Saturday Night at the Movies

It’s ok, I’m not ill or back in hospital or anything…I just decided to take a few days off from writing the usual tosh I come up with here.

But what a few days….the Ashes glory (for now)…Parliament getting itself all prorogued…and I went to the cinema.

I imagine all of the above will get further mentions at some point over the coming days (OK, I plan to mention them all), but for now I’ll focus on the latter.

On Thursday evening I had my first IMAX experience. I know, I know, about time. Truth be told, I didn’t plan on having this one; regular readers will now that I have one of those “Pay monthly, see as many films as you like” set ups, which I rarely take advantage of as much as I could because…well, it may be prepaid but that shouldn’t mean I feel obliged to go watch something with Gerard Butler in it, ta very much. (see also my other pet hates: Keifer Sutherland and Julia Roberts)

And so, on Tuesday, as there is a film out at the moment that I really wanted to see, I cranked up the movie theatre app I use, checked out the times, cursed that there wasn’t a showing starting post-work any earlier than 19:30 hours, bit the bullet and pressed “Book Seats”.

After selecting my seat of choice (aisle seat, towards the back), I was surprised to see it wanted to charge me £4.20 for the privilege of seeing the film in question.

Huh?

I cancelled the purchase, and tried a different film. No additional charge. And it was then that the penny dropped (all four hundred and twenty of them), that I was being charged extra because the film was being shown on the IMAX screen.

Ordinarily, I would have then waited until the film went over to boring old standard screenings, but I figured that I really wanted to see this one, so I’d stump up.

At work on Thursday, I mentioned to the chap who sits next to me at work – a film buff, I didn’t just collar him – that I was going to see the film in question. He pointed out the length to me (stop it!) and I told him it was just over 2 hours, which was fine. A quick check confirmatory check in iMDB clarified that it was actually 2 hours and 40 minutes.

A visit to the local supermarket to stock up on munchies was going to be required.

So, in case you haven’t worked it out yet, the film I went to see was Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film (or eighth, if you count Kill Bill Parts 1 and 2 as one film, which I don’t), Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

Now, I love Tarantino films, but I had realised I hadn’t actually been to the cinema to see one since Jackie Brown back in 1997.

And I’ve still not seen his last film, The Hateful Eight, at all, despite it having been in My List on Netflix for at least a year now. Well, I’ve seen the first twenty minutes or so, before I got bored as nothing had happened, bar Jennifer Jason Leigh getting punched in the face a couple of the times, which didn’t really float my boat, if I’m honest.

I’d read nothing but good reviews of QT’s latest offering though, so I figured it was about time I reacquainted myself with his works. I read an article which ranked his other films, and I was shocked to see that on said list Reservior Dogs and Pulp Fiction weren’t #1 and #2. (I’ve searched for the article again in advance of writing this, to confirm what was, but I can’t find it and can’t remember what they chose as #1, but whatever it was, they were wrong: how can any review of Tarantino’s films not conclude that those two films are his finest (interchangeable positions, I must admit)…?

So I watched Reservoir Dogs again last weekend, and it still stands up. There were a couple of things I noticed this time around – and it’s great I can watch a film which I first saw back in the early 1990s, have watched many times since, and still notice new things about it now – is the sound. Set predominantly in a disused warehouse as it is, I loved the echoey speech, and that you can hear better what someone is saying the closer the camera gets to him (they’re all “hims”, there are no female characters in Reservoir Dogs, we’ll come on to that later); also the many scenes where several conversations are taking place and you can focus in on any one of them, dip in and out, and yet nobody is trampling on anyone else’s lines.

Recently, I’d posited to a couple of people – my brother, some people at work – that people of a certain age must be really confused by adverts for motor insurance which feature Harvey Keitel dressed only in a tuxedo, a dodgy tache and a Noo Yoik accent. To folks of my generation, it’s clear: he’s reprising his role as Mr Wolf, the Mafia fixer from Pulp Fiction, only now he sees an insurance-related issue and he fixes that. But anyone who hasn’t seen Pulp Fiction must be looking at those ads thinking: “Who’s this guy? Why is he dressed like that, and why does he like his coffee with lots of cream and lots of sugar?”

Take my parents (please!). They have never seen a Tarantino film, and that’s fine because I don’t think many of them are the sort of film they would enjoy. My brother and I discussed letting them watch one: it can’t be Reservoir Dogs, as my father can’t stand the sight of blood, and there’s a lot of it in that one. And in pretty much all of them. Except Pulp Fiction. I mean, there’s a bit in Pulp Fiction, but not lots. Not main-character-shot-in-the-stomach-in-the-second-scene-and-left-to-bleed-out-on-a-ramp-in-a-disused-warehouse-for-the-rest-of-the-film-while-somebody-else-gets-their-ear-cut-off amount of blood, but there’s a bit.

Someone else I mentioned this to said: “What about the whole Zed and the anal rape scene?” I shrugged; they may wince, but I reckon they’ll be alright with that.

Mum, Dad: our Christmas viewing is sorted.

There is very little blood split in Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, and I’m not sure if it’s wrong for me to wish there was.

Ok, so avoiding any spoilers, here’s the plot: it’s 1969 (a bloody good year) and Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a fading TV star, forever filming pilots which never get picked up, or making one-off appearances in other people’s shows, playing the baddie, and getting his ass royally whupped.

Throughout life he is accompanied by Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) – note, not Clint Boon, or that would have been a very different film – his stuntman, although it soon becomes perfectly obvious that Booth no longer gets any fall guy work, he is essentially Dalton’s driver, his go-fer, his rent-a-buddy.

This is made clear by a scene which has no purpose whatsoever, except to show that Booth will indeed climb up on to a roof to repair Dalton’s TV aerial, and in the process take his shirt off.

Dalton is approached by a new agent, Marvin Shwarz (Al Pacino), who thinks Dalton would be perfect for the burdgeoning spaghetti Western scene in Italy, and wants him to fly out and give it a try.

Dalton fears this is a sign that he is washed-up, and so takes a part in another Western, desperate to prove his acting chops. Which he does, and then takes the Itaian lira anyway.

And that takes up pretty much all of the first two hours.

Mixed up with that is the incidental news that Dalton lives in a prefab just outside the walls of director Roman Polanski’s gated apartment, where he lives with his young wife Sharon Tate.

Now, anyone of my age probably knows how this pans out. Any moment now, a character called Charles Manson will appear and this could get interesting. And sure enough, there he is, goofing up to the Polanski residence, ostensibly looking for a couple of the Wilson Beach Boys.

And that’s the last we see of Manson.

But we’ll shy away from that for a moment, and concentrate on Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie. Quite simply: she’s not in it enough. She has three big scenes:

  1. She arrives at a party and dances. This scene is only there so that Steve McQueen, played by Damian Lewis… (?!?!), can explain to us/his associate/us the relationship between Tate/Polanski/Jay Sebring (Tate’s ex).

2. She visits a movie theatre which is showing a movie she is in with Dean Martin, and asks the cashier if she can come in for free as she’s in the film;

3. The end scene, which I won’t spoil for you.

Sure, she pops up in the film every now and then, generally greeting people with a hug, but Robbie is criminally underused. The scene where she watches herself on screen in the cinema (sorry, a spoiler: she gets let in) is an absolute joy; she giggles and nervously looks around to assess the audience’s reaction, before relaxing, kicking her shoes off, and putting her feet on the backs of the seat in front.

Robbie absolutely nails the few scenes she’s in, and she should have been in more. But that’s the problem with Tarantino films: he ain’t that great at writing female characters.

Those first two hours really could have been edited down and still explain the Dalton/Booth dynamic and give Robbie more to do, but hey ho, what do I know, I’m not a millionaire film director.

And that’s another issue with Tarantino: given carte blanche, nobody is reigning him in. That’s why Kill Bill is spread over two parts and that’s why Once Upon A Time… could have been cut to around the two hour mark and nobody would have complained. I hear rumours that there is a nine-hour version which I won’t be watching.

The other truly great scene is when Pitt’s character (Booth) picks up an underage hitch-hiker and gives her a lift to where she squats with her Family, on a disused film-lot where Booth used to work, and knows the guy who still owns it.

It’s a genuinely tense 20-30 or so minutes (or so it seemed) as it becomes apparant that he has wandered into the home of The Family, the group which Charles Manson assembled around him, and for a while there’s a brooding feeling that something is about to happen – and since this is a Tarantino film, it probably ain’t gonna be too pretty.

No spoilers.

If you follow Tarantino films – and if you do then you’ve probably already seen this, so I won’t be spoiling it for you – I’d place Once Upon A Time… in the same bracket as his WWII flick Inglorious Basterds in that it’s an historical film based in reality, where rather than show how things did pan out he posits an alternative reality where what we know happens doesn’t. And while the alternative is, in typical Tarantino style, quite brutal and unpleasant, I’m not sure it’s any less pleasant than what actually happened.

And then there’s the music.

I’ve written before about how songs used in films can almost become an additional character.

Nowadays, if you hear the George Baker Selection’s Little Green Bag or Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle With You, chances are you’ll be reminded of Reservoir Dogs.

Similarly, hear Dick Dale and His Del-Tones’ Misirlou or Dusty Springfield’s Son Of A Preacher Man or even Urge Overkill’s version of the Neil Diamond gem Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon or Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell and if you’ve seen Pulp Fiction then the scenes they appear in become your immediate frame of reference.

And although Once Upon A Time… has a great soundtrack the same won’t happen. It sounds kinda forced to me, like knowing the commercial possibilities of a Tarantino-soundtrack, he tries to cram as much in as possible. But none of the songs really latch on, take hold, in the film in the way that they were allowed to in his older movies. The songs are clearly a soundtrack, rather than an integral part of of the movie as they were back in the …Dogs and …Fiction days.

What I mean is this: on the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack, dead-pan, existenstial one-liner comedy God Steven Wright plays the DJ, and it’s brilliant. There’s the same on the Once Upon A Time… soundtrack (and I know, I bought it before I saw the film) only now it’s not Wright it’s just a radio jock, and thus half of the appeal is broken. And in the film, not one song is given enough time or space to take hold, to really get a grip in the way that they’d been allowed to in his older films, so whilst the songs are still great, they become forgettable in the context.

In twenty years time, I won’t be hearing Deep Purple’s Hush and saying: “Oh yeh, this is the bit in the film where they drive around for a bit and then park.”

These songs are all in the film, are all brilliant, but literally blink (or whatever the not-listening equivalent is) and you’ll miss them:

Roy Head & The Traits – Treat Her Right

Deep Purple – Hush

Paul Revere & the Raiders – Hungry

Buchanan Brothers – Son of a Lovin’ Man

José Feliciano – California Dreamin’

Neil Diamond – Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show

In summary: I liked, but it was a bit long and the ending (after the bloody ending) sucked.

More soon.

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Late Night Stargazing

At work the other day, somebody mentioned that they were trvelling down to Bristol over the weekend to visit their family.

I happened to mention that Bristol has a terrific nightlife scene, and that when I lived in Cardiff I would often make the short journey to go to the odd gig or two.

In particular, I recalled seeing Idlewild doing an acoustic set at the Trinity Centre, a converted church, and then a little while later going to see Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan at the same venue.

To my surprise, the latter two names drew blank looks.

“You know,” I cajoled, “Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age and…erm…Mark Lanegan fame?”

The same stone faces gazed back at me.

“And Isobel Campbell…used to be in Belle & Sebastian….?”

Nothing. Zip. Nada.

“Commonly described as the modern day Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood ….? No….?”

I despaired.

Here. This. Them:

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – Honey Child What Can I Do?

The Hazlewood/Sinatra comparison is justified, and one which they embraced; when I saw them in Bristol and sometime later in Cardiff, they did a cover of this H&S classic:

Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood – Sand

More soon.

Be Llyrious

In the spirit of full disclosure, today’s tune is not a song which Llŷr or I ever had any real affection for, as far as I know.

I mean, we both appreciated that it’s a classic folk song, but it would never trouble any list of our favourite 100 records.

This one:

Ralph McTell – Streets of London

As you may have gathered, Llŷr and I went to many, many, oh-so-many gigs together. Beforehand, we would often discuss which songs from the act in question we most wanted to hear.

We never planned to do this, but after we did it once, we did it every time.

For when one of those desired songs got played, after the applause had died down, one of us would shout “Streets of London!”, and then the other would do the same, slightly more angrily, followed by the other, and so on, until we collapsed in fits of giggles.

Confused?

We both loved the sketch show Big Train, and in particular this, just shy of a minute and a half of utter comedy genius:

Big Train – Ralph McTell sings Streets of London…again!

Still makes me laugh, that, and I must have watched it hundreds of times by now. And heard it even more; I have the audio of it on my iPod so it crops up every now and then – and in case you hadn’t realised and want to do the same, there’s a link to download an mp3 of it right there for you. (Ditto the Partridge post from a couple of days ago). I’d heartily recommend having things which make you laugh unexpectedly pop into your ears from time to time.

You’re welcome.

(Miss you, dude.)

More soon.

Ba Ba Ba Ba-Ba Ba Ba Ba

I’ve posted this before, way back in 2016, so I’m pretty sure you’ve all forgotten about it by now.

The first time I heard this was on Now That’s What I Call Summer, a double album I picked up purely so I would have some summer songs to put on the mix-tapes I used to compile for play in the sixth form common room.

Little did I know that over thirty years later, this would still be one of my favourite summer tunes ever:

Barracudas – Summer Fun!

Just gloriously dumb and care-free.

More soon.

A Ripping Yarn

And so, at almost exactly the same moment as my last post appeared, where I celebrated a Bank Holiday weekend of freedom by featuring a song called Breakout, my own personal irony-o-meter hit peak readings as I suffered a rather embarrasing Breakout of my own.

I’ll explain.

Once a week, I will try to get into the office by 8am, which means I can leave at 4pm (rather than 5pm) if I choose to. Generally this will fall on a Friday, for there’s no finer work-related feeling than an early finish on a Friday afternoon, especially when you don’t have to be back in the office again until Tuesday morning.

And so, my plan for the weekend began to take shape; I would hop on a bus down to the supermarket close to my flat, stock up on booze, and head home again, ready to have a Friday night tipple to assist with the composing of some words for y’all to chow down on.

What I had failed to take into account was just how bloody hot it was yesterday (and is apparently set to be for the rest of the weekend). On public transport is an unforgiving place to be when it’s hot, and despite positioning myself on the top deck at the epicentre of where all the moving air from the open windows would converge, within minutes every pore seemed to be expelling more moisture than I thought it physically possible for one body to have retained.

To add to this, the bus etiquette of some of my fellow travellers was annoying me before my arse had even touched the seat. Despite there only being about five people, including myself, on the upper floor of the bus, two people were sitting in seats either side of the aisle, but having a really loud conversation with each other. Look: if you want to talk to each other, sit next to each other so the rest of us don’t have to listen, will you?

And then the bus driver kept getting messages from HQ that he must even out the flow of bus traffic by waiting at the next stop – even though nobody was getting on or off – which did very little for any hopes I had of being cooled down by a breeze whooshing its way down the bus.

By the time I got to my stop, I was dripping with sweat and frankly in a foul, not even slightly weekend-ish, mood.

There’s a convenience store across the road from the bus stop, so I decided to pop in and get something cold to drink. Picking out a bottle of water from the fridge – something I could quaff down in one go without fear of inciting the heartburn horror I often suffer from – I got to the till, and reached into my pocket to pull out the collection of coins I had amassed.

And as I did so, I felt one fall to the floor. I glanced down: a 5p. Sod it, I’m not worried about that. I handed over the correct money for my beverage and turned to leave, unscrewing the bottle top as I did so.

When I was stopped in my tracks by a voice: “Excuse me!”

I turned back, to see an elderly couple beckoning me back.

“You dropped some money!”

“Oh, it’s just 5p,” I said, “thank you but don’t worry about it.”

“No,” said the lady member of the couple, “you dropped this too.”

She was pointing towards her foot; I looked and next to it was a 20 pence piece.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have bothered with that either, but since she had gone to all of the effort of protecting it by standing over it, and then calling me back, I figured the least I could do was show some gratitude.

“Oh, thank you,” I said, as I knelt to pick it up.

But there was a problem.

Thursday night in Dubious Taste Mansions had been a particularly exciting one, for it had included me cutting my fingernails. Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, the life of a blogger is one non-stop rollercoaster ride of fun sometimes.

The thing about fingernails is this: you don’t realise how useful they are for picking things like 20 pence pieces up from a shop floor until you find yourself faced with such a situation the day after you’ve cut them and suddenly find yourself completely incapable of performing what on the face of things should be a very simple task.

For devoid of cuticle, the coin resisted my grip, and eventually skittled underneath a shelf of crisps. Yes, it would have been more poetic had it been a shelf containing nothing but Skittles, but this is life, and sometimes life isn’t poetic.

Sometimes life is an absolute bastard.

“Oh terrific,” I said as the coin slid out of view.

It would be at this point that I would normally have shrugged and given up, but the little old lady was having none of it. I straightened and looked at her, and she had this quizzical, eyebrow arched, expectant look on her face. She had taken the time to protect my 20p and by God she wasn’t leaving until it and I had been happily reunited.

And so I went to kneel on the floor, better placed to grope under the shelving unit for my coinage, but as I went down all I could hear was the sound of stitches popping and fabric ripping. Suddenly I felt like I was in my own Carry On film: this was my bra-popping-off-an-exercising-Barbara-Windsor-in-Carry-on-Camping-moment.

I stood up immediately, my face now redding through embarrasment rather than heat.

“And now I’ve ripped the arse out of my trousers” I announced to the elderly couple, the cashiers, and the queue of people waiting to be served.

Surely to God we can end this now, I thought, but she was having none of it. For little old lady, at least 30 years my senior, effortlessly got down on her hands and knees, reached under the shelf, produced the coin, stood and handed it to me with the words: “I think we know what you’ll be putting this towards.”

I thanked her, and shuffled out of the shop. Fortuitously, I had my shoulder bag with me, which I always have slung at Hooky’s Bass levels, so I was able to position it over my exposed, sweaty backside as I hurried home to change into something else, something that didn’t make me look like Paul Rutherford out of Frankie Goes to Hollywood in his arseless chaps.

And all the way home, every person I passed, seemed to be laughing, and they’re laughing at me.

I tried to think of an appropriate song. I couldn’t come up with better than this:

The Waterboys – The Whole of the Moon

Yeh, go on, laugh it up.

Welcome to the weekend.

More soon.

How To Do a Cover Version

In 1978, ABBA released their second single from the inspirationally-titled ABBA: The Album album; as with so many records the Swedish quartet released around the time, it went to #1 in the UK charts:

ABBA – Take a Chance On Me

14 years later, Erasure released a 4-track EP called ABBA-esque; whilst the EP contained three other covers (Lay All Your Love on Me, SOS, and Voulez-Vous), it was their version of Take A Chance… which attracted the lion’s share of airplay, not least because of the gloriously camp video which accompanied it:

The EP romped to #1 in the UK, the band’s first single to do so, and stayed there for a five week stretch.

Erasure – Take a Chance On Me

But you know that’s not really where I’m going with this, right?

For that’s not the greatest version of that song, oh no.

The greatest version – for entirely different reasons – was never released as a single anywhere in the world.

It first aired on BBC2 in the UK on 30th September 1994, as part of an ABBA medley, sung by an ABBA-obsessed chat-show host, duetting with a guest, with the musical accompanyment provided by a soon-to-be-sacked-and-then-begrudgingly-reinstated conductor and his band with an ever changing name.

Complete with introduction, here’s one of the funniest of oh-so-many funny moments given to us by Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge:

Alan Partridge, Gina Langland, Glenn Ponder & Ferrari – ABBA Medley

You’re welcome.

More soon.