Monday, July 30, 2007

Turning the world upside down

OK so I wasn't Ingmar Bergman nor am I Barry Norman, but I do like a good movie. And 'Tell No One' is a good movie, part of the current vogue for us Brits to admire French cinema, it's a proper grown up thriller/whodunnit which suddenly breaks into action and follows Harlan Coben's novel to the letter, right down to the Agatha Christie ending where someone sits you down and tells you that everything you watched was more or less one giant red herring, or at least only part of the picture, and this is what really happened. I sometimes prefer the Columbo school : telling you exactly what happened at the outset then watching the grubby little shuffler go to work. But the world has been aflurry with French movies of late, all of them with varying degrees of excellence from The Beat that My Heart Skipped to Cache to La Vien Rose. So who am I to complain over little gripes about American-English subtitles?

The Simpsons only use subtitles for comic effect and in their movie, which is funny, they do just that. It's got good lines in it, just as good as the show in fact, and sitting in the cinema is just as good as sitting at home watching the show. In fact, it's strangely unsettling, watching what is effectively a TV show in a very very large dark room with other people wondering why this episode is quite so long.

But not as unsettling as Shrek Three, which follows on from Shrek (One, presumeably) which was very very funny indeed, and Shrek (Two), which was funny, we now have Shrek Three. Which is not funny at all. Move along.

Which brings me, funnily enough, to Transformers. The advert for those stupid toys which has been made into a movie. It's a big commercial. It's stupid. The story is insane. The Transformers are oversized, idiotic CGI lumps of metallic looking nonsense. Things which are just plain daft occupy the plot.
It's also, really, really unexpectedly top notch brilliant. In a car crash Hollywood way.
The acting is superb and the new kid on the block, Shia LaBeouf, is outstanding, delivering his lines and zingers with wit, aplomb and a general insousiance which has heads turning. He is HOT!
The script is superb as is the directing, the effects and just about everything in it. Unfortunately, it's a co-production with Hasbro, the toy manufacturer, so you can never really escape the bombardment of the message, but holy shit, is it worth the ride. The first hour is the set up, where all kinds of Spielberg type things happen (he's Exec producer here) to attach you to the characters. Cute dogs, cute kids, cute teens. You just want it to go on forever. It's witty and charming and beautifully shot (let's not get bogged down in stuff about cliches and continuity here, it just LOOKS great)
Then the Transformers arrive and you're transformed yourself to a place called sillyville the plot gets soooooooooooooooooo silly. But the script stays tight. The humour remains, the acting gets better and then - da daaa! - JOHN TURTURRO appears in some stupid cop role and acts his heart out. He's brilliant (not as brilliant as he was as Jesus in the Big Lebowski but better than his role in the French movie coming out next month "A Few Days in September").
The movie - surprise surprise - ends in a massive fight, a crazy bombing/out of this world action sequence which shows how, ahem, good Transformers can outfight Bad Transformers (zzz). But the real battle is going on in the script.
As each plotline unfolds in increasing silliness, and we get to imagine ourselves playing with some stupid toys, there will suddenly appear some awesome sequence of crashing, bombing, shooting action to distract you from "I must buy. I must buy". Once the plot has really left the building, and you don't care any more, the crafting keeps it alive to the very last moments, with excellent editing and music and real highs and lows. Actually that's not true. The very last moments are a speech by a Transformer which is unmitigated shit, but let's not be picky.
The Director is Michael Bay and if The Academy had a category for best action toy sequence he'd win hands down. Sadly he won't be up there with all the big special effects tentpole movies because ultimately this is just an advert.

But sometimes the adverts are better than the programmes.


Friday, July 20, 2007

So tired, tired of London...

Today was a good day, despite getting up at 5am and crossing the park to discover (by the tube station) that the furthest away gate doesn't open till 8am, thus forcing me to walk all the way back then around the perimieter fence which, at 6am, is not funny.

But still, I work in the media and today was an excellent filming day which might have been a long, hard slog had it not been for the fact that one of the stars of stage, screen and, tee shirts, was a complete professional, a joy to work with and brimming over with good humour. Excellent.

As a consequence, I miss lunch with a Hero of Our Time but am lucky enough to meet for an evening drink. In the Grapes, Shepherd Market, a former prositute's hangout (see Jeffrey Archer vs Monica Coughlin) but now one of several pubs serving the posh clientele in Mayfair.

I meet The Hero with a friend who disappears into the bar. He returns with the drinks and a declaration that at the bar he had been called a "fucking Jew". The Grapes is packed with posh hoorays so I assume that some disaffected trader with too much beer swilling around was out of order. Until Mr Ginger appears.

Mr Ginger is about 40, thin and sharp, his pointed freckly nose rippling with - oh - anger and hatred. He steps out the bar and faces up to my - Jewish - friend, declaring that he couldn't possibly not like fucking Jews because he knew loads of fucking Jews and they had- ahem - persecuted him all his life, fucking Jews that they were, but he didn't not fucking like them, and nobody better say that. Right? His taut little face, weaselly and freckly, was less than two inches from my friend's. The Jew.

Then Ginger weasel's mate appears, another thug, a mixed race East Ender with a giant scar trailing down his face, and he too wants to make sure that no fucker wants to suggest that he didn't like fucking Jews because, well, he didn't not like fucking Jews.

A third one, wearing a red football strip, comes out too and walks around behind us. The Hero and I have savvy antenna which are upright. This is not good news.

The ginger weasel, a bristling, angry hard nut was demanding to know why my Jewish friend seemed to think he hated "fucking Jews" becuase if he suggested that he hated fucking Jews, well, we'd see.

Scarface also wanted to know - moving in - why someone could possibly think his reasonable mate could possibly hate fucking Jews because if anyone said that his mate hated fucking Jews, he'd fucking have them. If they were Jewish, presumeably.

I think you might be getting the picture by now. Even if you're not Jewish.

The Hero and I interject but our solicitations are unwelcome - what the fuck did it have to do with us - and for a second an ugly vision appears before me. We are in a crowded, posh pub surrounded by bankers and traders but we have managed to find the three extras from Layer Cake. We try a lot of smiling and "Hey we're just having a good night out" but I'm expecting at any moment to be decked, or much, much worse. These three are not amateurs. It all lasts for about a minute or so until they lose interest and pull each other away, hissing and swearing, leaving a foul stench behind them and we go off into he night to embrace cast members from EastEnders and awesomely beautiful people, but quite unable to shake off the thought that the night could quite easily have taken a very different turn.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Essential Journey

When Irvine Welsh delivered Trainspotting to the world, afloat a bile yellow stream of consciousness all the way from the schemes of Edinburgh, verily a veritable volcano of vomit m'lud, it set the tone for a moment. Forget grammar. Forget sentences. Choose swearing. Choose shouting and screaming and ranting. Choose pain and torment and horror and evil thoughts and deeds and cold turkey and punishment and sweating, screaming dog's abuse.
Choose hell on earth, and threats of violence, and bloody glass wielding insanity. Choose arma-fucking-geddon.

Choose driving, and parking, in London.

Some of you may have heard that there's a war on, no no no not the war on terror, that's kids' stuff, the war being waged by greedy councils on the metropolitan motorist. A war in which I am enlisted which, given my non-car owning status, is a little ironic. Our car (ie mine went a while ago) is garaged and only brought out for special occasions and what shall now be called essential journeys.

You see, I like the Congestion Charge. I like the buses and I quite like the tubes. I like the late night black cabs being back and I like the idea that your stupid car will be towed away if you're stupid enough to clog up the streets while you enjoy a morning coffee. I want London to be busy and cosmopolitan and frenetic and charming and wild. I do not want to sit still in one vast permanent traffic jam, adjacent all the Surrey, Sussex, Berkshire Hunts who come up to town every day at 3 miles per hour nose to tail and return in the evening ditto.

But there is a limit to my Ken Livingstone-style militarism reached, oh, about the time I was sifting through the Penalty Charge Notices, warnings, threats, bailiffs notes etc. Here's what we're not talking about: park illegally, get ticket, pay fine. End of.
That's too simple. Soooo yesterday.

It's the procedure, it's the CCTV cameras which appear to have been filming me 24/7, it's the monotonous voices in call centres who have no idea, ever, what you're talking about but who know vaguely there's some process taking place (that's going to cost me a lot of money).
I'll give you a small sample, if you see what I mean doctor.

I'm driving down a road that I have driven down for years near David Beckham's old gaff. It's under reconstruction and there are lorries everywhere, dumper trucks, hand held signs, arrows, builders, navvies and feral cats. There's also a small (temporary) sign hidden somewhere which I never get to see (it's gone now) which says the road (50 yards long) is closed to motor vehicles. Apart, that is, from all the ones which are clearly driving down it. And the camera car. Filming me. £120! Kerrching!

I'm driving at 2am. There are no other cars. I do a U-turn. There is a new sign (which I haven't seen because it's at the other end of the road) which says No U-Turns. And a CCTV Camera. £120! Kerrrrrching!

I drop off my partner at work. 15 seconds max. I'm on a Red Route but am in the stopping- loading box where you are allowed to stop and load. But there's a camera. £120! Kerrrrrrching!!!!!!!!

Getting the picture? Well the local authorities sure are. So appeal, smartass, I can hear you say. OK, let's start with a parking ticket, the one outside the hospital where we were parked during a non-bed operation situation and as I ran towards the meter it changed to "zero" and the attendant, who was standing watching it with the towaway lorry, wrote the ticket and commented "count yourself lucky you're not being towed away". From outside a hospital. During an operation. With the meter showing "zero".

I appealed. To the council. To human nature. To the appeals procedure, to God, to the courts and to a variety of people outsourced around the country. And all the while I'm doing this talking, the procedure is advancing..... slowly.....towards its final stage....the bailiffs.

Have you ever met a bailiff? Seen the TV shows? The nice caring happy-go-lucky guys who're just doing a job? Well, pretend you're applying for a job as one. Here's your interview.
Hello. Are you of a pleasant disposition? Relaxed and charming? No? Good.
Do you like to threaten people and make small children cry?
Are you a thug? Do you have a background that involves intimidation, and/or physical violence?
Do you regard your terrible job as some kind of social service which is why you smile? Do you run a criminal ring to sell off people's cars when you take them away for non payment of a fine?
Are you a vile, reprehensible, disrespectful arsehole of a human being?

My fine was standing at nearly £700. I spoke to the bailiff who had been round while we were asleep and told him not to come back as I was discussing all of this with the council.
"wot time u payin?"
I told him that there was a long negotiation going on, too complex to discuss etc.
"wot time u payin?"
I told him to leave me alone.
"I'm avin a sandwich. I'll be round after that. If u don't pay I'm takin your car. I know where it is. (describes where car is. Exactly)"
He then describes the charges involved in actually taking the car away. About another £500.
Click. Brrrrrrr.

I negotiate with the council for a very long time and at the end am let off with a fine of gentler proportions, paid over the phone, and freed temporarily from Bailiff Hell. Bailiff called back and told to, em, go away.
The key phrase in the negotiation, incidentally, was "essential journey" which in my view swung the whole thing.

What happened? When did it become a war? All I do is occasionally pootle down the street, drive normally, don't speed or cause accidents or take up much space or anything. I'm not Paris bloody Hilton roaring around pissed without a licence. And yet I've more or less shelled out a grand in the past few weeks under threat of violence.

It's not nice, is it, Irvine?


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Star is Born

This blog is being interrupted to bring you hot news. Forget Gordon Brown, forget Alex Salmond and other famous North of the Border men of substance. Not since Mel Gibson uttered that strangled phrase "Youse hav NUTHIN to loose but yer chaynes" in Braveheart has the populace embraced such an almighty Scottish hero.
He has snuck up on us. Those who were lucky enough to see the late ITV News on Saturday saw his bravura debut. A man of our times, a man who encapsulates everything we secretly desire.
He smokes. He drinks. He fights. He's good looking (well three out of four isn't bad) and he's now a mythical hero who is not only receiving the attention of the ladies but in his local bar has 480 ( now a cool 1000) pints, donated by wellwishers, waiting to be downed. By Him!
Laydees and gentlespoons, I give you JOHN SMEATON, now known as the Smeatmeister.

Yes, Osama Bin Laden, it's all very well to sit in your cave and plan attacks on faraway airports, to smuggle in your operatives under the noses of the intelligence services. But you didn't bargain for the Smeatmeister whose catchphrase "I'll set aboot ye" is now the clarion call to all that is decent and laudable about life in Glasgow.

He may be a humble baggage handler who occasionally pops out for an illicit smoke (yes, suffering English smokers, Scotland's ban started last year and poor people like John are forced to go and smoke in the oncoming path of aflame Jeep bombs. Count yourselves lucky) . But the people of Scotland recognise a hero when they see one.

This is the man who wrestled to the ground an (alleged) car bomber who was attacking the polis. "That's no right" observed our John to ITV News on Saturday, "So I set aboot him". In that one sentence, John has made the heart of Scotland beat a little faster, a little prouder. He is a true Brit of substance and has no time for mealy mouthed whippersnappers bemoaning terrorism in the UK (see previous post)

So next time a man from Glasgow says he's going to "Set aboot ye" don't run away. Buy him a pint. It might be John.

There is, of course, now a website dedicated to The Man.



Nationwide is about to meet the Smeato, introduced by a mutual friend. Words cannot yet describe how or where. Watch this space.
What shall I ask him? You decide.
This is not a joke.
Smeato rules.