Diary of an old cheeser

Hi there! Like other blogs, this is my chance to wax lyrical (some might say talk utter cr*p) about a) what's happening in my life b) all of my pet obsessions in particular music, tv, movies, books and other generally connected things, quite often of the retro, old and "cheesy" variety. Hence the title of my blog. Feel free to leave a comment if the mood takes you. There's nothing like a good chinwag about one's favourite topics and besides I love to meet new people! Cheers, Simon

Monday, April 30, 2007

Work shmerk

So. I am now into my fourth official week of unemployment. And it's all become a bit of a blur! My old job seems light years away and a distant memory. And am I sorry? Not one little bit! Although I am still in touch with my bestest ex-workmates via email and other methods. It's rather strange/funny sitting here on my PC at home, dropping them little messages whilst they're all hard at it, slaving over their desks in some hot and stuffy office...he he!! I am SUCH a meanie. Being a bit of a gossip-hound I've been hearing all about the goings on in my old workplace too, which has been fun. Last Friday one of my old line managers had her leaving party and I went back for that (yet another person opting to leave the dept and take voluntary redundancy - there have been so bloody many now). She'd worked for the organisation for over 20 years and is a lovely lady so I had to be there to see her off in style!! It was good to see everyone else again too and yet it felt really weird - like revisiting old mates I hadn't seen for some time. Even getting off the tube and walking through the City was freaky - people seemed to be rushing about at breakneck speed, pushing and hurrying to get to wherever they were headed - all very stressful. Seems that I've grown accustomed to the chilled home/non-working life remarkably quickly! And someone at the party commented how relaxed I looked and that I was smiling a lot!! Being out of work obviously works wonders!!

Of course I can't avoid employment forever. My redundancy money is already starting to dwindle a little, although I can still have a bit more time off, which is a relief! As soon as the money came through I was very sensible, opened up a savings account, and bunged most of it into that. Gustavo and I plan to buy a flat in the not too distant future (we are hoping for this year in fact) and so this will help very nicely toward a deposit. Especially given the extortionate London house prices which seem to be increasing with daily and frightening rapidity. I was actually round the house of a friend who lives in Acton last week and she said her neighbour's house was worth approx £600,000. Who the hell is going to be able to buy a place at that cost? And more precisely what kind of salary would someone need to be earning to afford that? Very scary. My hubbie and I are considering moving somewhere quite suburban like Croydon as this is about all we can afford. Funnily enough there seem to be a large proliferation of our gay friends who have moved there - maybe it's turning into THE habitat for homos!

And I haven't just been sitting on my rear the last few weeks - I have been a productive and constructive Cheeser. I'm now registered with several work agencies so I'm sure something will come up via them. In fact one of them put me forward for a job with a local organisation - another educational establishment a bit like the one I was working for before, but which seemed even better with lots of employee benefits! The role was good although I had to go through 3 interviews for the post...the result of which was I didn't get it. Grrr. Ah well. The positive side is that apparently there is another job within the organisation that they want to put me forward for, so that's good. I wasn't successful in my application for the other job either (the one I had the interview for just before going to Wales). But I felt kind of iffy about that one - it was just too similar to what I'd been doing in my last job and may not have been challenging or different enough - so I wasn't particularly dismayed at not getting it. And I do believe things happen for a reason - if it was meant for me I would have got it. But I've already got another interview lined up, for a job at a London university up in the next couple of days, so that's something else to look forward to eh?!

I not especially keen on interviews. I find them kind of daunting and nerve-wracking and sometimes I get tongue-tied or end up repeating myself. Or forget the examples I've tried to memorise as part of an answer, as we can sometimes do! (And then, hey presto! The answer suddenly comes to you when you're lying awake in bed at 3am). Why do we have to go through interviews? Okay, silly question. Employers want to determine your suitability for a job and work out if you've got the necessary skills, knowledge, experience etc. I just wish interviewers all possessed some kind of cosmic mind reading device that could work out your attributes instead, it would be so much easier all round! I think I'm one of those people who expresses themselves more eloquently in writing, I mean, don't get me wrong, I am a pretty confident talker and can definitely hold a conversation, plus I've worked as a teacher before, which involves standing in front of groups of people and delivering long speeches and instructions! But I think I find it easier to order my thoughts in writing sometimes...

Anyway enough waffle. I'm sure that the right thing will come along when it's meant to and if the job's for me I will get it. As I said things happen when they're meant to. I'm actually reading a rather good little book at the moment called "A Thousand Paths To Good Luck" which has full of lots of wise sayings and proverbs that are worth living by, like:

Try to think of failure as simply being a result that differs from the one you expected

and

Most people live and die with the music of their life never played, for they never dared to try

and

Nothing teaches us to rely on luck than a lesson in misfortune. No venture is completely wasted that can result in our becoming a little wiser.

Too true! The book was a leaving gift from one of my work colleagues and very appropriate I thought! I highly recommend it to all of you.

As well as the job-hunting I've been doing a spot of shopping too (without completely breaking the bank!) My most generous-to-myself-purchase has been....a new Laser Printer....woooohoooo!!! Er. Yeah. I'm getting excited about buying a....printer? Well if truth be told I used to do a lot of my own personal printing at work....ahem!! Not entire novels you understand, but obviously this was handy, and I don't have that option any more. As you might have guessed, I don't have a printer at home, so it will be very useful, for all my forthcoming letters and various other epistles...Plus with the redundancy money I have been able to pay for a trip to....Braaaaaaaaziiiilll! Brazil, that is. My beloved and I are going in September for three weeks, starting off with a few days in Rio de Janeiro, and then going on to stay with Gustavo's family. I am SO looking forward to seeing Rio, having never been before - I'm sure it's a totally amazing and beautiful city (although I will be avoiding the City of God...)

And finally of course, I have been devoting some of my free time to the wonderful world of blogging! Hence very long posts on films like this one. Without a doubt it's one of my favourite occupations. I was born to write! And I love reading all my fellow bloggers' stuff too.

So as you will have gathered, lots of good things are going on at present. And I intend on enjoying my last days of freedom whilst I can...oh yeah, forgot to mention, we're also going to Weston-super-Mare in a few days' time to visit some old friends which should be...interesting. I heard it was quite a tacky, cheesy town. Probably suit me down to the ground then. (He said with just a touch of irony...)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Joke of the week - Star Wars "Pants"

If, like me, you're a Star Wars fan/aficionado, you'll probably like these...Or even if you only know the films a little, they're still pretty chucklesome...Yes, here's a little known revision of the original Star Wars movie script that substitutes the word "pants" into many of the lines...

DARTH VADER: I find your lack of pants disturbing.

DARTH VADER: General Veers, prepare your pants for a ground assault.

LUKE: I used to bullseye wamprats in my pants back home...

LUKE AND HAN: Lock the door. And hope they don't have pants.

DARTH VADER: You are unwise to lower your pants.

HAN: You look strong enough to pull the pants off a Gundark.

HAN: Great, Chewie, great. Always thinking with your pants.

LANDO: That blast came from the pants! That thing's operational!

LEIA: I recognized your foul pants when I was brought on board.

DARTH VADER: A tremor in the pants. The last time I felt it was in the presence of my old master.

HAN: Hey, don't worry. Chewie and me got into a lot of pants more heavily guarded than this.

HAN: Maybe you'd like it better back in your pants, your highness.

GREEDO: Jabba doesn't have time for smugglers who drop their pants at the first sign of an Imperial cruiser.

HAN: Short pants is better than no pants at all.

YODA: Pants not make one great.

LUKE: I sense the conflict within you, let go of your pants!

YODA: Pants you I can, yes, mmmmhhhhmmmm....

HAN: That's because droids don't pull people's arms out of their pants when they lose. Wookiees are known to do that.

HAN AND LEIA: I love pants. I know.

HAN: Watch it kid or you're gonna find your pants floating home.

HAN: I thought pants smelled bad on the outside.

YODA: Your pants, you will not need them.

WUHER: Your pants. They'll have to wait outside, we don't want them here.

STORMTROOPER, LUKE AND OBI-WAN: How long have you had these pants? About three or four seasons. They're up for sale if you want them.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

My top ten flicks

Okay folks. Stand by for a mammoth post from moi! I've been writing this one for simply ages...and now it's ready...and I hope you like it.

Aeons ago, my fellow Blogger Matty tagged me, with the task of writing a post on my favourite films, TV programmes, music albums...And so rising to the challenge, I begain writing about my favourite movies. But once I started I realised I had a rather a lot to say on the subject of film, let alone everything else! So I decided to just focus on movies this time round (I WILL return to music, TV etc at a later date) and am now proud to present...

MY TOP TEN FAVOURITE FLICKS!!

Here then are my fave raves, with a some background on each respective movie - what they're about, whose in them etc - as well as the reasons why I like 'em! Enjoy!! Cos I very much enjoyed writing it!!

I should quickly add that it was quite tricky for me to narrow down my favourite films to just 10 - I love so many! Therefore, I have added a "Bubbling Under" section at the end - those films that almost but didn't quite make the final cut...it wasn't easy!!

Oh - and one more thing!! - several of my mini film reviews contain SPOILERS!! You have been warned. Now sit, back, crack open the popcorn, and read on...

1. Bagdad Cafe
I haven't watched this for years but made sure I got it on DVD for whenever the need grabbed me. Quirky, humorous, touching, unconventional, rather plot-less, heart-warming...just some adjectives I'd use to describe this film.

In summary it's about a German lady called Jasmin Munchenstatner (great name) who gets dumped by her schwein of a husband in the middle of the Arizona desert. Poor old Jasmin checks into the nearby Bagdad cafe/motel/gas station run by the taciturn Brenda, who is also experiencing marital problems of her own. In addition there's a collection of weird and wonderful guests staying at the motel such as a lady tattoo artiste, an aged painter called Rudy who takes a fancy to Brenda. At first Jasmin and Brenda are suspicious of one another but a bond grows between them.

What's brilliant about the film is the transforming effect that Jasmin has on the inhabitants of the motel and the way she brings out the best in everyone, including Jasmin’s kids, an introverted but gifted pianist son, and her wayward daughter who romances motorcyclists and other bizarre types. And Jasmin even manages to win over lots of visiting truckers, increasing trade and making Bagdad Café THE place to stop off at. All of this isn't done in a sickly, sweet Pollyanna style though, rather, it's all fairly understated and subtle. Although I guess the show numbers at the end are slightly theatrical...but it's all done in the spirit of fun! I love the "Brenda, Brenda" number sung by Brenda, accompanied by the truckers on backing vocals. And there's lots of fun magic tricks. Magic can be found in the most mundane of places, it seems.

There’s some beautiful cinematography – the surrounding desert and landscape look amazing and even the run-down quality of the motel has a certain charm. It makes you want to pack up your bags and hitch a ride to the Bagdad Cafe - plus the chance to see the strange lights in the sky.

The characters are also delightfully idiosyncratic. The relationship between Brenda and Jasmin is also beautifully portrayed by actresses CCH Pounder and Marianne Sagebrecht. Both characters are initially wary and suspicious of one another at first and seem like total opposites, but an understanding and mutual respect gradually forms between them and by the end they're a great double act. Jevetta Steele's track “Calling You" is also lovely and one of my favourite ever theme songs to a movie.

2. Star Wars

An obvious one, but I couldn't leave it out. This far surpasses the recent "trilogy". I don't care how advanced special effects are now, what with CGI and all, the new "Star Wars" just doesn't hold a candle to the original. A lot of that is surely to do with the casting - Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford were all excellent in their roles and a million times better than the likes of Hayden "plank of wood" Christensen and co. Han Solo is a brilliant character and has some memorable banter with snobby Princess Leia. Mark Hamill’s Luke is endearing in an innocent-youngster-with-greater-things-ahead kind of way. C3P0 and R2D2 are surely the best droid double act ever (a kind of cosmic, robotic version of Laurel and Hardy – some have even argued they’re a gay couple – and what with Anthony Daniel’s snippy, bitchy personality there’s some credence to this). Darth Vader was – and always will be – one of the most menacing and powerful big screen villains – and in this movie is ably supported by horror movie stalwart Peter Cushing as the villainous Grand Moff Tarkin.

There's a simplicity and straightforwardness to the first "Star Wars" that the recent movies lacked - the new ones left me feeling "swamped" yet simultaneously underwhelmed - if that makes any kind of sense. The story is relatively straightforward and whilst it uses a great many special effects these are never allowed to stand in the way of, or supplant, the story. It's interesting that "Star Wars" uses a lot of classic good/bad archetypes as well. The end sequence in which the rebel alliance fly down a trench in an attempt to blow up the Death Star, is akin to many war films.

And of course I also love "Star Wars" because it's classic sci-fi, with many brilliant and inventive scenes. Who can forget the exciting opening sequence in which the Imperial Stardestroyer overcomes the Rebel ship and the stormtroopers invade, instantly grabbing the viewer's attention? The first sight of Darth Vader striding through the smoke? The death star blowing up Princess Leia’s home planet? The light sabre battle between Darth and Obi-Wan? Luke and Han in the Millennium Falcon gun cockpits, shooting up the Imperial TIE fighters? And the final climatic Rebel attack on the Death star? There are so many memorable parts to this film and its ability to thrill and delight hasn’t diminished over time. Along with Dr Who, "Star Wars" seized hold of my overactive 8 year old imagination and never relinquished its grip. I transmogrified into a bona fide sci-fi geek, and was transported to a galaxy far, far away. And now it’s far, far too late to reverse the process…

3. The Stepford Wives (the original 1970s version)

“I'll just die if I don't get that recipe”. “I was just going to get you coffee”. “It’s all so silly. It’s just my head!” “Joanna! How could you do a thing like that? I thought we were friends!” “Oh Ted, you’re the King…you’re the Master!”

Just a few choice quotes from the aforementioned movie. "The Stepford Wives" has acquired a cult status over time and rightly so. The 1970s version is far superior to the 2000s remake, and whilst the latter isn’t quite the abomination people made it out to be, it just doesn’t possess the subtlety or brilliance of the former. The movie is based on a bestselling novel by American writer Ira Levin and tells the story of a young mother and avid photographer, Joanna Eberhart, who, along with her hubbie and kids, moves from hectic New York to the seemingly idyllic rural town of Stepford. However Joanna soon starts to realise that there is something too perfect about Stepford, in particular the town’s wives, who are all unsettlingly devoted to domestic duties and their husbands, having no aspirations outside the home sphere. And the husbands all belong to an organisation called “The Men’s Association” which no-one knows anything about.

The film successfully builds on a feeling of paranoia, as we find out that those women who have been in the community for four months seem to undergo an overnight change in personality, becoming like the rest of the wives…creepy! Katherine Ross and Paula Prentiss are totally convincing as recent Stepford arrivals Joanna and Bobby, have a great camaraderie and I love their scenes together. “Ring dings and scotch – great combination!” “You and me are the best thing since Laurel and Hardy – they can’t break us up!” “I’m getting the hell out of Stepford! I’m not going to become like one of those – pan-scrubbers!” As the net starts to tighten, you really root for Joanna and Bobby and hope they won’t be next on the list to be “Stepfordised”. Oh, and English rose Nanette Newman (with an American accent) also plays one of the lobotomised wives, and is positively hilarious in her role. Anyone remember those Fairy Liquid adverts Nanette did a few years back? Rather ironic – playing a Stepford wife obviously stood her in good stead. I also love the Laura Ashley style outfits and floppy hats worn by the women – some of the 1970s styles look alternatively sexy and highly dated. And the fellas will be pleased to hear that there’s a fair abundance of cleavage too. The final scene, in which the wives all meet and greet in a supermarket, accompanied by delirious muzak, is simultaneously amusing and chilling, and keeps you guessing right up until the last minute.

4. All About Eve

It was my first boyfriend that got me into Bette Davis. Thanks Mark! Of course being gay and liking Bette tend to go hand in hand – well for the older homo anyway, many gay youngsters of today won’t have heard of her. Cretins! Bette is one of Hollywood’s great divas and whilst a lot of what she did tended toward melodrama, she was a decent actress to boot. “All About Eve” for me and many others is Ms Davis' finest hour. Bette plays Margo Channing, a theatre actress who’s about to hit the big 4-0. Margo is very much larger than life – as a lady of the stage she is theatrical in the truest sense of the term – she’s extravagant and inclined to grand gestures and big words. She also possesses a delightfully waspish wit. But behind all of the bravado is an insecure lady who’s terrified of getting old and losing both her attractiveness and her director boyfriend Bill as a result. Then along comes a young ingenue, Eve (brilliantly played by Anne Baxter), ostensibly a fan of Margo’s and looking to get her big break on the stage. Eve takes a job as Margo’s home help but it’s all part of Eve's plan to get ahead and scr*w Margo over in the process…the devious little madam!!

The film also boasts a superbly witty, bitchy script, supported by some great performances from the cast. Alongside Davis and Baxter, George Sanders is fabulous as the acidic theatre critic Addison de Witt and Marilyn Munroe makes her first ever screen appearance! And there’s some classic dialogue. One of Margo’s best lines is delivered when she’s holding a birthday party in her flat – the guests sense that trouble is brewing and Margo might throw one of her legendary wobblies:

Lloyd: “The general atmosphere is very Macbethish. What is about to happen?”

Margo (stops on stairs, turns and addresses her friends): “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

And I love Margo's nasty quip to Eve near the end of the film, when Eve receives a theatrical award:

Margo: Nice speech, Eve. But I wouldn’t worry about your heart. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be.

Way to go Margo! If you're going to check out the films of Ms Davis this is a very good place to start indeed.

5. Blade Runner

Of course I had to get more sci-fi in somewhere, didn’t I? "Blade Runner" is a decidedly dystopian vision of the future, set in Los Angeles, 2089 (not THAT far away then). Harrison Ford plays Deckard, a detective who is assigned to hunt down a group of replicants, androids who bear an uncanny resemblance to real humans. The problem with being a replicant is that you have a very short life span, and this particular bunch of androids are rather unhappy at this prospect, so go in search of their creator in order to try and extend their shelf life, with unpleasant consequences…

Harrison F is on top form as the grizzled detective and is ably backed up by Daryl Hannah as Priss and Rutger "nutcase" Hauer as Roy Batty. The climactic scenes where Roy chases Deckard through derelict buildings and across rooftops are tense and totally nail-biting. And as for the bit where Roy grabs Deckard’s fingers and breaks his bones, I simply can’t bare to watch….yeuuuch!! In fact there are loads of exciting and tense bits in the film and it does tend toward the violent at times - the snake woman who beats the sh*t out of Deckard; the bit when Roy takes out the eyes of Tyrell, the man who created the replicants...double yeeeuch! Fortunately none of this is too gratuitous.

I also completely love the look of the future LA. It’s a distinctly Japanese interpretation, an urban metropolis overrun with huge towering skyscrapers, neon lights, and spaceships trawling overhead broadcasting huge advertisements. It’s also constantly dark - a prophetic comment on what pollution might do to the environment and given the way LA is now, not so hard to credit! - and it rains a lot too. What a lovely place – not! But for a movie made in 1982 the special and visual effects are very much ahead of their time – you really do believe you’re in a city of the future, it’s so well-realised.

There’s also a fabulous soundtrack from Vangelis, which suits the mood and atmosphere of the film perfectly. I love the opening sequence, with the gas jets flaring up over the landscape of the city and the point of view shots of the human eye, accompanied by Vangelis’ haunting tones. The love theme is a nice track too. Overall, for me this film demonstrates how visuals and soundtrack can be married together in an incredibly seductive way. “Blade Runner” literally dazzles the senses. It’s also a great film to watch late at night.

6. Edward Scissorhands

Touching and inventive, with a lot of resonance for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, in a minority or misunderstood by the majority of society. Director Tim Burton has always made off the wall movies with alternatives themes and styles and this one is no exception. There’s also a gift of a performance from Johnny Depp as Edward, an actor who usually goes for off the wall characters and movies, and three cheers to him for that. I loved Depp in "Cry Baby", "What’s Eating Gilbert Grape" and the recent "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, and he’s equally brilliant in "Edward Scissorhands". Although if you're hoping for his usual hearthrob looks you may be slightly surprised by his appearance in this film - he's virtually unrecognisable with a pasty, scarred complexion and back-combed Robert Smith style hairdo. But again bravo to Johnny for eskewing Hollywood and chosing to play such an uncoventional character.

And who is Edward Scissorhands? He's a young man created by a scientist, Frankenstein's monster style but intended as a force for good. However has large scissor-like blades for hands rather than normal human ones. Tragically the scientist who made him (played in a cameo by Vincent Price) dies before he has a chance to give him proper hands and Edward is permanently cursed with this fatal flaw. He lives all alone in a dark old castle on the fringes of society (this is fairytale stuff, mind...) But then one day, an Avon Lady called Peg (honestly!) comes calling and taking pity on his predicament, persuades him to come home with her. The community Edward arrives in - a normal, American suburb - is suspicious of him at first. But the theme of the film is all about not judging by appearances – as the tag line for the film reads: “The story of an uncommonly gentle man”. And Edward actually manages to turn his affliction to his advantage – he’s able to sculpt amazing looking trees and plants using his scissor hands and then graduates to cutting women’s hair, creating some truly outlandish and asymmetric “dos”, to the local females’ delight! But when later tragedy strikes and the townsfolk turn against poor Edward…

For me it’s possible to posit a gay reading of the film and it’s one of the reasons I can relate to it so well (I even wrote an essay on the film/topic on my MA at Sussex University years ago!) Edward is “different” to others and has an “affliction” (or certainly a condition that people perceive to be so). Yet, like gay men, he is able to turn his hand(s) to an occupation that affords him a certain amount of acceptance in the community – sculpting and hairdressing - just as gay men have traditionally tended toward artistic careers, as a way of validating themselves. And the hairstyles that Edward creates are totally camp! Camp being another “mask” that gay men adopt in order to gain acceptance.

Alongside Johnny Depp’s delightfully moving performance, there’s great support from Diane Wiest and Winona Ryder as Peg and her daughter Kim, who take Edward in and support him. While everyone else harbours their doubts about Edward, they stand by him. (Incidentally, what's happened to these two great actresses? I loved Winona in "Heathers" - a long time ago I know - and Diane was great in movies like "Hannah and her Sisters" and "Bullets Over Broadway"). In adddition the other local women characters are hilarious, a gossipy, cliquey bunch who are intrigued by and then attracted to Edward and all vie for the chance to be privy to his hairstyling skills. The character of Joyce is the funniest and sluttiest of all. When the local town nut tells the other women that Edward is "A perversion of nature" Joyce replies: "Well...isn't that the most exciting thing you've ever heard?" And the scene where Edward cuts her hair is a classic. Her reactions as Edward sends her hair flying can only be described as...orgasmic...and after this rapturous experience she declares: "That was the single most thrilling experience of my entire life".

There's a bit of a tragic ending (I won't say exactly what happens) but overall I think this film has a powerful message - accept people regardless of cosmetic differences.

7. Rosemary’s Baby

A brilliant piece of suspense and drama, with a very similar feel to "The Stepford Wives" (probably because this one is also based on an Ira Levin story). A young couple, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, move into a New York apartment in a building rumoured to possess supernatural qualities. At first all seems normal but then strange things gradually start occurring. A young girl staying with Rosemary and Guy’s neighbours commits suicide by jumping out of a window. Strange, eerie chanting sounds are heard from Rosemary and Guy's neighbours' flat. And the neighbours themselves, Minnie and Roman, seem like a pair of old nutcases. To add to this, Guy seems very pre-occupied with his acting career and isn’t giving Rosemary much attention. But then they fix things up and decide to have a baby, the solution to every heterosexual couple’s problems…or is it?

If this sounds a tad tame, trust me, it’s not. I forgot to mention that Satanism plays quite a large part in this movie too. I will say no more. Suffice to say “Rosemary’s Baby” is an excellent psychological thriller and you’ll be rewarded for your patience in watching it.

Mia Farrow is gorgeous as Rosemary and looks fabulous in a variety of 60s outfits (although I confess I preferred her with bobbed hair rather than the severe Vidal Sassoon crop she sports later on). She’s also a charmingly innocent heroine, increasingly confused and isolated by the turn of events (and she’s far more likeable in this than the neurotic whinger she turned into in all those Woody Allen movies later on). Like Joanna in "Stepford Wives", Rosemary is the moral centre of the movie, but the film cleverly exploits her (and the audience’s) paranoia – are events really conspiring against her? Or are all of her anxieties inside her own head? We only really find out the truth at the climax.

John Cassevetes manages to be suave and twatt-ish at the same time as husband Guy and by the end of the film you can’t stand him – a testimony to his convincing performance – you really want Rosemary to escape his clutches!

And there’s a brilliantly whacky performance from Ruth Norman as Minnie – nutty as a fruitcake – whilst Sidney Blackmer as husband Roman has an unsettling quality about him.

The beauty of the film is the slow build up of tension. Apart from the girl who falls out of the window, there’s no blood or people getting stabbed or anything like that. This is an altogether more subtle and clever movie. And there’s one particular sequence which never fails to scare the sh*t out of me – Spoiler alert! - in which Rosemary has a bizarre and very surreal dream. Could it be something to do with the chocolate mousse Minnie gave her for supper? Anyway Rosemary passes out on her bed and suddenly finds herself on the deck of a ship, naked (a typical dream hallmark!) Suddenly a storm comes up and Rosemary descends below, but instead of the inside of a ship it looks more like some kind of crypt with a fire burning and a large bed in the room. There’s a group of people clustered round her, all of them naked, Guy, Minnie and Roman amongst them. Then someone paints Rosemary’s body with red, bizarre looking symbols and a devilish-looking creature gets on top of her and proceeds to rape her! When she wakes up it transpires that Guy “had his way” with her whilst she was unconscious – nice! What’s been going on…?

Watch and find out if you dare.

8. Muriel’s Wedding

"When I lived in Porpoise Spit, I used to sit in my room for hours and listen to ABBA songs. But since I've met you and moved to Sydney, I haven't listened to one Abba song. That's because my life is as good as an Abba song. It's as good as Dancing Queen" - Muriel speaking to her friend Rhonda, on her evolving existence.

This is a fabulous rites de passage film with a star turn from Toni Colette as Muriel, a lady who has gone on to do many other great things!

It's like a sour, ironic version of “Neighbours” with equal helpings of camp and kitschness. Muriel Heslop is an overweight, unemployed young woman living at home with her couch potato brothers and sisters, downtrodden Mum and tyrannical, overbearing, politically ambitious Dad. To make up for the lack of excitement in her life, Muriel fantasises about weddings. She believes that finding the man of her dreams, wearing a beautiful dress and walking down the aisle will make her into a better person and she’ll get the much-needed respect she lacks. (Well, it helped me a fair bit I guess although I did draw the line at wearing a dress – Elton John be damned). Muriel is also a major ABBA fan and it’s the references to the Swedish supergroup that give the movie its fun and camp appeal. Like a typical introverted no-hoper, Muriel sits in her bedroom, festooned with ABBA posters on the wall, listening to “Dancing Queen” on her cassette player, dreaming of something better. A scenario quite a few of us can probably relate to!

But like most ugly ducklings, Muriel blossoms as the movie progresses. She starts out as an awkward, asocial geek with little confidence but by the end has undergone something of a transformation and it’s this that’s so heartening to watch, seeing her grow as a person. At the beginning you can’t help feeling sorry for Muriel: she's jobless, has no self-confidence or boyfriend and then her so-called girl friends decide she’s not cool enough to hang out with them any more, and oust her from their circle. But then Muriel meets the independent Rhonda (played by Rachel Griffiths, lately of “Six Feet Under”) an old school chum who takes her under her wing and you want to cheer – Rhonda is feisty, independent and likes Muriel for who she is unlike Tanya and her other fake, bitchy mates. I adore Rhonda’s put down to Tanya:

"Stick your drink up your arse Tanya, I would rather swallow razor blades than drink with you. And by the way, I'm not alone. I'm with Muriel".

The sequence where Muriel and Rhonda perform their own version of ABBA's "Waterloo" in a talent contest is an absolute gem, with the girls doing all the right moves, and I adore the "side profile" shots, an ABBA trademark if ever there was one.

The use of ABBA songs in other parts of the movie is inspired and hilarious - the bit after the contest when Muriel and Rhonda lie down on the grass, looking up at the stars whilst singing "Fernando"; the moment during Muriel's "wedding" when her bridesmaids sashay down the aisle of the church to the strains of "I Do, I Do, I Do", to the consternation of the congregation.

The film also does a great job of satirising Australian society, particularly its tawdrier aspects. The very name of Muriel's home town, Porpoise Spit, conjures up images of your typical tacky resort town. The guys all have names like "Chook". The girls are vain, shallow and self-obsessed. And the typically Aussie Heslop family are all played to perfection. Muriel's Dad is particularly well-realised - a bully who constantly puts his family down and is also carrying on behind his wife's back with beauty consultant Deirdre Chambers - leading to the oft-quoted line - "Deirdre Chambers! What a coincidence!" What a RAT more like. And you really feel pity for Muriel's Mum, Betty, who is cruelly sidelined and for whom things ultimately don't work out well atall. Which kind of leads to my final point - although the film might seem very frothy and silly at the outset, it's actually got a lot of depth and heart, and ultimately there's a more serious intent. In another instance, party girl Rhonda falls prey to cancer and loses the use of her legs and you identify with her sense of abandonment, when Muriel clears off to marry a handsome South African swimmer, leaving Rhonda in the lurch. But friendship wins through in the end and that's what matters most...

9. Picnic At Hanging Rock

I remember reading a review of this movie years ago which described it as "An eerie piece of whimsy", and my Mum saying: "Sounds like you, Simon"!! I think she's right though - I haven't changed that much!!

I hesitated a little about including "Picnic" in my Top Ten. I rewatched it recently and it wasn't quite as brilliant as I remembered it. It's a bit of an acquired taste and would be probably be considered by some to be: a) slow-moving b) uneventful c) boring! Whilst I agree with a), I beg to differ on b) and c). Just as the critic described it all those years back, it is both eerie and whimsical, with other positive aspects too. The thing that viewers probably find most frustrating about "Picnic" is its lack of proper denouement - at the conclusion, there are so many questions left unanswered. But paradoxically that's one of the things I love about it - the air of unsolved mystery and the fact that not everything can be easily explained away, making the whole incidents of the movie even more unsettling. And yep, I think "Picnic" could actually be considered a horror movie for this reason (albeit without much gore and blood).
Actually I haven't even said what the movie's about have I?

"Picnic" is based on a real-life event (making it even more disturbing). On 14 February, 1900, a group of schoolgirls from Appleyard college picnicked at Hanging Rock near Mount Macedon, in the state of Victoria, Australia. During the afternoon, several of the party disappeared without trace and were never found again. The film mirrors these occurences, showing the build up to the picnic and then what happens afterwards.

From the opening scenes of the girls dressing for their day out in their college rooms, it's a beautifully shot movie, with excellent period recreation. Being 1900 and the Victorian age, this is a time of high moral standards and strictness regarding appearance and dress, and you can't help but laugh at/feel sorry for the girls of Appleyard College and the restricting attire that they have to wear - long dresses and hard shoes on a blazing hot Summers' Day! As they're about to set off on their trip, the headmistress, Mrs Appleyard, tells the girls that they can only remove their gloves once they have passed the local village!

I love the opening shots of the girls brushing their hair and doing up each others' corsets - blimey, those things must have been painful - beauty comes at a price. The scenes at Hanging Rock itself are also very strange and filmed in a gripping way. At first all seems normal, with the girls all sitting at the bottom of the rock, enjoying their picnic and a very gooey Valentine's cake. But then four of them, led by blonde beauty Miranda, decide to investigate the rock more closely (the headmistress had forbade them to do this). As they draw closer to it, we hear a strange, low rumbling sound and the girls (gasp!) take off their shoes and stockings and continue their ascent to the rock. One of the girls, the dumpy and whiny Edith, decides to remain behind, and shouts at the others to stay but they walk off, oblivious - it's like they've somehow been hypnotised and are drawn (against their will?) closer and closer to the rock. Weird!! And creepy viewing. Later, the party returns to the college, with the news that three of the girls and one of the teachers, Miss McCraw, have totally vanised and cannot be found!
As I said, the remainer of the film is focussed on the aftermath of the disappearance of the girls/teacher. And we see a horrible kind of "unravelling" occur - the events at the rock somehow curse the lives of those involved in the incident (I suppose like a slightly less catastrophic version of those "Final Destination" films, where death catches up with those people who were originally fated to die). One of the missing girls, Irma, is actually found later, but has no memory of what happened to her. When she returns to the college after a period of convalescence, the other girls attack her, demanding an explanation, somehow blaming her for what happened! Several parents withdraw their children from the college, tuition fees remain unpaid and the school soon falls into debt. The college servants gossip about what happened up on the rock. The staunch Mrs Appleyard begins to crack up and starts drinking! And then at the end, one of the schoolgirls, Sara, is found dead in a greenhouse. Was Mrs Appleyard responsible? Or did Sara kill herself? We never really know. Finally, we hear in a voiceover, that the dead body of Mrs Appleyard was found at the base of the Rock, having committed suicide. Yikes! Was it because of her guilt over the disappearance of the girls? Guilt because she murdered Sara? Or did things just get too much for her? Again, it's all left open-ended and mysterious.

There's beautiful imagery in the film - in addition to the scenes I've mentioned, I love the bits in which we see Michael (a young aristocratic boy) dreaming of the vanished Miranda (it's implied that he was in love with her), remembering how he saw her crossing a stream on her way to the rock, and then visualising her metamorphosising into a swan! (It's also thanks to Michael that Irma is found). There's other lovely bits like the moment when Miranda opens the gate to the grounds of Hanging Rock and a flock of birds suddenly fly up into the air in a burst of sound (suggesting that something has been/is about to be disturbed and emphasising a sense of foreboding).


I also love some of the characters, even if some of them are quite sketchily drawn and we could have got to know them better.

Miranda, as I said, is the beauty of the film, but it's also suggested that she somehow knows her fate when she says to Sara: "I won't be here much longer", again hinting that something sinister is about to happen. I also love the scene when she turns to wave to the French teacher, Mademoiselle De Poitiers, as she and the girls begin their walk to the rock (also seen in a moving slow-mo flashback at the end). And Mademoiselle says: "Now I know that Miranda is a Botticelli angel". Mmm, quite a flattering comparison!

Mrs Appleyard is a great character and scary with it (as some head teachers can be). I love her big, piled up hair, almost a pre-1960s beehive and her elaborate dresses. She represents the essence of prim and proper Victorian values, and yet we sense that there's more to her than meets the eye and even she can't keep it together toward the end of the movie. What's going on underneath the surface? I like the scene when she's having dinner with Mademoiselle De Poitiers, and getting drunk and talking about Worthing (seaside resort in South England!) and how it didn't change for 20 years - she obviously finds the reality of what has happened to hard to face. She's excellently played by Rachel Roberts.

One of the most intriguing characters of all - and again not taking up much screen time - is the Maths teacher Miss McCraw, who disappears early on - played by actress Vivien Gray, none other than the iconic character Mrs Mangel in "Neighbours"! She looks notably younger as Miss McCraw (this was a pre-"Neighbours" role) but her her character is a real oddball - rather like the nerdy, academic teachers we all had that were a bit "off the planet". Later on, we hear that the last that was ever seen of Miss McCraw was her clambering up the rock in her Victorian pantaloons! What was she doing? Trying to find the girls? Weird again.

An intriguing movie then, with a poetry of its own. Oh, and I almost forgot - like many of the other films I've talked about, it has a beautiful soundtrack - in particular the haunting pan pipe music theme tune.

10. Brief Encounter

Terribly (in a positive way), quintessentially English. No, "Brief Encounter" is not about a woman's experiences buying underwear in Marks & Sparks. It's a 1945 black and white British movie, and concerns a married woman, who, bored with her married life, has a "brief encounter" with a dashing Doctor (also married). Except this encounter actually goes on for several weeks. And it's a totally brilliant weepie! If you like old-fashioned B & W movies with a fine sprinkling of romance, and a major dose of old-fashioned English morality, look no further than this. Oh and if you're into steam trains and railway stations, chances are this film will appeal as they feature rather a lot in "Brief Encounter". More on those aspects in a bit...

For me, one of the major strengths of Brief Encounter lies in the characters and performances, in particular that of housewife Laura Jesson played by classic English actress Celia Johnson, who is brilliant in the role and provides the central narrative of the film in the form of a first person voiceover that tells us (but not the other characters) what Laura is really thinking and feeling. This device works very well as a kind of confessional tool.

Celia J is a striking-looking actress with her big eyes and immensely expressive, emotional face. She also has a superb cut glass accent that makes her so right for the part of the well-to-do Laura and some of her dialogue is a total hoot - "I felt gay and happy...", "We were very gay during lunch..." (Let's just say that the definition of "gay" was rather different back then). And yet Laura isn't a stuck up snob, she's a normal English lady that you can't help but sympathisise with. Her husband, Fred, whilst kind and generally nice, is rather dull and unemotional and his biggest thrill in life is doing the daily crossword. Laura and her hubbie even sleep in separate beds - obviously not a very physical marriage then! So you can kind of understand her frustration. Celia J is excellent at conveying the conflict someone in her situation would feel - torn between her duty as housewife and her growing passion for Dr Alec. I have to say I didn't find Alec all that attractive myself, but then, this was 1945.

Talking of the period, this is what makes the movie so interesting. Morals and standards of behaviour in the 1940s were obviously very different to now, and two married people having an affair was strictly forbidden. It's this that creates the sense of pressure and the fact that the love affair can't last. "Brief Encounter" was actually remade in 1975 with Richard Burton and Sophia Loren playing the roles of Alec and Laura (and pretty pants it was too - avoid) and in that updated version they - gasp! - actually have sex - showing the shift in morals over time. But this really takes away the point of the whole story. The power of the original film derives from the fact that Laura and Alec both want to "do the deed", such is the extent of their love for one another, but social mores and pressures stop them - they want to succumb to their feelings but can't! With this aspect taken away, the story surely loses all its sense of drama and conflict. The original is a masterpiece of restraint and yet you can positively feel all the frustrated passion seething away beneath the surface.

And as I said earlier, the film makes extensive use of railway stations and trains. It's where Alec and Laura meet for the first time and then part. The circumstances of Laura's first encounter with Alec sound rather humorous but could probably happen to any of us: Laura gets a piece of grit caught in her eye from a passing train and Alec has to remove it for her - leading to their first proper conversation - and the rest is history. The steam trains and location look so quaint now, making this a wonderful period piece. The cinematography is gorgeous too - there's something about B & W movies that is just so romantic and "Brief Encounter" is no exception. One of my favourite scenes is one near the end, when Laura has said goodbye to Alec for the final time and is in the depths of despair. As she sits in the station refreshment room, the camera tilts at a crazy angle (signifying her state of mind?) and she rushes out onto the platform. As the whistle of an approaching train gets louder and louder Laura steps forward - seemingly to throw herself in front of the train. At the last moment she stops herself and the train rushes past, its lights illuminating her crazy, wide-eyed face, the wind blowing her hair askew. The whole scene is totally dramatic and brilliantly shot and lit - I love it.

There's also a funny subplot involving a flirtatious relationship between the hoity-toity station refreshment manager, Myrtle Baggott, and ticket inspector Albert Godby (great names!) which is a kind of humorous version of Laura and Alec's relationship and helps to lighten the tone of the film slightly. Mrs Baggott is a truly brilliant character with her airs and graces and bitchy retorts, and the dialogues between her and Albert are a delight.

Finally there is a fabulous soundtrack in the form of a gorgeous classical score by Rachmaninoff - Piano Concerto Number 2 - which works so well in the context of the film - it's sad, romantic, melancholic - fitting the mood perfectly. This works particularly well in one scene where Laura and Alec talk in the station refreshment room, with the music providing a kind of commentary on their underlying feelings for one another.

A mini masterpiece! (Victoria Wood actually did a very funny and well observed skit on "Brief Encounter" a few years back. Rather than a piece of grit, Ms Wood gets a mince pie stuck in her eye and her friend Dolly gets her skirt ripped off by a passing train leading to her declaration "I can't believe I'm showing my gusset in a refreshment room!" And the ending is deliciously unexpected, with Ms Wood and Dolly eying each other up across a table: "But what I really can't explain, dear, dear Fred, is how I came to run away with Dolly...")

And that's that! Erm, did you notice how my mini-review of each movie got longer and longer?! Ahem! Not so "mini" eh. But that's what I'm like, when I'm writing about something I enjoy I have a tendency to get carried away, as we all can...thanks for bearing with me, folks! Hope you liked my musings! And, finally, what of those films that didn't quite make the Top Ten? Here then is my "Bubbling Under" list:

Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford film noir classic, brilliantly shot with an Oscar winning turn from Joanie and a bitch of a daughter called Vida)

Whatever Happened To Baby Jane (Joan Crawford and Bette Davis grand as two rival actress sisters in a battle of wits and brutality)

Dressed To Kill (Brian De Palma classic with a killer transvestite on the loose and slutty Angie Dickinson taking her knickers off in a taxi)

Carrie (Introverted teenager with telekenetic powers gets a cruel prank played on her by classmates and goes crazy)

The Purple Rose of Cairo (Mia Farrow as a downtrodden waitress in the 1930s who gets romanced by a character who steps out of a movie - honest!)

Hairspray (Fun and frothy John Waters movie set in 1960s Baltimore, starring the late, great drag queen Divine and a plumper-than-now Ricki Lake as her daughter, Tracey Turnblad!)

Cry Baby (Another John Waters classic starring the gorgeous Johnny Depp as a 1950s biker from the wrong side of the tracks, wooing a good girl)

Eyes Wide Shut (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman pyschological mystery, in which Tom goes on a dark night of the soul after Nicole confesses her fantasies about shagging a sailor)

Fininto!

NOW. Having ranted on about my fave raves, I am tagging the following peeps:

Boz
Caress Morell
Flaming Nora
Lubin
Matty
Minge
Samarcand
Steve
Thomas
Timewarden

Yep, you guessed it, I'd like all you to do a post on your Favourite Ever Films, on your own blogs/journals. Of course it doesn't need to be erm, of such epic proportions as my post! A list of your fave films with some brief lines on each will more than suffice. I look forward with much anticipation and excitement to hearing about your fave movies!! Cheers guys and gals!!

Friday, April 27, 2007

First, we take Manhattan

Even whilst I was away living it up in Wales, I still managed to persuade my friend to let me watch Dr Who on her TV, last Saturday night. Well I couldn't miss it could I? I mean I did get Gustavo to tape it for me too, so I could watch it when I got home, but that's beside the point. I couldn't possibly wait that long to see it. So good old Mary sat and watched it with me. She's practically a virgin (to Dr Who, that is).

"Daleks in Manhattan" is the first episode in a two parter set in 1930s New York, in which a certain old enemy of the Dr's turns up again with a new and audacious plan to make them victorious. I'm sure you can't possibly guess who the old foe were. (And as the evil Black Dalek leader is known as Sec, I still maintain that "Sec's In The City" would have been a far better story title - lots of other people seem to have picked up on that one too). Anyway...I have to say I felt slightly disappointed with it and I'd rate is as the weakest story of the season so far. It had lots of good bits, mind, but for me somehow it seemed to be less than the sum of its parts.

Okay then, let me get most of my major criticisms out of the way first. You knew they were coming anyhow, didn't you? But what else do you expect from a sad, gay, Whovian who seeks nothing less than perfection from his favourite ever prog?

The CGI New York shots were okay but the story had a bit of an "on the cheap" feel I thought - send the production team to NYC to get some shots and then splice them onto scenes shot in the UK - seemed a bit obvious to me - even if they were quite well done. I couldn't help thinking that that if the production crew could go all that way to film why couldn't they send David Tennant and Freema Agyeman? After all they did it for Tom Baker and Lalla Ward in Paris for "City of Death" and surely the production team have more money to spare these days. (Having said that, since I started writing this my friend Stephen has informed me that apparently it's really difficult to get permission to film in New York, and it would take a lot of work to make 2007 NY look like 1930 NY - probably involving CGI and so forth....so that kind of explains it, I guess).

And the locations - dingy old park, dingy old sewers, dingy old theatre - weren't exactly glamorous or typical of NYC and had a rather tawdry feel I thought. (Once again Stephen has reminded me that this was supposed to be Depression-era NYC so the dinginess kind of fits in - I have to concede his point again, but it just didn't feel that New York-ey enough to me! Christ, I'm an awkward bugger, ain't I??)

I also felt seriously let down by the Pig Men - the human/animal hybrids created by the Daleks as their slaves. They just seemed daft and not very menacing atall. The pre-credits opener was an example of this with one lone Pig fellow shooting past the camera and then attacking young Lazlo and running up to the camera for a close-up, in a rather silly fashion. Were we really meant to think that these creatures possessed superhuman strength? I found it hard to stomach. And after the silly pig hybrid witnessed in "Aliens of London" you would have thought the effects team could have come up with something more convincing and original. Of course it would have been nice if they'd brought back the Ogrons instead, mind you it would have been hard to explain where they'd come from...

And then there was the Dalek Sec-Human hybrid creature, unveiled at the end of the episode. I'd no major complains about the creature per se, I thought it looked good on the whole and suitably disgusting. No, my main objection was WHY OH WHY did the Radio Times chose to blow the gaff by having the Dalek-Human hybrid on the front cover?? It ruined the whole ending and made it so obvious what was going to happen! Okay, major moans over now!

What was good about the story then?

Well, I am glad to see the Daleks back and they're still looking good (the 2000s design is a winner) although - oh no! another criticism sneaks in! - like Jordan's breasts, the evil pepperpots have definitely been over-exposed (okay, that's a slightly suspect analogy, but you get my meaning, I'm sure...) After this story the Daleks definitely need to be laid to rest and another old enemy surely deserves to be resurrected (and not in the same way as the superficial return of the Macra in Gridlock). However I liked the sense of desperation that's been conveyed with the Daleks' return this time round - with only four of them left, they're all too aware that they face extinction and are looking for ways to rejuvenate themselves - fair enough. Hence their decision to merge with....gasp!...mankind! Some critics have already knocked this idea, saying that it's illogical for the Daleks to taint their own genes by merging with human beings and they would never contemplate such a thing. However what was good was that this was actually addressed by the Daleks themselves. When his fellow Daleks questioned his motives, Sec replied that the Daleks now had to "imagine new ways of survival...our purity has brought us to extinction...we must adapt to survive!" Nuff said.

I liked the scenes with the Daleks gliding around the sewers and also the bit when Mr Diagoras and one of the Daleks look out from the Empire State Building across the whole of New York. There was some good Dalek dialogue too: "You shelter from the dark and yet you have made all this...the human race always continues." I also liked the gold Dalek's comment that Mr Diagoras thought like one of them - making him THE number one candidate for conversion! (Mr D, YOU have the Dalek-X Factor).

The earlier scene with the Dalek coming out of the lift was quite well done too, although considering this was their first appearance not quite as shocking as it could have been - mind you it was never going to be a surprise given the story's title. And for some reason I kept thinking of Grace Brothers when we heard the ping of the lift and the doors opened (cue Dalek lift attendant: "Second floor! Dalek weaponry! Suckers! Hardware! Software! Oh - Good morning, Mr Diagoras! Going....down?" (ahem).

What I couldn't help wondering though (yes, another quibble) was exactly how and why the Cult of Skaro had ended up in 1930s New York? In their previous story, "Doomsday", the last we'd seen of Dalek Sec was him dematerialising in mid-air, to stop himself from being sucked into the breach between universes that the Dr had re-opened. At the time it wasn't clear what had happened to the rest of the cult - I'd assumed at the time that they'd been pulled into the breach too! How then had they managed to transport themselves back in time like that? Again the anorak in me is coming out, but it's things like this that need explaining. I hope we get a proper explanation in the next episode.

What else? The plot was decent enough, although I did find it slow-moving at times. Mind you this is a two parter which gives room for exposition, setting things up etc, unlike the one episode stories where everything has to be dealt with in fairly speedy fashion. My friend Mary observed that the Dr seemed kind of passive in this story, and that she was expecting more of an "action hero". True, the Doc did seem to be more of an observer of proceedings this time round; again as this was the establishing episode I guess it might take him a bit of time to spring into action. I hope he gets a good face-off with the Daleks in the next installment! David Tennant wasn't without his moments though, intrigued by the alien brain in the sewer (it actually reminded me of a mini Rutan from "Horror of Fang Rock") and on seeing his old adversaries again muttering: "They survive....they always survive, while I lose everything". When your whole planet's been wiped out and those who are responsible are still around, you can kind of understand the Dr's frustration.

The sense of social inequality - contrasting the scenes in Hooverville with the down and out New Yorkers and the high rise of the Empire State Building - was quite well conveyed. I did find some of the American characters slightly cliched though, New Yoooick accents notwithstanding, like something out of "Guys and Dolls". Although a little two-dimensional, Miranda Raison was fun and sympathetic as Tallulah and a nice heroine, and I hope she gets reunited with her beloved Lazlo, rather than exterminated in the next episode! I'm not quite sure how a relationship with a half man/half pig can be negotiated though... I also loved Tallulah's comment to Martha regarding the Dr: "He's into musical theatre! What a waste" which would probably have gone right over the heads of younger viewers, but more experienced ones would have known precisely what she was talking about.

Talking of Martha, she was on form again in this episode, excited at the prospect of being in the real New York (not New New York), supporting Tallulah in her grief and standing up to the Daleks, no less! This girl knows no fear! Her comment: "You can't just experiment on people, it's insane, it's inhuman!" was gusty, if rather screechily delivered!

All in all a watchable enough first part, which felt a bit lightweight in places and, as I said, didn't quite come together for me. So let's see what "Evolution of the Daleks" brings!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Oooh Miss Babs!

What on earth was Victoria Wood thinking, agreeing to star in all those ASDA adverts that they're showing at the moment?? Naff or what? Victoria love, I thought you had class!

Call me a snob, but I've always preferred Sainsbury's to cheap and nasty ASDA. Even Tescos is more stylish. I guess they must have slipped Ms Wood more than a few pocket-tapping coins to persuade her to star in the ads. But they make my flesh crawl.

Bring back "As Seen On TV"!! (Well in fact, it's just come out on DVD...ahhh, those were the days. Viva "Acorn Antiques"!!)
Honestly though. Bloomin' ASDA! It's enough to make even Mrs Overall choke on her macaroons.

Duel of the drama queens

Just watched an absolutely hilarious instalment of How Not To Decorate, the interior design show with Scottish homo couple Justin Ryan and Colin McAllister. I've been aware of these designer, image-obsessed bufties for ages, but never really watched them on TV before. To tell the truth I'd always found them both a bit off-putting - just TOO perfect and groomed, like a pair of queenie Crystal Kens strutting (or should that be sashaying?) down Old Compton Street, showing off their designer togs in best "look at me" fashion. I bet they even dress up to the nines just to watch TV at home - one could hardly imagine them sitting on the sofa in trackie bottoms and baseball caps, perish the thought. Having got that one off my chest, I can't help admiring the fact that they've been an item for 21 years and it's also good to see a successful gay couple getting considerable media exposure, a bit like Mr Barrowman and his fella.

Anyway, whatever my reservations about the buftie twosome, their show tonight was entertaining to the max, mainly owing to the fact that Just and Cols were given the task of redecorating the home of ….Christine and Neil Hamilton. Wahey!! Yes, I'm talking about Neil the weirdo Tory politician, with a propensity for wearing silly bow ties and Christine, his no-nonsense, battleaxe of a wife, who has scary hair and even scarier dress sense - pin-striped red and white blazers anyone? (And if you want to know about the most notorious story involving the Hamiltons, try here). Suffice to say, "dear" old Neil and Christine have always been a pretty whacky and eccentric pair. For me the Hamiltons have always summed up everything that is naff and provincial about English culture whilst simultaneously (and I'm not quite sure how) possessing a weird individualism all of their very own. But you can imagine the resultant fireworks when they crossed paths with Justin and Colin. It was a total hoot.

Being trendy, with-it young gays, Colin and Justin had somewhat more...radical...concepts to Christine and Neil when it came to interior design. Christine was opposed to the boys' plans from the word go, proclaiming that she hated "avocado baths" and vetoing many of their ideas. Admittedly some of the boys' suggestions were a bit outlandish - lurid pink armchairs in the lounge and a pink carpet with a black border (which ended up getting reversed so the carpet was mainly black - it didn't look great, put it that way). But I did think they did a good job with the kitchen and bathroom.

Funniest of all were the heated exchanges between Colin, Justin and Christine (Neil stayed mainly out of it - like Dennis Thatcher it seems that he's dominated by the Iron Lady in this relationship, and prefers to take a back seat). Christine certainly gave the gay boys a run for their money in the hissy fit stakes. As she got more and more agitated about her ideas being disregarded and the work not getting completed on time, the drama quotient was rapidly upped. It was handbags at dawn with many a cutting, bitchy comment thrown back and forth.

Justin's response to Christine's dismay at his interior design suggestions was to tell her: “Darling, you’re hardly the bastion of style yourself” and “You really are an old bitch, Christine”. To which Christine continually told him to "Shut up" and "No!!" and "Don't baby me! Stop touching me like that!"

Later Mrs H proclaimed: "The boys are bossy, domineering, and opinionated." Erm pot = kettle, love? Pot = kettle? Neil surely hit the nail on the head when he stated: "Christine just doesn’t like competition from other domineering people”. Precisement, monsieur.

When things finally looked like they were getting under control, Colin told Christine: “Your hair is very Mrs Thatcher isn’t it?” To which Christine responded in best posh fashion: “Oh fuck off!”

But the boys did try to be nice to her on occasion as well, referring to her as "Poppet". Christine commented: “Poppet? That’s nice! It was “angel cake” a while ago.”

Colin replied: “Yeah but then you went stale”. (!!)

And then when the final version of the flat was unveiled, Mrs H actually seemed... touched! As Justin said: “You are actually crying Christine - darling, you are actually human!”

Perhaps. Christine H is certainly a splendid character and a drama queen of the first order. She has a certain campness about her that can't be denied and with comments like: "Why are all the handsome men gay?” one can't help but find her amusing. And I can just see her in some horribly inappopriate get-up, attempting to look sexy but not really pulling it off - like a crimplene basque, fish-nets and feather boa - performing in a gay club whilst singing Shirley Bassey numbers. In her naff, provincial yet paradoxically unique way, I think old Christine would go down a storm. With Neil as her gimp of course.