On the radio: Gudrun’s Saga

Kate Phillips as Gudrun
Kate Phillips as Gudrun

The whispering voice of the land. Men being manly (or menly). Women struggling to make a stand in a patriarchal world. Swords. Religion. Long, unwieldy names and ages measured in summers. Welcome to the world of the Icelandic saga. In particular a retelling by Lucy Catherine of one of the most popular (by surviving manuscripts) which puts its heroine, Gudrun, front and centre in a strongly feminist take.

Gudrun was voiced by Kate Phillips. Often she had to shout her defiance of the men around her, sometimes she had to take stock of the blows fate landed upon her. Such is the saga life. The other female voice, that of Freija, the Norse god who breathes life and death in this remote part of the world, came from Samantha Dakin. All softness and enigma. The two made an excellent contrast.  The other sounds, aside from the wind and occasionally stormy seas, were men at various stages of declamation: the brothers who seek Gudrun’s heart, her father who wishes to control her, her husband who isn’t going to last that long.

Sometimes these fifteen minute drama slots can be a bit slight but even in a stripped-down plot this was a very engaging week – well worth catching in omnibus form on the iPlayer.

On the radio: Red and Blue

Say “Wargames” to people of a certain vintage and you’ll almost certainly get a misty-eyed look involving Ally Sheedy, ‘tic tac toe’ and defcons. However, war gaming is a proper business and, done right, it’s also makes for pretty decent drama.  Recently we had War Book, a limited release British film of quite compelling intensity and, repeated on Radio 4 over the past few weeks but recorded in 2012, we’ve just had the first few blasts of Red and Blue.

The strength of these episodes is in the many and varied moments of conflict. Whether that’s full on engagement (exercise but with real bullets) or the exchange about whether a Northern Irish Protestant should really know how it feels to be oppressed because, in the words of Colonel Bradley Shoreham who designs the games, “You all sing rebel songs.”  The smartest, and in many ways most chilling, of the three repeated so far was Terror in which, over brandy, two men discuss in very straightforward ways just how a simple, direct attack could do the most damage.  That will give me more sleepless nights than any Man in Black episode.

Having missed all these first time round it’s been a real pleasure to listen to them now – and with Radio 4 repeating Series Two in a couple of months it’ll be nice to meet Shoreham again soon.  Even if no one will end an episode by going, “Strange game, the only winning move is not to play.”

Film Review: Crazy Stupid Love

Amazon has been recommending that I watch Crazy Stupid Love ever since I can remember (about three years) and so, on an evening with nothing else to do, I fired up the streaming on this film that seems to be permanently in the ‘Most Popular’ section of Prime Video. And – you know what? – it’s not a bad little film at all.

I mean, firstly, it’s not actually a little film. It’s quite a big film with a pretty impressive cast. Julianne Moore and Steve Carell are Emily and Cal whose drifting marriage is ended by the announcement, at the start of the film, of the former’s one-night stand with a colleague. The lamentation of this break-up by Cal, which takes place loudly at a bar where pick up artists ply their trade, leads him into the orbit of Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a highly successful PUA who takes pity on the shell of a man before him. Jacob’s run of form is thrown into question when he finds himself falling a bit too much for Hannah, a smart but somewhat repressed young woman who herself seems to be trapped into a relationship of convenience.  Emma Stone has a lot of fun playing Hannah and her scenes with Jacob really do hit the spot.

And, mostly, with the usual caveats one might apply to Hollywood films, the audience has a lot of fun watching this.  There are some very nice, sparky lines. There are some genuinely funny scenes. And Julianne Moore confirms again that give her anything to do in any scene ever and she will prove herself to be one of the actors of her generation – and do it effortlessly.  The story moves along nicely even if it clunks a bit (although still with some good lines and scenes) when it comes to the babysitter having the hots for Cal and Cal & Emily’s son having the hots for the babysitter.  There’s also the criminal underusing of Marisa Tomei who fires through the few scenes she’s given like she’s having the time of her life; Liza Lipari is brilliant as Hannah’s best friend, Liz but, again, vanishes for far, far too long.  All that and I’ve not even mentioned a good turn from Kevin Bacon.

Obviously it ends with public declamations that make you doubt the sanity of the onlookers who end up applauding such trite sentimentality but either side of the grandstanding Crazy Stupid Love does enough to allow you to let it get away with that kind of stuff.  Definitely worth catching if, like me, it’s been cropping up as recommendation for the longest time and you find yourself with a time when you might as well give it a go.

Lonely Cars in New York by Langdon Clay (Atlas Obscura)

Atlas Obscura is always a good place to lose yourself which, I guess, is either ironic or appropriate given the title of the page (I’m not smart enough to figure out which.)  And just popped up in my feed is this rather splendid set of photos of Lonely Cars in New York which were taken by Langdon Clay in the 1970s.  Using a format that no-one uses any more (Kodachrome) he photographs a world that, certainly in New York, now only exists in the minds of retro movie makers.

They are quite striking and quite brilliant.

The Atlas Obscura page is here.

Clay’s own site is here.

At Lucy Bell Fine Art: Jill Furmanovsky 30/30/30

Jill Furmanovsky - Oasis - on show at the Lucy Bell Gallery in St Leonards

Jill Furmanovsky – Oasis – on show at the Lucy Bell Gallery in St Leonards

Crisp, defining, monochrome images of rock stars are, like Carver-esque short stories, something that everyone thinks they could do. After all, it’s just simple shots of cool people being cool, isn’t it? Isn’t it?  Well, no, as the work of so many folk down the years proves. Thankfully, now at the Lucy Bell Gallery, we have the splendid work of Jill Furmanovsky to show us how it’s done.

The names are huge. Here Dylan, there Freddie, in the distance Oasis and Winehouse. The settings are mundane but our players stand out from them – whether that’s by focus or through blocking. Oasis in a backstreet have the arrogance that can only come from being young men about to take over the world. It’s a brilliant picture, one of many striking examples in this well put together show.

Film review: Bill

From the team that brought you all those Horrible Histories clips you keep repeating on YouTube, as well as that Sky comedy Yonderland that you’ve been meaning to watch comes Bill, a film whose trailer was one of the most enjoyable things I saw in the cinema for a while, but which then entirely passed me by.  I finally caught up with it via the power of streaming and I’m very glad I did. For smart silliness Bill is hard to beat.

Scripted by Ben Willbond and Laurence Rickard who, along with Matthew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas and Jim Howick, play multiple roles in a twisting, turning plot which imagines how Bill Shakespeare went from being an unwanted member of Stratford pub band Mortal Coil to the Queen’s favourite playwright. Suffice to say the journey involves Spanish intrigue, Cockney impersonators, Christopher Marlowe, dressing up as a vegetable and ‘your mum’. I laughed a lot. No one is in quite so much filth as Horrible Histories seemed to revel in but there are a few more grown-up jokes, “Look at that sexy woman in trouble” is one observation that CBBC might not have sanctioned.

It all races through in about ninety minutes with the joke rate not dropping at any point. If you don’t laugh at one another will be along probably in the next sentence. The hit rate is high. As you can tell, I’m a fan. It’s so good it’s even making me feel bad for not setting the Sky+ up to capture Yonderland, although we’ll always have those Horrible Histories songs on YouTube.

At the match: Westfield v Alfold

This was the sixth goal. - (C) Jon Smalldon 2016, All rights reserved
This was the sixth goal. – (C) Jon Smalldon 2016, All rights reserved

“That’s football, innit?”
“Yes, that’s football.”

Such was the conversation when, after having had chance after chance after chance, Westfield found themselves still in a goalless encounter and with Alfold about to take a penalty.  There was fifty minutes of the game gone.  The penalty was well struck, the visitors went a goal up and for a few minutes, with Westfield unsettled, it seemed that the gods of fate were going to chuckle their way to full time. But then the hosts scored a goal and then they scored another … and by the end of the match it was Westfied 6 Alfold 1.  That’s football, as they say.

If football was won on possession and chances this would have been stopped at half time.  Saying Alfold were leading a charmed life would be unfair.  They defended well and their ‘keeper made some superb stops.  But they had few chances of their own despite some decent probing runs, particularly from their tireless #7.  6-1 may not be an easy pill to swallow but it’s hard, on the balance of play, to say it wasn’t a fair result.

As ever, it was a pleasant visit to Westfield.  Around feeding my younger son the world’s biggest hot dog I found some time to take some blurry photos.  They are here.

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