Wednesday, 28 January 2015

As Close As A Blade

It can be truly said that barely more than a generation ago you could tell a lot about a British family by how many buttons they had on their TV set and what they did with them.

This was, of course, back in the days when in order to watch a TV programme one had to switch on the set approximately 3 days in advance so it could warm up and that in order to do you had to get up from your sofa, walk across the room and press a switch (oh, the humanity!), bang the set a little  and then wait.

By the time you had sat down again there would be the beginnings of sound and then, shortly thereafter, there would be a steady black-and-white picture. 

Of course, in these days, there were only 4 buttons on the telly – the on/off button and 3 channel buttons: none of which were ever touched because, of course, there was only one channel that any right minded British person would watch.

For most people owning those early boxes things started going wrong when those additional buttons started being the home to programmes. Obviously there was the BBC – that bastion of England, where radio presenters wore dinner jackets and everyone spoke in a clipped Etonian accent: unless they were interrupted by Winston Churchill saying something extremely patriotic. Then later there was BBC 2 and already there were mumblings that perhaps this was a channel too many.

When ITV came along with its adverts pumping their way into your home, bringing soap operas and light entertainment in their wake there was a lot of frowning and disapproving puffing on pipes being done across the land. My own father can clearly remember watching ITV with his father’s disapproving glare on his back: the second he glanced anywhere else my grandfather would reach over and switch back to the only proper channel. In these days of course there was no morning telly, broadcasting would stop around bedtime for children and programs would stop entirely at midnight.

When Channel 4 and later Channel 5 came along forcing us to buy sets with extra buttons there was practically a civil war.

It was whilst I was having a shave the other night that I found myself thinking along these lines and remembering the old adverts for Remington that were fronted by entrepreneur Victor Kiam with his 2 famous catchphrases “so good I bought a company” and “shaves as close as a blade or your money back”

Now I have to admit that I am something of an infrequent shaver - whereas growing up I was constantly told stories of ancestors who had survived Ypes and never missed a day’s shave I am often known for going several days without trimming the old face fuzz and generally only shave when it becomes properly itchy. Additionally if I am poorly (i.e. cold) I may leave this longer so as to truly feel well once the symptoms have started to pass.

This is because I truly feel there is something nice about a really good shave that one has waited for – if you shave every day you can begin to take this for granted, whereas if you wait a few days until the stubble is annoying you and then have a really good, close pruning session your face feels much more refreshed for it. Additionally about 12 years or so ago I went over to shaving with a blaze and, aside from the inevitable cuts, I have never looked back.

But even I, on those days when I finally do get round to momentarily not looking like a vagabond or extremely cheap rate Pirates of the Caribbean reject, cannot quite understand what it must have been like for Victor when presented with this amazing piece of technology he didn’t merely think “gosh this is quite good, I must thank my wife for her thoughtful gift” – which most sane people would have done – but instead decided to go out and buy an entire company.

It makes me wonder what kind of life he had lead up until that point that he could be so amazed by a simple razor (always assuming she didn’t buy him the Remington Fuzz Away for nasal hair removal) – and I can’t help but wonder what his wife’s reaction was.

“Honey: I like that so much I’m going to go out and buy the company!”

“Dammit: I knew I should have bought him slippers!”

Maybe we all need to pay more attention when using everyday items, perhaps one of you out there reading this could, upon opening your next tube of toothpaste, realise that this is the minty freshness that everyone needs and become the next Victor Kiam?

Oh and by the way...I still rarely watch ITV...

We still have some standards here you know!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Film Review Time

Hello again and it’s time for my infrequent film review sections. As some of you may already know we have an arthouse cinema about 1 mile away from where we live which shows what I like to think of as Foreign ROad Movies About the Grimness of Existence (FROMAGE) and other such films that you don’t always get at the multiplex.

However increasingly it also now shows some of the mainstream films a few weeks after the other cinemas have shown them in an attempt to cover the losses of the less popular films which get a small but loyal audience: however this time around all of the films I'm going to talk about are mainstream – so there will be no mention of Brechtian overtones today.

First up I should say that during November I had a one-month trial of Netflicks which I subsequently decided to cancel – largely because in that one month I had watched pretty much everything on the lists that I wanted to. However: I did catch up on all the Marvel superhero films I had missed (Iron Man 2 and 3, Thor, Captain America etc) which were of mixed value. I also watched both seasons of Orange Is The New Black (definitely worth a watch) – and then found a new film in my “recommended to you” pile which, during a dull moment, I decided I would give a chance. That film was…

 #1: I Am Number 4

Now I have to admit I had never heard of this, but as I say: I was quite bored and there was nothing else to do – so I decided to watch it. The plot is essentially about a group of 7 children from another planet who are refugees on Earth. Each has a superhero power and a Buffy That Vampire Slayer style Watcher to look after them and keep them safe against the killer from their home planet that has come to wipe them out: a story that can only have been created with the mindset of “how much money can I make from the teen reader market that made the Twilight series so successful”

But this is where the plot gets really stupid – because the killers have to take them out in numerical order. I.e. if they bumped into number 7 now they couldn’t kill them because they haven’t killed number 3 yet. This is never explained to any great satisfaction and is utterly ludicrous.

The film trails along for nearly 2 hours with lots of explosions, some not so impressive fight set pieces and an unrealistic love interest from the previously mentioned number 7 – before I finally realised in the end credits that this was a film produced by Michael Bay – which only goes to show you should read the instructions before attempting anything, because I could have saved myself 2 hours of my life if I’d known that at the start.

My review: give it a miss. There’s nothing much to redeem this story and I can only hope that the sequel book never gets turned into a film. Not as big a waste of time as Iron Man 2 which was essentially 2 very long hours of Robert Downey Jr getting drunk – but close.

#2: Edge Of Tomorrow (or is it seems to have been retitled on DVD – Live, Die, Repeat – Edge of Tomorrow)

Now I have to admit I’m not a big fan of Tom Cruise. In fact I would go so far as to say I find him slightly annoying. Even as far back as Top Gun I thought his character Maverick was a little too full of himself and that Cruise came over as being too aware of his own good looks and overconfident. As such I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch one of his films.

However: it seems that I’m not alone – because in the last couple of films I have seen him in Tom Cruise has pretty much played to this facet of his character. In Jerry Maguire he plays an overconfident, slightly annoying PR expert who learns by the end of the film to be a better person and to accept love into his life, in War Of The Worlds he plays and overconfident, slightly irritating everyman who by the end of the film learns to be a better person and a better father and in this he plays another slightly annoying, self-involved PR expert who, through his own cowardice and self-preservation finds himself on the front line of an unwinnable war against a strange alien species that looks like those rubber spiders you used to throw at the wall as a kid and watch climb down the surface.

The plot of this film is a kind of mix of Groundhog Day and Starship Troopers – because every time the main character dies he pops back to life again at the start of the same day, slowly learning to be a better person and a better fighter until such time as he is capable of surviving further and further into the day.

Edge Of Tomorrow is one of those sci-fi films where plot and the pace carries you along at sufficient speed that you don’t have time to question all the bits that don’t really make much sense and it looks good enough to make you believe in the world you find yourself. There’s not much here are any intellectual level: no attempt to really find out what the aliens want or why they are attacking, or even to show them as anything other than just brutal killing machines – but that’s not really the purpose of the film.

My only real problem with the film was the ending, which without wanting to give anything away I felt was a bit of a copout.

Ultimately I enjoyed this film enough whilst I was watching it – but had no real desire to ever watch it again: so I would recommend that you wait for it to be on telly or to borrow it from a friend (as I did)

#3 Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (DOT-POTA)

I have to admit that I am something of a POTA fan and have now seen all of the films apart from the 1st of the rebooted franchise Rise…

There surely can’t be that many people in the world who aren’t aware of the original Charlton Heston movie where an astronaut arrives on a strange planet to find that the balance between man and ape has been reversed – followed by the inevitable sequels Underneath The…, Escape From…, Conquest Of… And Battle For… All of which was then followed by an ill recieved Tim Burton reboot and a further reboot, which takes us to where we are now.

There have been those who pointed out the really Dawn should’ve come before Rise – because unless they were on a night shift most people, and presumably apes, don’t rise until after the dawn – but this is a niggly point which we will swiftly gloss over (until such time as the 3rd film turns out to be called Weetabix Of The Planet Of The Apes – which is surely the next in the logical sequence of crawling out of bed)

As I said earlier I haven’t seen ROT-POTA, but this film makes enough sense on its own to be viewed alone and actually is extremely relevant to the times we are living in, because if you take away the talking apes what you are left with is a story about racial intolerance and misunderstanding and the consequences of hatred. Both sides have their reasons for disliking and mistrusting the others and ultimately it is a lack of ability to communicate and get past these issues that leads to the problems.

The CGI apes are fantastic, brought to life as usual by Andy Serkis – a man who has so far been foolishly overlooked for a best actor award – who gives Caesar a real sense of personality. It’s a fast-moving film that keep you watching all the way – but it’s only problem is that the ending suffers from this being a middle section of the longer story – i.e. it leave you hanging for the next instalment.

Ultimately I found this an engaging film with enough going on to leave you asking questions and interested enough to want to see the next one.

#4: The Lego Movie

This has been one of the big surprise successes of 2014 – a film about consumerism gone mad, creativity and oddly about individuality in a world demanding uniformity, but with jokes and, of course, Batman.

The story follows an everyday worker who comes to believe that he is the chosen one of a prophecy to save Legoland and his wacky adventures. It’s also a film about how we deal with change: so for a children’s film starring a bunch of CGI animated bricks there’s a lot more going on here than jokes. 

Perhaps it was the fact that I saw it on quite a small TV screen – but although I found this passed the time I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought was going to. I kind of feel that I need to give it another chance on a larger screen and perhaps I might enjoy it more then – but I also saw some episodes of the Lego Yoda Chronicles shortly after and laughed twice as hard at the jokes in that as I did those in the movie.

I’d be interested to know if anyone reading this has seen this film and enjoyed it more than I did as I know a lot of people thought it was amazing – because at the moment I'm a little bit ambivalent.

#5: Paddington

Anyone who has grown up in England, certainly during the 1970s, will be aware of Michael Bond’s stories about a refugee bear who comes to London and moves in with an everyday family – certainly I grew up with the BBC’s animated series voiced by Michael Horden (which had the supporting characters of the Brown family shown as two-dimensional cardboard cutouts and Paddington himself as the only 3-D colour character and was utterly charming as a result)

Paddington is a rare talking bear who wears a duffel coat, red hat and has a fascination with marmalade sandwiches – he is well-meaning but slightly innocent and often gets into trouble by trying to be helpful.

I think there were a lot of people who, when hearing that there was going to be a film, panicked that the charm of the 70s TV series would be lost and it would be ruined forever. Certainly when stories started coming through that the original voice of Paddington (Colin Firth) had been replaced halfway through filming there was a certain trepidation that it was going to be awful.

However – as it turned out we couldn’t have been more wrong. From the opening sequence to the end credits this film doesn’t put a single step wrong and it would take a person much more cynical than myself to watch this film without smiling from start to end and laughing out loud on several occasions. I have never applauded a film as I find it a bit weird to applaud people who aren’t there – but when at the end of the movie the audience began to clap I nearly found myself joining in.

This is a cast that includes Hugh Bonneville as the safety conscious Mr Brown, Julie Walters as the dotty aunt/gran figure, the fabulous Ben Wishaw as the voice of Paddington and Nicole Kidman having a whale of a time as the evil taxidermist. Even the addition of the calypso band D Lime who appear as a small running joke on the streets at various times adds to the charm of this film.

The CGI of Paddington is such that you completely accept him as a real character and you genuinely find yourself on the edge of your seat at times of peril and at 90 minutes the film feels exactly the right length. Although this is essentially a children's film it's intelligent and funny enough to please any adult and to bring out the inner child.

I know this film may be hard to find outside the UK – but if you get the chance to go see this please do, because this is quite simply the best film I’ve seen in a long, long time.