On Netflix: Battle (2018)

There’s a quote in the brilliantly titled play “The Cosmonaut’s Last Message to the Woman He Once Loves in the Former Soviet Union” that, to paraphrase, goes like this: There will come a time when every story known to us has been retold set in an American high school. When first performed we were in the middle of a run that reached its peak with Taming of the Shrew reset as Ten Things I Hate About You. Which is a long winded way of saying I’m a sucker for teen movies with an interest in saying something. And, completely, unrelated, I am a sucker for dance. And that brings us neatly to Norwegian-on-Netflix film, Battle.

Do I even need to say that Battle is about finding out who you are and being true to that? Amalie, is a rich girl in a group of rich kids who are dance together. Formal and stylised, they follow the rules and struggle not because they don’t know the moves but because they don’t know what they want to communicate. They are watched over by Birgitta who swears a lot and offers them the chance of a scholarship to the Netherlands. Amalie’s, and everyone’s, rival is Charlotte who, because this is a 90 minute film with lots of breaks for dancing, is just there to be that rival and not much else.

The plot, such as it is, is that Amalie’s cossetted life is torn apart thanks to her father getting into debt. Thus, they are turfed out of their lovely home and thrown into a crap flat on the bad side of town. There Amalie falls in with Mikael and his friends who dance from the heart. Our heroine falls head over heals for Mikael but can’t admit it to herself, or to her ridiculously patient posh boyfriend Aksel.

Will Amalie realise that she can be true to herself and achieve her dreams even if that means sacrificing superficial pleasures? What do you think?

My flippancy does Battle a disservice. Like a Raymond Carver short story, it’s hard to get this kind of simplicity right. And Battle gets everything right. It’s a really fun ride and, whilst it does nothing really new, is a compelling watch throughout.

Katarina Launing directs Maja Lunde’s script, bringing out the contrast between rich and poor, immigrant and settled, formal and free, for all its worth. Lisa Teige as Amalie is excellent and Fabian Svergaard Tapia as Mikael works well as her foil.

Sure, there will be deeper films and stories whose complexity requires a dozen fan sites to decode their meaning. Sometimes that’s not what you need. Sometimes, you just need to watch people dance and understand everything through their movement. Battle knows that and does its job well. If you have ninety minutes to kill and want to cheer at the end, watch it.

At the match: USDK Dunkerque 25:27 Nimes (Lidl Starligue handball)

Some get a good view before the match …

“Combien?”
“Dix euros.”
“Dix?”
“Dix.”
“Et … do I … pay you?”
“But of course.”

You say, of course, I say I’ve just failed to understand a token based system for purchasing a coke and a ham baguette so there’s no guarantees about anything here. I should probably have updated my French to include the basics of what to do at the USDK Dunkerque sandwicherie and merch stall but I was too busy having mild panics about getting off the channel tunnel and then driving on the right in the dark to a car park whose address the sat nav hadn’t recognised. Ah well, such is life. And such is using the last days of proper freedom of movement between Britain and Europe to dash over to Dunkirk to see some Lidl Starligue handball between my local team and some bruisers from Nimes.

Folded up, these make a helluva noise …

The Stade des Flandres holds around 2,500 and five years ago it even got to call Dunkerque the champions of France. I know because I was following it on some very dodgy internet feeds. Sadly, despite the easy availability of European competition on the internet, that’s still the only way to follow the French league in the UK. And, also sadly, Paris have won the championship for the last four years and my boys are languishing in the wrong half of the table.

Nimes, in white, do the old ‘high five’ with USDK …

Not that the Stade des Flandres felt very ‘languishing’ today. The overriding emotions – and I don’t think it’s because I was all wide-eyed and noobish – were community and enjoyment. I honestly can’t recall ever having been in a crowd with such a high proportion of female supporters and nor one where every age group was comprehensively represented. I’m used to non league football where, as a middle aged bloke with poor dress sense, I am surrounded by my tribe. The mixing here meant that the genuine passion and emotion did not ever feel threatening even when, on the back of some calls the fans did not like, the game ran away from Dunkerque in the final ten minutes.

Kornél Nagy leaps to score past Rémi Desbonnet …

It was noisy too. Joyously so. I’ve picked up from the TV how handball crowds use the tempo of the game and reverb of the arena to create banks of sounds. Not much chanting but so much clapping and stamping, to the accompaniment of a wide range of popular tunes. Obviously it got a bit more subdued but only relatively. The guy on the microphone must stockpile Strepsils.

As for the game, I’d like to say more but I am so far from being an expert it’d be like offering me an uninformed binary vote on whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union. I’ll stick to this: the refs were petty and a couple of key calls went against Dunkerque which arrested a decent run where they could have solidified a lead in the second half but … teams that give up two goals when the net is empty, that fail to put away penalties and rebounds, and who then look so disjointed in attack (at times), are going to struggle to win when they also concede 27 goals. I imagine the coach will be watching the video and wincing this morning.

The match is over …

Having just checked the table, I see that Nimes have now moved into level points with the teams at the top, although they have played one game more. Something of a four horse race (that Paris will win) is now developing. USDK now seem to sit far enough above the bottom not to have to worry but far enough off the top that developments there are only ‘for interest’.

On the way back it rained hard. The Eurotunnel service was delayed meaning I had to hang round their dystopian terminal for ninety minutes. The road was closed at Ashford meaning I had to divert through some single track roads in darkest, deepest Kent. And, in spite of all that, I got home at 1am with a broad smile on my face. Sure we could have won, but where’s the poetry in that?

And that dix euros purchase? That would be Duncan the Dunkerque Lion. Say hello Duncan.

Bonjour …

At the match: Godalming Town v Chessington & Hook United

Before the match … Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2018, All rights reserved

“Excuse me, how do I get in?”

Not the most auspicious start to my first visit to the Combined Counties League but there we go. Turns out I was just a bit early and once the turnstile was manned all became a lot clearer. In the intervening period I adjourned to the clubhouse and watched a very fuzzy and colour cross-processed BT Sport as Celtic beat Hamilton and the commentator tried to sound interested.

Godalming’s ground is constructed from bits of other teams. It was the home of Godalming & Farncombe until they went bust and the stand was purchased from Addlestone & Weybridge after met a similar fate. The floodlights were funded by people in Guildford and so, for a dozen years, the team was called Godalming & Guildford. There’s a lot of ampersands in that history. And so, today, they welcomed Chessington & Hook United. It was Chessy versus the Gees.

And a good time was mostly had although probably not when the final whistle blew and the home faithful, following two relegations in two years, were staring at another home defeat. Their boys in yellow and green had shown some purpose but too often lacked anything clinical, or anything at all, in front of goal. Good movement on the wings does not not get a reward when the box is empty. Chessington (& Hook) were a little bit more together and when the chances came they always looked more like scoring. They led 1-0 at the break and, having been pegged back to 1-1, scored late on to take the match away from the hosts. 3-1 at the finish. A competitive and evenly matched game but another defeat for Godalming.

It’s a decent set-up here even if the ground is ramshackle. There’s a glossy, colourful programme to be read whilst imbibing a very fine Bovril. They could just do with a team that doesn’t lose so much. Oh, and they need to retune that clubhouse TV. No way should Hamilton Academical *and* Celtic both be wearing dark blue.

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.

Somehow.

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.

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