Category Archives: Waffle

Film Review: Your Name

I’m out of my depth here. I have no frame of reference. Your Name is the first animated Japanese film I’ve seen, an absolutely shameful admission but there we go. Or it could be that I’ve seen many hundreds of them before but the strands of time have twisted and now I can no longer remember. Such things are possible in the world of Your Name. A rather beautiful, definitely cool and altogether wonderful world to visit.

Mitsuha is bored in her provincial world, namely the village of Itomori. Her wish to live her next life as a handsome boy from Tokyo is half-granted when she and Taki (a handsome boy from Tokyo) begin to experience mind swaps, each living a period of time in the other’s body. The kicker being that neither can then remember anything about how their actual lives went. This being the 21st century they begin to leave each other messages in their smartphone diaries and in notebooks and, occasionally, on their bodies.

So far so … simple? A lot more is dealt with in Your Name‘s quick moving hundred or so minutes. We have a spiritual grandmother as keeper of a shrine, a lot of teenage angst and awkwardness, and the small matter of a comet that may or may not be about to wipe out significant numbers of people. There are times where none of this makes any sense. Partly, that’s because plots like this shouldn’t be thought about too much, sometimes it’s because the cultural shift between Japan and my house renders everything otherworldly, and occasionally it’s because the white subtitles with no backing are impossible to read.

There’s an impressive soundtrack by Japanese band Radwimps which is an intregal part of the whole piece (and worth listening to in its own right as well) and the animation and direction by Makoto Shinkai is clever, deft and, mostly, wonderful.

Your Name has done phenomenally well in Japan and around the world. It hardly needs me to add my name to the list of fans. But, I’m going to. It’s an absolute joy from start to finish and now that it’s currently available for £0 at Amazon Prime there’s no excuse not to partake of its pleasures.

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I wrote a thing about the President’s Club fiasco

It was an odd sense of timing. Neither of us had seen the FT report on the President’s Club dinner but, this morning, a colleague and I were talking about odd or uncomfortable things we’d had to do to stay onside with bosses.

And she told me that about twenty years ago her boss had treated her, and several other women, to a visit to a lap dancing club. There were a few men taken as well. Thousands of pounds must have been spent (we worked it out). The women knew they had to go and everyone knew they couldn’t complain. My colleague had a coffee, got bored and waited to be able to leave.

Needless to say my own stories of nodding along to catastrophically stupid ways of thinking didn’t have quite the same level of pep.

The one thing we agreed on though was that pretty much any man who has been on a stag do, and quite a lot of men who haven’t, will have been to similar clubs. It’s not exactly a badge of honour. But should the urge take you to unwind in the company of women who will take your cash to show you their boobs and give you some friction burns then such places exist. For everyone else there’s the internet.

Now, maybe those things shouldn’t exist. But, for now, they do.

What nobody should do to get their rocks off or ‘relax’ after a hard day’s doing whatever it is that businessmen do to justify their wealth is go all gropy at a dinner and then claim it’s all okay because they’ve bunged Great Ormond Street a few quid.

I mean you fucking what?

I’m sure in the plot of some deeply satisfying porno you once watched on company expenses in a hotel bedroom the girl says yes when the middle aged man asks her to fuck but, y’know, I’m not sure it’s the look you want to be aiming for in real life. It’s Bullingdon Club morality to say I’ve paid for this so I can treat anyone and anything in my way however I please and my money will make it right. And it stinks.

It shouldn’t even need saying. Of course it stinks to get some young women on minimum wage to dress up in tight black dresses (with appropriate underwear) and high heels so you can get all nudge nudge in your gratuitously affluent men only room. And, yes, it would stink if there was an equivalent for women to dribble their unwanted lust onto toned male bodies whilst washing away the guilt with cash for causes. I’m just not aware that such things exist beyond the strutting fury of keyboard warriors yelling CHIPPENDALES. And, as for whether hen nights, of all things, justify the President’s Club then I refer the honourable reader to my comment about stag dos above.

So we now have the tedious sight of certain of the right getting all high and mighty, saying this is yet another example of the destruction of men or the supremacy of the wrong kind of women. As if treating people with dignity and respect, and giving to charity because you mean it, were somehow indicative of the failings of modern society. We really are assailed on all sides by morons.

Stopping events like this horrible, horrible evening will not mean that men are no longer allowed to find women attractive or chat up a girl in the right way. Dumping this shitshow in the bin will not mean that charities have no ways of raising money or that the ill children at Great Ormond Street will have their machines turned off. In the scheme of things it won’t make much difference at all.

Except this.

It will make a statement that you can go off and be an arsehole all you want, or you can go to places where the women dress (or undress) in ways that give you a semi, or whatever. It’s just, these days, you don’t do it on the company clock and you don’t get to justify it by throwing a tiny fraction of your massive wealth to a kids charity.

It’s 2018. None of this should need saying. Let’s hope this is the beginning of the end of having to.

On the radio: The Wolf in the Water

Not being particularly knowledgeable about The Merchant of Venice, I gave The Wolf in the Water a miss when it was first broadcast last year. This was an error. Thankfully, the need for a decent length distraction on tedious car journey meant I downloaded the repeat broadcast and I’m glad I did. This was smart drama that posed a lot of uneasy questions, provided more than a few smiles, and ultimately left you feeling very satisfied.

Naomi Alderman, author of The Power, imagines what became of Jessica, Shylock’s daughter. She has married Lorenzo, converted to Christianity and, together, they are comforable in their life in the upper echelons of Venetian society. But things go awry. A priest’s body is discovered in the Jewish ghetto. Jessica becomes involved and, as a result, her faith is called into doubt as the Inquisition hove into view and her husband’s debts need the help of those further up the food chain to resolve.

The Wolf in the Water was very nicely put together. The ‘recreations’ of the murder were genuinely funny.  Pippa Bennett-Warner as Jessica had the right combination of naivety and steel, and Tracy-Ann Oberman as the Doge’s mother was suitably terrifying. The interplay between Jessica and her troubled friend Anna beautifully explored the boundary between tenderness, anger, mistrust and understanding. The musings on the closeness of tragedy and comedy weren’t original but they were fascinatingly done and tied up very neatly in the closing scene.

Sometimes Drama on 3 can be a victim of its own cleverness. This was not one of those times. I enjoyed this one a lot.

 

On the radio: Graeae’s Midwich Cuckoos

Graeae are a deaf and disabled led theatre company and, over two weeks on Radio 4 and working to a script from playwright Roy Williams, they presented their take on John Wyndham’s tale of children who are not what they seem.

Radio is a particularly good medium for telling stories of mind control. And so it proved here. The ways in which the cuckoos gently, softly, but firmly, took charge of their adult persecutors were well told, and the fear that generated in those around them was clear. There were some neat exchanges about communication, access and understanding as well. Whilst the cuckoos were never made out to be simply misunderstood their own fears were explored even whilst their actions made them less and less sympathetic.

The issues with the plot are similar to those faced by any Wyndham adaptation. The ideas are sound and compelling but often you’re left wondering quite how the world manages to carry on the way it does. A lot of the more damning behaviour (the Inuit killing ‘their’ babies for example) is covered in a sentence of conversation.

It was good to hear different voices on the radio. Radio drama gets a bad rep that it sometimes deserves for only telling the stories that the polite Home Counties want to hear and only then with the accents that keep them comfortable. Not so much this time round. The fact that we were hearing this particular story with these particular voices was a key part of the reason this was radio that mattered.

At Towner: A Green and Pleasant Land

Keith Arnatt – from “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” (1982)

We parked on the windswept, out of season, seafront. The only car doing so as the rain started up again. A grey sky and the only visible people walking as if concealing weapons as they held their coats firmly. England. The kind of England, and Wales and Scotland, that is A Green and Pleasant Land.

Photographs, most from within the last thirty-five years, in this show reveal people who can have an uneasy, sometimes contradictory, relationship with their landscape. Often this landscape is urban. Some of the most eye-opening images come from Newport and other places in south Wales. Sometimes it’s just streets, sometimes the mud around the transporter bridge, sometimes the way the only thing standing out is a cigarette advert.

There is a lot here that falls within the British documentary tradition. From John Davies and his towering views to the more enigmatic work of Raymond Moore. Two striking colour works by Melanie Friend – both from an Eastbourne beach, one with Red Arrows in the distance, the other a Lancaster bomber – combine this with some of the more arch observation you might expect from Martin Parr (here represented by earlier monochrome works). Simon Roberts is here too. One drives past Eastbourne pier to see it looking better in the gallery than it looks outside in the flesh.

Whilst there is nothing earth shattering about this exhibition it is very well done and the examples chosen are revealing and informative. The temptation to try and include every school and age of photography has thankfully been resisted. What is here is compelling and high quality.

2017 was a year that had some sport in it …

2017 was a year, wasn’t it? Every one of its three hundred and sixty five days definitely added up to a year. And on some of those days there was sport. And some of that sport was significantly more interesting than some of the other sport. Let me tell you about some of the bits I found more interesting.

I’d never seen England in a World Cup final and my younger son had never been to Lord’s. Killing a maximum number of birds with a minimum of stones we went to the ICC Women’s World Cup final. England had got there as the script demanded but they did not look anything like invincible; India were there when everyone had expected the opponents to be Australia. A full house witnessed a full on contest. In the end, the debate was whether India had thrown it away or England belatedly proved worthy champions. Anya Shrubsole’s wickets were the difference and by the end I didn’t have much of a voice left. I do want it noted that long after the sensible adults were preparing themselves for defeat my boy still believed his girls could do it. He had faith and he was right.

But even that wasn’t the best moment in women’s sport in 2017. UConn basketball hadn’t lost since the Declaration of Independence. Mississippi State weren’t going to beat them. But then … this happened and everything went crazy. I haven’t enjoyed an audience explosion like that since Aguero won the title for Manchester City.

The Women’s Handball World Championship never really fired this year with too many of the less-fancied nations living down their billing and the decline of Brazil, champions in 2013, continuing. But we did get a great final – one which twisted and turned before France emerged victorious, beating out Norway (whose title tally remains alarmingly small with 3) 23-21. Apparently if you cut out the fastbreaks and muscle up in defence then Norway can be beaten. France are also men’s world champions too. They beat Norway in their final. Sometimes mirrors don’t invert things.

Because, let’s not forget, men also play sport. Houston and Los Angeles played out a brutal World Series that deserved a game 7 but then didn’t quite get the game 7 it deserved. I’m very biased but the Cubs taking their glory in Cleveland in extras remains the most compelling title decider even if, overall, this series was clearly a better watch for the neutrals. Still, we did get to see an imploding Yu Darvish and lots of other fun things. The Cubs had a decent season that felt like a letdown after the dreamland of 2016. There are worse things.

Yorkshire didn’t win any titles which means I need to go back and look over the cricket scores. England achieved moderate levels of success in the summer before the sadly foreseeable Ashes debacle but I spent far too much time getting worked up about how the ECB seems to regard domestic cricket as an irritant rather than an asset. My 2018 resolution is thus to watch Sussex more.

I’m always fearful when international rugby league rolls around. I want it to succeed and am aware of how fragile the foundations on which it stands are. It’s like a precious piece of art that you know could be destroyed if its exposed to the light too often. Anyway, Australia won the World Cup in both genders because, well, that was always going to happen. But Tonga and Fiji beat New Zealand, and then Tonga gave England the fright of their lives, before England put in a performance to be proud of in the final. Couple that with the fire that burns for the game in PNG and you have a moderate level of success. It might have been a perfect year if Castleford had won the title having been so inspiring in the regular season but, sadly, they almost blew it in their home semi final before definitively running out of steam in the Grand Final. Leeds always find a way.

Ticking things off: I finally saw football at the new Wembley having only been there for rugby league before. Harry Kane scored a goal, so far so normal, but West Brom took a point off Spurs, which didn’t feel like it was part of the plan. I also made it to the World Athletics Championships. A good time was had by all. A man called Usain Bolt bowed in my vicinity in acknowledgement of the ending of an era and Britain won some medals. Who knows, with the way bans are handed out now they may even have won a few we don’t yet know about.

And I think that’s about it for me. I took my camera to some games, and went to a few without it. I now know the car park in Kidlington isn’t as big as they claim and that the officials in British American Football announce their decisions like they do in the NFL (you just can’t hear them). Also that the tea bar at Bexhill will put pepper in your Bovril meaning there is hope for civilisation yet. And there remains the greatest pleasure to be had in idly firing up the TV and finding there’s a game between a team in blue and a team in red and suddenly finding that you give a  monkey’s about which one of them will emerge triumphant.

That, then, was my year in sport. 2017. There you go.

 

At the match: Hastings United v Ramsgate

“Hastings look like Real Madrid, don’t they.” So opined the nine year old as he admired the home side in their natty all white strip. He has a soft spot for Real so I haven’t the heart to tell him about either their historic love from Franco or their all too current loss today to rivals Barca. Either way, with Hastings 2-0 down after seven minutes – and it should have been more than that – nobody else was thinking of comparing the boys from the Pilot Field with the boys from the Bernabeu. But given how things turned out, maybe they should have done.

Hastings’ opening ten minutes should feature in any ‘how not to’ video about football coaching. There was no movement, no control and no one taking charge. Ramsgate scored one from a defensive mix up, hit the inside of the post, fired an unmarked header wide and tapped in when keeper and defence both left the ball. But they never applied the killer move and, very slowly, Hastings came back into it. That probably owed more to the match still have more than eighty minutes to go rather than any real belief but still the lead vanished. Two goals from Dayshonne Golding levelled matters, the second an absolute beast as he fought off the defenders before firing an unstoppable blast into the net. And it was 3-2 at the break as Calum Davis held his nerve after being a ball to him broke the defence. It all felt a little surreal.

A fourth Hastings goal arrived on the hour and, for a time, the game seemed to die a little. But then, just as Hastings had after going two behind, Ramsgate found themselves and, with just a little more luck they could easily have found a way back into the game. Towards the end, all the meaningful play was to be found in their red-clad attacks and even when injury time came and they were still down by the same margin it didn’t seem entirely out of the question they could get something from the game. But it didn’t happen.

The history books will show a 4-2 win in front of 316 but the truth is that it was a little more complicated than that.