Sunday, 27 July 2008

Movie of the Year...


Today I took my young nephew to see The Dark Knight.

He made me promise not to see it without him, and this was the earliest opportunity we both had to go. Eleven-year-olds have busy schedules, after all...

I've been a Batmaniac since I was six, so my judgement is a little clouded, but I have to say that as long as I live (and I plan to live forever) there will never be a performance to match that of Heath Ledger as the Clown Prince of Crime.

The Joker was always insanely, and sometimes even casually, brutal - I recall a moment in one of the Rogers/Englehart stories (Detective Comics 475 - The Laughing Fish) in which a henchman, in order to get Joker to explain his plan to the reader, asks 'What are you going to do, Boss?'

Joker, putting a fatherly arm around the goon's shoulders, tells him 'I have another matter to attend to, Blue-eyes', before pushing the hapless henchman under the wheels of a passing truck with the comment 'Mind your own business!'

Ledger, in this performance, recalls this effortlessly. His Joker knows he's insane, he knows he's a psychopath - but, not alone does he not care, he positively embraces the fact. He sees Batman as his 'other side', his raison d'etre, and revels in the challenge of bringing both him and Gotham to their knees.

Not to take anything away from the rest of the cast - Christian Bale once more manages the dual role of Bruce Wayne/Batman with almost effortless ease, while Gary Oldman's Jim Gordon, a world-weary cop suddenly thrust into the top spot, is spot-on.

Maggie Gyllenhall, for me, was better in the role of Rachel Dawes than Katie Holmes, but that's a matter of taste.

Michael Caine's Alfred and Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox (two actors who deserve Academy Awards by default) remain pivotal characters in the world of the Caped Crusader, as well as moral compasses for Bruce Wayne and Batman, respectively.

And then there's Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent.

A dynamic, righteous crusader for justice, new Gotham District Attorney Dent finds himself driven over the edge when brutally scarred in his pursuit of the Joker. Eckhart brings a credible pathos to the role most recently camped up by Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever. I hope we'll be seeing him again...

Michael Caine, when asked to comment on the possibility of an Oscar nod to Ledger in next year's awards is reported as saying that if there's a better performance than this in a movie this year, he'd pay money to see it.

I concur.

I bet my nephew does as well...

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Right Now, I'm Listening To...

...Some of the finest jazz I've heard in a while.

It's from a station in San Mateo, Ca., called KCSM Jazz 91, broadcasting on FM and the Web 24 hours a day.

What with the time difference, I'm listening to last night's 'Evening Jazz' programme, presented, if the schedule is correct, by Wolf.

Jazz lovers could do worse than give them a listen - go to the home page and click 'Listen Live'.

Works for me...

Monday, 21 July 2008

A Movie For Every Year - The 60s...

So there's this meme going about, where you have to tell everyone how old you are by listing a movie for every year you've been alive. A lot of people have picked up on it, so I thought,

"Why not?"

As an intergalactic hero of some longevity, however, my list will perforce be a bit longer than other peoples'. Sorry about that...

Anyhow, on to the list - I'll have multiple entries per year because there's so much to work with and I have many personal favourites, but I'll try and keep the comments brief. Oh, and I've taken the liberty of adding a movie here and there that doesn't show up on Wikipedia's lists. I trust you'll forgive my impertinence.

And on we go - the 1960s...

1963 (yes, all right, I know...)
Charade: Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Paris, with murder and intrigue thrown in. Never gets old.

From Russia With Love: Connery getting into the role of Bond, although, like a new pair of shoes, it takes time to get comfortable.

The Fall of the Roman Empire: Stephen Boyd, Christopher Plummer and Sophia Loren, with Alec Guinness as Marcus Aurelius, in an underappreciated (for its time) depiction of the beginning of the end of empire.

A Shot In The Dark: Peter Sellers in his second (and best) outing as the inimitable Clouseau.

A Fistful of Dollars: The debut of 'The Man With No Name' in which Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood turned the Western on its head. All over an insult to a mule.

The Flight of The Phoenix: James Stewart et al in a tale of plane-crash survivors in the desert. The part where they realise Hardy Kruger's character is a designer of 'toy' airplanes is excellent...

The Great Race: Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood and Peter Falk in Blake Edwards's tribute to the great slapstick comedies of early cinema. Dedicated 'To Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy', it remains one of my favourites today.

For A Few Dollars More:
The Man with No Name again, this time as a bounty hunter who teams up with Lee Van Cleef's Col. Mortimer to track down the ruthless, musical-watch wielding bandit El Indio (Gian Maria Volonté). The final showdown between Mortimer and Indio is iconic.

The Ipcress File: On TV only last Saturday night, Len Deighton's spy is worlds removed from Ian Fleming's creation, but nonetheless fascinating for all that.

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold: Richard Burton in John le Carré's tale of a washed-up spy who takes one final assignment before retiring. Filmed on location in Ireland, parts of Dublin were used to stand in for Berlin. One location, seen at the end of the picture, remains largely unchanged today.

Thunderball: Connery's best outing as 007. I think you get the point.

Von Ryan's Express: We used to see this in school when they had movies after classes in the gym on a Wednesday. Excellent stuff, and every time I watch it I think Ryan might actually make it to the train...

Batman: Holy Blockbuster! Would've been better if Julie Newmar had been available for Catwoman, though Lee Meriwether was every bit as - feline...

The Blue Max: Another movie shot here - my dad says the planes would fly over our house on their way to and from shooting, but I was too young to remember. Dublin once again fills in for Berlin, with Trinity College as the German High Command.

Our Man Flint: Derek Flint making James Bond look like an amateur.

Texas Across The River: I saw this comedy Western once on TV when I was a kid, and one thing stuck with me - Peter Graves's performance as inept US Cavalry Capt. Rodney Stimpson, who'd give the command "Ah-roor Haar!" and charge off, leaving his men scratching their heads and wondering what he meant.

Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree: 'I'm just a little black rain-cloud...' Should be required viewing by everyone. Just because.

The Dirty Dozen: As with the later M*A*S*H, there's more to Robert Aldrich's film than just a war story. Private Donald Sutherland pretending to be a general and reviewing Col. Robert Ryan's troops was a nice comic moment though, as was Ryan's reaction.

El Dorado: I've always preferred this to Rio Bravo, although it's a lesser movie in many ways. Robert Mitchum wasn't as good at playing the washed-up sheriff as Dean Martin, Arthur Hunnicutt wasn't as 'plumb ornery' as Walter Brennan, but somehow it worked for me.

Hour of the Gun: John Sturges' follow-up/remake of the Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday story, starring James Garner and Jason Robards. Far superior to his earlier Gunfight at the OK Corral, and more historically accurate.

In Like Flint: Our man again, saving the world single-handed during his coffee break.

In the Heat of the Night: Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger - there should have been two Oscars.

The Jungle Book: The first movie I was ever brought to see as a child. Baloo was my hero, and King Louie introduced me to Jazz.

2001: A Space Odyssey: A remarkable film. I usually wake up before the first dialogue is spoken, the early, prehistoric sequence boring me insensible, but the rest of the movie is a masterpiece. I don't get what the big deal is about Stanley Kubrick - this and Full Metal Jacket are the only movies of his I can watch...

Barbarella: The 41st Century isn't going to look like that, by the way. Just, y'know, FYI...

Bullitt: Should be on everyone's list. Cool cast, cool cars, San Francisco and Lalo Schifrin's cool sounds - let's just go with 'Cool' and leave it at that.

Danger: Diabolik - BBC2 used to show European movies in a late-night slot at weekends when I was but a teenaged sidekick, and this was one of them. I found the DVD while in Berlin and watched the movie for only the second time in maybe thirty years... Bizarre, but great fun.

Once Upon A Time In The West: Evil Henry Fonda? Only Sergio Leone could make that work, and this is his masterpiece.

Planet of the Apes: A brilliant ending – I never saw it coming. Granted, I was about 10 the first time I saw it, but hey…

The Producers: Ah, Zero Mostel… “Did you bring the checkie? Can’t produce plays without checkies…”

The Shoes of the Fisherman: A Pope from behind the Iron Curtain – good idea, but who’d believe it? I bet John Paul II took lessons from Anthony Quinn’s portrayal, though…

The Thomas Crown Affair: More coolness – Steve McQueen (the Samuel L. Jackson of his day), Faye Dunaway, chess, Michel Legrand's score, Windmills of Your Mind…

Where Eagles Dare: One of the best Alastair MacLean adaptations since Guns of Navarone, and the first movie I was let go to see unaccompanied by a grownup. In the city. By bus.

The Italian Job: “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” Late Sixties football metaphor :), England looking good, only to lose in extra time. Not to worry though; they got their own back in Escape to Victory...

OHMSS: “This never happened to the other fellow.” One of my favourite Bond movies. Lazenby wasn't bad as 007, being, as Terry Pratchett might say, 'hero-shaped'. I wonder what Diamonds Are Forever might have been like with him instead of 'the other fellow'...

True Grit: “Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!” John Wayne in one of his finest roles, supported by a fine cast, including Strother Martin as the beleaguered horse dealer...

That's it for the Sixties - tune in next time and see what I liked in the decade that was the 1970s...

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Ah, Life's Rich Panoply...

I've had a lot going on this last couple of weeks, both workwise and otherwise, so I haven't had much time for the ol' blog lately.

But, as an aspiring writer and trained observer, I've been taking notes of incidents and people in day-to-day situations, sort of like David Attenborough (one of whose documentaries I'm watching at this very moment) only with humans.

The David Attenborough thing, in case you're interested, is about tigers.

But anyhow, given my recent experience and the reaction of certain individuals, it occurred to me that there are a million stories in the naked (well, t-shirt and shorts-wearing) city, and so here's a few of them.


There's a coffee shop across the street from where I work. It's a takeout place - you put in your order at the door and pay, then move down the line and collect it, do what you want to it and leave.

It's a simple but lucrative operation; the coffee is excellent, costs less than Starbucks and, because Butler's (that's the name) runs it as a sideline to their even more-lucrative chocolate-making business, the price includes a chocolate of your choice to enjoy with your coffee - as you can imagine, it's a popular stop for people on their way to work.

Anyhow, I got there one morning last week and there was this guy in the queue ahead of me. Mid-forties, tall, someone else's hair, he wore a beige (who invented that, anyway? It's not even a real colour...) suit, expensive-looking if I'm any judge, and had a phone jammed in his ear.

The girl in front of him ordered her coffee and took a little more time than he liked picking out her chocolate - he hopped from one foot to the other while he talked to the person on the other end of the phone about where he saw the project timetable going.

The barista, a quiet young woman, handed the customer her chocolate and turned to Phoneboy. This is how it went:

Phoneboy: "And the projections - Capuccino - have to be in by Friday or else."
Barista: "-" No chance to say anything as Phoneboy throws (really!) coins on the counter. No 'please', no hand-to-hand transfer of money, no acknowledgment of her existence. She rings up the sale, makes change and gestures towards an array of chocolate that would - well, let's just say it's impressive and leave it at that.

Phoneboy, annoyed at being interrupted, glares and makes a dismissing gesture so sharply it has a sound effect (Col. Rhombus saluting, 'Spies Like Us'). Do we hate this guy yet?

But back to our story.

I get to the counter, bid Magda a 'Good morning', ask for an Americano, politely decline (I'm lactose-intolerant) chocolate, hand over my money and move along.

Phoneboy's talking about cost-benefit analyses or something and I wonder whether he knows his stupid voice is carrying.

The girl in front of him gets her low-fat latté, puts the lid on, says 'Thank you' and leaves. Phoneboy moves to the front of the queue and waits, still talking. It's about five to seven minutes since I walked in and he's scarcely taken a breath.

Anyway, a cup is placed on the counter.

"Capuccino?" calls the barista, looking around for the owner. No reaction from Phoneboy, and I'm damned if I'm gonna help him out.

"Capuccino," the barista calls a second time. Nothing.

A girl in the queue behind me pipes up.

"I ordered a capuccino," she smiles. I step aside and let her through. Phoneboy's talking about quarterly projections now. Capuccino Girl fixes her coffee the way she wants it and leaves.


"That'll be mine," I grin, taking it and stepping past Phoneboy, for whom the penny is about to drop. I thank her, pick it up, go through the ritual, and start to leave.

"Hot chocolate, marshmallows?"

"Er, I ordered a capuccino?" says Phoneboy, suddenly realising he's missed his call.

I'm laughing as I leave...

The tigers are having great fun. They're four months old and still playing, innocent of the real world. One of them looks like Calvin's best friend Hobbes. They're trying to hunt a deer, but they haven't the first clue how to. Tigers 0, Deer 1.


So I'm on the bus, heading for my writing class, when this guy sits in the seat behind me. He takes out a phone and calls someone.

This is his side of the conversation:

"It's me, yeah?"
"No, I got a call from Karen today - she wants the job, she just doesn't want to take phone calls from the public - at all."
"Yeah, I know it's weird, yeah? But she wants a perfect job, y'know?"
"No, I'm going to a wedding next Saturday with herself, yeah? I wanted to go to the Leinster match, but you know how it is."
"Yeah - I could probably slip away for a couple of hours and not be noticed..."
"No, you're probably right - that's one of the things I really like about me - I'm so easy to get along with."
"Yeah right, see ya..."

Okay, that's just bizarre.

The tigers are about a year old now and really learning to hunt - there's gonna be some - yep, there goes a gazelle...


I went with my nephew to the video store to return his rentals and pick out a new movie. He decides on 'The Golden Compass' and we get in line to pay.

There's a man behind us with his two-year-old daughter, and an unshaven, fortyish guy wearing sandals ahead of us at the counter with some sort of Corgi cross-breed on an elastic leash. The dog seems amiable enough and sniffs around, but frightens the infant and jumps up, wanting to play.

Daddy asks Dogboy to restrain the dog. Dogboy says the dog means no harm and lets it run about.

Daddy: "But dogs aren't allowed in here and it's frightening my daughter."

Dogboy (smugly): "I've been coming here for ages and there's been no trouble."

Daddy: "That's not the point. Restrain your dog, please."

Dogboy: "Why don't you just grow a pair, you emasculated pussy? You don't know who you're talking to, maybe you should watch what you're saying to me."


Dogboy: "You've probably been in an apron so long you don't know what it's like to be a man."


Dogboy: "What has she, got your balls in a vice?"

General silence, until the video store clerk, confused and visibly shocked by the display, offers

"Now now, there's no call for that sort of thing..."

Dogboy: "Well then, you can take your videos and stick them where the sun don't shine!"

And he slams the DVDs (can't help wondering what they were) on the counter, takes his creature and leaves, mumbling to himself...

One of the tigers, by the way, has brought down his first deer (helped by Mom), and wants to keep it for himself.

Mom forces him to share with the other kids, though, so that's okay.

Life, eh?


(Note: I had planned on posting this last year, but somehow couldn't bring myself to click on "Publish"). My dad passed in...