Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A review of a bench

Not this bench. That would be ridiculous.

In the absence of a new James Bond film for the next 457 days, I've been hunting around for something else Bond-related to witter about. Fortunately, as if sensing the urgent need for intellectually stimulating blog fodder, somebody recently rocked up in London's fancy Bloomsbury Square Gardens and dumped a bench designed to look like a book which had some James Bondy stuff on it, so I thought: fuck it. I am going to review the shit out of that bench. So I did.

And here it is.

A review of a bench.

The 'James Bond stories' BookBench (Freyja Dean, 2014)
Bafflingly described by exhibition organisers Books About Town as "the only one of our benches with a licence to kill", the James Bond BookBench is one of a series of fifty literary-based seating solutions dotted around our fair capital between July 2nd and September 15th. There's a Bridget Jones's Diary BookBench, a Sherlock Holmes BookBench, a War Horse BookBench and, as they say, many more. One particularly sexy BookBench is designed to look like the time machine from that book about the time machine; I forget its name.

Clearly the only bench worth discussing, however, is the James Bond BookBench. Nestled within the hornbeam hedges of Bloomsbury Square Gardens, the bench shares space with another BookBench representing Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly. The juxtaposition of these two giants of 1950s popular fiction suggests an intriguing crossover tale in which the two men work together to solve a murder mystery at a country manor in a charming English village, which Bond blows to all holy fuck in the final act's big set-piece.

All the BookBenches are designed to not only be benches, but also to look like books, which is bloody clever when you think about it. Sadly you cannot flip through the pages of the BookBenches because they are solid structures, but it's the thought that counts.
Please do not attempt to read the bench.

You can, however, sit on them, and I cannot fault the James Bond BookBench for its buttock-resting properties. It's comfier than it looks, with a pleasing curvature to the back and seat: perfect for weary tourists, Bond fans and homeless people.

The bench features a playing card design by artist Freyja Dean which is, in a good way, quite mad. It features Bond himself, carefully depicted unlike any of the actors who've played him on screen, quaffing a martini (or possibly milk in a martini glass) and being frowned at by a clearly disapproving Queen. The opportunity to sit on James Bond's face is confusingly appealing, and I did so with a mixed sense of arousal and shame.
Speaking exclusively to The Incredible Suit, Freyja Dean explained the inspiration for her design. "I wasn’t actually very familiar with Bond when I began so I bought the books," she revealed. "What turned out to be most useful, though, was a book about the lifestyle of Bond and Fleming, Henry Chancellor's James Bond: The Man and His World. It really helped me connect with the period and the atmosphere and from that point I was totally engrossed." The Incredible Suit can confirm that this book is amazing and that everyone should own a copy, even you.

Opposite Bond is the image of a Joker, in another potential franchise crossover kind of way. But this Joker has nowt to do with pointy-eared men dressed in black and moping about in secluded mansions, as Freyja Dean explained: "I was trying to think which villain would be the most iconic to put into the design with Bond and the Queen," she told me. "I decided to go with Blofeld, and in one of the books he’s described as having long, lank hair, no earlobes and a gold tooth, so that’s who the joker is."
I was surprised to see the word "QUIM" displayed boldly in the centre of the back rest and wondered if it was representative of Bond's eternal pursuit of fanny until I realised it was the middle portion of the motto of the Order of the Garter, "Honi soit qui mal y pense", which surrounds the shield of the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom. I chose not to ask Freyja Dean about the prominence of the apparent vagina euphemism in case she somehow got the impression that I was in some way unprofessional.

That said, I was desperate to know one more thing: was she tempted to cut a hole in the seat so gentlemen could sit on it naked and have their knackers walloped with a length of sturdy knotted rope? "If it wouldn’t have looked like a public toilet, I’d have considered it," she told me. So now you know.

Overall, I very much enjoyed the James Bond BookBench. It successfully fulfils all necessary criteria by being James Bondy, booky and benchy, and I might even go as far as to say that it is probably one of my top five benches of all time. In fact I'm struggling to actually think of any other benches I like, so I may as well go ahead and call it

"The greatest bench ever made"
- The Incredible Suit

Just in case anyone is looking for a poster quote.

The James Bond BookBench, along with all the other, lesser BookBenches, will be auctioned to raise money for the ruddy brilliant National Literacy Trust on October 7th this year. Feel free to buy it for me as payment for this blog post.

With huge thanks to Freyja Dean.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

"The night is darkest just before the dawn," said Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent, but clearly he never sat down to watch Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes in 3D, for this Dawn is as dark as it gets. Not necessarily thematically, but certainly visually: the colour palette sways from muddy grey to muddy brown and back again, and through 3D specs it's like watching grey jellyfish swimming through a sea of oxtail soup. So that's lesson one: see it in 2D.

Lesson two: lower your expectations. As someone who firmly believes that Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is (along with The Dark Knight Rises) one of the best summer blockbusters of at least the last five years, I was frothing at the cock to see what returning writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver had crafted this time, and how Cloverfield's Matt Reeves would present it. I came away having more or less enjoyed the film, but unable to think of a single thing about it that was actually enjoyable. Remember Caesar's glorious tree-swinging, years-passing montage from Rise? The incredible sequence in Brian Cox's chimp chokey wherein Caesar wordlessly tips the balance of power? The balls-out end credits which tossed off the near-annihilation of humanity as if it were a minor plot point? There's none of that here. Or if there is, I couldn't see it through the oxtail soup.
SO BROWN

Ten years since Caesar walked out on James Franco, leaving him with naught but a bunch of severely clogged plugholes, the king of the swingers and his expanding band of furry followers are living it up in a gigantic treehouse that looks suspiciously like a large family of Ewoks recently vacated. He's husband to a sickly wife and father to a sulky son now, and spends his time teaching his fellow apes to walk upright and work on their enunciation skills. This scene-setting is admirable: the apes have very obviously evolved in the last decade, although many of them still rely on sign language, resulting in a few unintentionally amusing subtitles - Caesar's heartfelt comment to his wife, "You look sick, you OK?" only needed the addendum "hun" to fully justify a ripple of audience giggles.

Meanwhile, what's left of the human race - or at least the bit of it that lives in San Francisco - is struggling by without a substantial source of energy (although there seems to be plenty of fuel for vehicles). When they clock that they could generate hydro-electric power from a dam located deep in Apetown, an uneasy alliance is formed between Caesar and the tediously earnest Jason Clarke, which is threatened by untrusting, prejudiced parties on both sides. Peace between Homo sapiens and Pan troglodytes hangs by a thread, and as the latter begin to covet the former's firepower, war becomes increasingly likely.

All of this is good. There are neat parallels with the real world, with both the film's humans and its apes displaying recognisable traits we'd probably rather not see in ourselves. The invasion of an occupied land in order to gain access to energy brings to mind a certain realpolitik, guns equalling power is a depressing global truism and the arming of children is something every inner city should be concerned with, although few of them need to be too bothered about bonobos with berettas just yet.
When the fight for survival begins, though, everything turns a bit simplistic, if not entirely ham-fisted, and narrative logic gives way to so-so set-pieces as the great Great Apes take on the dull humans. Gary Oldman's character veers from wise peacekeeper to histrionic warmonger to all-out-loon with little encouragement, Clarke is likable but flat and unmemorable, and Keri Russell gets the Freida Pinto Award for Looking Pretty and Dispensing Medicine. While you could level the same accusations at its predecessor, Dawn hasn't got nearly as much in reserve as Rise did to make up for these gaping holes in characterisation. One is left wondering exactly what newly-added screenwriter Mark Bomback brought to the Jaffa / Silver dynamic from his track record of classics like Die Hard 4.0, the Total Recall remake and The Wolverine.

Fortunately apes together strong, and the monkey business goes at least some way to making up for the puny humans: Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell and the wizards of Weta go all out to make Caesar and his unhinged second-in-command Koba worth watching in terms of both characterisation and eye-popping, photoreal CGI, with the result that this is the greatest argument for Performance Capture yet: Caesar makes the early Gollum look like a crudely-etched cartoon.

None of that, sadly, can stop Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes from being overlong, impenetrably gloomy and a missed opportunity to further what could have been a defining franchise for our times, and that's what disappoints the most. We still haven't seen anything beyond San Francisco, lessening the title's impact somewhat, and while I'm intrigued to see where the apes go from here (please let them be exactly like in the 1968 original), I'm no longer excited. Shame.

Monday, 14 July 2014

An incomplete history of Michael Giacchino's awful cue title puns

I ruddy love Michael Giacchino. Not as much as I ruddy love John Williams, John Barry, Hans Zimmer, Bernard Herrmann, Danny Elfman or David Arnold, but Giacchino can sleep soundly knowing that he's probably tucked away somewhere in The Incredible Suit's top ten film score composers, like, ever. His music is by turns cock-tinglingly thrilling and heartbreakingly lovely, and I fully expect him to take over Star Wars duties once John Williams forgets where he left his baton.

All that said, Michael Giacchino is a menace to the English language. His propensity for naming his cues with some of the world's worst puns is tantamount to wurder (word murder, yeah?), and now he's committed multiple punnicide with his Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes score. Have a look at these, if your eyes can take it:
"Gibbon take". "GIBBON TAKE".

Giacchino has been at this for years, and as much as I love him, it's time to expose his crimes. Stand by to cringe your face off because most of what follows, while in no way exhaustive, is certainly exhausting.

Giacchino started small with a couple of minor puns in his first major feature score: Lava In The Afternoon, which refers to Mr Incredible's volcano-based meeting with femme fatale Mirage, and Lithe Or Death, a nod to Mrs Incredible's loose-limbed bendiness. The Incredits seems innocuous enough, but even the most notorious serial killers begin by pulling the legs off spiders, and this was a mere hint of what was to come.

Michael Giacchino went literally insane with the puns for his cues for JJ Abrams' equally mad TV series, shoehorning character names into random phrases like a man being paid per homophone. Unforgivable punnery over six seasons of Lost include Getting Ethan, Thinking Clairely (ugh), Booneral, Shannonigans, Kate's Motel, Claire-a Culpa (seriously?), Heart Of Thawyer (what?), Jintimidating Bernard, All Jack-ed Up, Benundrum, Nadia On Your Life, Of Mice And Ben, Keamy Away From Him, Helen Of Joy, None The Richard and Hugo Reyes Of Light.

Giacchino reseved a special place in pun hell for Terry O'Quinn's John Locke though, working overtime on the likes of Crocodile Locke, Locke'd Out Again, Through The Locke-ing Glass, Locke-ing Horns, Locke-about and Locke At It This Way. People have been LOCK-ED AWAY for less, hahaha kill me.

Giacchino gave us a triple whammy in J-Jabs' 2006 Cruiseathon: Helluvacopter Chase and Shang Way High (because Ethan Hunt's on a Shanghai rooftop, yeah?) are pretty bad, but I do have some grudging admiration for The Chutist, combining as it does Hunt's joint loves of firing guns and parachuting.

Probably the raciest pun ever seen in a score for an animated film popped up with Ratatouille's Kiss And Vinegar, while Granny Get Your Gun and Heist To See You were mere appetisers for the truly atrocious main course that is End Creditouilles. Jesus.

Giacchino's terrific Star Trek score may be the work of a genius, but that genius is evil. For all the musical wonder and fairly mild punnery of Enterprising Young Men, it doesn't cancel out the horror of Hangar Management or Matter? I Barely Know Her!. And if you thought one play on the words "Nero" and "near" wasn't enough, you're in luck: just for you, Giacchino squirts out Nero Sighted and Nero Death Experience.

There's a bird in Up called Kevin. He has a beak. Therefore: Kevin Beak'n. Not sure if this counts as a step in Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon.

Swamp And Circumstance is as bad as we've been led to expect, but Pterodactyl Ptemper Ptantrum is something else. I think it might actually be genius but I suspect not.

Although GIacchino only composed a couple of cues for Fringe, his fingerprints are all over some of the other cue titles. The name of the series' supernatural location Reiden Lake was used to replace the word "riding" TWICE, with Reiden Out The Storm and Reiden Out To Madness. On a particularly bad day, Giacchino also apparently came up with Connecting The Fringe-cidents. And yet until now, nobody has ever investigated his own paronomasial activity.

As upsetting as My Heart Goes Vroom, Towkyo Takeout and Mater Of Disguise are, they're still not as woeful as the film to which they belong. And when all's said and done, The Turbomater is actually a little bit brilliant.

Location-based double entendres are the order of the day here: Give Her My Budapest, Kremlin With Anticipation, From Russia With Shove and Mumbai's The Word allow Giacchino to go global with his gobbledegook. He didn't forget those character-based puns though: Moreau Trouble Than She's Worth, Eye Of The Wistrom and Launch Is On Hendricks are all as forgettable as the characters on which they're based.

With no less than THREE puns based on John Carter's nemeses the Therns, Giacchino scores a hat-trick of horror with A Thern For The Worse, A Thern Warning and Thernabout. Fortunately he Therns it all around with the quite excellent Thark Side Of Barsoom, so I'll pardon him on this occasion.

Despite being set in space, we're brought back to Earth with a bump for a bunch of half-hearted lulz in the over-abused sequel: Meld-merized, The Kronos Wartet, Earthbound And Down, Warp Core Values and Buying The Space Farm all seem like a cry for help from a spent man. Only Brigadoom shines through the darkness, but by then it's too late.

Giacchino graced this Halloween TV special with some fine tunes, but then went and called some of them Motel Me A Scary Story, I've Got A Bag Feeling About This and Iguana Be Kidding Me. Truly terrifying.

*

With the evidence thus laid out, it seems only right that Michael Giacchino should be forced into pun-silence for the rest of his career. Fortunately for him there are mitigating circumstances, which are that all of these cues, no matter how appallingly-named, are quite, quite brilliant. The defendant shall walk free, but he should know that for a very long time he'll be on pun probation. Punbation. Proba-pun. Propuntion? That'll do.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Boyhood

Like a fictional version of Michael Apted's Seven Up series, Richard Linklater has been making Boyhood with the same cast for TWELVE YEARS, making Terrence Malick's trademark lethargy look like Ben Wheatley on speed. Keeping the same actors throughout filming in order to realistically tell the story of one family's voyage through a son's formative years would make Boyhood a remarkable experiment, were it not for the fact that it doesn't feel at all experimental. It's as assured and heartfelt a coming-of-age tale as you'd hope, and its central gimmick serves only to elicit 100% audience investment in the characters. It's also a sweet, brave film that turns out much better than one which opens with Coldplay's Yellow has any right to be.

Ellar Coltrane is Mason Jr., the boy whose hood we watch develop over the film's 166 minutes, and while that sounds like an arse-torturing running time, after about thirty of those minutes I never wanted it to end. Ethan Hawke's feckless, flighty Mason Sr is a lovable rogue, Patricia Arquette the sympathetic, put-upon single mum and the suspiciously-surnamed Lorelei Linklater plays Mason Jr.'s precocious sister Samantha with all the teeth-grinding annoyance that precocious sisters possess in spades.

While very little drama unfolds in the lives of these guys that you wouldn't get in any similar household in the western world, Linklater instead picks out tiny moments to represent the ceaseless march of time: painting over a height chart on a door frame; excitement over a new Harry Potter book giving way to the realisation that there's no such thing as elves; the old birds-and-the-bees talk with dad that's never not excruciating. Mason Jr. spends much of the film with no clue whatsoever what to do with his life, which frankly I can relate to enormously, and it's refreshing to see a film like this where the central character isn't driven by convenient plot machinations.

Its mundanity is admirably realistic, but I did find myself occasionally craving melodrama - a meteor striking the house, a zombie invasion, Danny Dyer buying the local pub, anything - but I immediately hated myself for doing so. Boyhood isn't what we've been taught to expect from family dramas and soap operas over the decades, and what it lacks in thrills it more than makes up for in honesty and affection. For nearly three hours you're welcomed into the family, and you're happy to stay in their embrace for the next twelve years.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Somebody get Netflix a thesaurus, stat!

I recently decided to make the most of my Netflix subscription by catching up on some films I really should have watched by now. Italian Neorealist classic The Bicycle Thieves has been on my watchlist for a long time, but before I started I thought I'd see what Netflix had to say about it.
Well that's good, I thought, I hate having to choose between emotional and gritty. I scanned a few other films before going back to The Bicycle Thieves, at which point I was surprised to see that the luxury of not having to choose between emotional and gritty was no longer the film's selling point:
So now it's emotional with "hints" of gritty, eh? I flicked away, and back again:
And again:
And again:
And again:
And again:
And again:
And again:
And again:
And again:
And again:
And again:
And again:
And again:
I'll be honest, at this point I got bored and just watched The Bicycle Thieves. It's quite good: sentimental and, I suppose, a little bit farinaceous.