Sunday, January 28, 2007

Film: Dreamgirls


DREAMGIRLS, originally uploaded by 浮躁.

Finally caught a preview of Dreamgirls on Sunday (which opens in the UK this Friday officially). I managed to drag Ad, F and S to see it with me based on what was probably about six months of hype that I had been drip feeding (including various podcasts, news updates and songs). Seeing it was closure more than anything else for all of us I am sure.

I thought it was two hours and ten minutes of great entertainment. Ad, F and S were not so keen on musicals it turns out. At one point they were exasperating at yet another song. While I wasn't surprised with their objections, these guys really should have their pink cards revoked. Dreamgirls the show has been a cult, a hit and lost musical in the 25 years since it first premiered. The songs from it and the original Broadway soundtrack have been a staple in drag performances, dance clubs, and it even garnered mentions in episodes of Will and Grace. It's a story about black women made by gay white men. Many of the original creative team (including director Michael Bennett and book and lyrics writer Tom Eyen) have died since its opening. For Bennett, who was the creative force behind A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls was his last show.

Notwithstanding this, This was a film that had to be made. The original score sounds cinematic in the first instance. Numbers cut into each other, scenes blend together, and the music compliments the drama. This is evident in the number most known from the show "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going". Sung by the character Effie before the end of the first act it is more emoted than sung. After discovering this show via the brilliant double CD concert recordingin 2002, what I found amazing about the music and lyrics was how there were continuous variations on the same musical themes throughout. Each repetition reflects the progress of the girls' success and the loss of their unique sound into something more generic and popular. But putting the technical prowess of the score aside, at the heart of this backstage story is the lives of three women, their losses and their successes during the civil rights era. Unlike the story of the Supremes which inspired it, there is a happy ending, but perhaps not the once expected.

Translated to film, director and writer Bill Condon (whose previous films included Gods and Monsters and Kinsey), decided to open out the show by bringing in more story about the civil rights era of the time, and to drop most of the sung dialogue. It is a big task to turn an epic musical about a family struggle to stardom into an epic movie about stardom and civil rights. It is a musical, not a history of America or Motown/pop, so it doesn't quite cut it in this realm of reality. By going for epic scope rather than epic storytelling, it reduces some of the supporting characters to small roles. This movie really needed more attention devoted to developing the characters, not to the world around them. Dropping the sung dialogue also makes the show lose some of its pacing and I don't think helped people who (ahem) aren't familiar with breaking out into song...

After seeing it I am not quite sure whether these are major or minor problems. When you know a story backwards it is hard to be too critical of it. At one point during one of Jamie Foxx's songs it was noted I was grinning through it while my companions were groaning. I guess it takes all sorts.

Condon's admiration for the show was evident throughout, including his homage to the Michael Bennett's original Broadway production's look. And in addition to the look there are the musical numbers (almost thirty of them), brought together with a lot of panache and style for the most part. Eddie Murphy as James Thunder Early was astonishing and Jennifer Hudson gave a terrific performance as Effie. Her presence lifted the movie onto another level. Going for drinks afterwards at the very smart bar at the Young Vic, Ad thought she was a bit stereotypical in her "Mamma's getting tired" routine but I figured if I drank for two years straight, I might be a bit weary walking up several flights of stairs. Besides, I thought she was tame compared to some of the ladies I know... I only had one mojito so I avoided doing my Effie interpretation...

All told, this movie can hold its own. It may try to be too many things for too many people, but it was a pretty darn good effort. And maybe the most interesting thing about this film is the revived interest in the stage production. In the meantime I suspect the film will have legs for some time... And I'm sure when the remixes make their way to the Vauxhall clubs it will grow on some people I know... Some people just need a funky house mix to change their opinion... Personally I can't wait for the Sing-alonga version... You don't need popcorn with this film, you need sub-titles and a bouncy ball...

Scenes from the Bakerloo line Saturday 23:24

A gay reader with a very big book... Must be one of those sci-fi novels...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Overheard in a Clapham Cafe Saturday...

Lady 1: Oh I went to the dentist this week...
Lady 2: Is that the gay one
Lady 1: Oh yes, but he has lovely eyes, and nice hair...
Lady 2: I went to him once... Thought he was a bit stiff...
Lady 1: Oh but I could stare into his eyes all day...

Friday, January 26, 2007

Film: Babel


Babel, originally uploaded by stef_install.

Thursday evening I caught Babel. All three hours of it. Sitting there for that long you run through various thoughts such as, "can this drag on for any longer?" or "why is nobody wearing makeup?" "how much blood can Cate loose?". It aims to be a sprawling global story connecting everyone through a single moment but it really boils down to depressing and pretentious story. I can see why Americans may take to it as it is full of angst about Americas place in the world, but it is seriously undermined by really poor characterisations and a never ending stream of unbelievable events.

Not all the actors have much to do in this flick either. Before Cate gets shot she just looks sullen and Brad Pitt looks very old and dusty throughout most of the film. If there was a makeup artist present, you wouldn't know it.

It all seemed a bit depressing, but I left the movie feeling that the central message of the film was that there is hope in the world as long as there is a mute Japanese girl out there somewhere who is willing to show off her snatch. I think there is something in that for all of us. Well at least for those who don't mind the showgrounds looking a bit bushy...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Scenes from Clapham Wednesday 8:59


DSC04374, originally uploaded by Pauly_.
A light cover of snow. It was the first significant snowfalls since 2003. By 9am it had started to melt and by the lunchtime it was gone... Pity... SW4 had never looked so pure...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Crap television of the week...


The things people do for publicity... Such as the London Gay Men's Chorus. Well I guess any publicity is good publicity...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Scenes from Leicester Square Sunday 17:33

TV celebrity with very pink turtleneck interviewing punters who were big fans of Beyoncé at Dreamgirls premiere in Leicester Square. Beyoncé showed up later so it was a bit of filler... I hadn't seen such a small crowd at a premiere since Superman Returns. There were more temporary barriers than people...

Friday, January 19, 2007

TV: That show...

The new insult is when I was drinking a vodka lime and soda over the weekend and told that was the sort of drink Jade Goody would drink. Jade is the latest bette noire after purportedly taking part in a series of racist incidents that appeared on Celebrity Big Brother. It came to its expected conclusion Friday night when she was voted off the show but over the past week it has been treated as if it were some major national event. Well the show needed the publicity as into its second week it was struggling to attract an audience.

Jade Goody has in the past few years carved out a niche in the "lovable slapper" market making TV shows on Channel 5 - known for showing CSI and wacky police videos - and generally showing up in the celeb photo columns. That is, she is world famous in Britain.

The fallout of the last week is that sponsors have "suspended their involvement" in the current series (at least until the whole incident blows over) and Jade has even had her perfume removed from a few shops as well. Apparently it was a best seller beating Britney's and J-Lo's fragrances. The house of Britney and J-Lo must be delighted at this news... There are plans to film various groups of outraged people to comment on the series as well... Apparently the gays will be covered by the chorus... Oh how exciting...

Scenes from Charing Cross Station Thursday 20:22


DSC04340, originally uploaded by Pauly_.
No trains due to the weather. People transfixed at blank screens. All the good reason not to live in Orpington I guess...

Weather: Severe Gales

The "death winds" closed the Millennium Bridge as police feared people could be blown into the water... It would probably not be a nice way to go... The Tate Modern lost a few panels from the top of its chimney... All the action of the City of London police telling people where to go was captured by a Flickr user...

By the end of the day the death count across Europe was:
Britain - 9
Germany - 7
The Netherlands - 4
Czech Republic - 3
France - 2

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Overheard in the gym

Man (to another): Lorrell, where's my dress?

Film: Last King of Scotland


Some people like rom-coms, some people like dramas, some people like political thrillers. I like 'em all, but I did have to lie to get F (who dragged me to that Holiday film) to attend this. Since he knew nothing about the film or Idi Amin I told him The Last King of Scotland was a comedy. A comedy it ain't but a great blend of fiction and fact with an incredible performance by Forrest Whitaker as Amin. Ok Whitaker has been around for years, but this is going to be a performance to be remembered...

The fictional part of the story involves a young doctor ending up going to Uganda and ending up as Amin's personal physician. Against this is the real story of Amin's erratic rule and reign of terror. You don't see much violence in the film until towards the end. It is enough to want to make you throw up in a popcorn bucket, but a worthy experience all the same. The film looks great too, particularly in the sequences shot in grainy 16mm.

After the film I asked F if he liked the comedy. He didn't respond. Actually come to think of it he didn't move... I think it was shock... Maybe the film isn't everyone's cup of tea...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Scenes from the tube Tuesday 23:12


Scenes from the tube Tuesday 23:12, originally uploaded by Pauly_.
General shenanigans...

Music: Dreamgirls



I finally got hold of the double CD album of Dreamgirls with Beyonce, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Anika Noni Rose and Jennifer Hudson. They all sing on this album and for a Broadway score about a motown-like group channeled through a movie soundtrack idiom (with R&B producers) I think it was fantastic. Also with what is likely to be the best possible cast assembled for the job. The show is all about compromising to get that "smoother sound" and I enjoyed the irony of it all with the super-smooth sound of this album...

Oh and when it arrived it was hard not to revert to complete stereotype (see previous post on Jake Gyllenhaal). But hey, this is still great music. The single album is at the top of the billboard charts this week. This album could potentially go the way of The Bodyguard. Ok it doesn't feature Kenny G, but who knows what will do it for the punters these days? The dance mixes for "One Night Only" and "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" are reason enough for getting the double album IMHO...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Conversation openers for January...


Speaking of Dreamgirls. Jake Gyllenhaall appeared on Saturday Night Live and provided a tribute for his "brokeback" fans...

Unique selling proposition...

Vauxhall: Home of spooks and gay men. Discuss...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Music: Mahler's Ninth

I caught Mahler's Ninth Symphony at the Barbican tonight. Conducted by Daniel Harding with the Staatskapelle Dresden it is a great piece about life and death. Towards the end the tension was so tight you could feel Mahler's presence. Or it could have been the man in the pinstripe suit to my right breathing heavily. I wasn't quite sure what that was about but it added to the tension of the evening anyway. Who said going to a concert solo wasn't an adventure? Anyway a fantastic performance by both the conductor and orchestra.

One other thing I noticed was that many of the women in the Staatskapelle Dresden brought their handbags onto the stage and slung them over their seats. It was an interesting grab bag of handbags to see. Security back stage must seem to be a bit dodgy...

Scenes from London Bridge Tube


DSC04298, originally uploaded by Pauly_.
Sudoku is still popular with tube goers... Thanks to the two free afternoon newspapers including it in their pages the punters cannot get enough of it...

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Movie: The Holiday

I didn't particularly want to see this romcom or chickflick... But F dragged me to it on the guise that it was funny and that it was at the Canary Wharf cinemas where he could sign up to this new movie deal where you pay £14 a month for 12 months and you could see as many movies you like. You do have to provide a bank statement and in this day and age of electronic banking who the hell has one of them? I also find this chain of cinemas to have the worst cinemas in London. They are usually dirty and smell like a toilet. While the Canary Wharf cinemas were clean, the toilets were flooding so I figured that was keeping consistent with their standard.

As for the film, it wasn't as bad as I was expecting. I did like the idea that Kate Winslet's character walks from her job along Albert Embankment to possibly Clapham Junction railway station. It is such a long walk that the exercise no doubt kept her trim and looking gorgeous. She then has a gorgeous little countryside cottage in Surrey somewhere...

Actually everyone looks gorgeous in this film and is bathed in such lovely light that you can overlook some of the hoary dialogue and obvious plot points. It was nice to see Eli Wallach in a supporting role as well. There was a nice chemistry between all the leads as well so I guess it does what it set out to do... I think the central message of the film is that all single people should invest in isolated little cottages in the middle of nowhere rather than living in London as you may find a desperate rich American willing to do a home swap with you... Although if you are looking for romance beware as you could end up with Jack Black... Eww...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

People: Tonya Pinkins

The National Theatre was having a discussion with Tonya Pinkins on Wednesday. She used the time to talk about how she landed the role in Caroline, Or Change (which is about to finish its London run) and talk about her career and her book.

She used her book to workshop how to take a compliment. She asked the audience to turn around and pay a compliment to the person behind them. The person receiving the compliment had to say "Yes it's true. Thank you". Much laughter ensued as people complimented people's shirts, smiles, hair... It is just not the done thing in London normally...

Film: Shortbus



Monday I caught the film Shortbus which is an ensemble piece about the sex lives of a group of New Yorkers and directed by John Cameron Mitchell.

There is the sex therapist who can't orgasm, the lonely dominatrix, the gay couple who want a third for different reasons, and a carnival of other characters that pop in and out of this sex club called Shortbus.

There are some very interesting scenes in this film which were enough to keep one awake after a long night of new years festivities. The sex scenes (and there were plenty of them) weren't particularly sexy but I suspect that was the point... It all ends with a big production number complete with brass band around a New York blackout.

The power of the black out to focus people on other things has been somewhat diminished over the last year thanks to some very irritating adds from a mobile phone company that seem to use the New York blackout of 2003 as the basis for telling you to switch off your mobile phone... It seems to be played in every cinema nowadays but anyway... All told a worthwhile film. And the only raincoats in the cinema were for the wet weather outside as well...

Scenes from Waterloo Bridge Monday 01:36

New year partying was popular in London this year, although it was mainly confined to the river approaches...