Reviews of movies, music, books and more by David Goody.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Gig: Duke Special

There is a lot of presentation going on in this solo show by Irish balladeer Duke Special at Birmingham's Glee Club. As the lights going down a jumpy and scratchy piece of 1930's film plays (coming from a state of the art video projector). Mr Special (lets face it calling him Duke sounds just as pompus) walks out in a battered bohemian style suit nervously eyeing the audience through a ton of mascara. He winds up an old record player and drops the needle on a crackly backing track (played from a  dat?) and wanders over to his battered piano (actually a keyboard in a wooden frame).

All of this should lead to derision, except that when he starts singing songs of love and loss you forget the pretence and start to believe. His voice grabs your heart and squeezes it with lyrics that splash a little poetry and a mass of drama together. Tracks like Freewheel and Salvation Tambourine from his breakthrough album Songs From The Deep Forest shine brightest however his new material appears strong as well. Mid-set he hands out lyric sheets and gets the audience to sing along to some old music hall songs and it's clear everyone is in the palm of his hand.

Because in the end it's not what's real, it's about what you believe - and Duke Special can make believers out of most.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Book: Predators Gold by Philip Reeve

Set in decades into a post apocolyptic world where the surviving cities have been turned into mini Death Stars that stalk the scorched surface of the earth, Predators Gold is the second in Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines series. A ripping action yarn it follows young outcasts Hester Shaw and Tom Natsworthy as they flee from London and end up heading into the icy wastes of America.

Reeve's talent for a page turning narrative is spiced up by beautifully observations of how our contempary life is remember in folklore many years from now with our history having been destroyed in a nuclear flash. Aimed at kids but enjoyable for all.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Book: Saturday by Ian McEwan

Any book that deals with mortality, poetry, the blues, parenthood and the war on terror should know that if it's doing it's job properly it doesn't need to jump around for the readers attention. For the most part this tale of day in the life aging neurologist Henry Perowne does this, treating the big subjects with a subtle touch and a narrative of ambling pace that allows you to smell the flowers and inhabit Perowne's body.

The march against the Iraq war is seen from the perspective of someone trying to drive across London to play squash and the musing on family life are pulled into the context of an impending evening get together. However it seems like McEwan paniced at some point as he feels the need to through in a needless set-piece of gangland violence to spice things up. It jolts the reader out of medidation and back into the world of convention narrative, unfortunately ruining an otherwise strong novel.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Film: Sex And The City

Being a man who can only use the words Manolo Blahnik in this sentence after looking up the spelling on the internet and whose general view of romantic comedies is that it's amazing how they have managed to invent a form of comedy with no laughs it's fair to say that I'm not the target market for this film. In fact I'm merely a part of what the marketing folks would think of as the secondary market of blokes who will be dragged unwillingly into the cinema hoping the film will be over soon. A case of close your eyes and think of Jean Claude Van Damme.

The film picks up 3 years after the TV series ended with the girls (surely women by now?) having spent the whole time in stable relationships. You would have thought after having six series of man-trouble cropping up on a weekly basis they would regard this period of calm as a freakishly unnatural phenomenon like bees disappearing or the New York streets being free of dirt and rubbish. However like Michael Myers appearing at Halloween, you know it won't be long before disaster strikes and they will have nothing to protect themselves except sassy girl chat, kooky outfits and designer names.

When it started Sex And The City was viewed as shocking TV that broke taboos like they were a credit limits in a Gucci store, however time and the transition to the big screen means that there is unlikely to be a raised eyebrow let alone a shocked gasp. Thankfully the show really sustained itself more through through it's script and wit rather than it's potty mouth and there is still enough zing to the chat to sustain itself.

The characters may be drawn broadly, so much so that magazine editors to can whip up a "which SATC girl are you" feature in their sleep, but they remain engaging. Sex And The City has always been about the life behind a newspaper column, so the whole thing is a fantasy world anyway and to expect Mike Leigh style rigor in the characterization is like expecting Steven Seagal to fight like a normal human (or even deliver dialogue like a normal human for that matter).

The film's main surprise is it's confident visual style. Every shot is soaked in style and glamour but they are also well crafted and it's nice to have a film where the money shots don't require CGI - just a bunch of designer names. This does mean that the film has more product placement that the average ad break. In fact it's amazing the film doesn't just get itself sponsored by Vogue and be done with it. The montages are clearly fashion porn rather than plot development, but they are as integral to the film as big ass fighter planes are to Top Gun.

The success of Sex And The City may be due to the fact that other romantic comedies have set the bar so low it's difficult to know whether we are playing high jump or limbo dancing. In this climate the film should be welcomed with open arms, even it stretches itself less than Jabba The Hutt's wetsuit being worn by Kate Moss. Some judicious editing might have improved the film, but the 2.5 hour length doesn't feel like a drag, and the sensible focus on Carrie, to the exclusion of the other girls, means that it feels like one film rather than four.

Finally, for worried males out there, just remember it's not the end of the world and the works of Jean Claude and Mr Seagal are still available from all good DVD retailers.

Monday, June 09, 2008

DVD: Sweeney Todd

If you closed your eyes for 90 minutes and tried to visualise what a Tim Burton film incarnation of the tale of the demon barber of Fleet Street would be like, you probably wouldn't need to spend your hard earned cash going to see it. You put Johnny Depp with a Pepe Le Pew style haircut in the lead and Helena Bonham Carter with her "had it this way so long it's no longer scary"backwards through a hedge hair alongside him. The city of London would be a victorian Gotham City and the blood would fly akin to Sleepy Hollow.

All of this makes Sweeney Tood sound like the work of a tired director who has run out of ideas. But Burton's visual style is so strong the familiar nature of the film feels like having you favourite dish at a local restaurant - you know what you want and you know it won't be bad.

The tale is fairly simple, agreived barber returns to London after being robbed of his wife and afflicted with Bowie from the 70's accent. Menacing stares, slashed throats and tasty "meat" pies ensue. Sondheim's music contributes strong but verbose songs, and here Burton seems to struggle with the lack of the kind of catchy choruses that he dished up in Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. As such a strong start starts to run out of pace towards the end, with a tragic denoument that appears postively rushed.

The Moulin Rouge style fast forward zooms across the London skyline are one of a number of cases where the CGI is too obvious and flashy. However despite these faults Sweeney Tood is unlikely to dissapoint. The chef may have served up better before, but you will still be returning to order more of the same.