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Moments in time, preserved to embarrass me later.

12-11-2005 (archived)

In a rather surprising outcome for those who thought that parliament was dead, this week saw the defeat of the proposal that police should be able to lock people up for a quarter of a year without actually accusing them of everything (they're still going to get four weeks, so it's hardly a triumph for natural justice and civil liberties, but hey ho). This is not the thing that particularly interested me, though certainly I was not displeased; what caught my attention was various people, certainly the Sun newspaper and I think Blair himself (not quite sure and can't be bothered to try to check, I'm afraid; I'm not pretending to be a proper journalist) castigating the “traitor” MPs who had voted against this move, essentially on the basis that they ought to vote for it since a majority of the country are in favour.

Of course this is mere rambling from the sanatorium sickbed, and I know anyone reading this will be wise and well-educated enough to know that before I start, but let me rehearse the argument anyway. It is no sort of duty of a member of parliament to vote for what his (I shall stick with the masculine-as-neuter construction here, both because most MPs are male and because it remains the proper English) constituents want, either in simple majority or in the minds of those who he thinks elected him. It might, of course, be judicious if he wants reelection, but there is absolutely no onus on him to do so, and under a great many circumstances he clearly ought not to. He is a representative, not a delegate, and the difference is this: a delegate does what those he represents wants. A representative is to do what they would want, had they but the time and possibly other attributes required to study the issues and engage in debate. He does not do what we want, but what we ought to. That's the theory, anyway, and that's why (for example) we don't have capital punishment and we do have equal ages of consent.

Maybe what parliament decided was wrong, and you can argue that all you like. What you can't do is say the public want it, and so they should have had it. That isn't how it's supposed to work, and for that at least we can be thankful.

14-11-2005 (archived)

Elizabethtown” is squarely in that category of films that I go to see despite absolutely stinking reviews from most British critics, knowing that it probably isn't that bad and it'll probably be quite enjoyable even if it is. And it is, in some ways, pretty bad, but none are anything like fatal to a movie with a good deal of charm.

The biggest unanswered question is why anyone would think that a running shoe called a “Spasmodica” could possibly be a success, but the film gives no time to that particular issue. It's really a mixture of several by-the-numbers movies; there's Boy Regrets Never Really Knowing His Dead Father, there's Boy On Rebound Falls For Implausible And Kooky Girl In Stock Romcom, there's Southerners May Be Hicks But By God They're Warmer, More Sincere And Just Plain Better Folks. None of this is fatal, or even offensive, provided you have your brain switched off (and if you don't, how did you get into the theatre?). Dunst here is playing not so much a sweet and slightly irritating girl as some sort of angel, with far more time, patience and judgement than any human. Bloom is good- and slightly confused-looking, as ever. Like any Crowe movie, there is a lot of soundtrack.

The big problem with this film, though, visible even through rose-tinted anti-brain spectacles, is that it's largely a series of irrelevant set-pieces looking for a film. The meeting with the groom-to-be, the agonising scene in which he and his boss discuss the shoe and its consequences, the suicide bicycle, the flaming bird, every single scene involving Sarandon, are all pieces of different, possibly more enjoyable, movies (though not the Sarandon one. The bicycle definitely has possibilities). This is still a tolerable enough picture, of its sort, but it's very decidedly not a good movie.

16-11-2005 (archived)

In Her Shoes” starts off like a stereotypical chick-flick with stereotyped characters, which would frankly have suited me just fine. It gets a lot better really quickly, though.

Cameron Diaz plays the Bad Sister - illiterate, drunken, idle, irresponsible, promiscuous, free with her person and others' property, who lives on the charity of the Good Sister - Toni Collette's work-obsessed lonely frump. Dark doings and darker secrets start to emerge, and (surprising everyone in the film and no-one in the audience) Diaz learns to be responsible and able while Collette learns to be relaxed and loved. Both learn to be happy.

So far, this is painting by numbers, but it is made more than that both by the sheer strength of the material, with not a little real originality and daring, and by the universally superb performances. Collette, in particular is outstanding. Many beautiful women don't believe it, and in a lot of them it just makes them cuter. For some, though, when they think about their looks, they can convince themselves so thoroughly that they're not attractive that they manage to become so, at least a little. Collette can act this, apparently at will. She could probably sit in a chair and turn her appeal on and off like a torch, and it's work of this calibre that makes this a magnificent film about families, relationships of all kinds, and growing all the way up. One of the most enjoyable, rewarding films I've seen all year.

Due to pressure of Actual Life we'll probably skip a post and return on Monday the 21st. As you were.

21-11-2005 (archived)

I've written elsewhere about this year's National in a lot of detail that would mean very little to non-UKMG readers, so here will be generalities only. We played for almost eight hours in all, mostly without me, but I still sang my first song about seven and a half hours before my last. I was relieved to discover that I do still have plenty of voice and control in the wake of that throat infection, although my electric guitar playing seems to have suffered badly from the layoff. It may suffer even more, since the one thing I came away from the weekend wanting to buy was a book of classical etudes Matt showed me. Jon Boyes never quite converted me to the dark side, but I think Matt actually may have.

23-11-2005 (archived)

When I saw this my first thought was “wow, what a brilliant idea”. Crazy, sure, but brilliant. Terraforming Mars is kind of uninteresting - because it's the simple case, I don't mean we shouldn't do it - and Venus is possibly kind of tricky since the Big Rain idea may have, well, washed out - but this was really exciting. Unfortunately it seems to be a paranoid conspiracy theory from some fairly thoroughly unwell people, but hey ho. Just because they're mad doesn't mean it wouldn't work...

26-11-2005 (archived)

This year and at this time parts of the media encourage us to remember Jesus, who apparently died for our sins, and others George Best, who died for his own. It may be hard for somebody of my generation, let alone one not even slightly interested in association football, to understand just why he was so famous. OK, so he was a glamorous, extremely talented footballer with an interesting off-pitch life, but that's normal now. I'm told he was one of the best three or four players ever, that he retired amazingly young, and of course I know about the drinking and womanising - he's almost the definition of the self-destructive playboy. “I spent millions on women and drink, and the rest I squandered” is a brilliant quote, of course, and the reaction to discovering a drunken Best in a hotel room with a gaggle of supermodels of “I wish my life could go as wrong as yours has” makes a lot of visceral sense; after all, as Denis Leary said, the years you lose are the worst ones - the ones at the end. That said, he was just the same age as my father, and that's far, far too young to die.

I still don't understand it, though. Why days of updates on a long-retired undeniably dying man, only in the public eye over the last few years for self-destructive stupidity? I haven't been so puzzled since all UK media was cancelled for several days to tell us that Diana was still dead.

29-11-2005 (archived)

I admit that, by watching a regional news programme (even if only while eating my dinner, and awaiting the weather forecast) I have laid myself open to all manner of indignities and assaults on the spirit, but I cannot believe that I really deserved a lengthy amateur poem, in as far as I could bear to tell blank verse, on the subject of a fake leather handbag. Especially not as read by the author.



I feel quite unusual.

30-11-2005 (archived)

Mrs Henderson Presents” seemed, from the trailers, to be a light-hearted piece of inter-war fluff lifted from mere pleasantness by Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins (not doing his lovable cockney act, much to the displeasure of at least one professional critic). There really was a Windmill Theatre, and in the run-up to and during the second world war, it really did put on “non-stop” revues featuring posed nudes, stretching the boundaries of the time (though not significantly or interestingly enough to make it into “Politics, Prudery and Perversions”, de Jongh's history of British stage censorship at the hands of the Lord Chamberlain, which I thoroughly recommend).

At this point one can only assume that the film departs from what is true in favour of what is interesting, touching, or otherwise likely to garner Oscars, but while the combination of frivolity and tragedy works reasonably well it still stretches even my elastic ability to believe for the moment. It is carried by three particularly excellent performances, predictably from Dench and Hoskins and less so from the to-me-unknown Kelly Reilly. It should win no Oscars and change no lives or minds, but it certainly passes an evening prettily enough.

2-12-2005 (archived)

After a long break from movies, we're back in amongst it now, and like everyone else in the country we went to see “Harry Potter and the Goblet Of Fire”. It was pretty good, and while it was too long, at 2:45 or so, it was less long than the book; by this point in the franchise we're into doorstop territory. The kids are all doing pretty well, Radcliffe maybe not quite keeping up with the others, and the new people all work pretty well. Voldemort looks right, but his voice is wrong; he should be resonant, powerful, seductive, but he actually sounds like an old man on a cold, damp morning. Gambon is still, for me, not quite there as Dumbledore, but he's getting closer. The effects were better. As ever, Alan Rickman is the best thing in the film by a mile, but then he's always the best thing in every film he's in; future installments should see him getting more screen time, which can only be a good thing.

Of course, this film more than most you already know if you want to see. There are no surprises, no successes or failures here to change your mind. It does its job, and does so pretty well.

6-12-2005 (archived)

I'm the only person I know who actually saw “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, probably not least because it had very little in the way of budget and so nobody was excited about it. Shame, really, because it's probably the funniest film of the year so far. It works purely as a far-fetched LA noir thriller, and the clever-clever narration and associated devices take nothing away from that; it is, after all, a genre always lead by a story-telling principal. That's the least of its success though, because Kilmer and Downey are not only at the top of their very considerable acting games, but they're also very, very funny throughout (who knew Kilmer could play comedy? Not I). Michelle Monaghan, whom I've never previously noticed, proves that she can survive with honour in this elevated company, and is also, helpfully, really hot.

It's also the first film I've seen since Pulp Fiction to be able to play with movie conventions of violence lightly enough to be entertaining but deeply enough to be thought-provoking. There are several curl-up-in-your-seat moments here that unsettle the pit of your stomach, but they have you laughing again within seconds - if, indeed, you ever quite stopped. I shall buy the DVD the first day it's out. Genius.