Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sex and the City and me

After two weeks of tortuous waiting and half an hour of more tortuous adverts and trailers (why advertise so many cars before the ultimate chick flick), the plinky-plink of the Sex and the City theme tune started and my mind slipped (largely) into neutral. It stayed there most of the time, but did it ever have fun.

All the criticisms made by people who want to treat the film as a serious exercise in cinema are valid. Yes, its morality is vapid. Yes, there are more labels than in Topshop's factories. Yes, it does feel like five episodes tacked together. But yes yes yes, it is fabulous, and isn't that really what's important here? If you want 'satire' on fashion, watch Robert Altman's unwatchable Prêt à Porter.

The cast are all back, with public problems of catfights and pay gaps sufficiently submerged under an awe-inspiring wardrobe (as indeed is the one Big builds for Carrie). To the left is Sarah Jessica Parker in a Vivienne Westwood wedding dress, plus exotic cockatoo sur la tete. Characters are still delineated by clothes: Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is fierce in primary colour, Charlotte (Kristin Davis) does virginal chic, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) seems to have been clothed largely by GAP casuals.

It is this simplicity of approach which largely prevents any particular complications evolving, other than the obvious ones. Someone is going to cheat on someone, someone will have commitment issues. The only interesting plotline is Samantha's, because she has always been the one with hidden depths and a great range of sensitivity, which is the more affecting for its few appearances.

I felt sorry for Cynthia Nixon, since she was taken back to her early, inconsiderate, over-businesslike persona just to have her shaken out of it. Since the show ended with her as a forgiving, more selfless woman, her cruelty (and it is quite cruel) is a straw (wo)man.

You have to hope that the actresses enjoyed making the movie, since it gives them lustre but fails to develop or explore their personalities as the six-year series allowed. Indeed, writer and director Michael Patrick King seems to glory in (inadvertently?) parodying his characters - when Samantha surprises the girls with not one but (gasp!) two bottles of champagne, you get the sense that someone is being mocked.

There are a few laugh-out-loud lines, even fewer of which are as smart as in the series, but there is plenty of fun to be had gliding over the surface of Louis Vuitton handbags.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Laura Solon: just listen

I don't want to say too much about Laura Solon's new programme on Radio 4, Talking and Not Talking - it's too funny for description. Okay, it's also quite clever, so maybe discussion later. But now, just listen.

A Shrew tamed by laughter

The Pantaloons, whose name could easily be a conflation of pantechnical and lunatics, are a troupe of former City high-flyers who turn the comedies and problem plays of Shakespeare into, well, problematic comedies.

Performing last week at The Scoop, an amphitheatrical basin next to the Greater London Authority's testicular home and in what is preposterously known as 'More London' (as if a small plot of new glass offices on the South Bank added something to the city), their Taming of the Shrew is now touring around the country. Good job, too - exposure to a knockabout, commedia dell'arte style of the Bard could well interest children, as well as amuse adults.

The Pantaloons' approach is for all five them of them to play as many roles as they can possibly conceive of, with perpetual on-stage costume changes, and to have a simple set, but dozens of props to be battered about. Using a more comic, riotous style, drawn from all genres of performance (including slapstick and silent movies), they hope to bring out energy that could otherwise be lost.

It is fair to claim that they do indeed bring a great deal of energy to the play, and the laughs (so easily missable in Shakespeare's comedies) are plentiful. They also include lots of material devised by them to soften any edges they think are too rough or inject a contemporary feel. This works humour-wise - bringing back Gremio, who feels excluded from the play was fine - and in fact even helps take your mind off what is a rather lumpen plot.

The obvious concomitant problem is that it is very hard to inject seriousness when people keep pulling their trousers down, and there is no less seriousness in the Shrew than anywhere else. It becomes quite difficult to appreciate Kate's pain with a sudden jack-knife into drama. The constant comedy runs the risk of underplaying the other elements.

Having said that, the comic elements were certainly enjoyable, despite the best efforts of three future young offenders (no older than 12 now), whose idea of hilarity was to ride their bikes into the Scoop and yell 'pillock' at the actors. One shouted something about magic mushrooms, which implies he may actually have been a child since the 60s.

Caitlin Storery was a wonderfully versatile Bianca and Gremio (with a Methuselah-esque beard), and Don Conway and Mark Hayward made a handsome, suave Lucentio and a tough Petruchio. Martin Gibbons was hilariously nerdy, and Sarah Norton a surprisingly violent Kate. Particularly well played was the scene when Lucentio and Hortensio are trying to teach Bianca.

The Pantaloons have a noble ideal and a novel concept, and it would be wonderful if they could tour all year, all about the country. But - and I can only imagine this, having seen just this - there are only so many plays, and so many times, this knockabout approach will work. Just like any other theatrical concept, its strength will be seen in its flexibility.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Savaging Grace

Incest is evidently the new black, which is bad news for haute couture. As well as Polly Stenham's That Face, which I'll be able to review in a couple of weeks, the movie Savage Grace is out soon. Sadly, while awards bodies salivate over That Face, they'll be spitting on Savage Grace.

Based on the true story of the wealthy Baekelands - Barbara (Julianne Moore), a social climber; Brooks (Stephen Dillane), the heir to a plastics fortune; and their son, Tony (Eddie Redmayne) - Savage Grace follows the dysfunctional trio across the world as they hurt each other and make us miserable. Incest ensues, but not interest.

Instead of a plot, there are three beautiful people sleeping around and Julianne Moore acting hysterically. The only semblance of a plot comes in far too late, when Moore decides that the best way to 'cure' her son of homosexuality is to sleep with him. It's an effective scene, in that it makes your stomach churn, but after all the meandering, it's little recompense for the previous 75 minutes.

Director Tom Kalin has an assured hand, which is surprising since his last movie before Savage Grace (and directorial debut) was in 1992. He captures beautiful locations and beautiful actors (Redmayne has quite amazing lips), but where is the drama? Self-obsession naturally excludes an audience, but even the vain can be made interesting and given something to do. Instead, Kalin lets them get on with the tough business of being pretty, only fitfully prompting them TO DO SOMETHING.

When the projectionist failed to put on the fifth reel, there was an audible cry of relief. (It may or may not have been me.) But it got a laugh, and captured the sour feeling of the room. Savage Grace is a film that thinks it is showing you something profound about the capacity of humans to love and hurt each other; what it really does is show you how shallow and dull they can be.