. In Garden State, that’s not the case and it works beautifully.

Certainly not the best film ever but it was a promising work for Braff and I’ll be looking our for more, particularly, if he continues blogging about his work.

Polar Express

An all new Christmas classic movie and all the better for being seen in a IMAX 3D cinema.

One of the films I had been really interested in seeing this Christmas was Robert Zemeckis’ Polar Express, which has been selling out in all it’s 3D glory at the BFI London IMAX. So, tonight, we got tickets for the last screening (although I imagine this will be back quite a lot). It’s a shame that we didn’t make it before Christmas when London was lit up with Christmas sparkle as that would have added to the magic.

Some reviewers of the film have criticised this film for being dark or scary but I didn’t see it. It’s basically the story of the boy who is doubting Santa Claus and is taken on a magical ride to the North Pole to find Christmas. And it’s filled with that wonder and magic that can only be found in really good Children’s films. Sure, the movie makers have used the 3D format to full-effect (the roller-coaster scenes are overdone in many IMAX presentations) but it shouldn’t detract from the wonder of this tale. Tom Hanks is great as the primary voice of the film which just added to the joy.

While the animation may not quite be on a par with The Incredibles it remains pretty stunning and, unlike The Incredibles, I see this film enduring. It’s a fantastic film.

The Incredibles

The super heros are having a mid-life crisis in a great animated film from Pixar.

The Incredibles movie posterThe superheroes are having a mid-life crisis. I guess, following on from Spiderman, it’s not all the unusual for out lycra-clad action heroes to be questioning their purpose. The litigation society that forces the superheroes to, effectively, enter a witness protection-style programme was an interesting take on the world. Of course, it’s not the main point of The Incredibles but much of the enjoyment is in the detail.

What can you say that hasn’t been written elsewhere? The animation is superb; the plot seems to be able to captivate children and adults. Mark Kermode notes, with much justification, that the film lacks, “classic fairy-tale simplicity of Snow White or Finding Nemo” but my main criticism is that I just didn’t find any of the characters that endearing. The Incredible/Parr family (beautifully acted) just didn’t produce the one character that endures. If you think of it in classic Disney terms, there’s just no soft toy to last for generations.

Nonetheless, a great film to start a new year with.

Shaun Of The Dead

I am not sure how well is translates to other countries but if you live in London – check the streets and the faces of those walking towards you for they may just be the living dead.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) OK, so I spent this period watching movies I was not expecting to like and I liked most of them. I found at least one subtitled film that I thought was superb and managed to find a Jim Carrey role that I thought he was pretty good in. So, I thought my luck must be up and I wouldn’t like Shaun of the Dead because, frankly, I dislike the whole zombie movie concept.

The problem is that this isn’t a typical zombie movie and it’s truly excellent. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen for ages. Simon Pegg plays Shaun who is a lit of a loser who comes into his own as London gets over taken by the recently deceased who come back to life. Cricket bats to the head seem to be the way to fight off these zombies and where better to put up the fight but from your local pub? It’s amusing, well-written and there are some great performances (not only from Pegg but also Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis and Penelope Wilton). The attention to detail makes for some wonderful moments: as TV channels are scanned for news on the zombie invasion appearances by Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Carol Barnes, Rob Butler, Vernon Kay and a brilliant Jeremy Thompson make the film very rooted in Britain.

I am not sure how well is translates to other countries but if you live in the UK – and most importantly if you live near London – check the streets and the faces of those walking towards you for they may just be the living dead.

Bruce Almighty

When God (Morgan Freeman) has had enough of the complaints he lets Bruce play God for a while (and God goes on vacation).

Bruce Almighty film poster

I seem to be spending most of my Christmas vacation watching films. We just watched Bruce Almighty and I quite enjoyed it. I have never been a big fan of the Jim Carrey slapstick roles but in this the comedy is more subtle.

Carrey plays TV reporter Bruce Nolan who hates the lifestyle oddities he is asked to report on a wants the TV anchor role. When his colleague Evan gets the gig Bruce, down on his luck, complains bitterly to everybody who listen. When God (Morgan Freeman) has had enough of the complaints he lets Bruce play God for a while (and God goes on vacation).

Predictably, Bruce uses the power to his own advantage at first before we get to the moment where he realises this isn’t the way (which is not too long after he let everybody win the lottery and watched riots unfold before him). And, despite that predictability, it’s an enjoyable way to pass an hour or two (and you hear God explain the concept of ‘Free Will’ which is a nice get-out clause for everybody).

House Of Flying Daggers

Visually stunning both in terms of photography and the settings. The fight sequences well choreographed and executed and, overall it’s very stylised.

After yesterday’s trip to the cinema, we decided that we would do it again and PY had been wanting to see House of Flying Daggers (Shi mian mai fu) so it was decided that we’d give it a go. I have to admit that I am not a big fan of subtitled films in any language so the strangeness of Mandarin didn’t bother me too much. It’s visually stunning both in terms of photography and the settings. The fight sequences well choreographed and executed and, overall it’s very stylised. Many people will enjoy the style of the movie and equally as many will see the style as a blocker to following the plot (undercover police deputy becomes captivated with suspected revolutionary on a journey to somewhere never properly defined). I was willing to give it a go and really enjoyed the film for the presentation and visuals but I couldn’t get past the ‘style’ to become engaged in the plot. Hand-on-heart I tried. I can’t knock the film as I think my inability to connect is due to my lack of experience watching films like this and I would urge you to get to see it before it closes and let me know what you think.

Napoleon Dynamite

I like films with a plot and Napoleon Dynamite is missing much of one but somehow the offbeat comedy works in a subtle – not laugh out loud – way.

Napoleon Dynamite
Napoleon Dynamite

If Napoleon Dynamite is to be believed, Idaho (or at the very least a place called Preston) is stuck back in the mid-Eighties and everybody is slightly odd. Napoleon is a school misfit with a misfit brother (who cruises Internet chat rooms), a misfit uncle (who is trying to recreate his high school football days) and a misfit friend Pedro who is trying to become Class President and is up against the all-American cheerleader, Summer. Add to that some milk-tasting contest and eating raw egg yolks in a chicken farm and I’m happy to admit it was a very strange experience.

Usually, I like films with a plot and Napoleon Dynamite is missing much of one but somehow the offbeat comedy works in a subtle – not laugh out loud – way. Add to that the massive Idaho landscapes and somehow you have an enjoyable way to spend a few of December’s final hours in a cinema. Just thank goodness for LaFawnduh.

More Producing

I suspect I may be a lone voice in expressing a little (and just a little) disappointment.

Following up on my previous review of The Producers, I’ve had a little more time to think about it and earlier I posted this to Gay Boy Musicals Fans UK at Yahoo!

Having read the positive reader comments on the BBC’s story about The Producers I suspect I may be a lone voice in expressing a little (and just a little) disappointment. I hadn’t read many reviews but I did know about the reception it had received in the US and the praise heaped on Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

I haven’t seen the film which, judging by the number of people sitting around me who had, means I was possibly one of only a small number of people in the audience who hadn’t. I wonder if that made a difference?

I saw it a week or so ago and it was good but not as good as all the raving would imply. While Nathan Lane’s talent, comic timing and performance cannot be faulted I did find weaknesses in the show. I thought some of the musical numbers in the middle were slow and the Ulla character was not engaging at all – in fact she was positively irritating. James Dreyfuss was camp (which, I guess, is the intention) but in that 1970s OTT cringe worthy way. Humour is, of course, personal and subjective, but I found it only amusing and not
laugh-out-loud funny as many of the reviews suggest.

Still, I would take issue with the review of Lee Evans’ performance which says ‘he just about holds his own’. I would argue that he did far more than that. He too was excellent, believable & humorous and while I’ve never been a big fan of his stage antics he worked well in the role. In fact, for me, he worked so well I can’t imagine Broderick in the role.

I will, however, recommend the show because it stands out from much of the rest of the West End right now – it is good. It’s has some wonderful comedy and delightful musical moments. But the sum of those individual moments does not, in my opinion, add up to a great whole. I
even bought the soundtrack in the hope that familiarity with the songs will make me warm to more of them.

Maybe it’s just me.

The Whispering Years

It’s not dull or bland in anyway but, perhaps because there’s a little of the 60s hippy left in Bob Harris, you feel the measured approach is entirely appropriate.

You really do get to appreciate ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris’ love of music through his autobiography, ‘The Whispering Years‘. You’ll read in the blurb that he’s been married three times; has had to re-start his career from scratch several times and almost lost his record collection to a fellow Radio 1 disc jockey. What you may not get from reviews is a feeling of the genuine passion he has for the music and how big a role some of the greatest musicians of the last thirty years have played in his life. You feel as uneasy as Bob appeared to over the fame that The Old Grey Whistle Test brought him and you will feel somewhat betrayed when Radio One remove him (I’d forgotten he was the voice launched round-the-clock Radio One in August 1990). Throughout his career he stuck to his passion – the music – and shunned the computer generated radio that dominates the airwaves today. His interview technique was considered ‘less than penetrating’ in the past but that gentle approach serves him well in book form. It’s not dull or bland in anyway but, perhaps because there’s a little of the 60s hippy left in Bob Harris, you feel the measured approach is entirely appropriate. If you love music (and not just progressive rock) or enjoy his radio programmes then The Whispering Years will be engaging, fascinating and inspiring.

The Producers

The fact that it is one of the better shows on the West End right now possibly says more about the other shows.

I went to see a preview of the London version of The Producers today and was, like last night, a little taken by surprise. This time, however, it’s with disappointment and not pleasure. I’ve been talking to PY and trying to explain my disappointment but he doesn’t get it: he loved the show. I did not know the plot nor had I seen the film so I wasn’t let down by the story but I had read that Nathan Lane had taken Broadway by storm.

You can’t fault Nathan Lane: he’s superb and his comic timing is excellent. Lee Evans seems born for his role as the sidekick Leo Bloom and some of the songs are great. Others, however, seem weak and parts of the story are just not engaging. James Dreyfus camps it up John Inman style while Ulla, the Swedish blond bombshell, is so lost in the stereotype that any humour is lost.

Don’t get me wong, it is a good show. I can’t imagine Richard Dreyfuss in it and I imagine it will be hard to replace Nathan Lane in January. If you’re going to see it I would suggest trying to get tickets now because without Lane’s superb performance I am not sure where this show will go. The fact that it is one of the better shows on the West End right now possibly says more about the other shows.

Sadly, The Producers disappointed.

UPDATE: Well, the reviews are out and I may be a lone voice expressing disappointment. I wrote an updated review for the Yahoo Group: Gay Boy Musicals Fans UK (which you can read here if you’re not a member of the group).

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Forum

You feel yourself pulled along by the way the cast at The National seem to be enjoying themselves.

a funny thing happened on the way to the forum
a funny thing happened on the way to the forum

I went to see A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Forum tonight and it took me a little by surprise. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I was thoroughly entertained. From the opening, A Comedy Tonight, you feel yourself pulled along by the way the cast at The National seem to be enjoying themselves. It’s a high camp farce set in Roman times featuring double entendres and mistaken identity by the bucket load (you almost expect a vicar to appear from a cupboard) but it’s joyful and not at all cringe-worthy as many farces are. Sondheim’s music isn’t the best you will ever hear (in fact, much of it isn’t memorable) but during the performance it’s entertaining. Such a shame it is coming to the end of it’s run. I discovered a US version of the soundtrack featuring Nathan Lane which ties in nicely with tomorrow – more then.

Lucky Man: A Memoir

An absorbing and very well-written book that proves that people in the public eye and just like the rest of us.

Michael J Fox
Michael J Fox

Lucky Man is not a typical Hollywood star autobiography. While it is peppered with references to the television shows and movies Michael J Fox has made it is – most definately – not a name-dropping ‘look at me’ celebrity obsessed biography. Yes, it’s an insight – although not too revealing – into the inner sanctum of Hollywood stars but it’s very much grounded in the real world. It deals with the highs and lows of a film career and the pleasures and pressures that brings. When reading the book you really do feel as if Michael J Fox has been able to take a step back and look upon his own career from outside. He’s able to analyse the fame, the money and identify both the good and the problematic that his career has brought him. However, from the beginning of the book, his upbringing and his rise to (and through) fame are placed in context by the Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis. That diagnosis has allowed Fox to asses what’s important to him and write a book that shows him as a genuine, warm and open individual. There’s no sentimentality about the book and he does detail how the disease effects him but, at no point, do you feel like an intruder into his private life. Despite the difficult nature of the Parkinson’s Disease descriptions, Lucky Man is an absorbing and very well-written book that proves that people in the public eye and just like the rest of us.

Madonna

I went to see Madonna at Earls Court.

my ticket to see madonna at earl's courtSo I went to see Madonna at Earls Court.

That statement does not make me a huge Madonna fan – although I am partial to many of her hits and, unlike some of my friends, I think American Life is a great album (then again I also like some of Blue’s material so who am I to judge musical tastes?) and she is most certainly a performer.

So, when commenting on a Madonna concert what should you say? Earls Court is a huge venue. For those of you who haven’t been you should be aware that it’s very stadium-like. We sat in the back left corner so it was like she was at the opposite goal post. And it’s in that context that you will understand why I didn’t think it was that good.

Madonna can put on a show. She is the undisputed queen of showmanship. And therein lies the problem. She performs a West End show of the variety that you need to be able to see. And she performs them at West End prices but to stadium-sized audiences. The audio is show-like and you doubt that she’s singing live the whole time – although I suspect a lot of it is live. It’s just very well produced and sounds like her CDs and, for me, that isn’t the point of going to see live music: somehow you need to believe that they are performing live. Add to that the fact that you can’t see the spectacular and you have a fun but, ultimately, a disappointing evening.

The Day After Tomorrow

The message to all of Planet Earth is, of course, corrupted to work for the film and lost after the first third. But that doesn’t make any difference.

Jake Gyllenhaal in The day After TomorrowSo I’ve just got back from a nice – but rushed – meal and a visit to Clapham Picture House to see Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s a vision of what will happen if we don’t all take up cycling, ditch the cars and stop throwing out refrigerators with the trash (or some such thing).

Actually, it’s a disaster movie with a message and it certainly makes the grade as the first, although the message is somewhat lost along the way and the plot is, like all movies in this genre, ridiculously enjoyable. Basically, it starts to rain and then gets very cold and the only place where you seem to be able to survive is in the New York is the public library (and that’s because you can burn the books). Gyllenhaal’s dad, is of course, the only person on the whole of the American continent who can save him so he tries to. Marvelous, stupid and thoroughly entertaining.

Ian Holm puts in a notable performance from a remote Scottish weather station where – at the moment of disaster – they decide to toast England, Manchester United and Mankind (so not very convincingly Scottish – although they, of course, drink a decent malt to ward off the end).

It’s a mankind-in-peril, gripping disaster movie and I found it immensely entertaining. It’s stunning when it’s building and the effects are at their best (and who cares if the ice at the start looks computer generated)? Sadly, it does fade a little towards the end – especially as any last elements of believability fly out the window – but as a couple of hours entertainment you must go and see this film.

The message to all of Planet Earth is, of course, corrupted to work for the film and lost after the first third. But that doesn’t make any difference.

2003 In Summary

Like Jerry, my final thoughts on Listen To Musak in 2003.

If I can be allowed to be more self-centred – or inward looking – than usual, I have found the process of re-reading the year’s worth of entries to be very interesting. Not only have I surprised myself with some of the pieces that I have written but, when viewing them all together, it seems that the site is a lot more coherent than I imagined. There are some key groupings of themes which have emerged – it’s clear I have a fascination with transport – and there are considerably fewer trivial pieces.

Many of the words I have written are, of course, about my life and might be considered to be trivial to some but I feel I have gained an insight into myself with some of the longer pieces. And it is those longer pieces which have most startled me on the re-reading: I must make a conscious effort to write more discussion works. Perhaps I should open the comments on the main body of the site to stimulate further thinking.

Of all the other sites I have read across the year, I still come back to my old faithfuls. So, this is the point where I should wish Tom, Jase, Jason, Bart, Meg, Phil, Eric, Chris, Bravo, Nick and Luke a very Happy New Year. Oh, and those are just the top listed ones in my bloglines subscriptions.

Bloglines is to be nominated my tool of the year for 2003, it’s made the whole business of reading other sites so much easier (if only Blogger users would provide nice RSS feeds). Of course I shoudn’t forget Six Apart who, via Movable Type, make all this possible.

Writing Listen to Musak is one of the few creative outlets I really have and I am happy to have it as a hobby – it seems more useful than making a model of St Paul’s Cathedral from matchsticks.

Best wishes for 2004 to all who come across this page.