Art, culture, London

Exhibition: From Russia

I had a chance to attend a Member’s Preview of the From Russia exhibition at the Royal Academy. The exhibition had a tricky start due to the status of some of the paintings as confiscated goods. The works are all here now though, courtesy of the Bolsheviks.

The preview was moderately crowded but not unbearable crush that these events can turn into all too often. The work on show is varied but the Expressionists predominate. Personally I reverted to type and really enjoyed the Constructivist and Suprematist pieces that are on show. Malevich has to be one of my favourite painters, even familiar stuff like Black Cross was great to see again.

The show has several pieces by Picasso who is normally a favourite of mine but they seem to be early stages in his Cubist phase and a far too Primitivist for me. Even the more “classically” Cubist on display didn’t grab me, maybe because it just doesn’t have any meaningful context. All the other Picasso Cubist paintings I have seen have usually been on display with at least a few Braques.

Of the native Russian painters Boris Grigoriev‘s Portrait of Vsevolod Meyerhold was the really surprising piece. A double portrait of an actor that has an amazing colour scheme. It also made me wonder why the double portrait is such a rarely used device.

I’m going to take a second look at the exhibition later but for all the fuss it does seem very thin.

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Television

Kirsty Allsop located in alternative universe

Kirsty Allsop, property matron, contributed a unintentionally hilarious moment to the otherwise tedious ING Direct newsletter I receive solely because they want me to take out a mortgage with them. During a self-serving rant about HIPS Kirsty charmingly declared in an outraged tone that the government would never dare interfere with professions such as teaching or doctors as they have so shamelessly interfered with property “professions”.

Presumably she would also be in favour of nationalising estate agents to ensure that their independence would never again be so threatened.

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Films

I am Legend

Okay, last movie post for a while I hope. The new Will Smith vehicle stars Will Smith as an Army Colonel and Scientific Genius with a Loving Family; Will Smith also manages to Save the World (again). You go Will!

Strangely the film is nowhere near as bad as it might sound. It is based on pretty good source material, a clever inversion of the vampire story. A lot of the original comes through although the script sprawls and often staggers under the weight of sub-plots. There is no need, for example, for the extensive flashbacks as the fate of the protagonists family is ludicrous and is far better left to the imagination. The appearance of survivors creates an entirely different film that is rather at odds with the initial section. Ultimately the film drowns in forced sentiment.

The most interesting comparison is with 28 Days Later which achieves a lot more deserted city for a lot less budget. The CGI vampires in I am Legend are almost comical compared to the Infected. They all look like a squishy bodied Gollums with laughter-inducing ragged clothes to save their modesty ala The Incredible Hulk.

So what is actually good about it? Well the wildlife CGI is excellent and Will Smith is one of those actors who is great at interacting with stuff that isn’t actually there, he’s an actor of the CGI Age. He also manages some moments of completely convincing acting, he does an incredible fear for example. Ultimately he undermines himself with the usual wise-cracking and clowning because he undermines the pathos he has just so painstakingly built up. However he is a decent action hero with a wider range than dinosaurs such as Stallone and Schwarzenegger.

The most notable thing though is the way it uses silence. Sound-wise is not quite Dogme but it is as close as you are going to get in a mainstream film. There are stabs, soliloquies and the sound has all been cleaned up but there is no orchestral music filling up dead scenes and there are long periods of silence which help contribute to the idea that this really is the last man left on earth.

Thank god for a little experimentation in an action flick, now lets have the sixty minute edit.

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Films

The Golden Compass

This is a great Christmas movie, sensibly adapted from the source material, sprinkled with good actors and great effects. The lead Dakota Blue Richards is a real find (although possibly you could have cast her just for the name alone) and gives a beautiful performance that is nuanced and convincing and makes her contempories in the film look terribly, terribly wooden.

Like all good Christmas movies theres a balance of light and dark and the constant menace at the edges keeps things tense and enjoyable although sometimes the pacing was too frantic.

I’m looking forward to the next installment already!

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Art, London

Art in the Park

By chance I stumbled across the Sotheby’s contemporary art exhibition in one of Londons squares this weekend. Giving that it was bucketing down with rain it was a welcome refuge and a chance to catch up with the art world in a venue that wasn’t absolutely heaving (unlike the Royal Academy).

The first shocker was that Bansky now rates about 40K+ for each painting. If the guy graffittis your house is now adds approximately 15% to its value. Yowzer! And to think how many times Bristol City Council erased his earlier (presumably more valuable) works.

The second was a reminder of how disturbing the Chapman Brothers mutant children are. I haven’t seen any of them for a while and I won’t be rushing out for some more anytime soon.

The exhibition was pretty excellent really for something free and drawn entirely from sales. It is always interesting to see how many Andy Warhols there are and what their expected prices are. There are a lot and they are probably cheaper than you expected. I also always come away from a collection of Warhols with a higher opinion of him as an artist. I think he really was one of the great artists of the last century and as his influence continues possibly one of the greatest artists ever.

One aspect of the show that was very new to me was the wave of Chinese contemporary art that has been going international recently. I had heard about it but actually it is all its cracked up to be and I would definitely like to see a more specifically curated show on the subject.

Finally there were a few Grayson Perry vases. I’m not sure whether this was or wasn’t the first time I’ve seen his work but I did think that his Turner Prize was deserved on the basis of this work.

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Television

The Return of the Master

Last night’s Doctor Who? Awesome. The return of the Master played by Derek Jacobi and John Simm was incredibly exciting and sinister. I am delighted at having one of the classic Who villains return and if there has to be another Timelord then this was the one it should have been. The casting of John Simm is absolutely perfect and this season looks like it is going to have a blowout ending.

By a strange coincidence I also limped to the end of the Life on Mars Season 2 DVD after missing the last couple of episodes when they were broadcast and then failing to make enough time to watch the boxed set until recently. I agree with everyone else in the world: Life On Mars has a good ending followed by a really bad one. Switch off after the fade out.

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Films

Sunshine

Just finished a viewing of Danny Boyle’s film Sunshine, yet another penned by Alex Garland (the pair did both The Beach and 28 Days Later). For the majority of the film it’s a treat; a tense psychological thriller about people on a critical mission that is likely to result in their deaths. It feels like the crew might actually have been psychologically screened and trained before blasting into space.

The minority part? There is a ludicrous slasher sub-plot that adds nothing and just undermines the rest of the plot. Blank it from your mind and you have a great film. However as with 28 Days Later you don’t really have anything that is very original. Like Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz Garland and Boyle are masters of the art of pastiche. Take the best of Solaris, 2001 and Event Horizon (along with the cream of dodgier fair like Mission to Mars and The Black Hole) mix them together with the best effects and photography you can muster. Bingo hit British Lottery film. Remember Boyle’s best film was written by Irvine Welsh.

Acting-wise it’s a stellar cast with obvious talent like Michelle Yeoh and Cillian Murphy. Benedict Wong is excellent and its hard to believe he has such a small role compared to the clich├ęd and underwhelming Chris Evans (clench fists, look anguished, “I-m act-ing, nnnh”). Hiroyuki Sanada does good work with another small part, he was very familiar but it was only with the power of IMDB that I realised I had seen him from Ringu.

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Television

Shipwrecked

I may be over Big Brother now but unfortunately my love of Time Team’s brand of non-event TV programming (not strictly true but it is certainly one of the least eventful programmes to go through so many series) has resulted in me coming across Shipwrecked. Two teams, each on separate islands do reality TV “surivival” while trying to attract recruits to their island with the winners being the island with the most occupants.

Now I have a new crap TV addiction because the series has just hit the point where faction and dissent has started to appear. It only takes a group of eight to fall apart apparently, four and five and you are too dependent on one another to get the job done.

It’s that weird mix of grotesquerie and insight that makes reality TV work.

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Films

Hot Fuzz

I had a chance to see the new film from the crew behind Spaced and Shaun of the Dead last night at a special preview at the ICA. Afterwards there was a Q&A with Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Frost I’d seen before but Pegg pretty much looks like he does on TV while Wright is munchkin sized with teddy boy style facial hair. Pegg seemed pretty much questioned out and had to stir himself at times to respond to people’s questions. The publicity trail does seem pretty gruelling though, the latest thing I’ve seen him do are introductions to FilmFour’s cult series.

I didn’t ask any questions and the only interesting trivia I picked up is that both Wright and Pegg are West Country boys and Wright shot his early films in Wells (which also the setting for Hot Fuzz). The next day I realised I should have asked something about the relationship between the lack of cop films and the tremendous about of police TV drama.

Anyway… the film is… completely amazing and all-round better than Shaun of the Dead so if you liked that you’ll love this. If you didn’t like SotD then there is at least a chance you will like this. Although all the regular cast members are around (except Mark Heap) there is an effort to get away from the Spaced characterisations (as acknowledged in the Q&A) . Although Wright’s style still relies on really fast cuts and out and out scene stealing from other movies it is actually a movie rather than TV on a really big screen. Pegg has dramatically improved as an actor and has a lot more screen presence that he did in SotD.

The script is really, really funny and there’s less nostalgia and more gags, situation humour and quips perhaps reflecting the use of anecdotes from real policemen rather than just recycling pop culture.

It opens on Valentine’s Day and I’d recommend it to anyone.

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Books

Darkling Plain

Philip Reeve’s Infernal Engines kidult series comes to an end with what appears to be an attack of the Harry Potter’s. A thumping great volume three times the size of any of the previous installments. Fortunately the book isn’t any slower as a result but it does often feel like the pacing is off and while divided into four parts it feels like there are actually two books here.

Part of the problem is the number of characters and sub-plots that are now floating round. There are at least five rattling around and rather like Pirates of the Caribbean it feels like everyone has to have their fifteen minutes. It is a satisfying (and darkly morbid) conclusion to the two main characters’ storylines but given that this is something of a tragic tale the constant diversions into tying up everyone’s storylines is unnecessary. I guess having closure is part of the kidult nature of the books. I’m trying to think what I might have made of this as a kid and I suspect I would have been annoyed by dangling threads.

Still I suspect that there were really two books here and a lot of the material could of been dropped without much loss. Was there anything to gain by returning to London? Was the Stalker Fang stuff really necessary given that she had to be returned to life to end her story?

Overall the series is excellent in its genre and the final book has some fantastic set pieces such as the desert scenes and confrontation in Airhaven. The conception of a world of mobile cities also seemed more vivid in this installment than previously where they were just backdrops for the action.

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