new experience

August 28, 2009

I’m in an internet cafe. A cyberlounge. A call centre. I don’t know which. Always having time to kill, but sometimes with a desire for slaughter rather than the kindlier pillow over the clock, I’ve sought refuge in a sweaty hellhole somewhere on Charing Cross Road.

I’ve never been in a Webstaurant before, an Information Highway Hotel, a Plywood Parlour. It’s nice. Are they all like this?

What’s the man next to me doing? Why’s he looking at the news in German? It’s some kind of German serial killer atrocity. Did he do it? Why’s he here? You’d surely only go to a place like this to find out the news if you were on the run. Now he’s putting a limp napsack over his shoulder. Limp enough to be almost empty, heavy enough to only contain a knife! He’s gone. should I report him? I feel lost, stranded in a film that was never made in 1995, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, written by Sandra Bullock, starring me and Henry Winkler, and called “Jumping Over Strange Nets”.

I’m in an unwritten Ruth Rendell novel called Fablon Terrace.

He’s gone and I did nothing. I’m hot in here, crammed in my little booth, wedged between an American talking out loud and the sweaty ghost of the German serial killer. The American has a headset on, like an air traffic controller. I shouldn’t have watched Episode 4 of 24 Season 7 last night. I think he’s hacking into Heathrow. Why else would he be in a cybermarket. I just overheard him say “do you know that Kennedy died?” Oh my Lord, he’s a conspiracy theorist, or a communist. Or someone who’s just woken from a deep 46 year coma.

It’s so hot. I can feel subterfuge and ungodly acts all around me. I am surrounded by criminals without a care for a coffee bean. The formica walls of my booth are sweating, the shelf sticky beneath my fingers. Under the shelf, a wastebin full of used tissues. Am I in the right place?

It’s nice here. only £1 for two hours. I’m only staying an hour, but that doesn’t make it 50p. I can’t complain.

The American’s just left. We’re so crammed in here; one to my left, one to my right, three behind me; he had to squeeze his way out. Faced with the Brad Pitt Fight Club dilemma he chose to favour me with his crotch. He squeezed his tightly packed area over the brim of my steel-rimmed chair. I’m sure he did this so he could glance at my monitor and steal and ruin my life.

Now someone else has moved in on the right. And then gone. The man behind keeps knocking his chair into mine. When I look, he looks back. But all his eyes say are “you’re new here. If you want to keep your identity obey the Cybercoffeehouserules”.

But I don’t know them. I’ve never been here before. I am like a person from the 20th Century who can’t yet afford a washing machine. I’m new to the Logon Laundrette.

It’s nice here. The floor is tiled. It looks like cracked marble, but it isn’t. This place is not marble, not wood, not coffee, not natural light. I feel like I am not on holiday.

Time to leave. Will it still be London out there? I think so. But I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again.

The Time Traveler’s Wife

August 22, 2009

thetimetravelerswifepic2“You have to swallow it whole, or not at all” said The London Paper (leaving me to no longer wonder why it’s going out of business). They were talking about The Time traveler’s Wife, the film that’s getting some people worked up because an “l” has gone missing in another time zone. Others are worrying about the rules of time travel and hence the swallow it whole or not at all line. Me? I swallowed some of it, but there were also large chunks I wanted to just spit out.

I spent the first half hour worrying about Eric Bana. His whispered lines, his gruff voice, his constant troubled look. Even when he’s happy (like in this  picture) he looks as if death is banging away inside his skull. Chopper, Hulk, Munich– all obsessed, troubled nutters. in Troy he played Hector; the name I’m giving to all of his demons. He also kept reminding me of someone else, and then it hit me. He’s Liam Neeson. He’s Darkman.

But who is Rachel McAdams? I saw her and liked her in Red Eye, but in this she’s just any old attractive Hollywood actress. In these kind of daft time travel romances it’s essential for us to fall in love with the performers. Otherwise why will we cry? We fall in love with them, we care, we realise that the sadness of their doomed romance is also the sadness of our own failed lives, and we cry and cry and cry. Then go home.

I didn’t want to be Bana and I didn’t fall in love with McAdams. It’s not their fault. They’re good looking, they’re good actors. But someone forgot to give them character. McAdams is Clare Abshire, an artist. And that’s it. Bana is Henry DeTamble, a librarian and troubled time traveler. And that’s that.

Sure, there’s other things to know. Henry’s dad is a violinist and a mess, because his wife, and Henry’s mum, died years ago. And that’s the explaining about it. Oh, and Clare’s dad is a hunter and a Republican. And this is how the film works. Republican, hunter = bad. Artist = good and sensitive. Librarian = troubled and lonely.

And just in case you haven’t got it yet- that these are lovely people, troubled people, finding troubled love- just wait and see what they pick for their first dance at the wedding. Only “Love will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division, played by a band who make Joy Division look like the Jonas Brothers.

Though the film is called The Time Traveler’s Wife it spends far more time being about the time traveler. He’s the one leaping around from time to time. He’s the one who forms the life of his wife. He meets her first when she is a young child. He’s in his thirties I guess. He turns up naked in a field where she is playing. And from then on he keeps visiting her, in this field; a grown man and a child. Interestingly, this isn’t as creepy as it sounds. Just fairly creepy.

And everything is set in place for a romance devoid of free will.

But it’s fun. It’s ok. it made me cry just a little bit. But, and I guess this is a fairly big but, not as much as that other daft time travelling romance The Lake House. That’s an anomaly. Let’s call it the Bullock Factor.

Two films that deal with time and love that I will see again and again and again are Synecdoche New York, a feelbad time-jumping film about love and death and free will (and the terror it brings) and a lovely feelgood time travelling romance, Time After Time.

Please see this one. It’s in the Top Ten list of films you need to see if you haven’t seen them. Malcolm McDowell plays H.G. Wells. David Warner plays Jack the Ripper. When Jack the Ripper is on the run in Victorian England he jumps into Wells’ time machine and transports himself to 1979 San Francisco. And so H.G. Wells goes after him. With me so far? And there Wells meets and falls in love with Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen… and if you’ve never fallen in love with her then get out of here now). But she’s doubtful about this weirdly dressed gentleman… oh, and she’s a feminist (which leads to a nice time-travelling trick later in the movie). So to prove that he is who he says he is, he takes her to an H.G. Wells museum and they clamber into the Time machine. He takes her forward a day or two and shows her a newspaper to prove it. And the headline? Well, that would be telling. Here’s a clue; they’ve not managed to catch Jack yet. See it now.

General-lying-in-hospital

General Lying-In Hospital

The really ugly truth

August 15, 2009

UglyTruthPosterEveryone’s got it in for The Ugly Truth. I can’t think of a film in recent times that’s been so roundly bashed by the critics. I’ll stop and think for a moment… nope. Nothing. Not even Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus. For a new film to be as hated as much as this one it would have to be called Kissing Hitler.

Yesterday, I had time to kill. Armed with my Unlimited cinema monthly pass I felt compelled to give it a go. It can’t be that bad. I like films. Even bad films. And the trailer made me laugh. I like the poster too. This one; not the new one showing a smirking Gerard Butler and a, well, smiling Katherine Heigl (does she do anything else?)

The film’s a comedy. Or not. Poor old comedy films. The only genre that demands a vocal response from the audience. See a horror film and you can be scared without screaming out loud; a tearjerker and you can silently weep. But a comedy? Laugh or don’t laugh. That simple. Oh sure, you can laugh on the inside, but that’s not a comedy film; it’s some smart-arsed cleverclogs we get the references type of thing. Like laughing at Shakespeare.

Ah, Shakespeare! Not funny. It’s true! Don’t go getting all itchy and jumpy. Men dressed as women, women dressed as men; it’s like pantomime without the Krankies. But Shakespeare can be made funny. All you have to do is get rid of the Shakespeare. Take Ten Things I hate About You (The Taming of the Shrew) or… ponders… She’s the Man (Twelfth Night). Ok, drop  She’s the Man. But it can be done. Both of these films were written by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirtsen Smith. Oh, and they wrote The Ugly Truth, along with Nicole Eastman. Maybe basing it on Shakespeare’s deleted scenes.

It’s a shame that a film so damned should be written by three women. It’s a shame that this may reinforce  the foolish notion that women can’t be funny. For the record, Ten Things I hate About You, Legally Blonde, The House Bunny… all funny. Not just because I think so, but because I have heard the laughter in the dark.

But yesterday? I sat in a half full cinema (or half empty. Me? I’m more of a half full cinema kind of critic) and no one laughed. A comedy that got no laughs. I couldn’t even laugh at the bits that made me laugh when I saw the trailer. I laughed more at the orange Text Fu Juliette Lewis thing. I didn’t laugh, but I did cry. At the end, when the two of them get together. I’m such a softy for a happy ending.

Something’s poisoned this not very good film. It is a bad film, but I’m not sure it deserves the hate being flung at it. I suspect a bit of schadenfreude. Smiling Katherine Heigl came to most folks attention through starring in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up; a film I’ve seen and now can’t remember. And Smiling Katherine Heigl had the temerity to call the film “a little sexist”. Note “a little”. She hardly tried to shoot Apatow’s bollocks off. But the nerve of the ungrateful smiling she-devil! How dare she criticise the Godapatow; the comic genius who gave her her big break.

So now it’s payback time. She’s executive produced, she’s earning a fortune, she got her gang of crazy feminist writers to come up with the ideal vehicle… and it’s not quite worked out. Better luck next time. Keep smiling.

P.S. If you like laughing, and you like funny and sexy women (writing and performing) look out for 30 Rock, Anchorman; the legend of Ron Burgundy and Sports Night.

P.P.S. I like Judd Apatow. The 40 Year Old Virgin had me laughing out loud. And I’m looking forward to Funny People.

Useless dragons

August 10, 2009

Trev and Simon Podcast No. 7 is now up and running and to celebrate it, here’s a photo of me and Trev from when we auditioned for Dragons’ Den, but were turned down.

Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis

Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis

Little and Large

August 7, 2009

Little-and-Large

When I was a kid my mum and dad would get free tickets to go to the The Talk of the North in Eccles. Free because my mum worked for Salford City Council and a friend of hers new someone who knew Joe Pullen, the owner of the club. And off they’d go, with the rector and his wife and they’d see Little and Large, Cannon and Ball, Matt Monro, Bob Monkhouse. Bob Monkhouse was apparently “a bit blue” but that wouldn’t stop the rector from laughing. Once my dad went with my Uncle Jack, and there was a belly dancer on. My Uncle Jack tells me my dad was quite intrigued by such exotica. He whispered to Jack “what will you do if she comes over here?” Uncle Jack said, “she’s coming”. And with that my dad ran off to the toilets. It’s an inherited trait that to this day, with regret, I follow.

As a result of these trips I ended up with a fine collection of signed photos. I have one that was signed to my mum by Matt Monro. It says “To Pat, thanks, Matt Monro.” Thanks? I’ve never dared ask.

Yesterday we had a casting for something we won’t get, but that’s that. Also there, was Syd Little. We’d met Syd and Eddie years ago on a comedy panel show on ITV2 (it was in the early days, 1998-ish and I can’t remember its title). The rough idea was that it pitched older style comedians against the upstart young ones. We met a fair few, including Syd and Eddie, Stan Boardman, Tim Brooke-Taylor. I loved it. Standing at the bar afterwards, listening to their tales; sometimes tolerating their rants and their bitterness; other times openly disagreeing (oh, we were such upstarts of the alternative circuit!); and I got to meet one of The Goodies!

But here’s the thing. A lot of the old school comedians were despised by the young upstarts. And whilst some of them were openly spewing forth bile and hatred (yes, you Manning) most were just trying to make a living by making people laugh. There are worse things you can do.

It’s easy to forget now, but Little and Large were on BBC1 for 13 years in a row. I can’t remember much of their comedy, and I was at an age where I was starting to develop my own ideas about what was funny and what wasn’t, so I most likely didn’t watch them that much. But when I met them, they were lovely. They weren’t bitter and twisted, they weren’t ranting and raving about not being on TV anymore. They’d had a good run and I think they could understand that the comedy times they were a-changing.

They’re both in their sixties now and speaking to Syd yesterday we heard that Eddie had a heart transplant a few years ago. All the best, Eddie. I imagine he is quite looking forward to Manchester City’s forthcoming season, being a celebrity fan of the club from a time before Liam and Noel were even eyebrow-less babies.

Syd’s still working. Mainly on his own. He’s done a few years on cruise ships. I was moved by how he talked of going solo. He clearly had been nervous about such a venture; and then relieved and possibly surprised when he found he could do it.

I like meeting comedians. I like meeting the older comedians. I like realising that people who have been defined by their act, for good or bad, aren’t actually their act.

Cyril Mead is 67 years old and lives in Fleetwood.

(Come on! You didn’t really think he was called Syd Little?)