At the match: Bexhill United Ladies v Phoenix Sports

Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2018, All rights reserved

Bexhill has weather. Even with a cursory look back at *every game I ever seen in Bexhill* it’s obvious that Bexhill has weather that is worthy of comment nearly every day. And so it was today. During the ninety minutes of the game there were times when the sun was so bright players couldn’t see the ball, there were deluges, there was wind that shook the ball off its direction and there was such darkness the floodlights had to be switched on. And we had several rainbows just to complete the mood. There was also football as Bexhill United and Phoenix Sports played out an entertaining and combative 1-1 draw.

As today is Remembrance Day there was a well-observed minute’s silence before the match. Amidst all the talk of the armistice being 100 years ago there was so much about the game and setting that would have thoroughly bewildered those men who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Great War. Perhaps the least surprising would have been the sight of women playing football. After all, the Dick Kerr Ladies were founded in 1917 and women’s football was popular entertainment during the war. But plastic pitches, lightweight boots, balls and shin pads, and illegal passbacks … truly, the world turns in odd ways.

This was a decent game. Perhaps lacking too much that would have made a highlights reel there was a competition across the park and enough chances to satisfy any passing thrill seeker. The Phoenix goalkeeper in particular showed some expert shot-stopping to deny Bexhill, although the visitors in green probably had more of the play and territory. Evenly balanced and the two shared first-half goals (both the result of corners) probably led to a fair result.

Maybe next time I come to Bexhill I’ll be able to avoid mentioning the weather. I doubt it. For now though, here are some photos of the game (not great but then they never are).

Film Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

‘They’ are calling Bohemian Rhapsody the critic-proof film. If not quite universally panned then certainly universally ‘meh’-d in critical circles, the film is, several weeks after release, still playing to big numbers at screens across the country. And so it was in darkest Hastings where, persuaded by my elder son, we took our seats in a well-attended mid afternoon showing. And how was Bohemian Rhapsody received? Well, that’s easy to answer. The ending was greeted with a round of applause and, as the lights went up, it became obvious that a sizeable portion of the audience were crying. Or to put it even more succinctly, as a young woman said to her friend: That was the best fucking film I’ve seen all year.

The disparity between critics and reception should surprise nobody and it almost certainly won’t surprise the remaining members of Queen. It’s an act of delayed revenge that sees the adoration that greets the release of Bohemian Rhapsody (the song) in Bohemian Rhapsody (the film) overlaid with damning critical comment from the time, the kindest of which calls the song ‘adequate’. Or ‘meh’ in today’s parlance.

Let’s talk about what this film isn’t. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an honest retelling of the life of Freddie Mercury and the musical development of his band, Queen. But if you’re the kind of person who wants such a thing you’re probably not likely to be a fan of Queen anyway. Not really. Queen, and obviously Mercury in particular, were always about the show. And that’s what you’re getting here. This is the life of Freddie Mercury and the musical development of the band Queen which, with a cursory regard for established facts and details that are already pretty well known, wants take you on the kind of ride that the best Queen songs do.

The culmination of the story is Live Aid. If you know, or remember, anything about Live Aid it can be summed up as: “Give us your fecking money”, the opening announcement, Phil Collins playing a wrong note … and Queen. Every other band or performer who was there will need to refer to a wikipedia page to convince anyone now. Not Queen. And they returned a year later with their triumphant Wembley shows which were captured in a rather legendary episode of The Tube. So, somewhat incredibly, the sight of a nation unified around the clapping section of Radio Gaga is not some fantasy moment, it actually bloody happened.

The rest of the film? A smarter man than me would already be going “is this the real life or is this just fantasy”? Let’s just say that it’s going to take the kind of drugs that Freddie is on during his brief foray into a solo career for me to believe that that’s how some of the most heard and loved songs of the late twentieth century came into being. But who gives a shit? It’s probably close enough, and it’s damn well how they should have come into being. Enjoy the ride.

And, if you love the music and you’re happy to go with it, Bohemian Rhapsody is a great ride. Rami Malek has taken all the plaudits and he more than deserves them. His Freddie Mercury isn’t a shallow impersonation, it’s a perfect study of the man. The other band members are harder to judge but the roles are nicely defined and simply done: Roger Taylor is a ladies’ man and wit, Brian May thinks about things and has feelings, and John Deacon is quirky but genuine. Lucy Boynton makes the most of her role as Mercury’s muse turned girlfriend turned rock. And the rest of the cast perform their parts as either heroes or villains with gusto. Shades of gray there are not.

After a troubled production history, Bohemian Rhapsody is surprisingly coherent and breathtakingly confident. And, if you’re swept along, the emotional turns towards the end are surprising and genuine. [Slight spoiler] I’m not remotely ashamed to say that when Mercury tells his bandmates that he has AIDS that my eyes started to glisten nor that by the end (it’s pretty much a straight line from that point to the Live Aid finale) I was one of the ones who the lights up revealed had been, maybe, crying just a tad. A tad? If I’d had mascara it’d have been all over my cheeks.

My expectations were low. I was unimpressed by the trailers and I nodded along with the reviews. And the thing is: those reviews are right. By any objective measure this is far from being a great film. But then, I guess, Queen were never about objective measures. Bohemian Rhapsody (the song) really is a six minute bewildering pile of nonsense. And yet, it’s also, emotionally honest and hits you right there. And so does the film.


National Gallery: Ed Ruscha – Course of Empire

Ed Ruscha, Blue Collar Trade School

Painting like Ed Ruscha is the same as writing like Raymond Carver: it looks simple so everyone thinks they can do it. How many sixth form poets have written blank verse about a man eating an apple, how many A-level students have done a mostly-empty painting of a gas station and thought they were making a statement? But here, late in the day, in a small, single-room show at the National Gallery is the master to show how its done.

Revisiting places he observed twenty odd years ago , Ruscha’s now quintessential Americana, with their echoes of Hopper and other early twentieth-century observers of US  modernity, is contrasted with the same style, same vantage point of views now changed. The telephone booth is now gone entirely, the Tech-Chem building now bears “Fat Boy” as a slogan and one place has been transformed into a Korean outpost. Seemingly passive observation allowing multiple interpretations.

This is an intelligently put together and well presented one-room exhibition. And despite the best efforts of the vocal National Gallery welcomers asking for a donation it is free. Well worth a visit.

At the match: 3rd Women’s ODI, England v South Africa

Late in the game … Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2018

In the end, it was surprisingly easy. By which I mean not only did England negotiate their run chase without any of the barriers that loomed on the horizon properly blocking their progress but I also made it to and from Canterbury via the park & ride without either getting lost or feeling the urge to shout obscenities at anyone. Triumphs all round.

The promised sun didn’t materialise until the match had started by which time South Africa had wobbled slightly with the loss of Lizelle Lee to an lbw which looked plumb but replays show would have missed the stumps. But that paved the way for a captain’s innings from Dane van Niekirk who added 103 for the fourth wicket with Laura Wolvaardt. Then, having done the hard work and built painfully steadily, the visitors were pushed into a collapse sparked by a brilliant stumping by Sarah Taylor which sent van Niekirk back to the pavilion on 95 and South Africa down from 212/4 to 223 all out.

England didn’t start well in reply. Tammy Beaumont more than rode her luck, Amy Jones made it into the 20s again before getting out and Sarah Taylor started boldly before being out for 5. But then, as van Niekirk had done, Heather Knight strode out and did what captains are meant to do. Beaumont visibly calmed and both began to play some delightful shots whilst hard running put constant pressure on the field. Beaumont made it to 105 before falling lbw and the winning runs came from four wides with 36 balls to spare. The scorecard says it was easy and in the end maybe it was, but England had fought hard for that.

There was a decent turnout. A few school groups had mixed levels of interest but most of the ground was very well populated with people who’d paid for their tickets. If the demographic was at the older end then that’s what you get for starting at 2pm on a weekday. The shop was doing a decent trade in England merch, which looked all the better when placed next to the clip art disasters that Kent seem to specialise in.

So, all in all, a decent day and a series win for England. And a personal victory as I managed to pilot a small car in the right direction both there and back. If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.

Stade Saturdays: Compagnie DYPTIK

D-CONSTRUCTION by Compagnie DYPTIK; Photo Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2018, All rights reserved

Their website says they are playing in ‘Hasting’; the Stade Saturdays website welcomes ‘Compagnie Dyptic’. At least a scaffold-based, techo dance programme with allusions to West Side Story and the migrant crisis doesn’t have a language barrier to overcome. Compagnie DYPTIK were excellent.

DYPTIK cleverly engaged with the crowd – dancers emerged from the viewers, as they scaled the scaffold to swap sides the audience was beckoned closer on one side whilst on the other they became part of the stage before being pushed back, and at the end a chosen handful were there for the applause. And the performance itself was a decent mix of the technical and intricate alongside bombast and gesture. There was also a healthy amount of enigmatic and aggressive staring.

They got a decent round of applause at the end. A few more in the audience would have been nice but the weather had turned in the afternoon and there seems to have been less promotion of Stade Saturdays this year. I’ll blame God and austerity for those issues. Hopefully a few more were at the later performance as DYPTIK were very good indeed and I would want them to think that ‘Hasting’ didn’t appreciate that.

A handful of photos here.

On Netflix: Million Yen Women

One of the most interesting things about streaming recommendations is the rabbit holes the algorithms can send you down. I watched something in Japanese once so here are a dozen other Japanese language programmes. Flick, flick, oh this looks interesting … and so we have Million Yen Women.

Put on Netflix globally towards the end of 2017 following a run on mainstream Japanese television, Million Yen Women is adapted from a 2016 manga written by Shunjo Aono. The set-up is that five women have received invitations to live with unsuccessful novelist Shin Michima. He did not send the invitations but is quite happy to follow the rules: he waits on them, they all eat together, he can’t ask them any questions and he can’t go in their room. The million yen each woman must pay him (it’s about £7,000) no doubt eases the blow, as does the fact that none of the women are in any way unattractive.

Shin has a certain charisma. He’s being played by RADWIMPS lead singer Yojiro Noda so that’s bound to happen. But mostly he’s a bumbling type whose perpetual cloud is explained by the fact that his dad is a recent multiple murderer now on Death Row. The women, who range in age from 17-30 and who do (contrary to my initial Bechdel Test related fears) have very distinct personalities, motivations and story arcs, tease out his personality whilst also growing in their own way – all whilst a growing intrigue about who sent the invitations, why are things getting quite fatal, and why is that other novelist such a bell-end, play out.

It’s hard to categorise what Million Yen Women is. There are twelve 25 minute episodes so a binge won’t last long. It has melodrama, pathos, genuine shocks, gore, kinkiness, innocence and comedy rubbing shoulders, often in the same scene. And it is very compelling once you get into it. The false note for me was less about the context for the story than for how quickly books get published and promoted – but that shouldn’t be a deal killer for anyone. It also seems to have been well-translated in that the words and phrases we see gel nicely with the tone and action before us – not always the case with these streaming translations.

So, if you’re looking for a hole to fill, Million Yen Women is a pretty decent bet. And then you can look forward to the algorithm noticing you’ve watched something foreign so maybe you’ll like all these other things that are nothing like it … Oh well, a small price to pay.

Film Review: The Bar (El Bar)

How do you like your eggs in the morning? If you like yours with a sideshow of gunfire and biological terror then the bar in The Bar is a good place to start your day. Although the customers trapped inside may disagree as things don’t necessarily turn out so well for them. Variety called it the worst movie to show at that year’s Berlin film festival. Dullards.

Written, directed and produced by Álex de la Iglesia, whose first film is the now-quarter-century-old Accion MutanteEl Bar impressively combines observational humour at contemporary mores, flashes of grim horror, and neat character interplay. The story also rattles along nicely even if, at no point, is it remotely believable.

Variety had particular scorn for the fact that, yes, the attractive lead does wind up in her underwear. That’s Blanca Suarez as Elena, the outsider who was only in the bar because her phone charge was gone. She, and the rest of the cast, have to go through far more than just an underwear display. Carrying corpses, plunging into and out of sewers, grimly being doused in oil to fit through tiny manholes and so on. The action is grim and disturbing, the cinematography and look mostly could come straight out of a daytime soap. It’s a deliberate and amusing juxtaposition.

Residing only on Netflix, El Bar is clearly never going to find a massive audience in the UK now. Shame. It’s dark, disturbing, fun and funny. Not Citizen Kane but an enjoyable ride.

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