Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Video Fun

Time for a few more music videos. Here are The Corrs in 1999, demonstrating that they are really, really not just pretty faces by doing a great version of Toss The Feathers (the standout track on their first album) at Glastonbury.

Hands up if you remember Carole Bayer Sager? She's best known as a songwriter, responsible for A Groovy Kind Of Love (The Mindbenders, and later Phil Collins), Nobody Does It Better (Carly Simon, the theme tune for The Spy Who Loved Me), When I Need You (Leo Sayer), I Never Loved You Anyway (The Corrs) and other hits. Here she is with one of her few hits as a singer, You're Moving Out Today.

And let's finish up with another Nordman video: Det Sista Du Ser (The Last Thing You See)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Baked Plot

The Saunders family all went to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince last Monday. While we all enjoyed it a lot, the title of this post if rather a giveaway that we found various gaping plot holes. Obviously when you're filming a huge book there's a lot you need to throw away, and while I was sorry to lose some of my favourite lines I can understand that. I also realise that you have to alter emphases when making the transition from page to screen: things that work well in print sometimes don't work on screen, and vice versa. So despite its considerable liberties I enjoyed the film pretty much without reservation up to the point where Harry and Dumbledore head off to destroy a horcrux.


But from there on the plot changes seem arbitrary and weird. As Harry points out, you can't apparate in or out of Hogwarts (for heaven's sake, that's the whole point of the what's-Draco-doing-in-the-Room-Of-Requirement plotline). So to have Dumbledore and Harry apparating from Dumbledore's study because "There are advantages to being me" is just crass. If Dumbledore can do it, it's a fair bet that Voldemort (whose skill in most kinds of magic is fully up to Dumbledore's) would have found a way. The scene in the cave is disappointing: great effects, but Dumbledore just announces solutions without our ever seeing him think. In the book, the scene where he is examining the liquid in the basin is a marvellous demonstration of his investigative skills, but in the film he just announces that it has to be drunk. Nor do we see the effects of that drinking to the same extent: the sorry state to which Dumbledore is reduced in the book, begging for death and with Harry having to tell him that the next cupful will bring it, and desperately calling for water afterwards. And the best line of the whole book, when Harry is reassuring the drastically weakened wizard: "I am not afraid, Harry: I am with you" is just heartbreaking - and left out of the film.

As for the towertop confrontation at the end, that has been rendered incomprehensible. In the book, Harry is still under his invisibility cloak and as Draco and his companions arrive Dumbledore paralyses him so he can't intervene. In the film we are expected to believe that he would stand by inactive just because Snape (of all people) told him to. As a piece of gratuitous alteration of character it's up there with the farrago of Faramir's treatment in The Two Towers.
The adaptation has also stored up problems for the remainder of the series. In the book, Dumbledore shows Harry memories of Voldemort acquiring magical heirlooms and suggests the identity of most of the missing horcruxes. In the film we have none of that, so how is Harry to track them down? As far as he knows, they could be anything at all. Dumbledore's wand appears to be sitting on his desk at the end of the film, and not buried with him (so Voldemort will have trouble digging it up to steal it). And instead of hiding the Half-Blood Prince's potions textbook himself, Harry closes his eyes and lets Ginny hide it. He is supposed to remember that he's hidden it somewhere near a statue with a tiara on it, which becomes significant when he realises the tiara is in fact a horcrux and needs to locate it.

In an interview in Empire, Daniel Radcliffe talks about the drug references in the film (there is a bit about using potions for unfair sporting advantage which is in the book). He liked one line which evidently wound up on the cutting-room floor, where Harry asks Dumbledore if he has ever taken Felix Felicis (the luck potion). "Only recreationally, Harry" he replies. I'm sorry we didn't see that on the screen, because that's a line worthy of JKR herself.

Still, let's end with some positives. Jim Broadbent is fantastic, as is Helena Bonham Carter. The whole adolescence business with Hermione/Ron and Ginny/Harry is nicely done: not quite the same way as in the book, but none the worse for that. The effects are spectacular: the Death Eaters fly around in jets of black smoke, which may be inauthentic but looks amazing. The effects of Harry's Sectumsempra spell on Draco are brilliantly (and authentically this time) realised. And the actors who play the younger Tom Riddle are as creepy as hell.

So - worth seeing, for sure, at least if you've been following the series, but it could have been so much better.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Videos: Moving and Fun

In celebration of the fact that I've booked tickets for a joint gig by Status Quo and Roy Wood, here is a video of Quo doing I Can Hear The Grass Grow. Surprisngly well, actually.

Or not, as it seems to have been removed from Youtube in the past couple of days. Oh well. Here are The Move doing it anyway:

And here is an amazing video of Quo with the Beach Boys (including Brian Wilson singing with them for the first time in about 30 years) doing Fun, Fun, Fun.

While I have seen that whole stageful playing live, it was in three separate gigs (Beach Boys/Brian Wilson/Quo). I must say I would love to have been present for the show they videoed.

And in passing, a word of admiration for one of my all-time favourite couplets:

Well the girls can't stand her 'cos she walks and she drives like an ace now,
She makes the Indy Five Hundred look like a Roman chariot race now....

Crosby, Stills & Nash - Edinburgh Castle Esplanade 11 July 2009

It's always a leap in the dark going to see legends forty-odd years after they became legendary. Will they still have the magic? Or will they just go through the motions, like old animals in a zoo? Davey Graham, for example, was beyond question a legend, and I’d have gone to see him brushing his teeth just on the off-chance of a glimpse of what he once was. However, in the event he was very competent and not remotely magical: not falling apart, but not especially together.

At the start of Saturday's Crosby, Stills & Nash gig we wondered whether the same might apply to them. They came on stage, just the three of them, and launched into "Helplessly Hoping". Unfortunately the vocals were helplessly out of tune, which is bad news for a song so reliant on close harmony. "You Don’t Have To Cry" was much the same, possibly even worse, and Hilary and I were wondering whether someone's foldback wasn't working. We decided it was Stills who was the main culprit, though he seemed to throw the others off sometimes as well. Then Graham Nash announced that they were going to "take some risks", and do things we’d never heard them sing before. This served to introduce a string of covers, during which the tuning shifted from excruciating to merely sometimes dodgy (though the last cover, "Girl Of The North Country", hit a new low on one verse). Funnily enough, it seemed to settle them, or maybe Stills sorted out his problem, because "Guinevere", which came next, was much better. Maybe it was just that Stills didn’t sing so much on it, as Crosby and Nash do most of that one. They continued to improve, without ever sounding totally secure as a threesome, up to the interval. Hilary commented that if she hadn’t known they'd have the full band with them and would be rocking out more in the second half, she might have simply gone home. I couldn’t really argue with that. Score for the first half maybe 5/10.

In the second half they did indeed have the full band, and did indeed rock out. They did three Buffalo Springfield numbers, one of which opened the second half. I recognised it but can’t for the life of me remember its title. Maybe Google will bring inspiration. (It did - see setlist below.) Otherwise it was all the old favourites. Dave Crosby announced that the band members had well-defined roles: Steve Stills wrote great rock and roll, Graham Nash wrote marvellous anthemic songs that were sung around the world, ane he (Crosby) wrote the weird shit. "Like this", he suggested, starting up the intro to "Déjà Vu". The second half in general went better than the first, almost certainly because Steve Stills sang less and played guitar more (and very well, having switched from his semi-acoustic to a Stratocaster). He couldn’t really avoid singing on their final number, "For What It’s Worth", and he wasn't great, but at least he wasn't trying to harmonise so it really didn’t matter. When they came back for an encore, I was running through which of the really well-known ones (not by Neil Young) they hadn’t done, and correctly predicted "Wooden Ships" and "Teach Your Children". And miracle of miracles, whether because Stills had an easier line, or because he just made a huge effort, the latter went beautifully and brought the evening (and, I gather, their tour) to a joyful close. It had been chilly (cue much Nash/Crosby banter about soft Californians v. hardy Northerners) but fine and dry, and Edinburgh Castle had provided a magnificent backdrop, as you can see.


Helplessly Hoping
You Don’t Have To Cry
Ruby Tuesday
You Can Close Your Eyes
Reason To Believe
Girl Of The North Country
Dream For Him
In Your Name
Our House
Southern Cross
Rock and Roll Woman
Marrakesh Express
Long Time Gone
Deja Vu
Almost Cut My Hair
For What It's Worth
Wooden Ships
Teach Your Children

P.S. As far as legendary status is concerned, perhaps the best demonstration of the difference between greatness and genius is that in spite of "Teach Your Children", "Cathedral" and the rest, by far the best song of the evening was "Ruby Tuesday". Mick and Keith at the top of their game, Mozarts in an ocean of Salieris.

Jonathan Sacks and the Half-Blood Jew

On the very same page as that Guardian article about Chris Bryant was this one about the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks. Sir Jonathan is calling for Jews to defend their schools against English law. We all know, because the Daily Mail, Sir Jonathan, and the rest of the media circus continually tell us, that any suggestion of Muslims being allowed to use sharia law to govern any part of their lives is un-British, a sign of the Muslim domination of Western society, and utterly intolerable. apprently, though, UK law isn't good enough for the Chief Rabbi when it comes to allowing a Jewish school to apply racial purity rules to its prospective pupils. If your mother was born Jewish, that's OK. If she is a convert, it doesn't matter how devout your Judaism, your face doesn't fit. Not surprisingly, this racial profiling has been ruled to be, er, racist by a British court. Yet the Chief Rabbi considers this acceptable religious practice, and that to uphold the law of the land in which he lives is to brand Judaism racist. Well, he said it, not the court. If he considers that racial superiority and consequent discrimination in education is a cornerstone of Judaism, I suppose he knows best. I suspect there are a lot of decent Jews out there who had no idea that they were supposed to look down on their less fortunate mudblood brethren. And a lot of decent Jews who thought that by coming to Britain they had escaped a regime that judged them on the basis of their genetics. We live and learn, eh? Still, they can rest secure in the knowledge that British law will indeed, as they presumably trusted, protect them from Sacks and his DNA police.

The question is, will we see the Daily Mail, Harry's Place and the other bastions of Islamophobic nonsense springing to the defence of British law against the imported theocracy of a bunch of people who are simply unwilling to integrate into a modern Western society? No, just kidding.

At last: a hint of that ethical foreign policy we've all been waiting for

After decades under Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown where an "ethical foreign policy" meant not being caught aiding CIA torturers, happily assisting the USA in toppling democratic governments it disliked, and doggedly defending human rights only in countries we wished to invade for economic reasons, it comes as rather a shock to catch a whiff of a principle wafting about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Chris Bryant, Foreign Office minister, is encouraging our diplomats abroad to support gay rights. And he hasn't been sacked yet. How moral standards have slipped since God's regent on Earth ceased to be Prime Minister and retired to spend more time with his money.

My favourite bit of the article was where the British ambassador in Poland was criticised by the Polish government for exceeding his authority, first of all by flying a rainbow flag next to the Union flag (because we don't get to say what we fly on our own sodding flagpoles in bastion-of-freedom Poland), and secondly for (get this) having a guide to LGBT rights translated into Polish. And for the heinous crime of making a leaflet on civil rights available to the Poles, he is criticised by Poland's "civil rights ombudsman". Gosh, it's as though General Jaruzelski had never left. If "solidarity" is to be reclaimed from being just the name of a dodgy political party (two actually: Lech Walesa's and Tommmy Sheridan's) and is to have real menaing, surely its meaning must be is fellowship with, and support for, oppressed minorities, which in Poland and elsewhere includes gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transexuals.

Chris Bryant: we salute you. Allowing your principles to affect your work may be career suicide, but you'll be remembered.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2009

Time to catch up with some more reviews. Last year the Film Festival was brought forward to avoid clashing with the official/fringe/book/etc festivals, and the experiment was obviously a success in growing the audience because they've kept the June dates this year. I went to five films (should have been six but I had to miss one because I was working away from Edinburgh). So here they are, and a great bunch they were too.

Humpday (****) Lynn Shelton 2009

A very funny adult comedy about married Seattle couple Ben and Anna who have an old college friend of Ben's (Andrew) drop in unexpectedly. Ben and Andrew end up at a party with some arty friends, get rather stoned and end up proposing to make a porn film to enter for Humpfest (a real-life Seattle amateur porn festival). They declare that they will produce a piece of off-the-wall artistic erotica: and what could be more off-the-wall than two straight guys (them) having sex with each other on camera? The rest of the film, much of it improvised, follows their misgivings (and bravado) as the day of filming approaches, Anna's reaction, and Ben's and Andrew's wonderful awkwardness when confronted with a hotel room, a camera, and each other. Marvellous performances from Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard as Ben and Andrew, and from Alycia Delmore as Anna. A very silly film, but one for anyone who has ever agreed to something when drunk or stoned and then had second thoughts. I doubt it will come on general release, but watch out for it at your local arthouse.

Black Dynamite (****1/2) Scott Sanders 2009

A terrific spoof of all those Blaxpoitation films from the 1970s: not so much Shaft as the hundreds of inferior imitations. Black Dynamite doesn't miss a trick: like Airplane! it leaves no gag ungagged, no cliche un-cliched. For example, the films it's spoofing made heavy use of split-screen camerawork so of course there is a scene with the screen split. Except in this film the screens are showing opposite sides of the same room, with the middle missing so characters walk off one half of the screen and then reappear in the other half a couple of seconds later. Then there's a boom mike that keeps intruding into another scene with hilarious results; a gloriously evil villain who is of course a kung fu expert but no match for Black Dynamite. Black Dynamite survives an attack by three Uzi-wielding hoods with no more than a scratch (cue cliche surgery dialogue about "Half an inch to the left and....") but of course dispatches his assailants with a shot each from his handgun. And so on, and on. The evil plot goes right to the top (the chief villain turns out to be Richard Nixon), and the laughs go on right to the end. Michael Jai White stars, and co-write the script. One to watch out for.

The Crimson Wing (***) Matthew Aeberhard, Leander Ward 2008

The first nature documentary for a while from Disney, this is the story of a year in the life of a Lesser Flamingo. Lesser Flamingos breed at Lake Natron in Tanzania, and nowhere else. Natron is a salt lake with so many dissolved chemicals it's extremely toxic to most life-forms, but it supports algae on which the flamingos feed. It is so salty that if the fledgling flamingos are unlucky they can get salt encrustations on their legs which harden into "plaster casts" which effectively doom them to predation. The film is stunningly beautiful, but suffers from a very Disneyfied voiceover by Mariella Frostrup. OK, in Britain we get spoiled by David Attenborough, but it would have been nice to have more space to admire the birds and the landscape without being constantly told what we were seeing. In the Q&A session afterwards someone made a similar criticism of the score by The Cinematic Orchestra, though neither Hilary nor I had found that obtrusive. OK, it's not a return to the cutesy anthropomorphism of The Living Desert with its Praying Mantises "dancing" to mouth harp music, but you'd still know it was Disney: at least I think you would, despite its having been made by two young British directors.

Both were present for the Q&A, and were pointing out that feature-length nature films are very rare these days. It will be interesting to see how Disney market it: whether it gets much of a theatrical release or whether it goes quickly to the cable channel and DVD.

So far, so good. But the last two films I saw were a whole order of magnitude better, and if I allowed myself to award more than five stars they would both have more.

The Maiden Heist (*****) Peter Hewitt 2008

The posters for this one all emphasise that Morgan Freeman stars in it. Which is true, but the main character is played by Christopher Walken and there is an equally large role for William H Macy. It's an ensemble piece, for sure, and all three are a joy to watch, though at the end of the day it's Walken's film. Described by its director as a latter-day Ealing comedy (with echoes of both The Lavender Hill Mob and The Titfield Thunderbolt) it tells the tale of three art gallery security guards each of whom has over the years developed a strong affection for a particular piece in the gallery. For Walken it is Lonely Maiden, a painting of a wonan standing on a shoreline. Freeman's love is a landscape, while Macy adores a sculpture of a nude warrior (in front of which he likes to strip off - when the gallery is deserted! - and adopt the same pose). they are horrified to learn that the gallery has sold their favourites to a museum in Copenhagen as part of a deal, and they decide to steal them and put fakes in their place. Easy to say, even for security guards, but getting the fakes and finding a way to do the switch is fraught with difficulty, many of them arising from Walken's vocal (and art-blind) wife. They eventually get themselves assigned to the security detail guarding the removal of the pieces, but their troubles are only just beginning....

This film began with a plot treatment which Morgan Freeman saw and loved. He suggested Christopher Walken, and William H Macy jumped aboard somehow. He was originally though of for the main Christopher Walken role, but he insisted on playing the (frequently naked) sculture freak. The chemistry between all the leads is marvellous, and if this film doesn't go on to become a comedy classic I will eat my festival brochure. Amazingly, the producers have yet to secure cinematic distribution for it even in the States, so it's possible we'll get it before the Americans do. It will bear repeated viewing, that's for sure. DO NOT MISS IT.

Adam (*****) Max Meyer 2009

A story about two strangers.,. One a little stranger than the other.....

Adam is a love story about two neighbours. Beth is a teacher, and Adam designs software for toys. Oh, and Adam also has Asperger's Syndrome. Asperger's is a autistic spectrum disorder which can manifest itself in various ways such as a liking for routines and habits, a tendency to take figures of speech literally, and an inability to "read" non-verbal cues. On the plus side, "Aspies" tend to be bright and to have talents in areas such as mathematics or music. They also have a vast capacity for memorising details: a good thing sure, but conversations can easily turn into The Day I Met The Nerd From Hell as of course they don't pick up on your get-me-out-of-here discomfort as they cheerfully describe every feature of their new camera or whatever.

Asperger's is best-known to most folk these days from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, whose narrator has it. My family know it more directly, as my son Ruairidh has a very mild version (he gets additional help in school but doesn't need help socially). The whole family, Ruairidh included, went to see Adam, which was the closing gala premiere of the festival. It was strange, in that we saw some things coming that the average audience member had to wait for, as when Beth is telling Adam how her previous boyfriend upset her and says "When we were together, he slept with other women"; and "Could you give me a hug?" "Yes"... (pause)...."Adam, please give me a hug". Ruairidh said he found it freaky when Adam opened his kitchen cupboard and it contained just dozens of boxes of All-Bran and packs of macaroni and cheese. Ruairidh has definite eating patterns, though in his case these revolve around Coco Shreddies, margarita pizza, tortellini, Muller-Lite yogurt (strawberry or vanilla), bananas and bourbon biscuits (a bit like less sweet Oreos). he said he looked at Adam's cupboard and thought "That's my life on the screen". Which is, I suppose, the point.

Hugh Dancy gives a wonderfully accurate performance as Adam, and Rose Byrne also shines as his NT ("neuro-typical", ie "normal") neighbour and lover. The plot takes a few unexcected turns and leaves you guessing right up to the end in some ways.

I think the beauty of the film, and of Dancy's performance, is that it manages both to show how normal in many ways Asperger's sufferers are - how they can and do function in everyday life with jobs, girlfriends, even wives - and also how their condition isolates them, putting a moat of mutual incomprehension between them and the world. Dustin Hoffman nailed the portrayal of an severely autistic savant in Rain Man: Dancy has done the same for this related but very different condition. If there were justice in the world he would get a Best Actor nomination for the Oscars. Maybe he will. Anyway, go and see it. Take your neurotypical friends.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

It was fo-our years ago today....

.....and that really does scan better with "twenty", doesn't it? However, the event I wish to commemorate was only four years ago. When it gets to seven the scansion for the song will be OK, but by then I'll be using headlines like "The Seven-Year Itch" (or, as it was clued in one of the rounds of the pub quiz I did recently, "I've Had Chicken-Pox for 2,556 days").

So what happened four years ago? Apart from the 229th aniversary of American independence? The blog you're reading now, is what. Yes, 4th July 2005 saw the first post on EKN. (And the last in that unlovely font.)

I've just been re-reading the first month's posts, and it makes me feel that my standards have slipped a bit. (Memo to self: pull finger out.) Though our string quartet is playing better than ever (currently doing battle with Smetana's first quartet).

Oh, the pub quiz? Three of us from work taking on a dozen other teams from the bank's Edinburgh IT departments. And we came second (having led from the start until the very last round). In our defence, the last round was on Lloyds Banking Group and was what you'd expect if Dilbert's manager set a quiz. We got 3/10 on that round, and were rather jealous of the team who proudly got zero. This performance brought to you by Foster's lager.......