Do You See

Jul 04


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a new semi-regular thing rating the television presenters of current-day Britain

#1: MIKE “Weapons That Made Britain” LOADES

Mike Loades, according to a brief and slightly half-arsed Googling wot I just done, is a fight choreographer and weapons expert. From watching Weapons That Made Britain, I have also learnt that he looks a bit like Christopher Timothy. However, what is really important here is that Mike Loades is a man who really likes hitting things with sticks.

Not just sticks, mind. Swords, spears, lances (he really likes lances), it’s all gravy. This week’s edition of WTMB saw him hitting shields with things and, conversely, hitting things with shields. In what was actually a pretty entertaining and informative documentary about the story of the shield in British history, from the Saxons through to around the 1500’s, Mike found plenty of opportunities to hit shields with things. He got two or three shields specially made. Then he started launching himself at them with axes. Very big axes.

There was a segment where Mike got some volunteeers to attempt to learn the art of the Saxon shield wall. They had to do this in a clearing in a forest, partly for space and authenticity reasons, and partly because Mike also likes riding around on a big horse like a slightly more chivalrous Adam Hart-Davis (if Adam Hart-Davis shopped at River Island). There was much opportunity for Mike’s co-experts to tell people not to do that or they’d be killed. Mike walked up and down the line… “you have learnt what to do? You are confident as a unit now? So I could just jump into you at any point, and you’d hold steady?”


So he jumped into them and they held steady. “Good!”

Mike went on to illustrate the usage of shields by modern riot police, the shields’ effectiveness coming in their flexibility and ability to deflect blows, as well as maintaining the old Saxon formation of a wall of police with long shields locked together, with another unit of police designed to rush in and quell situations with smaller, buckler-type shields. A policeman demonstrated the flexibility of these shields by getting Mike to hold one while he whacked it in various places. Mike seemed a bit nervous about this.

However, the piece de resistance was the segment about duelling shields, purpose-built shields from the 15th century (I think), sort of shaped like a long, thin oval but with spikes on the end, and with notches cut out for hooking people around the leg and so on. He and his hapless assistant engaged in a reconstruction of one of these duels. Much whacking of shield upon shield until Mike noticed that he had an opening, said “aha, yes, but now you’ve left yourself open here, and so…” he hooked hapless assistant aroudn the leg and sent him crashing to the floor, then swiftly levelled the spike on the bottom of the shield at his face and intoned – “Endgame! Look at my face.”

It was wonderful, particularly considering we could have been watching Simply The Best instead. And after WTMB finished, we did. More on that later, possibly, but for now, Mike “Come And Feel My” Loades gets 8/10.

Weapons That Made Britain, Saturday 7:10 p.m., Channel 4

Jul 04

FT Top 100 Films 52: EASTER PARADE

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FT Top 100 Films

I love the synchronicity in this list. Yesterday we had Breakin’. Today Easter Parade. Both pretty much the same film for very different generations. Now I am not suggest Judy Garland breakdances in Easter Parade, nor does Fred Astaire spin on his head (mores the pity). But it is a backstage musical, which sources all of its song and dance numbers in the fact that its performers are singers and dancers. And it has some of the best Irving Berling numbers in it. Its perhaps not the best MGM musical, but with Ann Miller’s dancing, and Judy’s husky voice its a sure fire winner for your midweek matinee.

Except it is a film about Easter. Christmas films are ten a penny. Easter is much rarer. Its pretty much just Easter Parade, and maybe now the laugh-along riot fest that was The Passion of Ver Christ. What emotions should be in the heart of an Easter film? What is Easter the season of. Eggs? Rebirth? Renewal? There is a vague idea of rebirth in Easter Parade, though not of a supernatural kind. Rather Fred Astaire tries, Pygmalion fashion, to turn Judy Garland into his new Ann Miller in his dance act. He fails, realising that he cannot make someone into someone they are not. Odd considering Judy Garland played this unplyable role – something less true about her life.

So instead we have the idea of the framing device of the Easter Parade, a display of ostentatious wealth rather than anything particularly religious. This was the apex of the MGM musicals, which were all about ostentatious wealth. Easter Parade contains a superfluous Folliesesque number where the screen is stuffed with so many dancing girls you don’t know where to look. In comparison the standout number is “We’re A couple Of Swells” which is a simple song and shuffle from the two leads. Easter Parade has very little to do with Easter, and everything to do with 1948 musicals.


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Well, I liked it. 

The characters in Before Sunset

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The characters in Before Sunset (and nine years ago in Before Sunrise) are insufferable. And yet, and yet… Have we not all been there. Before Sunrise was university dorm room seduction by half-arsed philosophy for ninety minutes. Your ability to find it cute and kooky probably boils down to how much of said seduction by half-arsed philosophy you practiced yourself, and the amount of self loathing you have. You might think that in the nine years between the films the characters would have grown out of this trait – but in many ways Before Sunset is even worse. Because of the importance of their previous meetings, their love-lives and technique has been bound up in that moment.

That’s right. They still believe that seduction by half-arsed philosophy can work!

It helps that Jesse is still the loveably thick lunkhead with bad teeth he was in the first film. Celine’s dark sense of humour is much more pronounced, as becomes clear later there is much more darkness in her character now. And the simple understated tracking of their movements was very nice. There is a slight suggestion that the film is just an extended video for Delpy’s music career (and the song seems almost out of place, but luckily these two pretents could quote Shakespeare for hours and it would be in character). However the problem with Before Sunset is that it gives us too much information.

Not about the six-months-on meeting. Sure there is now a canonical answer to that film, which Before Sunset replicates in a very different kind of way. Not even about how these characters grow older. Instead we find out the surname of Hawke’s character. From the off it is there, written on the book jacket, tempting you to think other thoughts. Jesse Wallace.
aka Jessie Wallace.

Some welcome optimism

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Some welcome optimism from America’s greatest living movie critic here on my favourite subject: the way DVDs are changing movies. Surely the biggest factoid of the year is that, as the editor of Sight & Sound has said, theatrical releases are now seen in the biz as ‘loss-leaders’ for the versatile discs. The second half of Rosenbaum’s piece is endearingly blog-like, being a list of ‘import DVDs I have enjoyed’. (No doubt the Chicago Reader‘s lawyers enforced such delightful anachronisms as: ‘Reportedly there are also ways to “hack” some single-region players into multiregional ones, but you’ll have to look elsewhere for advice on how to do that.’) But the key line here, which ties in nicely with — by contradicting — J-Ro’s consistent stance on how the corporate marketplace is marginalizing ‘difficult’ product, is: ‘We’re rapidly approaching a time when anyone living anywhere in the world can theoretically enjoy access to the canon of world cinema once reserved for film students in world capitals like New York or Paris.’ DYS readers may flinch at the c-word there, and the argument may well resemble ‘free-market’ ideology, but for me the shift has been an incredible liberation.

Jul 04

Now you can easily understand Mystery Science Theater 3000’s endless glory

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Now you can easily understand Mystery Science Theater 3000’s endless glory — if you so choose. Not totally new news, but Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Manos: The Hand of Fate are coming out in a little DVD two-pack in a few more weeks. If you’re not familiar with MST3K in general, hie thee hence, but if you are and are wondering what the deal is and your file-sharing program queue is too backed up, give these a whirl.

The first film was already a well-known loser that too many people had to deal with on TV while waiting for A Charlie Brown Christmas to air, the latter was plucked from near-oblivion — to my knowledge only the characters at RE/Search had ever written anything about Manos before the MST3K treatment — and is now firmly enshrined as inept hilarity to the nth degree, in large part thanks to the legendary character Torgo. In both episodes the Joel/Dr. Forrester lineup was easily firing on all fours, references running from Tim Weisberg to John Waters to Frank Frazetta to Nam flashbacks to lentils to Soul Train — and then of course the skits as well (“SLEEEEP! In heavenly PEEEEACE!”). Santa Claus Conquers the Martians was the first episode I ever saw, at least in part, so it’s a good starter point, even if it’s July rather than December.

Mind you, those of us who already own the separate Manos DVD will have to sell it back or the like, alas. But that means credit for something at Amoeba when I do sell it back on Saturday and they have a lot to offer, so make me a random suggestion of something moviewise to get if you like.

Around The World in 80 Days

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Around The World in 80 Days

I don’t actually have much to add to Pete’s review. I didn’t even consider the few problems (not that I’m suggesting Pete was much bothered) because I saw the film as a perfect merging of the 80’s cartoon animal version with the films that were shown a little later on kids TV (One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing being the classic example). Except the one thing I did want to say is that there is still few moments in film more joyful than Jackie Chan catching sight of a small trestle.

Mannequin 2:

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Mannequin 2: Department Store Boogaloo!!!

Has anyone EVER seen this film? I speak as a fan of the original film Mannequin, with the young Kim Cattrall being imprisoned as a shop dummy, awakened only by the love of a young window-dressing scrote for some inexplicable chuffin’ reason. My actual reason for liking it is because I really love the idea of being able to play in a huge department store at night by myself – a plot line nicked on DAWSONS CREEK a while back actually – I believe they get locked in a K-Mart or something in their best clothes and they eat sweets and watch Romeo & Juliet and have a bonk in the camping department or something, but anyway, wouldn’t it be cool?

But does it need a SEQUEL!? (Haha it also stars the original BUFFY!!)

FT Top 100 Films 53: BREAKIN’

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FT Top 100 Films

Pete Baran says:

Or as it was called in the UK – Breakdance: The Movie. There was a spate of films in the late seventies/early eighties with the appellation “The Movie” attached, in case you thought that it might be
a) A comic – in the case of Superman
b) A local dance class – in the case of Breakdance
c) A tin of Grease in the case of – er – Grease.

Anyway, its title was changed from Breakin’ to Breakdance in the UK, because in the UK Breakin’ is something your elder sisters friend does to your toys and then gets you in trouble for, which obviously had bad connotations for most of its potential viewers. Anyway, it was called Breakdancing in the UK. It was what all the tuff lads at your school did in the playground, because spinning on their heads on hard concrete was not going to hurt them. This was nearly always championed by an Art or English teacher, who felt it an exciting and valid urban artform (unlike graffiti which the school caretaker had insisted was a menace). Thus when the school play came up, there was always a bizarre break in the proceedings for said tuff lads to come on and “Body Pop” – as the oldens would say. For some reason they were nearly always dressed as tramps. So whilst in the US Breakin’ might be associated with gold chains, Reeboks and My Adidas , in the UK it is usually thought of as being a tatty shirt, soot smudge and flat cap type of affair.

Breakin’ is a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney backstage musical, without the singing and with electro (further refined to Electric Boogaloo in the sequel). It is one of the first and best of a genre I have insisted on calling “Dancicals”, in as much as its dance sequences are really rather good. But since they are not dressed as tramps it did not really cross over to the UK.

Sarah C says:

Breakin’ AKA Breakdance The Movie: as if the names of the cast weren’t funny enough! Lucinda Dickey, Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quinones, Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers and Phineas Newborn III, what were they THINKING? Were they having a turkish? I generally like “dancicals” because they all have the same satisfying plot. Posh (ie classically trained, she CAN be working class viz that rubbish SAVE THE LAST DANCE flick which can quite frankly naff orf) bird whot does posh dancing like ballet – or in the case of Breakin’, jazz – meets tuff street kidz0r, learns all about RHYTHM and DANCING FROM THE HEART and then they win a dancing competition/she gets into Juilliard/you are allowed to have a disco by the local Priest – in the case of Footloose. Billy Elliot does a sweet gender reverse trick but essentially conforms to the genre.

Breakin’ is BEST because not only does posh lady get to go to Julliard, the street kids win in a) GANG WARS b) getting breakin’ accepted as art form yar yar and c) some WONGA in the final competition. Hurrah hurrah! Good old Turbo and whatever the other one was called. Hurrah for equal opportunities break dancing! Breakin’ also ditches the tired romance subplot and concentrates on what we really care about, ie spinning on your head whilst wearing improbable leotards and fingerless gloves. The women too, ahahahha. Having not seen Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo I cannot confirm whether the sequel can live up to the original but I doubt it’s more than ‘2.99 in the HMV sale eh, readers?

Jul 04

The Indycars on Channel 5

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The Indycars on Channel 5 are, in one way, ideal viewing at about half-one in the morning. The commentators are unfailingly dull , and the action (My brother: “So basically all they do is keep turning left?”) gets squished into forty minutes with little regard for bothering to explain when they’ve cut from one bit to another bit that happened half an hour later, which isn’t much help as the editing is of the usual random hacking standard of most of the sports programmes Five imports from the US. Lead changes are about as frequent as they are pointless. Round, round, round they go. And again. And again. Eventually someone wins, but you’ve fallen asleep long before all that.

However, there’s a slight problem, in that you may well not have fallen asleep before the ‘grid sequence’. This isn’t good, because the grid sequence is one of the most indefinably eerie things currently on television. What you get are computer-generated models of the cars rolling out onto a black and green wireframe reconstruction of the track. Then, above each car, the disembodied head and shoulders of its driver, announcing their name and the car number. “Tony Kanaan, Car 33.” Then it moves on to the next one. The whole exercise is conducted with the minimum of atmosphere, these one-second glimpses of complete strangers, no music or anything, just disembodied heads checking off the name and number, almost like they’re heading off to their own cremation. Brr.

Still, at least it doesn’t feature James “Look Mum! I’m Out Of Murray’s Shadow!” Allen, which is a sort of blessing.