Moviewatch: An American city girl in the English countryside is not good for one’s stiff upper lip!

Easy Virtue

This adaptation of a Noel Coward play was great fun. It was full of great performances from an all-star cast, and some brilliant set pieces – involving a chihuahua, the can can, and a fabulous tango from Colin Firth, but I digress …

The roaring twenties are in full flow when John Whittaker has a whirlwind romance and brings his new American bride home to meet the family in their crumbling ancestral pile. Immediately a battle of wits ensues between his monster of a mother (the wonderfully clipped Kristin Scott Thomas) and Larita, a go-getter from Detroit (Jessica Biel). Colin Firth is the drop-out father still suffering from the stress of the Great War. Nearly everyone is either jealous or in awe of Larita who as a city girl, feels totally trapped in the countryside, but she plays them at their own game. Needless to say, there are skeletons in plenty of cupboards including her own to unearth! I also enjoyed a wry turn from Kris Marshall as the butler.

I totally missed this film when on at the cinema last year, but the DVD was a joy. The soundtrack was an odd thing though – packed mainly with the cream of Coward, but there were some twenties versions of modern songs cropping up which make you do a complete double take. It was enchanting, but with just enough seriousness to give you a rest between the comedy. I loved it.

Dear, oh dear, oh dear …

Did you see the Apprentice last night? The teams had to pick products to sell at ‘The Baby Show’. Mercifully both teams had the good sense not to choose the baby stilettoes on offer.

What were the designers of this product thinking of when they came up with these? They’re crib shoes for teeny, tiny babies of up 0-6 months for heavens sake. They make their wearers … no scrub that … they make whomever dresses their baby up in them look total bloomin’ idiots in my opinion. Nuff said!

Boxwatch: GW goes TG

GW for the uninitiated stands for Gardener’s World – the much loved and very long running programme on the BBC that’s recently had a makeover and new presenter.

TG stands for Top Gear – the hilarious boys’ own car programme with Jeremy Clarkson and co, one of the most un-PC things on telly, also beloved by many girls (but I am now very fed up of watching repeats on the Dave channel, unless it’s the Reliant Robin space shuttle sequence).

What could possibly link the two? Well GW’s makeover has been to make it distinctly more magaziney … but the thing that got me spluttering incredulously was the section called ‘The Potting Shed’. This is where presenters Toby and Alys (left) go and sit down in a fake shed and discuss gardening news. Then they have a big board behind them on which they post things garden related that are ‘What’s Hot’ and ‘What’s Not’. Is that a blatant rip-off of TG’s Cool Wall or not?!?!

For anyone who doesn’t know, the Cool Wall is where Clarkson and Hammond decide whether cars are sub-zero, cool, uncool, or seriously uncool. This involves audience participation and much ribbing of Hammond by Clarkson and can be funny (although not usually one of the best sections of the show, it breaks it up – makes it more magaziney).

The problem with the Potting Shed is that it has none of TG’s blokey humour. It has Toby being all jolly and Alys rather stiltedly going along with it – she seemed as if she would prefer to be anywhere else – poor thing.

Often when programmes have reincarnations as loved presenters move on, like Titchmarsh and then Monty Don did in GW it takes a while for the new ones to bed-in. Alys is fine – she was in the background before anyway, but Toby is a bit too jolly in an ‘it doesn’t really matter as long as you get out there and garden’ sort of way when he should be more of an authority perhaps as the show’s figurehead. I will keep watching (there’s usually nothing else on at 8pm on a Friday apart from TG repeats on Dave, after all), if only to see how the Potting Shed – seriously uncool wall develops!

One last thing, while on the subject of TG, we went to Beaulieu in the New Forest yesterday – ancestral home of Lord Montagu and the National Motor Museum – full of motoring treasures including many cars from TV and film. What we found out was that they’re developing a new attraction – the ‘World Of Top Gear’ and stashed away around the back of the museum under tarpaulins were all their silly creations from the show …. recognise these?

Did they actually learn any science?

A new series started on BBC last Friday called ‘Rocket Science’. I don’t shout at the telly much, but I did watching this.

An ‘inspirational’ science teacher who loves practical physics and chemistry takes a bunch of typical 13 year old kids who hate the subject and tries to convert them over a period of nine months into becoming fans. How does he do this? By propagating the belief that physics and chemistry is all whizzes and bangs. They do this by learning about pyrotechnics, making and putting on a firework display.

OK – this was just the set-up episode, but even so there were so many missed opportunities to just reinforce what the guys were seeing with good solid knowledge. They did a whole section on colour chemistry where they put some strontium chloride in a flame and it burns red, barium chloride burns green, etc. Then they went to see a fireworks display at Blackpool and they were all marvelling at the colours. I would have simply asked – “Who remembers which metal salt gives the red colour?” Just a small question to see if any of the lesson in the lab had sunk in.

He may well have asked this of course, but we didn’t see it on the programme – and it leaves me questioning the validity of just showing all the exciting bits. These and other thirteen year olds may well go on to choose science subjects for GCSE, but they will be so sorely disappointed that it’s not all practicals and flashy demos and actually hard work including lots of theory and some maths.

They did learn something too though. They were put into teams to do all the different tasks for putting on their own firework display for the head’s retirement party. Teamwork and leadership in doing the organisation were to the fore, as was woodwork building the frames for the finale message to be written in little fireworks. There was little science on display there – and then the party got cancelled due to a death in the head’s family. You did feel sorry for them …

… but only temporarily as, next week some of them get a fantastic summer holiday – going off to Nevada to learn how to make fireworks. Wish I could have gone. Also, who’s paying for all this – surely not the LEA? These are one bunch of lucky kids – I wish I knew the answers in how to get children more interested in science in an everyday way.

I’m not going out on Tuesdays now (unless I get back early!)…

Last night saw the return of one of my favourite TV series from last year – the second season of Mad Men started, and it looks just as good as ever.

Everything about this show is so stylish, they put an immense amount of research into getting it exactly right for the period at the start of the 1960s in New York. The dresses are so fabulous and woman-shaped, and Christina Hendricks deserves a medal for bringing real curves back into fashion as Joan Holloway, the Office Manager. Jon Hamm as Don Draper the Ad Agency’s Creative Director makes it all hang together and is always good to look at.

If last night was your first episode though, you’d be forgiven for not understanding half of what was going on between all the characters, as the show’s creators are expecting you to keep up. Plotwise it was rather slowburn too, although there was one real cracker of a scene. Don was taking his wife out for Valentine’s night at a very swanky hotel, and she bumps into an old school-friend accompanied by a much older man. Polite conversation ensues and after they go Don and Betty talk along these lines …

Betty: I never thought she’d end up with someone that old.
Don: I don’t think the relationship’s permanent!
Betty: I don’t understand.
Don: She’s a party girl.

Party girl – That’s a good one!

The bits I like best are those where the ad-men plus Peggy (secretary turned junior copywriter) get creative and are throwing slogans and ideas around. One of my ambitions at about eighteen was to be a copywriter in an ad agency – whatever happened to that eh?

So Mad Men is required viewing for me. Even though I have Sky+, it’s one I’ll happily stay in for. You can catch up on the show in some detail on its official website here.

Do the Hustle

The new series of Hustle started on the BBC last night, and as always it began with style, panache and tongue in cheek. Mickey Stone (Adrian Lester) was in Sydney being chased so he dives into the opera house, picks up a naval Commander’s costume and finds a limo waiting outside waiting to take him to his ship – so he hitches a lift back to London with the Royal Navy!

This is where the problems start – his old crew are all elsewhere, and he’s broke, and so begins the homage rip-off of my favourite film ever, The Blues Brothers, as he has ‘to get the band back together’. Albert (Robert Vaughn) is in jail, but Ash (Robert Glenister) is still around. Finding Eddie’s bar is shut and Eddie is now waiting at a swanky restaurant, they reprise a toned down, and hence nowhere near as funny, version of the Mr Fabulous restaurant scene to get him to join them again.

Meanwhile Albert has found them a mark, a feisty businesswoman with money to invest. They then get major inspiration from another great movie – The Sting as they set up a wire to get the stock market movers and shakers rather than horses this time for the con. It turns out the business woman was conning them, and Albert had conned them all into creating a new crew – but it didn’t con us, as every step was well telegraphed.

Still it was as slick, glossy and amusing as ever, but missing Marc Warren. There was also not enough of Albert who with his transatlantic been there, done it experience is the real star, whereas the new girl, blonde this time and slightly less smouldering, and her one-dimensional little brother (Matt DiAngelo) will need time to settle in – but they’ve only got five more episodes in this short series to do it… This is the fifth short series of Hustle – I’d be surprised if they made a sixth, but I’ll keep watching for some entertaining relaxation.

Oliver Postgate R.I.P.

I was so sad to hear of the death on Monday of Oliver Postgate. My childhood TV viewing was full of gems from him. Sadly, I was just beyond the age for the ‘Watch with Mother‘ lunchtime slot when Bagpuss came along, but I have always loved the Clangers

Some years ago, when my daughter was smaller, I got her this Mother Clanger figure, who will do a classic Clanger whistle when you squeeze her tum, but needless to say it ended up as my mascot by the computer.

Another thing I got a while ago, but haven’t read fully yet (but is now promoted up the pile ) is Postgate’s excellent autobiography Seeing Things, which is out of print but you may be able to get it used as I did. See if you can get the original version with the CD-ROM with it though, it’s a delight. As well as containing the entire book, it has many clips from all Postgate & Firmin’s series, plus extra notes on the chapters and more, all with the characteristic Postgate delivery telling you all about it on top, and Firmin illustrations throughout.

In the lands of the North, where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long the men of the Northlands sit around their great log fires and they tell a tale…

These words from the start of each episode of Noggin the Nog epitomise the art of their simple storytelling. However I’ll finish this post with a typically modest quote from the blurb on the back of his memoir, Postgate says:

I have never felt that the twelve or so worlds which Peter Firmin and I put together are in fact creations. We may have altered the scenery a bit, looked at it from a different angle perhaps, and the worlds have certainly taken on a life of their own. Even so, they are all really versions of this one, with troubles and delights that we can recognize – if they were’t they wouldn’t be interesting.
I am always delighted when people tell me how much they enjoy the films, but I am not being modest when I say that I did not create that joy. The ingredients are everywhere, I was just the cook.

* * * * *
Source: Own Copy. To explore on Amazon UK, please click below:
Seeing Things by Oliver Postgate, Canongate paperback (no CD)

By Dickens! …

… I’m enjoying the Beeb’s Little Dorrit. I watched three episodes back to back last night and loved every minute. I have to admit I nearly shed a tear when Little Dorrit left the Marshalsea looking back to lovely, nice Mr Clennam.

Talking of Mr Clennam, I definitely prefer Matthew MacFadyen here to his turn as Mr D’Arcy in the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice, (and of course he was the original hero in the first couple of series of BBC spy drama Spooks). I’m still not quite sure where Gollum and his Italian ex-cellmate have to do with it entirely, but love Andy Sirkis’ superb overacting as the nasty Frenchman. I also love young Russell Tovey (The History Boys), his anguish after Amy turned him down was hard to bear. In fact, the entire cast is magnificent and it’s yet another hit adaptation from the pen of Andrew Davies. I note you can already pre-order the DVD, but you will have to wait until the end of January for it.

Meanwhile, the plot thickens … how long can Amy last without her ‘friendship’ with Mr Clennam? What power does the evil Frenchman have over Clennam-mere? Who is the mysterious Miss Wade? How long can Mr Merdle survive living with such a nasty piece of work as his wife (and parrot)? I’ll have to wait ’til next Wednesday now!