Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Beginning of term, so I guess it’s not too much of a surprise that I haven’t blogged for ages. Life does get slightly swamped by work at this time of year; yesterday, I was so tired after working at full-tilt for two weeks that I even took most of the day off.

Anyway, I realised that I’ve been missing out on films that I have watched, so I thought to do a quick, condensed review here. All of them films that I’ve been looking forward to, but only 1 managed to fulfil its promise.

So, Spiderman III. I do enjoy superhero films; plenty of action, add a bit of pathos and some humour; then, you have a food film, especially good for a plane or otherwise. Spiderman I and II were, I thought, great examples. No III was one too far; basically, the plot was too winding, too random; it just felt like a day-in-the-life, a diary of a superhero. Pity. Don’t know why. Perhaps, they just ran out of ideas.

X-Men III is a different kettle of fish; a new director for the final part, and one who did not show the deftness for ensembles that Bryan Singer did. Despite throwing in more characters, despite a “bigger” story and despite behaving with more dramatic events (including killing of half the cast), it just failed. Also confused and random, I wasn’t always sure what was going on, and it didn’t feel like a logical development of the former. Same problem as spiderman essentially.

Son of Rambow. Probably cost 1/10 of the others (or less). Magnificent. Funny, engaging and heart-warming without a hint of tweeness. The characters were lovely, the acting adept and the script very, very funny. If you haven’t watched it, well, just do. And don’t stop for Spiderman or X-Men along the way.

I’ve been meaning to go and see one of the outdoor performances in Jesmond Dene for a while. Last week, I finally got to one — Emma, by Jane Austen, on a lovely, bright friday evening.

The story itself isn’t really up to much. Almost all of the main characters are unlikeable and unengaging; Emma, herself, is an interfering, arrogant and affected snob, with no redeeming characteristics; she barely stands out against the characters who are meant to be unpleasant. Very little happens that is of particular interest; I can’t find it in my heart to be excited about a ball or a picnic. There wasn’t even the consolation of a few tragic deaths; the one funeral is a minor character, and you can’t take pleasure in that. During the big finale it all ends well for Emma who gets hitched; but, I felt sorry for her other half, and what was being inflicted on him.

Despite this, the adaptation and performance by Heartbreak Productions, was excellent. The actors shifted between multiple characters with ease, and then made full use of cheap theatrical tricks to make up for the simple set and small cast. The audience participation was funny without being irritating, and the dropped out-of-character to provide narration and expand on plot lines. They added to this with reflections on the story (“it’s all about women sitting on chairs, arguing about which chair they are going to sit on next”), as well as the occasional, gentle knob gag to keep the blokes happy.

At the end of it, I was insect-infested with a sore neck and backside from sitting on the grass, but had had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Well worth seeing.

On Saturday, Newcastle was host to an Americana festival; anything with lots of music anywhere is always going to make me happy. In this case, we ended up a music boat; there’s a company that regularly cruises up and down the Tyne, and I’ve long thought it might be fun to give this a go; what better than to combine this with a bluegrass band (the midnight ramblers) and Devon Sproule, who is always good to see. It was a good fun; the cruise itself was entertaining, especially with the weather being so nice. Unfortunately, you couldn’t hear the band from the top deck, but as I’d forgotten my floppy hat, staying atop wasn’t an option anyway. The band were fun; very competant, professional and fluid. Poking around their website, they appear to be part-time, which belies their touring schedule; if it’s still true then their suggestion that they are gaining success as a result of their hard work is no lie. Devon Sproule was great as always, even though she looked rather irritable when she started; performing seems to make her happier. It was a pleasure to see her in a small (floating) venue again, as she is at her best in this sort of venue.

Sunday, was the Sunderland air show. The day was much cloudier, but this worked out well; you could look up into the sky without getting blinded. The aerobatics was exciting, although starting off with the Red Arrows robbed the occasion of it’s climax. Still watching machinery that was designed to kill people leaves me with a slight feeling of unease, particularly when some of it costs upward of 100 million per plane; it’s impressive, but for that price it should be. Still I guess the fundamental problem is that there are only a limited numbers of tricks that a plane can do; one barrel roll is fairly similar to another, even if the planes are different colours. In summary, a good day out, but not sure that I’d want to go every year.

And the trains? Well, took the metro to Sunderland. Pretty weak, but I thought it was a good title for a blog post.

I finished Exit Music this morning. I’ve been reading Ian Rankin’s novels for nearly a decade now starting, perhaps ironically, just after leaving Edinburgh for London. I still think Black and Blue is the best, although Tooth and Nail is my favourite. I heard Ian Rankin say once that as he’d just moved to London and was feeling miserable, he’s inflict the same onto Rebus. As I was hating London also, I emphasised greatly with the book. Also, it’s got a keystone cops, comedy car chase at the end. Both author and detective moved back to Edinburgh fairly shortly afterwards. I never did, although I did leave London.

The last book is good and a suitable ending. Like many of his more recent books, there is a random, unresolved element to the plot. But it’s exciting, page-turning and a suitable finish for the series.

Having said that, it’s probably a good thing that it’s coming to an end. The books got lots of moody, black and white shots of Ian Rankin, with readers notes and meaningful questions about the use of metaphor for reading groups. Doesn’t detract from the novel, but is, really, deeply pretentious.

Originally published on my old blog site.

Been looking forward to Jolie Holland for a while; I think her records are superb, from the Be Good Tanyas onward. Her strange, wierd vocals seem to work; Mexican Blue is stunning song, which leaves me lost everytime I hear it.

I guess this is a lot to live up to. Last nights gig missed by a mile. The support, who’s name I forgot, was poor; nice voice, but the songs were crap, and the performance shambolic. This was replicated by the main act; she treated the audience like they were the wall-paper at her own private practice session. The band spent lots of time talking to each other; they had to tell poor jokes while she tuned up, which took ages. And she needed it; the first three songs were played with an out-of-tune guitar, that was mixed up loud enough that you couldn’t hear her voice anyway.

God knows, I’m not a performance fascist; I like things relaxed, I don’t mind raw and I’m not a technical freak. But a live performance is just that — a performance; if you can’t be bothered, then you shouldn’t be there.

Originally published on my old blog site.

John Martyn has been around for donkey’s years. Sometime, in the 80’s he decided that enunciation was for wimps, and he started to sing like a wookie. More recently, he’s lost a leg, put on enough weight that resembles Jabba the Hutt (two star wars, references in one review; hmmm). He must be passed it now.

John Martyn started off as a folkie, more or less invented trip hop along the way; his music is mesmeric and beguiling. In his prime, he could take the stage on his own, with his Les Paul and fill the entire room, entrancing the audience. I think he was the second musician (not including the pub blues bands that were the stable of my youth) that I ever saw live. I’ve seen him from the North to the South of the country; Solid Air graces my mp3 player at great regularity; in many ways, he has been a critical part of the music that has changed me from the time we got our first record player, to the washed out, muso, gig junkie that I am now. He is passed his best now, but he’s made up for his own lack of mobility with a band, to fill the sound that he used to. This tour is the Grace and Danger tour; the music was sad and heart-breaking at points. Solid Air itself has been lent new immediacy, for me, with the loss of a good friend to suicide earlier in the year.

This was one of the most moving gigs that I’ve been too for years; I was left silent till the day after (unusual for me). One of the best gigs of the year.

Originally published on my old blog site.