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Casino Royale: Reviewed a long long time after everyone else has seen it [Jan. 10th, 2008|12:34 pm]
Whilst reading about Gemma Arterton (I promise you, I am in no way obsessed by her delightful pointy nose and Uma Thurman bob), I came across an article about her in the new Bond film which had a spoiler warning.

It then said "Although, if you're reading an article about Bond 22 without having seen 'Casino Royale', you're an enormous internet geek who learns about the plots and characters of films from Wikipedia or Empire Online and not by actually seeing the films in question. Saddo. Get out more." I'm paraphrasing.

It was pretty shocking to realise, then, that I hadn't seen "Casino Royale". Despite being a Bond fan, despite my exciting fortnight working in the EON props archive, despite what everyone said about it, I still hadn't seen it.

Well, now I have.

If you haven't seen it, this review isn't going to be much help to you, but here's a cursory run-through of the plot. (Don't worry, there's not much plot in this film.) James Bond is, like, just some dude who kills two people and then instantly becomes an impassionate, cold-blooded killer. He does some running around, is in the Evening Standard, gets told off, goes to the Bahamas, annoys some guy, wins this guy's car at cards and sleeps with his wife. The guy is working for another, more mean guy, who has a scarred face. Now, this new guy is evil. The only tears he cries are tears of BLOOD, ffs! He likes playing cards and being evil, and so invites people to play cards and maybe a little evil on the side and Bond turns up to play some cards and see just how evil this guy is. By this point, there's an accountant with Bond, who is a hot chick (who'd have thought...). He plays some cards, beats up some guys, plays some cards, gets beaten up, plays some cards, gets poisoned, dies, comes back to life, plays some cards and then wins. The lady accountant is upset by all the beatings for about thirty seconds, then gets over it. Bond and lady then get captured, and the evil, blood-weeping guy plays Flicksies with Bond's testicles. Bond is hurt pretty bad, but when he wakes up, he decides that he is TOTAWWY IN WUV with the accountant. Then some stuff happens with some other dudes who aren't related to the weepy-blood guy, there's a big finish, and a smarmily self-referential coda.

I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, but for the first ten minutes I sat there thinking "this is just like a Bond film!" It didn't feel as dramatically different as I was led to believe. They had that goofy incorporation of the gun barrel logo, and another pretentious title sequence. The parkour stunt sequence, running up the crane, fighting on the crane, falling off the crane, is bloody great. After that point, it kind of waffled on for about an hour, batting off embarrassing cameos from Richard Branson and, uh, Gunther von Hagens and doesn't really pick up until Eva Green turns up, with her smokey eyes and smirky face. I liked her in this a lot, despite the fact that - as my housemate pointed out - her relationship with Bond is pretty stupid.

My main criticism of Daniel Craig as James Bond is that sometimes director Martin Campbell shoots him in darkened rooms and in the half-light, he looks exactly like Ray Stubbs.

Because Craig looks enormous. When he first tries on his dinner jacket, prancing around a hotel room, he looks like Bongo, the bouncer from the Ink & Paint Club in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". He is clearly exceptionally muscled, as the scene in the dinky pants shows (ladies), and after forty years of a lithe Bond (apart from in "A View To A Kill", ho ho), it's quite weird to see not a gentleman killer, but a killer - like someone cast Ricky Hatton as James Bond. Bond has always been the physical underdog - think of the look on Connery's face as he sized up Oddjob. Or Moore being pounded on the head by the massive hands of Jaws. In the exhilarating parkour sequence, the villain is the leapy, sproingy lightweight, and Bond is the hulking oaf literally running through walls. And what's painful is that Craig is clearly an intelligent actor, but the script requires him to be "a blunt object". He's a thug. Maybe the theory behind the progression of this "reboot" of Bond is that, over time, Craig slims down, becoming more like the Bond we know.

(Incidentally, rather than the Bourne films, I realised whilst watching it that my enjoyment of the Bond films has probably spilled into my love of "Spooks", and I then realised that Bond should probably be played by Rupert Penry-Jones.)

Tonally, the film's a bit like watching "The World Is Not Enough" whilst someone occasionally kicks you in the head (or plays Flicksies with your testicles). The imported grittiness feels jarring, and the humour (obviously from the flamboyant purple quills of Neil Purvis and Robert Wade) doesn't sit well with the lunk they've asked Craig to be. Then there's the much-vaunted contribution of Paul Haggis, a man whose origins creating kindly-mountie cop-fluff "Due South" I will bring up every time I speak of him. I loathed "Crash", and all the cloying dialogue late in the game about how Bond has "no armour… you've stripped it from me" is textbook Haggis. Craig even speaks Haggis's dialogue with the same enormous significance as they did in "Crash" - like there's a lump of coal in his mouth, and if he gently spits it out, Tiny Tim will be warm this Christmas.

It should also be mentioned that this film is really damned long. It's two hours and twenty-four minutes. Like I said, other than the parkour chase, the opening hour is all faff, and it's only once Eva Green plonks herself unceremoniously into the seat opposite Bond on the train to Montenegro that the film hunkers down and focuses. The love story doesn't work because it is fluffy and vague - Bond has been established as a cold-hearted rogue who clearly just wants to jump Green's bones, and we're supposed to believe that, after the Flicksies, Bond genuinely is in love. It's nonsense, and again jars with the smart-arse toughnut they've spent the previous two hours setting up. And then they go all Tracy in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" with the end of the film, which hopefully sets up Bond 22's excoriating examination of Bond's misogyny… it was all Eva Green's fault! Damned women! Can't trust them as far as you can throw them down a lift-shaft!

I absolutely agree that the franchise needed a re-think after "Die Another Day", which was the frothiest piece of nonsense the Bond films have ever thrown up. The good news is that "Casino Royale" doesn't have an invisible car or Toby Stephens playing the son of a North Korean general, or Halle bloody Berry. The bad news is that the weaker writing aspects of the Purvis/Wade era are exacerbated by Paul Haggis schmaltzification, and together they have contrived to make Bond a step away from being played by The Rock. Where "Batman Begins" provided an origin movie which showed the raw potential of a man being shaped into a hero, here Bond is a lump of clay, and remains a lump of clay. The hope is that Daniel Craig's Bond continues to develop over the next couple of films into something a little… well… Bondier.
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How I Hate The Cruel Taunts Of Fate [Jan. 7th, 2008|12:34 pm]
Readers with a long memory or an ability to click this link will recall that I had a series of hilarious faux pas at a screening of Stephen Poliakoff's ho-hum drama "Capturing Mary".

Disappointingly, it now turns out that my fourth hilarious faux pas was not doing everything in my meagre power to chat up the girl sitting next to me, as it turns out she was not only in the film, she was also Gemma Arterton, the new bloody Bond girl.

I am retrospectively a fule.
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Spam [Dec. 28th, 2007|11:05 am]
Here is a delightful recipe for Gingered Spam Salad that Gmail recommended to me. Why did it do that?

Remember when Gmail started and everyone was afraid of the privacy implications of Google actually going through your mail and recommending you things based on its content? Hasn't exactly worked out like that, has it?
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"Pegabovine: House Of Mirth", and also Radio 4, and also the Etcetera [Dec. 20th, 2007|10:11 am]
Hello there.

Well, as you might have seen from a sudden blitz of messages on Facebook, email, and on our website, we're having three days of manic activity.

Yesterday, we officially launched both the new look of our website and also "Pegabovine: House Of Mirth", our new podcast. Check it out here, where you can also subscribe to the podcast in iTunes and a range of delightful websites. There'll hopefully be more podcasts in the new year.

TONIGHT we are on "28 Acts In 28 Minutes" on BBC Radio 4. It's on at 6.30pm, and thereafter on Listen Again. We're on it at around the thirteen minute mark, so feel free to tune in at 6.43pm and then tune out again around 6.44pm.

TOMORROW, we've got our show at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden. It's on at 9.30pm and features sketches and songs from Pegabovine, songs from Like A Thief, comedy from an as-yet-unnamed comedy group, and Luke Kennard reading a poem into a tape. It's a fiver for entry, and there may well be some charming choral singing or something as well. To be honest, I'm not 100% sure what's going to happen at it, but rest assured it will be entertaining. (sigh...)

I've just been to my work Christmas lunch and am consequently a little bit drunk. Hopefully this doesn't show.
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Save NSDF (National Student Drama Festival) [Dec. 14th, 2007|04:32 pm]
I've just relaunched our website (http://www.pegabovine.co.uk), as we have a week of frenetic activity next week. More on that anon. Anyway, do visit it. One of the first things that I've had to post on it has been some rather unfortunate news. I'm reposting it here as I'm lazy, but keen that you sign the petition (yes, another one) and save this venerable institution:-

The first show we did as the sort of semi-professionals that we now are was "The Freudian Slip", which was selected for the National Student Drama Festival. We won two awards there, had an opportunity to show our work to 1000 students, met countless theatrical professionals who have become advisors and friends, made lasting friendships with our practitioner peers, disco-danced with Mark Ravenhill, and were on a panel with Frantic Assembly. It was one of the best weeks of my life. I've been every year since, working on the daily magazine Noises Off, and have seen a staggering array of amazing work from people who are about to become household names - Al Smith, Joel Horwood, Tom Dalton Bidwell, Thom Tuck from the Penny Dreadfuls, Chris Perkin, Alex Ferguson, Khalid Abdalla, Tom Ferguson, and loads more.

The Arts Council has decided to cut funding for the NSDF, putting its future in very real jeopardy. Please visit the link below for more information, and do sign the petition.

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Save the Cheerleader, Save the World [Dec. 12th, 2007|05:04 pm]
Hello. This is a form letter that I've cut and pasted into my blog.

I just signed an emergency petition trying to save the crucial climate change talks in Bali, Indonesia right now by telling the US, Canada and Japan to stop blocking an agreemement. You can sign it here:


Almost all countries have agreed to cut rich country carbon emissions by 2020--which scientists say is crucial to stop catastrophic global warming, and will also help bring China and the developing world onboard. But with just 2 days left in the conference, the US and its close allies Canada and Japan have rejected any mention of such cuts.

We can't let three governments hold the world hostage and block agreement on this desperate issue.

There's still 2 days left to turn this around - click below to sign the petition - it will be delivered direct to summit delegates, through stunts and in media advertisements, so our voices will actually be heard. But we need a lot of us, fast, to join in if we're going to make a difference. Just click on the link to add your name:


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Way to simplify that for me, BBC3! [Dec. 1st, 2007|07:43 pm]
"The Great Wall... a testament to the builders and brickies of feudal China."

- Voiceover on BBC3
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Unsubscribe [Nov. 23rd, 2007|10:15 am]
I went to a very thought-provoking talk last night hosted by Reprieve, the charity fighting for the lives of people facing the death penalty, and dealing with injustices in legal systems including work in Guantanamo Bay.

At the talk were two former detainees at Guantanamo - Moazzam Begg and Bisher al-Rawi. Al-Rawi, in particular, spoke with great humour and humility and was incredibly awe-inspiring. (UPDATE: Some further reading on al-Rawi.). If you have five minutes at your desk this morning to do some research about these men, Guantanamo Bay, and the 14,000 people currently in US secret prisons around the world, I guarantee that you will want to then spend a further five minutes visiting WriteToThem.com and getting your MP aware of their responsibility to use their elected power for good.


Jamil al-Banna, still in Guantanamo Bay, held without charge.

unsubscribe from human rights abuse in the war on terror

unsubscribe from human rights abuse in the war on terror
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Some things that have happened, are happening, or will happen soon. [Nov. 22nd, 2007|12:32 pm]
1) I spent last night finishing off my submission for 4Talent's Pilot scheme, which is about middle-class responses to terrorism. I filled that sucker with things to entice Channel 4 - contemporary issues, humour, controversy, satire. Little to no realism involved, and - let's face it - little to no plot either, but I am quietly positive about it. I would very much like a comedy-drama pilot on Channel 4, yes please.

2) I moved to Dulwich, did I mention that? Probably not. Anyway, I've been there about a month and a half now.

3) As part of sorting out my room, I bought a desk, which I manfully thought I could carry from the Argos in Victoria to East Dulwich (not all the way… I would also be using public transport). As it turned out, it was a very heavy desk, which has bruised me and left me weakened. It has been nearly a week now and my arms still ache. It was 25 kilos, which I now know is pretty damned heavy. If I were to buy another 25 kilos worth of desk, I would have it delivered, even paying slightly more to have it delivered on a Saturday. Lesson… LEARNED.

4) I purchased the GameCube that we spent so long playing in 2005 (The Year Of Unemployment) from Matthew, and have been enjoying watching my housemate and our temporary lodger playing through "Resident Evil 4", which is a bloody great game. Last night they were all like 'oh we're going to complete this tonight' and I was like 'oh are you' and they were like 'yes' and I was like 'you haven't even escaped Salazar's castle yet' and they were all 'yeah that's not going to be a problem' but then Ashley got taken to the island with Krause on it and I was like ROFL they was pwned.

5) Ahem.

6) Pegabovine are going to start podcasting as part of our many-pronged assault on 2008. Because of this, I've been digging out some old radio sketches that I did at university. I'm not sure "Jeff The Tango Goat" has any real merit beyond juvenalia, but "Charles Dickens's Theory Of Evolution" has something. Please don't steal that idea and do it better than me.

7) We're going to do a Christmas show as well. Will confirm details.

8) I'm doing some other gigs.
16th December - Faultless & Torrance's Xmas Xtravaganzera - Etcetera Theatre - with Faultless & Torrance (obviously)
14th January - I Don't Like Mondays - Project Orange, Clapham - with Terry Saunders, Chris Boyd (The French), Girl & Dean, Steve Mould, EXCITEMENT!

9) Because of this, I'm redesigning our website. That's not particularly interesting.

10) I really should have written a review of Michael Moore's "Sicko", which I saw at the weekend, but I'm not sure there's much I can say, except you must go and see it. I cried twice, once through patriotism. This is very rare for me. I'm not normally patriotic as these things have a habit of kicking your ass, but "Sicko" for a moment made me think that Britain was a shining beacon of altruism in the face of a darkening American monolith. It's quite nice to Canada as well. The American health system, however, is destructive and awful, disgustingly selfish, corrupt to the core, and a sterling example of why any incoming president has an enormous amount on their hands. The most shocking thing? Hillary Clinton taking money from the HMOs to buy her silence. Let's hope that she did that in the face of absolutely overwhelming pressure on her not to screw up her husband's job, and that if it becomes her job, she wouldn't feel that pressure. Fingers crossed on that one.

11) I think that's all.
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"American Gangster" review [Nov. 14th, 2007|07:25 pm]
American Gangster arrives in cinemas feted as a proper old crime epic, a throwback to "Goodfellas", to "Scarface", to "The Godfather". What could be better than two hours and forty minutes of narcs and kneecapping, especially when in such capable hands as Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott? Well...

Washington plays the titular gangster Frank Lucas, a real-life Harlem kingpin who hits on the boffo idea of buying heroin straight from the growers, an early proponent of the Fairtrade movement. In fact… a bold, original idea? Stacks of money? Dark-suited Mafioso-types? Where have I seen that before?

Crowe plays Richie Roberts, the detective who uncovers Lucas's scheme, principally by going to the Ali/Frazier fight and seeing who is in the front row. Roberts spends the next hour and a half trying to catch Lucas with his fingers in the cookie jar, before Lucas discovers (SPOILER ALERT!) that crime doesn't pay. Crowe is in schlub mode here - an early scene of him working out, doing some benchpresses, and sculpting his guns, doesn't help to distract us from the floppiness of his hair and - later - his breathless panting after going up some stairs. It was genuinely weird to come back from the cinema and see "Gladiator" on the TV, with a lithe Crowe shanking some hapless Roman in the guts, and equate it with sad-sack Crowe making a crisp sandwich in "American Gangster".

To be fair, the acting in this is pretty great. Lucas is depicted as still and quiet where his contemporaries are brash, and Washington turns in his usual exemplary display of confidence, vulnerability, charm, and moments of pause. Crowe's character too is quiet, understated, occasionally brought out into righteous anger. How odd that the two main characters in this grandiose-seeming film are probably the two most understated, which makes their eventual confrontation and collaboration seem fitting and right. They're portrayed as similar people - both with great integrity, both with a very American drive for work, both with a robust set of principles. However, I prefer Washington as a hero - there's a real kindness in his eyes that even in his uberbastard mode in this and "Training Day" lets us know that everything's going to be okay - and never quite bought into him being the type to commit the sporadic careless violence that Frank commits.

The cast is filled out with some neat little performances - Josh Brolin as the corrupt cop is flamboyantly cruel, shooting dogs and wearing a mean moustache. It was great to see the awesome John Hawkes from "Me You And Everyone We Know" in a key role, and there are some good rap-related roles for the RZA, T.I. and especially Common, who puts in a warm and engaging performance in a very short time. (I wonder if Ridley Scott knew about the anachronistic nature of the RZA's Wu tattoo. Or tatt-Wu. Maybe the RZA wouldn't let them put make-up over it.)

Less impressive, unfortunately, is Chiwetel Ejiofor, who I ordinarily think is bloody marvellous. In this, he didn't really have much to do, and in a long-shot of the Lucas brothers walking down the street, his confidence was let down by his English shoulders (spot the body posture geek).

The less said about Cuba Gooding Jr the better.

Despite the largely good performances, the film never quite earns its epicness. (Epicity?) The film walks some pretty well-trodden ground, and it does so timidly - never quite wanting to grandstand as spectacularly as "Scarface", and demurely slinking around the glamour that the life has afforded Lucas. You sense that his family is what drives him to continue, and it is only near the end with events slipping out of his control that he starts believing his own hype and really becomes a monster of greed. What we are left with is the straight guy of crime, when we probably really want to see the hilarious excess of 'Mr Untouchable' Nicky Barnes. (Although preferably not played by Cuba Gooding Jr.)

The violence is shocking, but very sporadic, but provoked enthusiastic wincing from our audience. The film is long on quiet character moments and short on action; even the drive-by shooting is quite matter-of-fact. Probably the best influence of Ridley Scott is evoking the environment of Harlem in the early '70s, with rundown Projects contrasted with the 1970s version of high-class. "That's alpaca!" says Washington of a blood-soaked rug, "Don't rub it! Dab it!"

So, a pretty run of the mill gangster movie, with little to recommend it above re-watching "Scarface" than Washington's performance. Perhaps the most confusing element of the whole thing is that Jay-Z was so inspired by the movie that he recorded a whole album based on both the film and its parallels in his own life. As another drug-dealer-turned-business-man, you could perhaps see where Jay-Z was going, but where Jay's own glittering career signified a new business world where African-Americans could be dominant, the film ends with Lucas as an outcast from the criminal community, principally because his intuition and, to some extent, ethnic origins had alienated him from the Italians who had supported his dealings, upsetting the status quo. The film's final shot sees Washington released from prison in 1991, alone and vulnerable in a new world, soundtracked not by "Across 110th Street", but by Public Enemy. So why was Jay-Z so inspired? Perhaps it is that Jay-Z's business model went from crime to using his talent as a springboard into legitimate business, and Lucas's tale suggests how different things could have ended up for the Roc-A-Fella businessman - short-lived glamour, followed by punishment. Lucas's Gangster is American because of initiative and ambition, because of principles and respect, but in latter-day America, you either (to paraphrase another rapper/businessman) get rich or die trying.
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