Monthly Archives: January 2008

Casting the White House

My bad habit of reading entertainment blogs when I should be working has finally got the better of me. A post on the Guardian’s film blog about Oliver Stone’s forthcoming biopic of George W. Bush, which will star Josh Brolin as the prez, has now taken up residence in my brain and will not leave.

My first thought: dear God, what are we in for? Stone’s sledgehammer-subtle approach to film-making turns everyone into either a hero or a villain. And somehow I don’t think Dubya will come out as the latter. Stone

says his biopic will be “a fair, true portrait of the man” and will “contain surprises for Bush supporters and his detractors”.

This is absolutely the wrong way to go about it. If you’ve read anything about Bush’s early life, or his current administration, the only way to do it is complete gonzo black comedy. Go for the sickest laughs possible, because what other running joke has a body count in the hundreds of thousands? Stone doesn’t do laughs. All his films are excessively noble and po-faced, with the highest regard held for the office of the President. (See JFK, his paean to the titular president.) If I was doing it, it’d be different. For starters, it would have a tiny budget because I’m not Oliver Stone.

And so to the question from the original blog post that’s been occupying my thoughts — how to cast the Bush administration? Here are my ideas for the senior players in a story so bizarre it had to be true.

George W. BushJohn C. Reilly. Sure, Will Ferrell may bring the goofy expressions, but Reilly has both the goofiness and the narrow-eyed, grown-up frat boy malevolence that  pops to the surface when Dubya is (very) occasionally challenged on something. Chris Cooper also did a very good impression in John Sayles’ Silver City, but he may well come up further down the list.

Dick Cheney – Jon Voigt. Or any other old-ish actor with a line in creepy authority figures. To be honest, Cheney has a kind of sinister non-presence, which could best be replicated with an unknown actor. Whoever plays him though will have to master the growled delivery of “Go fuck yourself” to get the true character across.

Donald Rumsfeld – Chris Cooper or John Doman. Cooper’s experience at playing sinister, violent right-wingers will be obvious to anyone who’s seen American Beauty. Nevertheless, Doman (who plays ruthless senior cop Rawls in The Wire) is a pretty good prospect. Don’t tell me you don’t want to hear Rumsfeld referring to “this beshitted department” or calling a subordinate “a gaping asshole”.

Condoleeza Rice – Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Unfortunately, there’s not as great a range of black female actors as there are old white male actors to choose from, but the top-tier Hollywood set, the Halle Berrys and Thandie Newtons, don’t display the kind of toughness that Rice exudes. My choice would be for the British Jean-Baptiste, most famous for her performance in Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies, but doing an American accent in police drama Without A Trace.

Paul Wolfowitz – Steve Buscemi. Picture him sucking on that comb. See it? Suddenly don’t want to eat for a while? No, me neither.

Colin Powell – While Denzel Washington has been stacking up a series of stellar performances, there’s every chance he could act everyone else off the screen, which was in fact the opposite of what Powell did. Forced to go to the U.N. and drum up support for a war he didn’t believe in using fake evidence, he seemed diffident, defeated, compromised – the kind of role Don Cheadle would do great things with.

Tony Blair – Michael Sheen has become the go-to Blair impersonator following stunning turns in The Deal and The Queen. But that only makes him the predictable choice, prompting me to go left-field. David Tennant can do bug-eyed staring, weak, insincere grins, gulping faux-emotional delivery – in short he’s all of Blair’s tics and hang-ups. Add in puppy-dog admiration for Dubya and you’re there. And in the event of a British government spin-off, David Morrissey can reprise his role in The Deal as Gordon Brown. Then, the stage is set for Tennant and Morrissey to sing together in a retread of so-insane-it-was-brilliant musical drama Blackpool.

Any role you can suggest? Saddam Hussein played by the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld? Alberto Gonzales by that guy from Memento? And the all-important consideration – the violence is all there, but how are we going to get some sex into this thing?

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Not playing by the rules

Although it happens enough not to be completely out of the ordinary, you don’t really expect to hear of someone young dying. This, for me, was the most shocking thing in hearing about actor Heath Ledger‘s death. Scanning the front page of The Guardian, I read down the story and stopped dead on the words “He was 28.” It was a stark, shocking sentence, and I’m sure their are people who aren’t in their early twenties who would feel the same way.

However, the death of someone in my age group is especially sobering, mostly because of the perspective young people have on life and death. The former is something that happens to them, the latter isn’t. Part of being young is knowing that, no matter what you do, you are bulletproof. You take risks, do stupid things, because the thought of dying enters your head rarely, if at all.

That’s why something like this brings me up short. Although there are events more deserving of coverage, such as the blockade of Gaza, Ledger’s death has a certain resonance, simply because we’re about seven years apart in age.

In media coverage of the responses to his death, a similar attitude emerges:

A lot of people are reacting to the man, rather than the actor, especially those in their twenties who are shocked at “one of their own” dying. According to the New York Times, Nicole Vaughan, a 24-year-old law student at New York University, walked to Ledger’s apartment after she heard the news “because of the way our generation is, we sort of feel we’re a part of each other’s lives”.

At the moment, a student from Leeds Met named Gavin Terry is missing. There’s a concerted effort by fellow students to raise awareness to try and find him, with the Facebook group reaching almost 24,000 members. The same kind of connection is felt here: a young person is not meant to vanish, to go before their time. When someone our age dies, it’s often by accident or suicide, reminding the rest of us of the possibility of tragedy, that the ice we skate on is sometime very thin. As Joe Queenan says in his otherwise overly-sentimental tribute to Ledger:

There is no greater tragedy than for a parent to outlive its children, because the old are supposed to exit the stage before the young. This is why Ledger’s death seems not only tragic but morally incorrect. Once again, the universe is not playing by the rules.

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Tom Waits for no man (easiest joke ever)

Watching TV last night, I noticed that the BBC has developed an admirable liking for Tom Waits. Some discerning music supervisor had chosen his bar-room blues number “Walk Away” to soundtrack the end credits of Louis Theroux’s horrifying-yet-fascinating documentary about life in San Quentin prison. And immediately afterwards, I was treated to yet more Waits, with “Lullaby” playing over various shots of Mark Warren looking gloomy and intense in a trailer for gruesome serial-killer drama Messiah. Some thoughts:

1) I can’t believe they’re still making Messiah. I can remember being an extra in a scene from the second series years ago, and when I saw the finished product on TV, even at a young age it seemed pretty hokey and borderline-nonsensical. (Edit: Apparently this new series is the fifth. I’m not expecting a masterpiece.)

2) Is there any TV drama that Marc Warren isn’t in these days?

3) Oh yeah – “Walk Away” is on Waits’ 2006 collection Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards, and “Lullaby” is on 2001’s Blood Money. Both albums well worth buying.

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Cambridge gets typical mention in the press

…As a home of freaks and weirdos, of course! Grauniad blogger Abby O’Reilly, writing about being accosted by men in the street, gives us a heartwarming story:

Sometimes it’s humorous, not threatening, and the perpetrator elicits a certain amount of pity. Once when sat on a bench in Cambridge a man cycled up next to me, while impressively holding a can of Carling and a cigarette. He sat beside me. “I had to stop darling, you caught my eye.” I felt like I was on the set of some badly-made-for-TV romantic comedy. He then proceeded to tell me how much he liked “big women” and asked if he could take a picture of me using his camera phone. I refused. He had a strong Cambridgeshire accent, and noticing the lilt and intonation of my own Welsh lull continued: “You sound clever for a Welsh girl. People keep telling me I’m a cockney, but I tell ‘em, I’ve never been to Cornwall in my life.”

It’s the riding a bike with a beer can and a cigarette that gets me. Them’s the kind of skills you can only get in my town.

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Top Ten Albums of 2007

Yep, if it’s good enough for lazy hack journalists, it’s good enough for me – end-of-year list time ahoy! I thought of doing a best films of 2007 list, but I don’t actually see that many new films per year, and most of the ones that I did were at the Leeds Film Festival, and got reviewed in various entries below. I buy a lot more new albums each year, and frankly 2007 has been a great year for disocvering new things. Of the ten albums on this list, only two (The Shins and Arctic Monkeys) were by bands whose previous albums I owned. So, in order of when I bought them, here are the albums that made my year.

The Shins, Wincing The Night Away

Released: January 29th 2007
Length: 41:42
Label: Transgressive
Producer: James Mercer & Joe Chiccarelli

The latest album from the Albuquerque indie-popsters is at once joyfully simple and rewardingly complex. Bounce-along tracks like “Australia” and “Turn On Me” can be enjoyed as simple pop songs, but repeated listening to the album reveals subtle complexities under the seemingly simple melodies. The lyrics are cryptic but amusing, and the whole thing plays out in a easygoing mood, ending with a bittersweet taste.

Download: Australia, Phantom Limb, Turn On Me

Liam Frost and the Slowdown Family, Show Me How The Spectres Dance

Released: September 11th 2006
Length: 37:29
Label: Lavolta
Producer: Danton Supple

Technically, this actually came out last year, but I only bought it this March and think it definitely deserves more attention. Acoustic singer-songwriter music is ten-a-penny, and not a favourite genre of mine, but Frost and his band play beautifully and create a remarkably cohesive album that almost feels like a sweeping romantic film without pictures. Ranging from big string-assissted numbers to spare acoustic ballads, the album never makes a false step.

Download: She Painted Pictures, Shall We Dance

Klaxons, Myths Of The Near Future

Released: January 29th 2007
Length: 53:43
Label: Universal
Producer: James Ford

This album that ended up on most people’s end-of-year lists, and with good reason. The Mercury Prize-winning debut is a endlessly entertaining psych-rock oddyssey, shifting mood from dark mystery to upbeat pop, and confounding the listener with songwriting that combined genres and styles to great effect. Myths… set a depth charge under a recent slew of uninspiring indie bands, and laid the way clear for more left-field, inventive acts to grab attention.

Download: Two Recievers, Gravity’s Rainbow

!!!, Myth Takes

Released: March 5th 2007
Length: 48:14
Label: Vital
Producer: Justin van der Volgen

More mythology on offer from the unpronounceable New York collective (they’re actually pronounced chk-chk-chk, but actually saying that without sounding like an idiot is a real effort). Their latest album leads the listener through a dizzying array of musical styles. The lyrics follow similar transformation, from sardonic social commentary in the tale of seduction gone wrong “Must Be The Moon”, to complete gibberish in the towering jazz-funk freakout “Bend Over Beethoven”.

Download: All My Heroes Are Weirdos, Must Be The Moon

Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare Released: April 23rd 2007
Length: 37:34
Label: Domino
Producer: James Ford & Mike Crossey

In a year where several bands struggled with a follow-up to an acclaimed debut, the Monkeys seemed to dash it off almost effortlessly. Their music expanded to fit enlarged expectations, keeping the furious pace and adding extra layers of invention. Similarly, the lyrics refused to dwell exclusively on the sarcastic dissections of modern life featured in the Monkeys’ debut, in some songs transforming into abstract incantations. In parts, funny, ominous and tragic, Favourite Worst Nightmare is a mixed-up album for our confused times.

Download: Teddy Picker, This House Is A Circus

Biffy Clyro, Puzzle

Released: June 4th 2007
Length: 49:47
Label: 14th Floor
Producer: GG Garth & Biffy Clyro

From opener Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies, with its arrhythmic orchestral stabbings and apocalyptic choirs, you know you’re in for something special, and Biffy Clyro do not disappoint. The Scottish rockers take a more melodic approach on this album, but still create bizarre and enticing concoctions. The album veers from hard rock singalongs to gentle acoustic tracks, with a strong thread of mortality running through the lyrics.

Download: Living Is A Problem…, Saturday Superhouse

The Hold Steady, Boys And Girls In America
Released: November 6th 2006
Length: 40:07
Label: Vagrant
Producer: John Agnello

Sounding like a Minneapolis-based Bruce Springsteen, frontman Craig Finn delivers tales of nights out, youthful confusion and broken hearts in The Hold Steady’s brilliantly simple pleasure of a third album. Straight-ahead American rock’n’roll never sounded so good.

Download: Stuck Between Stations, Hot Soft Light

Lucky Soul, The Great Unwanted

Released: April 9th 2007
Length: 51:38
Label: Ruffa Lane
Producer: George Shilling & Andrew Laidlaw

Taking over from The Pipettes as this year’s 60s revivalists, Lucky Soul deliver an album that sounds utterly fresh even as it looks back to the past. Catchy tunes are given extra weight by complex, multi-layered orchestration and the swoonsome vocals of singer Ali Howard. Breezing through the litany of romance, with a diversion into adivce on mixology (“The bitterest cream makes the best cocktail curdle”, according to “Struck Dumb”), the mixture of bopping and ballads is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Download: Add Your Light To Mine Baby, My Brittle Heart

Jack Peñate, Matinee

Released: October 8th 2007
Length: 41:16
Label: Beggars Banquet
Producer: Jim Abbiss

Peñate’s bouncy, ska/skiffle-influenced pop propels the album along in leaps and bounds. It’s cheery, comic, reflective and even includes a shout-out to classic French film Le Grand Meaulnes on “My Yvonne”. In short, it’s a very appealing package.

Download: Spit At Stars, Torn On The Platform, Second, Minute Or Hour

Burial, Untrue

Released: November 4th 2007
Length: 50:28
Label: Hyperdub
Producer: Burial

My interest was piqued by a Guardian interview with enigmatic dubstep producer Burial, who described his anonymity as being “a bit like a rubbish superhero”. His second album, Untrue, is an absorbing soundscape, described in his own words as like “when you come back from being out somewhere … walking home across London late at night, dreamlike, and you’ve still got the music kind of echoing in you, in your bloodstream, but with real life trying to get in the way. I want it to be like a little sanctuary. It’s like that 24-hour stand selling tea on a rainy night, glowing in the dark.” Untrue immerses you in a night-time world of wet concrete and half-remembered tunes from a night out, weaving a spell that won’t be broken until long after the last track fades into silence.

Download: Archangel

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