They shoot, they score


My review for Radio Times of the new, feature-length documentary Score (released on DVD 2 April in the UK)



SCORE (2016)
DIRECTOR: Matt Schrader
STARRING: Hans Zimmer, John Debney, Tyler Bates et al


Matt Schrader’s first feature Score leads the slender field of documentaries about the work of film composers. Anyone whose interest runs deeper than humming the Darth Vader march will delight at the sheer who’s-who lined up for this tantalising insight into an artform that leading light Hans Zimmer reminds us keeps the world’s studio orchestras in work, while director James Cameron refers to the score as a movie’s “heart and soul”. Talking heads seated on swivel chairs on laminate-floored control rooms offer downhome wisdom like, “Bernard Herrmann had balls!” (Guardians of the Galaxy’s Tyler Bates) and “The reverse echo is really cool” (Scream king Marco Beltrami, who’s placed an old piano on the roof of his Malibu studio and wired it to a water tower for The Homesman). With its Kong-to-Jaws potted history out of the way, Score luxuriates in footage of crack musicians at Abbey Road giving life to Duel of the Fates from The Phantom Menace and Patrick Doyle cheerfully bashing out the Harry Potter Waltz on his piano. The notes of a motif from Lord of the Rings appear graphically onscreen, but apart from that, it’s sheer indulgence for audio-cinephiles yearning to see Tom Holkenborg call up the drums from Mad Max: Fury Road and play them on his keyboard. Zimmer speaks for every insecure composer when he imagines panicking, “You’d better phone John Williams, I have no idea how to do this!”


The abridged version, on the page:



Slow shows

TA155Gj It’s all a bit behind schedule this week, with Telly Addict not recorded until Tuesday morning due to the pesky Bank Holiday and a “technical issue” holding up its launch. It eventually loaded on Wednesday (although the Guardian has been kind enough to leave a nice plug for it up until this morning). Anyway, in it, the amusing nature of Jack Bauer saying the word “pub” in 24 on Sky1; a fine new historical drama, set in 1996, from the BBC1, From There To Here; the same channel’s one-off karaoke tribute to Dylan Thomas for his centenary, A Poet In New York; Gogglebox reviewing Gogglebox winning a Bafta on C4; and a fast look at The Fast Show Special on BBC2.

Kelsey Grammer as Tom Kane in Boss. Photograph: Chuck Hodes/S

Also, in other Guardian news, and in a much faster turnaround, an email arrived on Tuesday telling me that the box set of Boss (both seasons, currently still showing on More4) was out in June. On the same day I asked my friends at the Guardian Arts Desk if they’d like me to write about it for G2’s excellent Your Next Box Set slot. They said yes. I wrote it on Wednesday and delivered it on the same day. And it’s in the actual paper today. Hooray. You can read it here.

The future’s blight


Dystopia: I want to go to there. I have a real soft spot for dystopian visions of the future, or of the parallel present. Who wouldn’t? Utopia is clearly never going to happen. And if it does it’ll be based on credit, which never lasts. As a general rule – and I’m basing this on sci-fi films rather than sci-fi novels, as I’ve hardly read any – if things look bright in any given future, then things are about to go very badly wrong. Look at Logan’s Run. Or Westworld. Or The Island. Or Metropolis. Or, right now, look at Elysium at the cinema, or Oblivion on DVD.

Elysium first. Out on 21 August, it’s the hotly-anticipated follow-up to South African Neill Blomkamp’s sleeper hit District 9, which was also dystopian, in that it allegorised apartheid by way of a lower caste of aliens, disparagingly known as “prawns” and kept in a Johannesburg township by the administrative human master race. With a much bigger Hollywood budget to play with, it’s interesting that Blomkamp has stayed within his discomfort zone and created another sun-baked dustbowl shanty world, this time Los Angeles in a future when the earth has become largely uninhabitable; meanwhile, the 1% – as they are not called – are safely ensconsed in a revolving space station designed like an architect’s brochure of luxury gated living. (Star-gated, if you will.)

As a bleak and arid vision, Blomkamp’s is clever, as it accentuates divides already in place in our own unequal society: the poor are getting poorer, and the filthy rich filthier and richer. Elysium, the ultimate rich person’s retreat, even hangs in the air, visible to the majority who can never afford to zip up there in a little spaceship. (It’s fascinating, too, that in Oblivion – another exhausted earth, this time wasted by war, and with its oceans being industrially sucked up to create energy – a controlling space station, the pyramid-shaped Tet, also hangs in the air. I think I’m right in saying that, in both films, a spaceship ride to both Elysium and Tet is a 20-minute hop.)

Matt Damon is the everyprole in Elysium; he knows that the 1% get to lie in special pods that cure all known diseases, which is why he so wants to get up there; on this, the story hinges. We want him to get there; we identify with the 99%. In this sense, as with District 9, it’s a socialist film. The proletariat are always the heroes in dystopias, the workers who rise up. Maybe this is why I like these films so much; even though they have a musclebound hero (and Damon is pumped up to the point of looking like Stretch Armstrong), which cleaves to the old right-wing Reaganite 80s action-hero orthodoxy of one man saving the world – without help from Big Government, right? – they usually lead the downtrodden to a better world. I won’t say whether he does it or not, as that would be a spoiler. But you’ll root for him in a film that’s actually more interesting as a concept than as a film, as in the third act, it follows one too many sci-fi action presets.

Oh, and corporate America is the bad guy, once again. This happens a lot, and almost suggests that such films are not made by corporate America. (To be fair, Blomkamp’s is a co-production with money coming from Canada, Mexico and South Africa, as well as the US.)

Oblivion is also a thoughtful film, and with less metallic, Transformers-style action to bog it down and make it feel generic. Adapted from his own apparently unpublished graphic novel by writer-director Joseph Kosinski, it really is a like a graphic novel on the screen, with stunning production design, and gorgeous vistas, albeit ones set on a sucked-dry earth, awaiting the final departure of the last few humans. The race is not unsatisfactorily represented by Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough’s seemingly perfect couple, who live in a giant iPad on a stick above a scorched earth that looks like Iceland, where much of it was evocatively filmed, with CGI bits of recognisable New York sticking out of the top of it, recalling Planet Of The Apes, of course.

It’s hard to go into too much plot detail, partly because there are a number of key structural and temporal twists, and partly because it’s way too complicated. The story is well told, and Melissa Leo is key, even if her character only appears in a tiny screen on Riseborough’s touch-screen coffee table, as she represents the smiling face of authority up on the aforementioned Tet. Again, it speaks of our own time, as in flashbacks we see New York as it once was, and shows how fragile “civilisation” is. It’s more sombre than Elysium. Things get blown up, and shots are fired, but the more memorable scenes are quieter, more existential, and set in landscapes that seem to go on forever. Unlike Elysium, there’s not much city.

Although Cruise and Riseborough are frankly beautiful and serene, they are still the everyproles, technicians working on mankind’s final exit and maintaining robot drones, which protect and serve, with firepower. (Oh yes, it’s a short thematic hop to Obama and his unmanned weaponry in those drones, surely, especially as this is post-war.)

Nobody wants our own future, or near-future, to pan out like Elysium or Oblivion, with all-out war or all-out profligacy laying waste to the planet, even if some of the gadgets look nifty. You can keep those. Me? I feel trapped enough by the dystopian present. Especially on days when I feel like I already live in a one-party state, where the totalitarian government holds ordinary people in contempt and would willingly wipe a whole caste out if it thought it could get away with it in the media.

I recommend both films (Oblivion, the longer of the two at just over two hours, is out on DVD on 19 August), especially if you’re a connoisseur of futures that are so blighted, you’ve got to wear protective suits.

Hello, Taylor

I am not contrary by nature. If I go against the grain, or kick against the consensus, it is not through any deep desire to be “different” or to prove myself a “maverick”. But I am about to tell you that I thought two of the biggest critical and commercial Hollywood flops of the year – John Carter and Battleship – were absolutely fine.

John Carter came out in March; a sort of quasi-steampunk sci-fi saga based on a series of books first published before the First World War, it cost a reported $250 million, before marketing, and made around $300 million worldwide. As a result of the shortfall, or writedown, between cost and revenue, and expectation and cold, hard reality, the head of Walt Disney resigned, with the film being blamed for the studio’s Entertainment Division slipping from profit to loss in the first quarter of 2012. It was intended as a trilogy; it may have to be satisfied with being a trilogy of one.

Battleship came out in April and May; a noisy sci-fi maritime war movie apparently based on the Hasbro game of yore, it cost just over $200 million, before marketing, and made around $300 million worldwide. Nobody resigned, but it was considered a major failure all the same. Both films debuted at number one on the US box office, and both films slipped to second place soon after, presumably sunk by word-of-mouth as much as anything, although neither was reviewed kindly by the press and quotes for the posters were thin on the ground.

I caught up with both blockbusters on DVD. This seems apt, as apparent “flops” often make up the shortfall on DVD, where audiences are more likely to take a risk, especially if a film is being viewed by more than one person. And in any case, who cares how well or not a film did at the box office? Citizen Kane was a flop, and that’s pretty well regarded. The only people who care about box office are studio accountants, whose job it is to care. Is the film “any good”?

John Carter was released in 3D, so I can guarantee that would have annoyed me, had I seen it at the cinema. I was better off seeing it in 2D on my telly. Now, let me state this first: I really like Taylor Kitsch, the young star of both films. He found fame on TV as high school heartthrob and underachieving layabout Tim Riggins in Friday Night Lights, which I’m currently catching up with, five years later, thanks to Sky Atlantic. He has movie-star looks, and a movie-star torso, and you can easily see why he was groomed for the big-screen crossover. Although well-paid for both films, I’m sure, I now find myself feeling terribly sorry for him. He was the star of two huge studio disasters in a row – how unlucky is that?

In John Carter, he is John Carter, the Confederate Civil War soldier who winds up on Mars, where he must take his top off and fight an internecine war between two alien races, helped only by his soldiering skills and a new one: that he can jump really high. Director Andrew Stanton, who came direct from the digitopia with laurels on his head after his amazing work on Wall-E, among others, was directing live action for the first time, and was candid enough to admit that it was a learning curve for him, and that he needed a lot of help and patience from those around him. I’m no studio boss, but I would have perhaps given him a smaller, cheaper film to play with for his first go.

Anyway, if you go into John Carter with adjusted expectations, you might be pleasantly surprised. It’s an old-fashioned sci-fi movie, more HG Wells than William Gibson, and family fare; a perfectly serviceable Star Wars-esque caper, with some good CGI creatures and a watchable star turn from Kitsch, who’s like a less complex Keanu Reeves. Reliable, scenery-chewing support comes from Mark Strong, James Purefoy, Dominic West, Samantha Morton (some seen, some in voice only) and there’s some decent spectacle here. (When I say Star Wars, it’s closer to the latter trilogy than the first, but it’s in that desert-planet ballpark, and there’s nothing in it as offensive as Jar-Jar.)

Battleship, meanwhile, is like Transformers meets Tora! Tora! Tora! Although Peter Berg is best known for loose camerawork and naturalistic acting on FNL, here, he’s playing with a very big train set: actual battleships versus extraterrestrial ones – you know the kind: bloody massive, all groaning metal and bass notes, with that electronic whizzing noise every time something new emerges from the metal.

Put it this way, it’s a hundred times better than Pearl Harbor (it’s set on Oahu, Hawaii, among the US Navy fleet), as it’s self-aware and out for a bit of fun. When one character – a US Army amputee actually played by a non-acting US Army amputee for maximum “our boys” points – says something portentous, a nerdy computer guy – played with great humour by Hamish Linklater – says, “Who speaks like that?” It’s full of this kind of self-lacerating dialogue. It’s a film about an alien invasion based on a board game, after all. (I didn’t notice all of the visual parallels that were made between the game and the movie until they were pointed out to me afterwards, but the missiles the aliens fire at the human ships are designed to look like giant, malevolent versions of the plastic pegs used in Battleships. Ha!)

Battleship reminded me of Armageddon, and that’s not faint praise. This time, Kitsch plays a layabout with a more responsible older brother, just like he does in FNL, so he’s on safer ground initially … until we’re expected to believe that he transforms himself into a crew-cut US Navy officer in time for the invasion. There are too many salutes to the brave boys of the services – some real-life Navy veterans play a dramatic role, for instance, and there’s a lot of flags – but overall, it’s a perfectly exciting way to spend two hours.

Oh, and Rihanna’s in it, and she’s alright, too.

I watch a lot of small, inexpensive, often foreign arthouse movies, with no stars in, and modest ambitions, and these are my sustenance and my stimulants. But, you know, The Poseidon Adventure was a blockbuster, and so was Laurence Of Arabia, and it would be snobbish to demean their place in the cinematic firmament. Don’t be put off from renting a “flop”, because successful films are just as likely to be a letdown.

I’m seeing Kitsch in his next film, Oliver Stone’s Savages, next week – which is not a $200 million-budget toy-range blockbuster but a stylised drugs/crime thriller, as I understand it, with less riding on it. I have my fingers crossed for him. He deserves another crack at this. He has clear eyes, he has a full heart, and right now, he can’t seem to get a break.

(Interestingly, my friend Adam Smith of Empire magazine just Tweeted that Peter Berg told him Universal would consider Battleship a “flop” unless it made $1 billion. Those are big numbers.)

Something in the water

You may have read or heard about Black Pond, the proper-indie British black comedy that was made for £25,000 (next to nothing in budgetary terms) and shot over three weeks by first-time, twentysomething writer-directors Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe, as it earned them a Best Newcomers Bafta nomination, the London Comedy Film Festival Discovery award and the Evening Standard Film Award for Best Newcomers. I also read about it when it came out last year, but didn’t see it. My former Radio 2 patron Zoe Ball – who is a Bafta member – saw it and was raving about it, so when I noticed it being reviewed as a DVD, I Tweeted the film’s Twitter account to inquire who was doing its publicity.

Tom Kingsley himself emailed me back and said that he and Will were. This is a low-budget film, after all. Who can afford to take on a PR company? I asked if I could borrow a copy to watch, and he very kindly sent me one to keep. With all that positive hype and a layer of kindness spread over the top, I suddenly felt a terrible pressure to like it. God, what if I didn’t?

I did. It’s brilliant. It’s recognisably a British take on suburban, middle-class manners and media exploitation, and the familiar if unusually-cast faces of Chris Langham and Simon Amstell also give you something to go on (albeit, in the case of Langham, a strange feeling of unease, too), but Black Pond is not your average film. It is framed by interviews with the fractured and fractious family of four, the Thompsons: Langham’s dad Tom, Amanda Hadingue’s blocked poet mum Sophie, and their two daughters, Katie and Jess (Anna O’Grady, Helen Cripps), who seem collectively to have been accused of the murder and burial of a man at the local Black Pond where the parents still live in Surrey, minus the two girls, who have flown the nest and emigrated to London.

The rest is told in flashback. We might know about the murder from the outset, but I’m still alarmed by how much of rest of the plot was given away in a lot of the reviews when it came out in November (rave reviews, incidentally, with five stars from the Financial Times, and four from the Times, Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Express and Total Film). I’m going to remain cagey, other than to say, the arrival of needy but seemingly harmless stranger Blake (Colin Hurley, who seems previously to mainly have been in The Bill and Casualty, but what a find!) is key to the unfolding events.

Will Sharpe also plays the daughters’ besotted flatmate Tim, who, following the murder, sees an eccentric, cruel and self-serving shrink, played in his first film role by Amstell, who has a great time and provides Black Pond with its only overt comedy. I found myself laughing, too, at a frustrating conversation between Tom and Sophie in bed about whether or not it was a good idea to eat a banana in order to get back to sleep (“Sheer lunacy!” concludes Tom). It’s not that we’ve forgotten that Langham is a beautifully nuanced and naturalistic comic actor, merely that I think we’d got used to the idea that we wouldn’t be seeing him on our screens again.

Whichever way you slice his unfortunate backstory, he’s done his time, and made a fairly compelling case for why he committed his crime. That said, his presence adds to the strangeness of the film, which has an astonishingly compelling dream sequence that is fuelled by imagination and DIY special effects, and some animations that involve child-like drawings brought to life in crude, two-frames-a-second style. All this adds to the cumulative creepiness of the story, which lurches from Mike Leigh-style domestic awkwardness and comedy of leafy squirmsmanship (a sort of Archipelago goes to Weybridge), to moments of eerie darkness. The presence of a three-legged dog, Boy – played, animal lovers, by Bonzo – adds to the atmosphere of something not being quite right.

You’re aware that it’s a make-do-and-mend operation, but I’d rather see Black Pond than any number of over-budgeted “indies” that in fact parade their Hollywood production sheen with something approaching inverted snobbery. (Take This Must Be The Place: notionally independent in spirit and pacing, it has amazing, stunningly-shot New Mexico landscapes, but what is its medium budget really bringing to the narrative other than spectacle?)

This is Black Pond‘s website. It’s not worth your time just because it’s a first film, and made on the cheap, it’s worth your time because it’s great.


It’s not often that I agree with Jeremy Clarkson. Actually, it’s absolutely never that I agree with Jeremy Clarkson. But he called the feature-length documentary Senna “unmissable” and his quote made all the posters, for self-evident reasons. It is unmissable. It’s one of two films I missed at the cinema that I’ve recently caught up with. The other is Anton Corbijn’s The American. (Both of these films came to my local Curzon – one at the end of last year, the other this summer – but I managed to miss them both.) Senna, first:

I couldn’t be less interested in Formula 1 motor racing. But a love for, or even knowledge of, the sport is not a prerequisite, it turns out. Director Asif Kapadia and writer Manish Pandey have memorialised Ayrton Senna the reckless Brazilian motor racing champ by assembling what would be the last ten years of his life from footage at various Grand Prix (is that plural of Grand Prix?), up to and including the one in which he was killed in 1994, San Marino, aged just 34. New interviews with key associates and friends paint a post mortem picture of the man, but it’s the way the film builds to its inevitable climax using existing material – coverage from various TV networks, plus in-car footage that may not have been seen before, which puts you right there on the track – that is its masterstroke. I knew he died in a crash, but I didn’t know which year it was, or which Grand Prix, so the tension for me ought to have been multiplied – but so persuasive is the dramatic momentum that you can smell his final crash approaching long before it happens. Even though it’s a true story – and seems to be a fair and accurate portrait of the man, his moods, his passions, his rebellious streak, his near-death wish and his childish and nihilistic rivalry with Alain Prost – it has all the elements of a fictional tragedy, not least the portents of doom that come with technical developments to the Williams car that made it a death-trap waiting to happen, or so it seemed to a novice like me. I was taught in O-Level English Literature that a tragedy always involved a protagonist who had a flaw; that certainly applies to Senna, if believing oneself to be immortal is a flaw in motor racing.

Documentaries are often bogged down with dramatic reconstruction, and facile melodrama underscored by music, but Senna does it all so organically, and that old phrase “found footage” takes on a new power. There’s no doubt that the retrospective testimony helps to shed light on the story from beyond the grave – not least that of the chief F1 medic, who clearly grew weary of having to treat Senna so regularly and at one point offered to retire with him and go fishing – but, thanks to the nature of the sport, the evidence is already on film.

Oh, and no, it didn’t make me want to watch Formula 1. Or Formula 2. Or any of the other Formulas.

The American is rock photographer’s Anton Cobihn’s follow-up to the widely and justifiably lauded Control, which was a personal project for him, and very much from within his comfort zone, to borrow a phrase from Masterchef. In it, he effectively animated his own black and white photographs of Joy Division, but proved himself an adept handler of actors and performances across a much wider canvas than the one he is used to: either the short form video, or the paper he lifts, dripping, from plastic trays in a dark room. Here, he takes a novel as his source, adapted for the screen in a very spare, often wordless way, by Rowan Joffe, and takes us to the stunning Abruzzo mountains of Italy, for what he has turned into his contemporary tribute to spaghetti Westerns. (I am not clever for spotting this: Once Upon A Time In The West plays on a TV in a cafe; the proprietor even identifies it as the work of Sergio Leone, in case we were in any doubt.)

George Clooney, looking all serious and grey (but still well buff for an old man, of course), is a gun for hire who is ordered to go and lay low in a remote Italian town and await instructions. He poses as a photographer, although an old priest he befriends (Paolo Bonacelli) quickly sees through that, and can’t stop himself falling in love with a local prostitute (Violante Placido), despite the danger such a break from cover might engender. There is a lot of stuff with guns – Clooney has to design and build a special rifle and is often seen sitting at his modest kitchen table polishing and filing and clicking bits of metal together (more of a mechanic than an artist, as the priest sagely observes) – but although it’s essentially a thriller, it’s far more of an existential piece. Paul Schrader was talking on the most recent episode of Mark C0usins’ Story Of Film about his interest in Camus and Sartre, and how they fed into Taxi Driver and American Gigolo, and I, for one, lamented the loss of this kind of creative impetus in English-speaking film. However, Joffe and Corbijn have dared to pull back from conventional action set-pieces – although there are plenty of these in Castel del Monte’s narrow streets and steps – and allow the drama to unfold inside the main character’s head. Clooney, a handsome man, let’s not deny it, looks great as he sits silently in cafes, and he smiles even less than he speaks, but in this setting, we are invited to imagine his internal dialogue. He seems haunted. We have seen him, in a epilogue, at work as a ruthless and cold killer, but we know there beats a heart inside his breast.

I must admit, I adored The American – and for once, it wasn’t just because of my boyfriend Clooney. Corbijn once again brings the beautiful composition and Hopper-like simplicity of his own bold and sweeping photographs alive, but aside from hints of his videos for U2 and Depeche Mode (especially in the red-lit brothel, in which I half expected to see Adam Clayton dressed as a woman with a big feather boa around his neck), this was a brand new set of prints. A surreal, fixed, bird’s-eye shot of a winding road and Clooney’s car going along it is especially effective. And some of the colour-coded lighting around the narrow streets and tunnels is brilliantly theatrical.

This is a film about individuals lost in the landscape, searching for meaning in a potentially meaningless world. Clooney has no God, and at one key juncture elicits a confession from the priest while vouchsafing his own secrets and sins. In Castel del Monte he is surrounded by the blood ritual and enduring smalltown faith of Catholicism, while his work is clinical and secular and violent, and leaves him with no base, no roots, no history. Schrader – brought up a strict Calvinist – injected Catholicism into much of his best work, and seems still to be wracked with existential doubt. This is where the interesting stories often arise.

The wrong man

This is a partial image of the poster for The Tourist. Because I only partially saw The Tourist. I had fully intended to watch it all, on DVD. But it was awful. So I turned it off and stopped watching it. The context: it is the second film from writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnesmarck, the apparent genius behind one of the finest films of 2006, the Oscar-winning The Lives Of Others. I met and interviewed this giant of a man at the time for Radio 4, and came away suitably impressed. I’d loved his first feature, and, fluent in five languages and an actual, leonine German nobleman, he seemed to be a superstar in the making.

Having spent three years making The Lives Of Others, Henckel von Donnesmarck understandably fancied a break from the doom and gloom of the East German secret police and their pinched-faced surveillance culture, so he decided to make an old-fashioned, 60s-style spy caper, the kind which might once have starred Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, but in 2011 can only star Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Set in Venice, revolving around a case of mistaken identity and with an early scene of two strangers meeting on a train, it would be a shamelessly Hitchcockian travelogue thriller romp. I was intrigued. I don’t much like Angelina Jolie onscreen, but I have an awful lot of time for Johnny Depp, an offbeat, intelligent actor and the only person I ever interviewed who smoked all the way through it. (This was pre-smoking ban, but nonetheless rare in mixed, professional company and among straight-edge, pleasure-averse Hollywood royalty.)

So, we sat down to watch it. And lasted about half an hour.

Because The Tourist had endured some horrible reviews, we had low expectations but went in with an open mind. And, ironically, it wasn’t as bad as you might expect. Certainly not as bad as Eat, Pray, Love. Jolie was poised and pert and old-fashioned (it’s set in contemporary times, by the way, but harks back to cigarette-holder 50s and 60s glamour and really ought to have been honest and set in the 50s or 60s), and her English accent was fine; Paul Bettany seemed a good fit for the harassed detective trying to catch a criminal; further British casting added Rufus Sewell, a revived Timothy Dalton and Steven Berkhoff to the list of potential attractions; and Johnny Depp … well, he’d be Johnny Depp, right?

Wrong. Depp, looking uncharacteristically puffy and unhappy, was actually the weak link. Miscast and possibly misdirected, I know he was supposed to be a crumpled “math” teacher dragged into an international manhunt because he’s the same height as the real criminal, but “everyman” is not his strongest suit. His actual suit looked wrong, too. He didn’t seem to know if this was a comedy or a thriller, and nor did the rest of us. Jolie’s character leads Depp to believe she’s seducing him, when in fact she’s using him, and they fetch up at the poshest hotel in Europe, and then Berkhoff’s gangsters turn up and suddenly there’s running in pyjamas over rooftops, and …


That was enough of that. Life is way too short to watch films that you don’t really want to watch. I hadn’t read much about The Tourist‘s genesis, but, the statutory lazy remake of a recent French film, it seems that it had been passed like a parcel from director to director, and from actor to actor (it could have been Charlize Theron, who I’d have preferred, acting against Tom Cruise, or Sam Worthington, either of whom I’d also have preferred), and when Henckel von Donnesmarck signed back on for the second time, he apparently rewrote it in two weeks and knocked it off in two months.

Maybe it got better in minute 31 and thereafter. I’m afraid I didn’t stick around to find out. I’m sure the German nobleman will live to make another great film. The Tourist defied the critics and took $277 million worldwide. The people have spoken. The people were obviously not as disturbed by Johnny Depp as I was.

Good to try stuff out, though. It takes all sorts. Sniiiiiiiiiiiip!

Some product

No, not a blog entry about the new exfoliator I have been using this week – which has turned my face into a lady’s – a different kind of product. My first ever and possibly only ever DVD. Available today from Go Faster Stripe at a hopefully affordable price of £12, Secret Dancing is the souvenir of my 2010 Edinburgh show, filmed at Cardiff’s Masonic Hall on November 3 last year before an enthusiastic sellout audience of podcast fans who had to put up with my one-man show in support of the actual Collings & Herrin headliner. You can watch two short clips FOR FREE on the Go Faster Stripe website, which is also the only place you can buy the disc itself. I haven’t actually held one in my hands yet, but I love the simple way it’s been designed and packaged. It’s weird for me to watch it, especially in the unforgiving glare of the house lights required for filming, and to see the sweat build up around my brow, and the occasional nervous jiggle of my leg.

I know I am an impostor in the world of stand-up, but I hope this brief flirtation with my favourite form of entertainment has been if nothing else, self-aware and appreciative. I loved doing Edinburgh on my own last August, as you know, and it is testament to the idiosyncratic, cottage-industrial autonomy of Chris Evans at Go Faster Stripe that this lovely document of that adventure can even exist. I hope you like it. The extras are rather sweet: Richard’s glowing introduction and career retrospective; a poor-quality bootleg of the Edinburgh show at Bannerman’s, made by fellow Free Fringer Frog Morris; some iPhone footage of Richard and I preparing for our now-decommissioned 6 Music show in Caffe Nero and in the 6 Music office; and a terrific video by Nathan Jay for one of the tracks he allowed us to use for the Secret Dancing demonstration. (Tough luck, Mark Ronson, BAD, the Wiseguys, PM Dawn and the Sugababes: we chose not to use your music!)

The two free clips are here:

Serial killers


Hen’s teeth

A rare chance this year to see me and Richard Herring live. I have, as you know, retired from stand-up, but I am happy to podcast live with Richard should the opportunity arise, and it has. Here’s how it has come about: Go Faster Stripe will be filming Richard’s current, one-Christian-boycott-per-every-two-towns show Christ On A Bike at the trusty Leicester Square Theatre on Wednesday May 18. Directly after the show, at 10pm, we will be doing a live podcast as an exclusive, filmed extra for the eventual COAB DVD. This will not be released as a regular, audio podcast, so you’ll have to come along, or buy the DVD, to see it.

You can buy a double ticket to both shows for £25, or for either of the individual shows for £15 (buy COAB tickets here; and podcast tickets here). I think this is a good deal. Your money will help pay for the filming costs. It’s a bit like being a Marillion fan. The image above shows how many nerds – in grey – have already bought tickets for the podcast show, over two months in advance. So get in now. Because it will be a non-topical podcast, we’ll be canvasing the audience for subjects and questions to talk rubbish about. In other words, you’ll be a part of the show. It should be a memorable and very long night. (Less long if you only buy a single ticket.)

See you there. Hens do not have teeth.

Oh, and Secret Dancing DVD coming soon. Advertisement ends.

Last chance to see

On November 3, 2010, I will be performing Secret Dancing for the final time. If you are in or near Cardiff, you can come and see it – tickets are available exclusively through Go Faster Stripe here – and many of you are booked to do so already, without realising what a historic night you will be part of. Richard and I are doing a day’s recording in Cardiff for our second podcast CD, provisionally entitled War, Peace, Crime and Punishment (hopefully available in time for Christmas), and a live podcast gig in the evening. But Chris-Evans-not-that-one had the harebrained idea of doing Secret Dancing as the support act and filming it for a future Go Faster Stripe DVD. This seemed too good to pass up, and Richard has magnanimously handed over the whole of the first half to me.

We hope that this will be a nice surprise for all those who have already purchased a ticket. I have performed Secret Dancing, the full show, 19 times, 16 of those in Edinburgh. Like Stewart Lee says in his book, it feels like a good idea to draw a line under what was an experiment, and by committing it to disc, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

I’ve had a lot of fun, but I am not a stand-up comedian, and although I was keen to pursue this one, just to find out if I could perform my own solo show at the Fringe, I still feel something of a fraud, and have not paid my dues, and I cannot realistically spend every evening doing so like professional comedians do, so it would be insulting if I continue to jump the queue and “dabble”. I have loads of writing work to do anyway, so performing the show one last time, in a city that has been very kind to it before [see: pic, taken at St David’s Hall last time Richard and I were in town], seems poetic and apt. I hope we get as many enthusiastic volunteers at the end – we’ll have to see whether the modest camera crew will encourage or discourage volunteers!

Anyway, I’m looking forward to it, and I hope that my decision to lay the show to rest will make Cardiff more of an “event”. It will certainly be a packed day.

We think our gig in Bristol is sold out, but worth checking, if you’re in the vicinity. I won’t be doing Secret Dancing there, as Richard and I will be sharing our pre-interval duties, and I’ll only have 20 minutes to play with. I might do the Mitfords if that seems like a popular option. If not, I’ll do an excerpt from Secret Dancing, the bit about moving to Surrey.

In other Go Faster Stripe news, my audiobook, Where Did It All Go Right?, has been reduced in price to £10, so if you haven’t bought it yet, now might be a good time. I’ve had some really nice responses to it, and people ask me if the other books will come out as audiobooks, to which the answer is: it really depends if we sell enough of these, which we haven’t yet. It’s clearly a niche product. We probably should have done it as MP3s, which would have meant less discs, and less packaging, although for my first and possibly only audiobook, I’m rather pleased with the way this one feels. It’s a beautiful item. Anyway, plug over.