Friday 27 June 2008

Big ideas (don't get any)

Like 2007, this is going to be a bumper year, gig-wise. I've already seen The Cribs, James and The Wedding Present. All excellent. Next month, I'm off to both the Latitude and Sound Island festivals. Later in the year, I've got tickets to see Paul Weller and his reformed ex-bandmates From The Jam. Lucky me, right? But above and beyond this cavalcade of sound, I am most excited about going to see Radiohead live for the first time, this Sunday. So, in honour of this most anticipated of gigs, I direct you towards a live MP3 of Thom doing I Want None Of This, from War Child, and a beguiling video version of Nude from the Radiohead Remix project. Enjoy.

Sunday 15 June 2008

Palace Fires

I know, I know, I try to resist the urge to write about music - this is not exclusively a music blog, after all. But music is, and always has been, a very important part of my life, so what can I do?

I'll tell you what I can do - I can alert you all to the emerging brilliance of Palace Fires! Take a peek their MySpace profile - better yet, download the live session tracks from XFM. They are very good, aren't they? And in case you think the beauty of that chiming guitar sounds familiar, here's a little secret - half of Palace Fires used to be in the late lamented Gene, which is all the recommendation anyone is their right mind should actually need.

Wednesday 11 June 2008

Subterranean homesick e-card

Robert Zimmerman does his thing
E-cards are nothing new; you know the deal, you select a picture and a cloyingly sweet message, enter an email address and the whole thing turns up in your friend's inbox... it's a greetings card for the modern world, a world where people are too lazy to go and buy a card in advance, actually write something personal on it, in their own handwriting, buy a stamp, and mail it... and it's a good get-out-of-jail-free card for when you've left buying a card too late.

Whatever. Whilst I much prefer the real deal, an actual physical card you write in and that the recipient can keep, I must just draw your attention to the best e-card I've ever seen: Dylan Messaging. Remember the classic promotional film for Subterranean Homesick Blues, in which Bob used a series of cue-cards to display lyrics (and other messages) to the viewing public? (If you haven't seen this, where have you been all your life? Lucky for you that it, like everything else these days, is on YouTube). Anyway, with Dylan Messaging, you can add your own personal message to Bob's cue-cards, and send the whole shebang to a friend or loved one. Bob scrolling through your words is very effective... and, in my IT professional's view, quite clever too. Now all you have to do is sit back and think of a worthy message to send...

Tuesday 10 June 2008

Is there anybody out there?

I sometimes wonder if anyone actually reads this blog? Does it have any subscribers? My web stats tell me that someone who has Orange as their broadband provider stops by often, and I know The Man Of Cheese is a frequent reader, but beyond that? I once had a guestbook post that assured me that (sic) "ur blogs great, u seem like a cool person"... so that's all right then.

If you do subscribe to this humblest of blogs, why not use the comments to let me know? And if you don't, why not use the brightly coloured links at the top of the page to do so? Go on... I can't pretend it will improve your life but I sometimes write something interesting (he said, modestly), and you wouldn't want to miss that, would you?

Inevitably... more Thinking Man's Crumpet

Rachel de Thame - responsible for men all over the country going to the Chelsea Flower Show
Inevitably, having written about thinking man's crumpet last Friday, that evening's television then dropped a new candidate in my metaphorical lap in the fine shape of Rachel de Thame. An aspiring ballet dancer as a child, Rachel has, at various times, been a fine arts student, model, actress and now gardener/broadcaster/journalist. I cannot believe she is 47, but that genuinely seems to be the case. On Jonathan Ross's chat show, she came across as articulate, funny, intelligent and thoroughly delightful. Pretty as a picture too. Ross made the observation that Rachel must get mistaken for Nigella Lawson but c'mon, there's no comparison is there? Sorry, Nigella, but Rachel knocks you into a cocked hat, and she doesn't have a dodgy name inherited from an egotistical father who, lest we forget, was no great shakes as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Now, unless someone nominates a corking suggestion, I promise that's the last TMC post I do, okay?

Google image search: Rachel de Thame

Friday 6 June 2008

Thinking Man's Crumpet

Joan Bakewell - crumpet, even with Sixties hair
The phrase "thinking man's crumpet" was originally coined by humourist Frank Muir back in the 60s to describe Joan Bakewell, pictured left as she was back in those days. Now, it has come to be a byword for any woman that looks good (that's the crumpet part) but has brains and personality to go with the beauty (that's the thinking man catered for). Google the term and you'll undoubtedly come up with lots of references to Carol Vorderman, but this is just plain lazy - just because she's good at maths doesn't make her thinking man's crumpet. Anyone who's watched her on Countdown in recent years would struggle to be too attracted to her, I would venture. But all is not lost... if you really must watch Countdown, you'll find that a genuine example of TMC resides in Dictionary Corner - the demure lexicographer, Susie Dent.

Sadie Jones - I'm a thinking man, and she gets my crumpet vote
In a recent poll, the aforementioned Vorderman was pipped to the post as TMC of choice by the lovely Nigella Lawson. Well-educated and a whizz in the kitchen, her vote was no doubt bolstered by her own, ahem, massive bolsters. Another name that often gets bandied about in such discussions in Mariella Frostrup - whilst blonde (most TMC is brunette, is seems - maybe a subconscious reaction to the stereotypical dumb blonde image?), Mariella's dusky voice has a curious power over the thinking man, and her current tenure of The Book Show on Sky Arts can only help matters.

So where's this post heading? Well, currently I'd give my TMC vote to the novelist Sadie Jones, pictured right. Not only does she look great, she's clearly a smart cookie (a successful screenwriter whose debut novel, "The Outcast", made the 2008 Orange Prize shortlist) and, like Mariella, Sadie has a voice to press the buttons of any thinking man. It is easy to imagine having a conversation with her into the small hours, luxuriating in measured responses, delivered in velveteen tones. To see what I mean, here's an MP3 of her reading from "The Outcast".

So, am I right? Wrong? Too opinionated? Have I missed your preferred TMC? As always, you're welcome to let me know in the comments, and if I get any good suggestions, I'll post them here... in the meantime, to familiarise yourself with everyone mentioned here, try some of the links below.

Google image searches: Joan Bakewell | Carol Vorderman | Susie Dent | Nigella Lawson | Mariella Frostrup | Sadie Jones

Wednesday 4 June 2008

Not Film 2008... but a film review anyway:"There Will Be Blood"

There Will Be Blood
The opening notes of the score set the tone for There Will Be Blood perfectly. As discordant, minor-key strings swell to an uncomfortable volume there can be little escaping the fact that this is a film about misery: the misery of the brutal and unforgiving life of turn-of-the-century oil prospectors; the misery of nascent communities that are promised much and delivered little; and the misery of a man who will not let himself be anything other than driven by black gold.

Daniel Day-Lewis gives a typically intense, method performance as Daniel Plainview, a struggling silver miner turned oil tycoon, in Paul Thomas Anderson's period piece. It's an over-used expression, but Day-Lewis really does inhabit the role, which is just as well since he's on-screen for nearly all of the film's 158 minutes. Robert Elswit's cinematography is equally accomplished in capturing both the grandeur of the untamed West and the claustrophobic intensity of those early mining exploits. And Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's score is a revelation; taut, edgy, and harrowing in equal measure.

So the film features an award-winning central performance, is visually stunning, and engages the senses... so where does it all go wrong? Before you denounce this reviewer as a cinematic heathen for questioning a film that has garnered more five-star reviews than you can shake a Bafta at, hear me out; whilst Day-Lewis's performance is undeniably praiseworthy, this is a flawed film.

Let's deal with the minor issues first. The film is just too long for one whose themes are relentlessly, remorselessly grim: two and a half hours of badness, sadness and, let's be honest, more than a little madness was too much, even for the discerning art-house audience I sat amongst to watch this. Without doubt the editors could, and should, have wielded the knife a little more. Long doesn't necessarily mean epic, after all.

What of characterisation? Aside from Plainview, none of the characters are developed sufficiently to pique our interest, and I include Paul Dano's Eli Sunday in that. There are even gaping holes in Plainview's story: what, for example, happened in his early life to make him so loveless; why have there been no personal relationships in his life, other than that with his adopted son? If this is to emphasise how he is married to the zealous pursuit of oil riches, then it is rather a blunt instrument for doing so.

The biggest problem, though, is this; the lives of Plainview, his son, the evangelical preacher Sunday and, indeed, the surrounding town all begin to unravel when the pursuit of those oil resources starts to clash with the church. Just why Plainview so takes against Sunday is never adequately explained - it just happens, and leads to increasingly bizarre behaviour all around. Capitalism versus community is an oft-ploughed furrow but here, the plough struggles through stony ground.

There is much to admire in the craft of these film-makers but, beyond artistic appreciation, this is a difficult film to like, about a character with no redeeming features who could not even be described as an anti-hero. Plainview's last line in the film is "I'm finished," and sadly my immediate reaction to that was, "Thank goodness."

There Will Be Blood is out on DVD now so, if you don't buy into my review, scurry along to Amazon and make your own mind up.