Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Toy Story 3

First, the easy bit. This film is brilliant. Funny, fast-paced, ironical - people have talked about Wall-E or Up being among the major films of their years, but to my mind, this is the big-time computer animation that really has a claim for that sort of standing; notably, when it tries to be moving, it usually does so without being too blatantly manipulative.

However, it also left me glad that I don't have children, because that means that I didn't have to try and explain this film to them. Aside from the fact that the whole thing is about maturity and loss and the prospect of death, there are the three-eyed green blobs with their religious obsessions and eventual apotheosis, or Buzz's Spanish alternate persona and its curious appeal for Jessie. One also imagines generations of children growing up into their first encounters with the prison movie and PoW film genres, and suddenly realising what much of this thing was all about - and that's not just the minor cliches, it's also big-ish things about the corruptions of petty power. The film's direction also repeatedly employs the semantics of the horror genre, with the blank-eyed zombie Big Baby and the culminating plunge towards a hellish pit. And, of course, there's Ken, concerning whom one might choose to explain subtle concepts like metrosexuality and '70s disco fashion to the sprogs, if one wanted to get more complicated than just saying that he's evidently gay. All this is much of the point of the movie, mind, and I think that it's in more danger of befuddling kids than of seriously traumatising them, but it really does feel like a film about a box full of toys, written for a non-child audience - something that may confuse some parents as well as their offspring.

I saw it in 3-D, incidentally, and that proved unintrusive without being at all necessary in this case. Which I guess could be taken as the sign of maturity in the technology, or just money wasted.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Sherlock definitely accomplished what it set out to do - to update Sherlock Holmes and his surrounding myth to the 21st century. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were good enough as Holmes and Watson that I wondered vaguely how they'd do in a period-costume version, although Holmes's nigh-sociopathic callousness was maybe over-emphasised - the original would at least observe the social niceties when interviewing a distressed client, and would sternly declare his opponents to be abominable before diving into the clues. Maybe someone thought that this was just a mask, and a modern Holmes wouldn't bother. Meanwhile, the scriptwriters had enormous fun working stuff from the original stories into the modern-day version, doubtless seeing how much they could include that would make the people who just think they know Holmes accuse them of gross distortion before the people who've actually read the stories jumped in to point out the truth.

But oh dear, it was rushed. I got the feeling that the writers wanted a full multi-week series and pitched a story arc on that assumption - and the BBC said "great, you can give us that in three 90-minute episodes". So in the first episode, we got the Big Meeting and the basic relationships framework, and Holmes heard the name "Moriarty"; in the second, Holmes cracked a case (with the aid of one stonking big coincidence, if you were paying attention) and unbeknown to him, the leader of the villains was collaborating with someone who signed himself "M" and who employed a sniper (doubtless name of Moran), and in the third, Moriarty decided that Holmes was both threat enough and entertaining enough that he gave him an episode's worth of arbitrary puzzles at huge cost to himself and his credibility, then emerged from the shadows to reveal himself to be a bit of a loony, eventually setting up an arbitrary To Be Continued.

Okay, now BBC; it works, okay? That much should have been obvious from the first, but anyway, if you're prepared to believe it now, give Moffat and Gatiss at least a dozen or so episodes to expand into, let them wrap up the Moriarty nonsense with one mighty bound in the first (Moriarty was always a dull and cumbersome element to the original Holmes mythos, after all - making him a big feature of the modern version was a bit lazy), and let's see Cumberbatch and Freeman weave their intellectually sinuous way across modern London the way that Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke made Victorian-Edwardian London look so damn good.

Otherwise, don't bother.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Notes from a Holiday

Angela having a couple of weeks booked off, it was time for a break.

Starting, on the last day of July, with a day at the Cambridge Folk Festival. This was less laden with names I knew in advance than previous years, I must admit, which didn't make it any less fun - and at least the weather was decent, the day we happened to be there. I quite enjoyed Pink Martini - I know that some people wouldn't consider them to be folk, to an even greater extent than a lot of performers who show up at the Festival, but hey, I'm happy to regard 1930s lounge lizards who like doing covers of Ravel's Bolero as my kind of folk - while Kathy Mattea, doing what seemed to my untrained ear like a traditional sort of American folk-country, with a lot of songs about coal mining, was very good at what she did. Anyway, a good day.

The next day (our wedding anniversary) was lunch with friends, and the day after that was packing, because on the Tuesday, we flew out to Stockholm. I'm mostly going to record this in the form of a photo log on Flickr, which is still a work in progress right now, and may take a while to finish (I have a lot of digital images to sort through and tweak), but anyway, for the record, we stayed in the Hotel Rival (strongly recommended, even at the cost of directing yet more cash into the great Abba money maw - and by the way, if the Swedes are so proud of their internationally successful exports, how come I kept seeing references to Abba but none to the Cardigans?), which was located in Sodermalm, Stockholm's Bohemian quarter. By the way, "Bohemian" in Swedish turns out to mean "was poor working-class a few hundred years ago, and now has rather a good selection of nice little restaurants".

Stockholm actually turned out to be a great city for a holiday, if not the cheapest place to eat (and an even more expensive place to drink, thanks to the Swedish government's tax-based attempts to stope the Swedish people from drinking to dull the pain of living in an orderly, prosperous society). The generous supplies of good-quality coffee, sometimes actually free, compensated somewhat for that. The preferred building style often suggested a peculiar fixation on Renaissance Italy - a better model than most, in truth, although the local light wasn't exactly Mediterranean in intensity, which maybe reduced the effect rather - but the city's real advantage is that it's wrapped round and threaded through a lake and bay and archipelago; there was a feeling that the first thing one should do each morning was check which cruise liners were dominating the skyline that day.

Highest points of the holiday included the extraordinarily well-preserved centuries-old ship Vasa in its own museum, ascending the tower of the fortress at Vaxholmen for a beautiful view over the inner archipelago on a summer day, and strolling round the extraordinary outdoor museum and zoo at Skansen. Anyway, a good ten days.

And then it was back home.