Saturday, August 26, 2006

I've seen it! After over a year of waiting Tall Paul and I saw Pedro Almodovar's latest film VOLVER at London's fashionable Curzon Mayfair. It was completely different to what I was expecting... I had built up an idea of what the film would be like from the stills and story line. I had completely forgotten to add in his most exciting attribute in films about women... heart.

VOLVER tells the story of Raimunda (Penelope Cruz), a hard-working woman who has to juggle the needs of a sulky teen daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo) and a workshy horny husband (Antonio de la Torre). Occasionally she drives back to the small village she grew up in accompanied by her sister Sole (Lola Duenes) to see their aged aunt also called Paula (Chus Lampreave). Her aunt is her link to the past as her parents were killed in a fire 4 years earlier. The next door neighbour Agustina (Blanca Portillo) keeps an eye on the old woman while nursing sadness for her own missing mother.

Soon after one of these visits Sole phones her sister to tell her that aunt Paula has died, Raimunda however has other things to deal with... her husband dead on the kitchen floor, stabbed by young Paula after he tried to rape her. While Raimunda feigns illness, Sole attends the funeral where she hears from Agustina and the aunt's friends the rumour that old Paula had not lived alone but had shared the house with the ghost of Raimunda and Sole's mother Irene who had returned from beyond the grave to take care of her. On returning to Madrid Sole discovers Irene (Carmen Maura) in her car boot who proceeds to take up residence in her daughter's flat.

The film has so many different threads - comedy, melodrama, thriller, ghost story before finally settling down to be about the redemptive power of love. The plot's melodramatic twists and turns never appear to jar owing to the sure directorial hand of Almodovar and the performances he brings out of his roster of marvellous actresses. They rehearsed for three months before filming started which shows in the interaction between the actors making them fully believeable as family members. Penelope Cruz is a revelation as Raimunda, earthy, vibrant, resourceful, effortlessly sensual and totally charismatic.
Carmen Maura, working with Almodovar for the first time in 19 years, lights up the screen as Irene the dead mother returning to her daughters. There is a wonderful scene when Cruz sings the song VOLVER during a party not knowing Maura is listening close by. Maura's character taught her daughter the song when she was trying to get her into showbiz and has always felt her daughter never loved her. Maura's tearful reaction hearing her daughter sing the song she taught her is unbearably poignant.

There are wonderfully nuanced performances from Lola Duenas as Sole and Blanca Portillo as Agustina, pining for her lost mother as life slips by. She has a marvellous scene when she is appears on a "Trisha" type family conflict show with a venal presenter. There is also a lovely cameo from Almodovar regular Chus Lampreave as the failing but feisty aunt Paula. Special mention to for the lush photography of Jose Luis Alcaine and the emotive music of Alberto Iglesias.

Even as I write this my mind is full of moments from the film which I can't wait to see again.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Got home tonight after a Hellish trip back from helping Owen celebrate SLADE Day - went up to HMV to buy the reissued cds for him as his bad back made it too hard for him to travel - and was cheered when I walked through the door when I saw my latest eBay purchase had arrived - the British poster for Almodovar's VOLVER. Four days to go until I see the film....

On Sunday afternoon we went to see PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN:
DEAD MAN'S CHEST. Never has so much money been spent on something so totally forgettable. I have no problems with a trilogy. But dear God do something in the second film rather than just run around with unnecessary plotlines trailing behind you. So much was being thrown at the screen that there were several times I found myself totally at sea with the events happening at sea.

Johnny Depp is given his head to reprise his foppish, whacked-out, cowardly Jack Sparrow and again gets by on the goodwill generated by previous performances. Sadly those two planks of wood in human form, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, are back on board and in danger of serious warping as so much water is thrown at them. I have come to the conclusion that Knightley is an amalgam of Helena Bonham Carter and Elizabeth Hurley. Her performance here is lamentable. Her lines are intoned in a flat Knightsbridge accent - like a Benenden headgirl playing Shakespeare - and moments of drama are best expressed with a knitted frown and clenched fists. Jonathan Pryce reappears in a mortgage-holding role as Knightley's father.

Four new supporting characters are brought in: Tom Hollander is a smarmy officer in the East India Company who is there to be hissed at by being nasty to the planks of wood, Stellan Skarsgard is unrecognisable as Bloom's ghostly father trapped among the crew of Davy Jones played with great relish by Bill Nighy - equally unrecognisable with the face of an octopus! Naomie Harris plays a Jamaican ju-ju woman and is a welcome relief from the white bread Knightley.

We also saw the ad for pirate (no pun intended) dvds - you know the one, several scenes from the latest blockbuster which then shrink down to a tiny screen while a voice-over berates people who would want to watch it on the small rather than big screen. Funny how they change they tune when the dvd is officially released!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


it looks like the 300+ English soldiers shot during WWI by their own side for alleged cowardice and desertion will finally be given a pardon. It's is shocking it has taken this long for this to happen. So many times it appears the men were suffering from shell shock and suffering mental trauma after witnessing the death of so many friends and colleagues. Finally the Defence Secretary Des Brown is doing what his pathetic fellow Labour MPs Geoff Hoon and John Reid failed to do when they had the chance as DS.

Of course the hidden stories also reveal a more frightening thing. The men were by and large all ordinary soldiers. Only three officers were executed. The men were usually shot as "an example to others" and their court martials were usually over within 30 minutes with the men refused defense lawyers or even the chance to have a friend to speak for them. The Shot At Dawn campaign website highlights several cases which linger in the mind as truly chilling.

Thomas Highgate was 18 when he became the first British soldier to be shot for desertion 35 days into the war. He had been involved in the Battle of Mons and had been so affected by the carnage he hid in a barn. He was undefended at his trial because all his regiment had been killed, wounded or captured.

Aged only 16, Herbert Burdon from Lewisham was too young to join up so he lied and said he was 18. Ten months later he was court-martialled for leaving his post when he went to comfort a friend whose brother had been killed. His unit had been ordered to the front just before he left. He was found guilty of desertion and shot aged 17, still technically too young to even be in his regiment, probably as a warning to his unit which had already had two deserters .

Harry Farr was a former soldier from Kensington when he signed up leaving a wife and one year-old daughter. After having survived the horrors of the Somme and Neuve Chapelle he collapsed in 1915 and 1916 with jangled nerves and spent 5 months in a field hospital so traumatised his letters home were written by nurses. In September 1916 he again broke down and while attempting to seek treatment refused to return to the trenches as he said he could not bear the sound of the artilery. He was charged with Cowardice and was shot the following morning. He was 25. His wife was deprived of his state pension, was turned out of their home and had to find work in service. She died in 1993 aged 99 having been denied the chance of her husband's name being cleared by then Prime Minister John Major. His daughter aged 93 hopefully will live on to see it soon.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


On Sunday we saw Madonna for the last time at Wembley.

When I first saw it I thought it wasn't as good as the RE-INVENTION Tour but now I have seen it 3 times I find... I've changed... my mind (see what I did there?) There is a unity to the show which effortlessly segues into each new phase. The RE-INVENTION tour had some dizzying highs but it also had the slight longeur of "Hanky Panky" and "Deeper And Deeper" as well as the "Paradise (Not For Me)" segment which had 2 dancers on swings. But CONFESSIONS flows from song to song and conjured up some amazing imagery to go with them, making the show a real multi-media event.

I have mentioned a few highlights already in my first blog so here are a few more: The great sounding LIKE A VIRGIN with great stabs of synth as M clamboured aboard a rotating saddle and pole twirling around a platform above the audience

ISAAC with it's galloping dance pulse and the haunting vocal of Yitzhak Sinwani - who would have thought this track would be one of the standouts? The film of a trapped eagle being set free was echoed on stage by a caged shrouded woman who, when released from her cage, throws off her cloak to show she is a glittering belly dancer who runs and dances with wild abandon.

SORRY absolutely shook the Arena and it was nice to
hear Neil Tennant's vocal lifted from the PSB remix used as the intro.

The glorious guitar thrash of I LOVE NEW YORK with the blinding white strob
lighting and minimalist NY skyline.

The lovely version of PARADISE (NOT FOR ME) sang as a duet with Yizhak against a lovely film backdrop of a cherry blossom tree shedding it's petals against a darkening sky. This song obviously means a lot to M as she has included it in the
last 3 tours.

HUNG UP brought the evening to a explosive close though I still yearn for the sheer optimistic, tear-spangled joy that was HOLIDAY which closed the RE-INVENTION tour.

It is being filmed tonight and tomorrow for showing on NBC and no doubt a
subsequent DVD release but M must be experienced live if only to feel the sheer energy she puts out that is still travelling when it hits the back wall.

It's laughable really that the Catholic Church were up in arms about the use of the huge mirrored cross she appeared on while singing LIVE TO TELL (my Disco Jesus moment) while ignoring the context the song was set against, the screens showing the faces of children in Malawi and numbers spinning ever upwards from 0 to 12 million which is the UN estimate of AIDS orphans in Africa.

Added to this, the wonderful dancehall style SORRY video which intercut the
posturing faces of Bush, Nixon, Blair, Condelezza Rice, Kohmeini, Cheyney, Hitler, Ahmadinejad, Sadam Hussein, The Pope, Rumsfeld, Mussolini, Bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il etc. with the words DON'T TALK DON'T SPEAK and you have an evening to make you think as well as dance.
You haters can say whatever you damn well want to... ain't no shifting me from my love of her.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Who said SUPERMAN RETURNS was a dog?

Friday, August 04, 2006


Back to Wembley tonight for a second helping of M.

Now that I wasn't on edge wondering if I would like it while trying to take in everything that was happening on stage etc. I loved it all the more.... really relaxing into the show and letting it wash over me. We were closer than on Tuesday, this time facing the right-hand side of the stage and a little closer to the central runway. As usual I was next to the tallest bloke in the auditorium *sigh* but we finally both managed to nab a balloon (gold balloons fall from the gantry during HUNG UP, the last song of the night) - hurrah!!

It was wonderful to again be so close to her, she looked fantastic and seemed to be having a much better time tonight too. I suspect the first night is always going to be a bit cagey as she is getting a feel for the stage and the venue but after 2 shows she seems to be at home in the space and it was great to see her working the runway and smiling broadly at our reactions.

The show seemed to run smoother too and her dancers were even more effortless in their athleticism and physical daring. The CONFESSIONS songs are sounding better and better and I'm really appreciating the tweaks the back catalogue songs have been given to fit in the overall soundscape.

Before we went in we had a chance to soak up the atmosphere in the new piazza in front of the Arena what with dancing fountains, lit-up trees on terraces - and
Madonna's handprints of a Walk of Fame.

One kvetch: why are other people's mobile phone cameras ALWAYS better than your own? It's so pissy to get blurred shot after blurred shot and the bloke in front holds up his and you can see he's getting a perfect close-up of her... GRRRRRRRRR.
Anyhoo this was my best of the evening.... look how close we were!!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


One of the lines in LET IT WILL BE has been running through my mind since leaving the Wembley Arena after seeing MADONNA on her opening night.

We had excellent seats on the floor - quite close to the stage and right in front of one of the side platforms so she WILL have seen me. We were also about halfway down the centre runway which extended from the stage to the middle of the floor - so a lot of time was spent looking behind us to see if she was going to pop up there or on the stage. She caught me out a few times!

It's a show that is growing in my mind the more I think about it and I'm really looking forward to seeing it again.

Instant highlights:
Her first appearance in a huge glitterball that lowered from the gantry to the stage and split open to reveal herself in Gautier's amazing equestrian outfit with top hat and mane.

JUMP where her amazing dances leapt in, around and over metal frames around the stage - she also had a go!

RAY OF LIGHT which had the audience jumping up and down while the whole stage lit up in white light

LET IT WILL BE - just Madonna dancing the length of the runway obviously feeding off the energy of the audience

MUSIC blended in with the opening riff to DISCO INFERNO wonderfully ushering in the final Disco segment of the show with some fierce rollerskating from the excellent ensemble

LUCKY STAR - a nice surprise to be included in the set as M flashed around the stage in a DANCING QUEEN cape with lights inside it!

During her longest break offstage we were treated to an excellent remix of SORRY accompanied by a mash-up video of authority figures. I can't think of many performers who would include footage of the Pope followed by Osama Bin Laden, Condeleeza Rice, Ahmadinejad, Tony Blair (nicely booed), Mussolini, Sadam Hussein, Adolph Hitler and George W. Bush while the lines loop "Your sorry just won't do" and "I've listened to your lies"...

After much soul-searching I deceided to wear one of the tour shirts from the '87 WHO'S THAT GIRL tour. Odd to think my shirt was older than several in the audience. I was stopped twice when leaving by guys who obviously recognised I was a longterm fan asking how I thought it compared to other tours. That was nice. Even though the first bloke who sounded foreign said "I had to ask as you are old...". I was in such a good humour I didn't crack him one in the snoot.