Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Conservative Theatre (Whipping it Up - New Ambasadors Theatre)

Following the glowing reviews for its run at the Bush Theatre I was looking forward to the West End transfer of Whipping it Up. Sadly the performance we saw last night fell flat.

Steve Thompson's play is set in the Government Whips office a few days before Christmas 2009. The Tories have limped back into power under David Cameron with a majority of three, and the Whips, the old school Disciplinarian Chief Whip, his Public School smoothie Deputy and their barrow boy made good junior, are having to deal with a rebellion that threatens to sink the "Tent Poles Bill" and therefore the Government. As the vote draws closer they use every trick in the book to hoodwink the Opposition and to push their rebels back into line.

I was slightly concerned that as a political obsessive I would spend the whole evening spotting mistakes, thankfully Thompson seems to have done his homework well. Unfortunately his research seems to have diverted him from the main task of a comedic playwright, writing funny jokes. Mark Kermode has a rule when reviewing films that a comedy has to make him laugh out loud five times before it is worthy of the name. Whipping it Up kept me waiting until well into the second half for my fifth laugh. And what comedy there is mainly provided by Richard Wilson's foul mouthed Chief Whip and Helen Schlesinger's hard nosed Labour Whip who are on stage for less than half the running time.

The lack of laughter means that the audience is sledge hammered by Thompson's message that the underneath the veneer of Cameron's reforms the Tories are still the bad old elitist, misogynistic and racist bunch of minor public schoolboys we all know and hate.

To be fair we saw a preview and with a bit of tightening up and a more forgiving audience than the mixture of tourists and OAPs who where in the house last night there are probably more laughs to be wrung out of the script. But still probably not enough to justify paying west end prices.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

All the BBC cares about are bloody house prices...

According to James Cameron (director of Titanic, three hours of our lives that many of us will never get back) the tombs' of Jesus and his family have been found in the Holy Land. Which is nice.

A 'local resident' excitedly told the BBC that all the publicity for the area "... will mean our house prices will go up because Christians will want to live here". Somebody might want to break it to her gently that if this is true that Christians may be a little too hung up on the whole rationale for their religion coming crashing down their ears to be popping down to the local Foxtons.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Don't listen to the voices in your head

The world has officially gone mad. I agree with Michael Portillo.

He's written an article in today's Sunday Times on why overtly religious politicians are a bad thing for the rest of us; basic thesis being that if they are taking instructions from their imaginary friends then they probably aren't listening to the voters very much.

Even more worrying I agree with a lot of what Justin Hinchcliffe has said in the comments of Tim Montgomerie 's surprisingly weak response to Portillo's article over on Con Home. You would have thought he could have come up with a better response than Hitler was atheist (he wasn't) and lots of good people were religious (and lots of nasty people were too , suggests that religious belief is independent of "moral" behaviour).

One chink of light amongst this insanity. Portillo suggests that perhaps religion is useful in teaching children right and wrong. Rubbish. Indoctrinating children in dogma that has at its centre the mentality of a stalker, to steal A C Grayling's metaphor, is not a way to teach right and wrong. All the religions I know of work around the basis premise of do as I [god] say or bad things will happen to you (eternity of torment in hell, reincarnation as a newt etc.). The strong bullying the weak is hardly a good moral lesson to teach the young, as [insert right wing politician of your choice here] shows.

Stonewall Quins (Harlequins 15 - Bristol 8)

The talk in the bar after what was an otherwise forgettable game at the Stoop yesterday was how much the Quins defence has improved during the season. Saving an interception try, Bristol's attack came away with a solitary penalty to show for their days work. This was a game were we huffed and we puffed for long periods without being able to get over the whitewash, but despite a late rally by Bristol were able to hold on for the win. In previous years the consensus was that Quins would have folded under the pressure of the last five minutes and let the game slip.

That we didn't is due to the fact that we now have one of the most streetwise back rows in the premiership. They might not tear around the pitch making big one on one hits or run over people in attack (we have Tani Fuga for that) but they are there consistently making the hard yards and hitting rucks when we are attacking and making the tackles around fringes and getting on the wrong side and slowing the ball down in defence. Yesterday they really earned their corn. With the backs misfiring (save for one sublime cross kick from Jarvis to Monye, that was an ankle tap tackle away from being a candidate for try of the season) the pack kept the ball going forward recycling and moving through the phases until Bristol infringed. In defence in the last five minutes they bent but did not break, delivering a heroic try line stand to the noisy approval of the Stoop faithful.

Other positives on the day, tighthead Mike Ross' wrecking ball performance at scrum-time (Bristol were lucky not give away more than one penalty) and the defensive lineout that had Bristol in fits all game long. Negatives, AJ did not have the best of games kicking from hand, and our makeshift centre pairing of Mel Deane and Hal Luscombe did not fire, giving Quins very little penetration in the three-quarters. I think Luscombe needs a Will Greenwood type distributor to run off rather than the bang it up the middle approach of Deane (who admittedly had a good game in defence).

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Who the Hell is David Strettle?

The second in what is becoming a series of posts on Harlequins players who have been catapulted into the England six nations team seemingly from nowhere.

As you may be aware David Strettle has been called up to replace the injured Jason Robinson in today's clash with Ireland, to the surprise of many in the rugby fraternity who would have expected the recall of the much more experienced Mark Cueto who appears to have recovered from the injuries that ruled him out of the first couple of games. Well I to was surprised, but thinking about it makes sense. Not just because Stretts is the form winger in England at the moment but also because he plays in a very similar way to Robinson so will help maintain the side's balance.

Like Robinson, Stretts is undersized for a modern winger at under 14st and uses his pace and ability to step off both feet to score rather than just running over people, and is deadly in one on ones and broken play. Although he is not as twinkled toed as the freakish Billy Whiz, he probably has a touch more gas, is stronger, and is better under the high ball.

Some commentators have voiced concerns that the 17st Shane Horgan will just run him over or he will not be able to cope with O'Garas tactical kicking. Well Saints obviously thought that last week, regularly kicking towards Stretts and sending "Big Ben" Cohen after him. On that particular battle its sufficient to say its Stretts who has had the call up this week not Cohen. And if the Irish kick loosely towards him, well as a couple of teams have found out this season they are likely to find themselves back under their own posts.

Well at least in this one the dead people stay dead!

"Well at least in this one the dead people stay dead!" thus spake the girl on emerging from watching Hot Fuzz last night.

There has been a theme running through the media reviews of Hot Fuzz that the 1st two thirds are great comedy, but the final third when the action kicks off drags. Personally I think they are talking rubbish and that the action sequences are the best bit of the film, but then again when I was a testosterone filled adolescent I thought Bad Boys was the best film ever made. I think the violence works, and perhaps works better than the rest of the film, because although the script deliberately plays up the contrasts between the brash American action thriller genre and the quaint English postcard setting the acting and direction is not tongue in cheek. Where most parodies fall down is that the cast and director cannot help but pull back to wink and nod at the audience about how clever they are being, thereby killing any dramatic flow they have built up.

My only criticism would be that the characterisation is a little 2 dimensional. Jim Broadbent
does a wonderful turn as the kindly bumbling Inspector, but because it is a caricature of a part when the twist comes near the end you don't really care. Also, and inevitably, this isn't as fresh as Shaun of the Dead, that was a genre breaking comedy, this is a very good example of the genre of sideways British looks at Hollywood cliches Pegg and Wright seem to be creating.

So unlike Ryan I would give 8/10 rather than 10/10. Still bloody good though.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

It must be easy being the Tory candidate for London Mayor...

... because you are never going to have to implement any of your policies.

According to Conservative Home Steve Norris is planning to run again, and is reported as saying he will scrap London's bendy buses and replace them with Routemasters.

I'm sorry but why?

1) The reason Routemasters have been phased out (apart from the fact they are old and small) is because they are inaccessible to many people with disabilities (large step up onto the bus for a start). Is Mr Norris seriously suggesting that he is willing to exclude a significant section of Londoners from the buses in order to pander to the nostalgia of middle aged schoolboys, who probably never use the buses anyway. Plus of course it would probably be unlawful under the disability discrimination act anyway.

2) How much would it cost? Love them or hate them, we have paid for the bendy buses now, and they are probably a whole lot cheaper to run than a Routemaster. For a start you only need a one man crew to run a bendy bus. I don't see why I should have to subsidise the nostalgia of a bunch of middle aged schoolboys...

3) Where in the hell are you going to find a couple of hundred Routemasters now? Are there fields of them sitting in the home counties waiting for their nations call, somehow I doubt it.

So all in all I think we can safely say that this is not a runner as a policy. But that's fine Steve isn't going to get to implement it anyway.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

President Bush is a repressed Homosexual?

According to Ariel Sharon (when he was still with us) President Bush's response to the question of what he would do to Osama Bin Laden if caught was "I will screw him in the ass!" (Hat Tip political wire)

Well it would explain all the prancing around in tight jeans and cowboy boots...

Monday, February 19, 2007

And another thing...

...returning to the US culture wars (because frankly nowt interesting happened over here today), John McCain's pandering to the Christian right continues at pace. Speaking in South Carolina yesterday he stressed his desire to see Roe v Wade overturned and abortion made illegal.

I knew he was pro-life, but assumed (sucked in by his 'maverick'/RINO image) that he wasn't a headbanger on it. Maybe he isn't and he is just pandering. I'm not sure what would mark him down further in my book, being willing to see young women die to further his beliefs, or being a hypocrite and pandering to people who are willing to see young women die to further their beliefs.

Balls to the culture wars

The latest skirmish in America's culture wars appears to be being waged amongst the bookshelves of elementary school libraries. There has allegedly been much wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst teachers and librarians because the latest winner of the Newbery Medal includes the use of the word (and more sensitive readers may wish to look away now) "scrotum". Yes shockingly author Susan Patron has decided to defile the youth of America by using the correct anatomical term for a part of the male genitalia (and in the context of a dog not a man).

Of course the cynic in me suspects this just a put-up job by Ms Patron's PR company. However, because she has already won a prestigious award (which according to the NYT guarantee's her a spot in most elementary school classrooms) and the fact that not even in their most coke addled moment could a PR have dreamt that the word scrotum could have caused so much fuss, I am willing to entertain the idea that this is not a put-up job. That is worrying. From my experience of studying in the State's many young Americans are woefully ill-informed about how to use their genitalia safely (at USC they reckoned 1 in 3 students would catch an STI while they were there), god help them if they can't even name them.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Fox hunting, family values, has Cameron jumped the shark?

News in the Telegraph this morning that the David Cameron has been reassuring his MPs that the Tories would "overturn the Hunting Act as a matter of urgency".

Now on its own its not much, just a sliver of red meat to keep the headbangers on the backbenches and out in the shires happy. But throw it in with his musings on Friday on family values, legislating to force fathers to stay with their partners, pushing for further tax breaks for the married (and on this I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was including civil partners in that), and you have the start of a pattern.

These kinds of pronouncements go down well with the core vote, but will alienate the younger more liberal voters he has been trying to attract. As one of my friends, young professional female who switched from Labour to the Lib Dems at the last election but had been leaning towards Dave's new model Torys put it at dinner on Friday night, "well I'm not going to vote for that sanctimonious wanker now am I".

The question is, is this a deliberate attempt by Dave to shore up his core vote? Have the defections to UKIP caused more damage than has been assumed? or just a blip? Probably the latter, but it is a reminder of the tightrope he is walking, one wobble too far to the right or left and its all over for Dave.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Laying some ghosts to rest (Northampton 15 - Harlequins 28)

I was at Franklin Gardens two years ago when Quins lost to a last second try, starting the slide that would lead us to relegation. For most of the second half of this match I got that familiar feeling that we were going to throw it all away again. Trailing by 6 points with 5 minutes to go Northampton threw the kitchen sink at Quins stringing together a sequence of around 15 phases that went touchline to touchline several times. However our defence held firm, turned the ball over, and Mel Deane led a break out that eventually ended in Steve "so-slo" So'oialo diving over from a yard out in front of the travelling support. Cue much spilled beer and general jumping around by the Quins faithful and a mad rush to the exit by the Saints fans.

To be honest this was too scrappy a game to be truly enjoyable. From 2nd minute when play was stopped for several minutes to allow Stuart Abbott to work which county he was in following a clash of heads, it was a stop start affair. What running rugby there was, was mostly from Saints although their lack of precision and some committed Harlequin defence meant that except at the death they were unable to string more than a few phases together before coughing up the ball. What ball Quins had they mostly kicked away, often failing to find touch and therefore handing the initiative back to Saints and their back three of Lamont, Reihana and Cohen. A more potent set of strike runners on paper you will struggle to find in the premiership, highlighted by Cohen's 70 yard break for Saints 2nd try after Quins failed to follow up a restart effectively.

"Big Ben" will undoubtedly be putting that on run on his personal highlight reel but I doubt very little else from this game will make it. He was done all ends up David Strettle for Quins' second try, dropped a couple of kicks including one sitter when under no pressure (and most enjoyable right in front of us, "Carrot for Mr Cohen!") and in a tear your hair out moment if you are Paul Grayson the Saints coach had a penalty reversed in the Quins 22 for punching little Mike Brown (cue much aggressive clucking from the female element in the Quins end). I think its fair to say that of he wants to get his England place back he should stop whining and start working on his basics, at the moment he wouldn't make Quins' 1st XV let alone Englands.

How to do video campaigning

Internet videos seem to be all the rage for politicians at the moment. Webcamron has been suitably mocked over here, and you can't move over the other side of the pond for aspiring presidents announcing their intentions to be the next leader of the free world on youtube.

Of course the problem is that most of them are crap. Shoddily made and/or with pieces to camera that say bunny in the headlights rather than great statesman (or both). In the case of Obama I just wanted to curl up and go to sleep.

However from Minnesota comes comedian Al Franken launching his bid for the US Senate. Now many people much more qualified than I have doubts about Franken's ability to win, but he sure knows how to make a campaign launch video. Professionally shot, well delivered and with an effective message (I may be a famous rich liberal comedian but I understand what its like to be a hard working middle class parent, because those are my roots) without hammering people over the head with it (Hillary 'I'm just an ordinary Mom' Clinton).

Something perhaps for Ming to learn from?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Footprints in the sand.. (Underneath the Lintel)

Its always slightly worrying going to see a play starring an actor from one of your favourite TV shows in it. Especially if he is the only actor in the piece. What if you can't get past the fact its Toby from the West Wing on stage?

Well the moment Richard Schiff stumbles onto the stage in Underneath the Lintel all my fears were banished. Although most famous for his TV roles Schiff cut his teeth acting and directing Off-Broadway, and that experience shines through. For 90 minutes he holds the audience in the palm of his hand, tracing the descent into obssesion of his quiet unassuming Dutch Librarian.

Outraged by the return of a travel guide 113 years late the Librarian was slowly drawn into a quest to find the miscreant who has so offended the rules of his small world, finding traces of "A." dotted throughout the world and history. The Librarian is now, in a dingy basement hall exhibiting these 'evidences' to support his theory that this wanderer is in fact the mythical 'wandering Jew' a cobbler cursed by Jesus for stopping him resting on his way Golgotha to endlessly wander the earth without rest, and without anybody knowing who he was.

The plays messages that in the end we have few real choices, and that despite our short lives of sound and fury we little lasting trace on history, are hardly uplifiting. But I left the play strangely elated, entranced by a masterclass in understated acting.

The play isn't perfect by anymeans. The text sags in the second half failing to truely deliver on a brilliant set-up, and the sound design at times intrudes. But Schiff's performance papers over these cracks. Well worth seeing if you get the chance.

[A pedant writes, one slight annoying point, in the extremly unlikely event the playwright ever reads this. The Earls Derby's estate is not in Derby but Knowsley near Liverpool]

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

No Kevin say what you mean

Generally the BBC's editors blog is quite dull. Generally used by programme editors to either puff their programme or defend an editorial decision that has annoyed a particular lobby group.

I was therefore surprised to see this piece from Kevin Marsh laying into the Sun and Richard Littlejohn for questioning the BBC's decision not suspend their critical facilities in reporting the recent terror arrests in Birmingham. Its well worth a read for the amusement value alone. Its good to see the BBC willing to more muscular in the defence of the principles of good balanced against those who think it should kowtow their particular political agenda. Perhaps the corporation is finally getting its bottle back post Hutton.

As an aside, if this quote:

Be honest, until you heard that a woman had been injured, how many of you suppressed a cheer at the news someone had sent a letter bomb to the company which runs London's congestion charge?
Even after we learnt that two men were treated for blast injuries, I'll bet that there were still plenty of motorists who thought: serves the bastards right.

taken from the Littlejohn article Marsh is responding to is accurate does anybody fancy having a word with those nice people at Scotland Yard. Surely a prima facie case of the glorification of terrorism if ever there was one.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Lets not be too soft on Mr Cameron...

The consensus around the liberal blogosphere seems to be that we should accept David Cameron's line that his past is private and therefore it is inappropriate to ask whether he used recreational drugs when he was younger.

I'm not sure I agree. After all smoking cannabis was and remains a criminal offence. Criminal offences are not, by definition a private matter. Now Cameron's hug-a-hoodie rhetoric inoculates him from charges of hypocrisy somewhat, but he is still in favour of the criminalisation of cannabis use. Maybe he, and the other Tories who are trying to sweep this under the carpet, would care to give us a list of the other criminal offences that he considers to be purely private matters?

In political terms of course this won't hurt him (and it probably shouldn't), in fact Jonathan is spot on that the only real harm will be from reminding people that he went to Eton. The only risk is if evidence emerges to substantiate the rumours of cocaine use at university and beyond. Then a pattern would emerge and I think more serious questions would be asked (although again if he could show he had knocked it on the head before he entered politics and no evidence emerged that he ever dealt then he is probably ok).

What a choke!! (Ireland 17 - France 20)

Well the 6nations finally sparked in the France-Ireland game. An open running game full of great moves and even bigger mistakes.

To be fair I think France actually deserved to edge it. They absolutely dominated the first 30mins and although Ireland had the majority of the play in the 2nd half their defence held pretty firm. And what a comeback, they didn't panic when they went 4 points down with two minutes left. Won the restart and then kept the ball in hand didn't panic and split what has been shown to be a very brittle Irish defence. Given the fact that the Irish are still noticeably weak in the front three, I think if they don't panic and keep it tight England may have a chance against them (assuming they can keep Simon Easterby honest at the break down).

The only dark spot on a pulsating game was yet another shocking refereeing display from Steve Walsh. He was not just inconsistent but in some case totally perverse. France smash the Irish scrum and get a drive on with 5 minutes to go, and what does Walsh do? calls a turnover for a wheel when the French were clearly going straight forward. If anything it was a penalty to France for the Irish front row standing up. At the other end of the filed Marcus Horan (I think) chips through, clearly gets pulled back by one French player and is tripped by another. What does Walsh do? absolutely nothing! I'm glad I'm not french or irish or I would have burst a blood vessel scremaing at him.

video killed the internet star

According to yesterday's Guardian the rise of video downloads is threatening to overload the internet and the ISPs are grumbling that they are going to have plough lots of money into infrastructure but it will be the likes of youtube who will reap the benefits. Obviously the ISPs are just starting the process of softening people up to either a rise in prices or a return to the metering of broadband.

The question this poses is, does one be a good citizen and forswear watching americans run into things on youtube, or do dive onto TV Torrents and start downloading House series 3 now before the gates close?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Dull Dull Dull (England 20 - Italy 7)

Well a win is a win and Italy aren't as bad as the French made them look last week. But still, that game was dull. Italy spoiled well, England's pack never got going. England wasn't helped by Wilkinson having a mare with his kicking from hand, several sliced into short touches and several others just humped down field meant that England spent the second half stuck in their own 22. Iain Balshaw was awful before he went off, couldn't handle the high ball, and repeatedly took the wrong options in attack.

If we play like that against the Irish we are going to get hammered. Oh well 2 from 2 and it could have been a lost worse.

An Oak Tree

One of the reasons I love the theatre is the slight feeling of risk involved in live performance. Will the cast be on fire sparking off each other and the audience taking their performances to different places, or will they have been out on the town the night before and just trying to get through evening.

Well An Oak Tree which has just opened at the Soho Theatre following a run in New York takes the risk to a different level. It is a two man play, but only one actor (writer/director Tim Crouch) has ever read the script before. The second actor is different every night, only meeting Crouch an hour before the show and only seeing the script as they are about to read it out. Not surprisingly this piece has its origins in the Edinburgh Festival, but since its premier there in 2005 has toured the globe, with such luminaries as Mike Meyers and Maura Tierney (of ER fame) filling the shows of the second actor.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around a failing stage hypnotist played by Crouch and Andy (played by the second actor), the father of the daughter the hypnotist killed in a car accident 3 months ago, who volunteers to be part of the hypnotists stage show as a way of trying to find closure. But the plot is not really important, the interest in this play is both in seeing how an actor copes with having to act without any knowledge of what is going on except for the line that Crouch is feeding them at that second, and how Crouch uses this device to play with the mechanics of theatre. He repeatedly breaks down and then rebuilds the fourth wall between the performers and the audience. Simultaniously presenting a play and deconstructing it.

It is difficult to criticise the play having only seen one performance, as you know that tonight and next night will be totally different. However, from last nights performance my view would be that this piece only half works. To put it simply the play part of the performance really doesn't engage on an emotional level, I never felt Andy's loss or the hypnotists pain. This isn't helped by the fact that Crouch probably isn't a good enough actor to really carry the dramatic part of this project off, his female impersonation is laughable.

This isn't to say An Oak Tree isn't worth seeing, the drama has its moments and there are some laugh out loud moments of comedy, and for a theatre lover to see a performance stripped bare like this is intellectually fascinating. And who knows the night you go, Andy might be played by a big name star or a nobody, the performance may spark and fly or completely fall flat on its face, that is the risk you take.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Why is this news?

John Amaechi has announced that he is Gay. So what?

Well Mr. Amaechi is probably the most successful British basketball player ever, spending 6 years kicking around the NBA. And, more importantly, he is the first NBA player to come out. I find it a little sad in this day and age that the fact that a journeyman professional sportsman happens to be gay is back page news.

Maybe John will be the first of many, but given the sad precedent of Justin Fashanu somehow I doubt it.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A silver bullet for party funding scandals?

Salon has picked up (hat tip: election law blog) the ideas of Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres on how to clean up campaign financing in the US, and from their report you wpuld have thought they had discovered a silver bullet for solving party funding scandals.

Ackerman and Ayres have made two basic propositions:

1) That every voter should be given a voucher for $50 that they can split between as many election candidates as they choose. This would put an estimated extra $6 billion into play in any one election cycle, substantially diluting the ability of the wealthy and businesses to buy the votes of congressmen.

2) That all campaign finance donations should be made anonymously, so that candidates don't know who had given to their campaign and so can't be beholden to them. They point to the fact that the secret ballot has virtually eliminated the buying of votes.

Now superficially these both sound attractive ideas, and anything that ends the endless (and usually groundless) accusations of Government favouritism and selling of honours to donors that clog up the media and add to the cynicism of the public must be worth looking at. However I think both ideas are fundamentally flawed.

Idea 1) is perhaps, in theory, likely to be even more effective over this side of the pond than in the US. Given the relatively minuscule amounts of money our parties have to raise (the £15m or so limit on what any one party can spend in a general election wouldn't buy you more than a couple of House seats in the US) it would only take vouchers of a few pounds per voter before the market for donations was totally swamped. I would also favour this idea (which is hardly new) to the alternative state funding model of doling out money to parties based on their past performance at general elections as that would tend to freeze the current party system in place. Voucher funding would also mean that parties would have an incentive to try and attract the support of as many people as possible not just the few swing voters in marginals who decide elections.

However, despite being an elegant solution in theory I fear that vouchers would run into a wall of voter cynicism and the current vogue for anti-politics, and therefore at the moment is a non-starter.

The idea of anonymous donations is more obviously flawed. The idea is based on the presumption that if a Prime Minister cannot be sure if a certain individual has actually made the donation they pledged because it has to go through the Electoral Commission where it is jumbled up with all the other money being given to the party they will be much less likely to grant them favours. However, there is a simple problem with this receipts. One would assume that the Electoral Commission would have to acknowledge your donation, so donors would be waving receipts in MPs faces rather than cheques when they come to lobby them for their vote. These of course would remain a matter of public record unlike an individuals vote in an election.

So it seems that in fact, that as with most policy problems, there isn't a silver bullet to solve the problem of funding elections.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Who the hell is Nick Easter?

"Who the hell is Nick Easter?" was my colleague's comment when the news filtered through to our office that Nick Easter the Quins backrower had been picked to replace the injured Joe Worsley at blindside flanker for England's game against Italy on Saturday.

I must admit to being a bit surprised myself given Nick only made the bench for the A game against Italy last week and has spent most of this season playing number 8 for Quins, but its fully deserved recognition. For those of you who haven't seen Nick play he's an abrasive lump very much in the Martin Corry mould. He's very sound defensively, and although he's no greyhound, his ability to make the hard yards both around the fringes and taking the ball up the middle will probably complement the English pack who have been lacking in ball carriers the last season or so. He also has a nice habit of scoring tries, going over the whitewash 19 times last season.

Has Patrick Marber sold his soul to the Devil?

I only ask because not only did he write the screenplays for The Queen and Notes on a Scandal, the hottest British films of the last six months or so (except maybe the superb The Last King of Scotland) but he also found the time to write the excellent political drama Frost Nixon for the Donmar (well worth catching now it has transferred to the West End) [Update: of course Peter Morgan wrote Frost Nixon, still a good play though]. And if his Don Juan in Soho (also for the Donmar) was a little one dimensional it still provides the platform for Rhys Ifans to give a master-class in comic acting in the central role.

These envious thoughts were brought on by this evenings viewing of Notes on a Scandel, Marber's adaptation of Zoe Heller's novel of the same name. Most of the critical attention has quite rightly been focused on Dame Judy Dench's central performance as Barbara the elderly spinster who becomes obsessed with Sheba (Cate Blanchett) the new beautiful art teacher at the school at which Barbara teaches. Dench's performance is masterful. Barbara could easily become a cartoon villain in a less skilful actor's hands, but Dench's performance is subtle enough to allow the viewer to be repulsed by this obsessive sociopath but still feel some sympathy for a deeply lonely old woman. Dench is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast, Blanchette as the shallow art teacher, and Bill Nighy as her loving husband whose world is destroyed by her affair with a pupil (although as The Girl pointed out he does go a bit love actually at one point).

This isn't a perfect film, the director Richard Eyre is over reliant on the score to build tension. It rather undercuts some of the shock of a key plot revelation if the score has been building up to a climax for the last two minutes. And notwithstanding Dench's brilliance at making her portrayal of a monster Barbara believable, when Blanchette hits her near the end there was still a part of my brain screaming "you can't hit her, don't you know that's Judy Dench!!"

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Another false dawn? (England 42 - Scotland 20)

Just got back from Twickenham having watched perhaps the best all-round English performance since before the World Cup.

Jonny Wilkinson will get all the coverage tomorrow, and he was almost back to his awesome best (that try was simply stunning). But even better IMO was the performance put in by Harry Ellis, the oft maligned Leicester scrum half. Not only did he make a series of searing breaks around the fringes but his service was good, his kicking from hand was solid including the precision grubber that set up Robinson's second try, and his decision making and vision was top draw culminating in his spotting Lund lurking on the wing and hitting with a precision pass before the Scottish cover defence could react.

So the walk home was filled with the feel good factor. However there is a thought nagging at the back of my mind. We put 40 points past Wales in our first game last year, and look how 2006 turned out.

Could Giuliani run as an Independent?

The knock on Rudy Giuliani's bid for the Whitehouse has always been that his socially liberal views would mean he couldn't make it out of the Republican Primaries.

Well according to Newsday (hat-tip Political Wire) he may be considering bypassing the GOP primaries altogether and running as independent. Although history suggests that third party bids for the presidency always end in failure Giuliani's celebrity would mean that if he ran seriously he would probably get enough media coverage to allow him to become a player in the race.

Its certainly something to keep an eye on if you are planning to "invest" in the outcome of the election.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Gliberal Toss

The Girl dragged me to see Bobby at the cinema this evening.

The good Doctor Kermode described it as Gliberal and I must agree. It seeks to be a hymn to the lost optimism of the sixties, instead its a vomit inducing string of lazy liberal clichés rather than a real engagement with who RFK was, and his place in the late 1960s mileau. To be frank my overwhelming emotion during the climatic ballroom scene to be a desire for them to just get on and shoot him already.

The film's worse sin is that it just doesn't earn its climax. There are so many interweaving stories that you don't have time to form an attachment to any of the characters, especially the eponymous Bobby, who is only ever seen in grainy newsreel footage shoehorned into breaks in the action. So the bloodbath in the kitchen at the end has no more emotional impact than the nightly scenes of death and destruction on the 10 o'clock news.

Its not all bad. William H Macy is as watchable as ever, and Lyndsay Lohan is almost unbearably cute. Frustratingly there is probably a good film to be made about RFKs run for president with the events in the Empress Ballroom forming an emotinal fulcrum, but this isn't it. Don't waste your money.