Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Some Like it Hot: still sizzling today

I've really enjoyed The Guardian's series of favourite film and album blogs, so I was thrilled to see my personal favourite, Some Like it Hot, pop up today as Becky Barnicoat's chosen flick. This film is cheeky, sexy, silly and hilarious. People who have just heard of it in passing or seen the iconic stills will think this film is popular because of Marilyn Monroe, the same way Breakfast at Tiffany's is cherished mainly for Audrey Hepburn's performance (despite having some iffy acting and some seriously un-PC content.) This is a bit of a myth. I do feel that Monroe is the only person who could have played the voluptuous, lovelorn Sugar Kane, smart enough to go on the run from heartache but dumb enough to fall for an imposter. But it is the script, the pace of the screwball plot and the combination of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon that makes this film a classic.

I have had serious love for SLIH since, as a GCSE media studies student, I was told to go away and learn about comedy genres: parody, rom-com and screwball included. Some Like it Hot was the first video - yep, I'm that old - I picked up, and I was instantly enchanted. Two regular Joes (well, one Joe and one Gerry) have to get out of Chicago after witnessing the St Valentine's Day massacre and going on the run from the mob. Their best option is donning some hosiery and lippy and joining all-female jazz band Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators to escape to Florida. The script is pow-pow-pow quickfire comedy, Tony Curtis is smooth saxophonist perfection (even in drag) and Lemmon's romance with Osgood Fielding III sublimely ridiculous. 

There is even some hot jazz along the way, with the sexy Runnin' Wild rehearsed on the train, Monroe's infamously slinky I Wanna Be Loved By You and her desperately sad rendition of I'm Through With Love at the climax of the film. Barnicoat mourns the lack of Technicolor in her blog post, but I think black and white makes this film what it is. Monroe's hourglass silhouette needs no zesty palette to improve it, Joe and Gerry's hastily-acquired drag looks just about convincing, and the whole picture just smokes with romance, mischief and jazz. 

If you're in need of a cosy weekend film as winter takes over, or just haven't seen this enduring comedy yet, I would highly recommend it. I might even dig out the old VHS myself...

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Love Letters

I have posted before with other blogs I adore, but this one has something special about it.

Letters of Note is a collection of papers that have nothing in common except being in some way funny, touching or extraordinary. It frequently fills my eyes with tears of laughter or emotion (beware, desk readers), two recent examples being this hilarious response to a botched speeding ticket and this gorgeous reply to a small boy from a children's TV star.

I have always been fascinated with letters. By the time I engaged in any sort of correspondence beyond the birthday thank-you note, mobiles, texting, email and instant messaging were all at their height. But so many of my favourite novels were filled with scribbling heroines, sisters swapping revelations via telegrams delivered on horseback and true love exquisitely expressed with only pen and paper, that I wished I had some reason to write to someone. My diaries may have provided a physical written outlet, but there's nothing quite like receiving a letter just for you. 

Email and Facebook messaging are too instantly gratifying, too quickly back and forth, to replace the feeling of a long-awaited, carefully thought out reply on paper. During my first year at university I rather pathetically tried to resurrect the letter, demanding siblings and friends write to me in my pokey little halls room, but it never caught on. By the time the information had arrived, it was no longer relevant - everyone within reach of Facebook and text already knew. But as such I do have a few lovingly preserved missives from my sisters, mum and boyfriend at the time, so much lovelier to look at than a hastily-typed email.

Letters of Note is a treasure because it is a sort of online museum of correspondence. People bother to write and mail a letter for all sorts of reasons - gratitude, anger, sadness and usually, love. There is a letter from a man, dying of Leukemia, saying goodbye to his three-year-old son and one from a 26-year-old on death row thanking a reporter for believing in him (as well as lighter reading - see this fake memo from an irate Disney executive.)

What I love most about this blog is that what makes letters 'notable' is not simply their place in history or fame, but the sentiment within and the honesty or eloquence used to express it. It has inspired me to write more of my communications down on paper. Letters can be cherished, re-read and passed on to future generations and it seems a shame to lose that simply because I was born in the wrong century.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The 'Next' Factor

There is something equal parts compelling and abhorrent about this year's X Factor. The contestants range from the bland to the surreal, with a few actual stars snuck in there to confuse things. One thing that has had me ranting at the TV every weekend is the judges' collective blind eye to anyone who sounds exactly the same as an existing artist. In fact they bloody love it.

Freaky Friday?
Irish imp Janet has clearly stolen Ellie Goulding's voice in a shady Little Mermaid deal (seriously, have you seen the Goulding anywhere lately? Yeah, she's off gesturing wildly at her throat while Janet strokes the shell necklace that is the source of all her muted, squeaky blahness.)

Adele-lite Jade has a voice that could lull you to sleep. Literally, because all we've heard since it dropped in January is Adele's bloody album, and one more husky note could actually anesthetize me. I love Adele as much as the next easy listener, but this snivelling Scot has 2% of her voice and 0% of her personality.

Adele's voice would eat Jade's for breakfast
Then we have Johnny, who I actually do love, mainly because I love a classic gay with a set of brilliant one-liners - "Those lads are like Chippendales; I'm more of a chipolata." However, he has got through entirely on a bizarre, nasal Etta James impression that clearly won't work with anyone else's songs. I'd keep him in for his 'Oooh matron' humour alone though (and the fact he is a real life Derek Faye.)

Who dear, me dear, Etta James dear? Yes dear
Luckily many have been cut by this point, but we also waded through a guy trying his best to be Damien Rice but coming out a bit Damien Semolina, a Shania Twain lookalike wearing an actual cowboy hat and even two clear Glee obsessives channelling Finchel. Not one of these people sounds like anything near themselves, and yet we hear the word 'original' bandied around far too much. Why is no-one pointing out that yeah, you can hold a tune, but you're holding it in the tribute-act style of Tina Turner? Even 'larger than life' lezzer Sami is a strange Jo from S Club/Jane McDonald hybrid.

They're no better across the pond; fantastic 18-year-old hopeful Melanie Amaro strolled in with a killer set of lungs and a fresh face, but sang Listen note-for-note AS BEYONCE. It was like she was auditioning for Beyonce's maternity cover.

There is a point at which imitation stops being flattering and starts being frightening, and I think this is that point. Not one of the US X Factor judges pointed out this weird Sasha Fierce ventriloquism; Paula Abdul even called her 'original.' Maybe on Paula's medication that sounded original, but from where I was sitting it was pretty carbon copy.

Come on X Factor, have another look at your show's name (and its definition) and let's get some vaguely interesting people in there, preferably singing in the voice they were given.

My tips are Misha and Amelia Lily from the girls, The Keys and The Estrelles from the groups and John from the boys. But going on the show and its hype so far, we'll end up instead with a whole new range of artists sounding exactly like someone already in the charts. Le sigh.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The C Word

I've dated them. I sit next to one on a daily basis. I'm even starting to embrace being one.

That's right, I'm now a fully-fledged commuter.

Commuting is something people always tend to moan about. The early starts, the timetable disruptions - not to mention the time spent with your septum wedged in some less-than-fragrant armpits. But the truth is, I love it.

Yes, there is the odd day when you wish you cycled ten minutes to work somewhere dainty like Stow-on-the-Wold. One such was Monday night, when someone's delightful decision to end it all between a fast train and the tracks at Wimbledon meant I left for work at 7.30 and got home at 9. You know you're a hardened commuter when your first sharp reaction to a fatality announcement is, 'Why not a Southern train, you Guildford-hating bastard?'

So, why do I love the extra two hours (at least) added to my working day?

The Gift of Time

I'm one of those people who rarely uses their flopping-on-the-sofa hours after work wisely. I would rather watch trashy TV than pick up a novel, read Glamour in the bath or do my nails than go to an evening class. But my mind is miraculously hungry on the 7.51 train, and that's when I get my reading done.* One morning a week I learn Greek on my iPod, although vigorously mouthing a grecian 'Are you here on work or pleasure?' or scribbling a baffling alphabet in a notepad is unlikely to win me any commuting admirers.

The Sound of Silence

Ah, the sweet, sweet sound of seasoned commuters ignoring each other. Now and again a rookie will step into the carriage, talking loudly on their phone or blasting Rihanna from inadequately insulated headphones, and we who have committed to this unwritten code of aural lockdown will glare deafeningly in their direction. Britishness at its best.

The Sense of Purpose

I like to be going somewhere. I'm not someone who enjoys spells of unemployment (I know, I know - wrong industry), or longs to live a WAG-tastic life. The feeling of getting up early, having a brisk walk, then watching suburbia shoot by and the city roll into view just suits me fine.

The Extended Morning

This is less poetic, more pragmatic. If I were ever to live ten minutes away from my workplace, Lord knows what I would do. A bag of Mary Poppins proportions supplies me with make-up, moisturiser, a hairbrush, spare shoes and even on occasion, breakfast. On those cursed days when a sprint for the train means flats, frizz and perspiration, all can be rectified on the move.

So while I may aspire to move further into the city this year or next, and perhaps sacrifice my morning train time by doing so, for now my commute adds more to my day than simply hours. Don't see it as a waste of time; put it to good use and you'll be well-read, frizz-free and desk ready by 9am.

*I've just wept through the end of The Book Thief and started on Wolf Hall, both glorious. As you can see, my stack of morning reading is fairly substantial, but new tips are always welcome.

Top photo: steve_w

Thursday, 23 June 2011

REVIEW: Bridesmaids

Today I found out I've landed some much-needed employment, and to celebrate I took myself out to see the movie of the moment, Bridesmaids. Now and again, a film comes along that you spend more time reading about than watching. Whatever I had built up Bridesmaids to be in my head, it was totally different. Quirky, yes; full of charismatic women, yes. But it wasn't fully about the hellish journey from dress fitting to Big Day; it was a direct split between wedding disasters and the spiralling life of lonely protagonist Annie (writer Kristen Wiig.) Rather than giving a human edge to the more heavily-advertised half of the plot, this strand just made me wonder if Wiig had found opportunities for bridesmaid antics a bit thin on the ground.

Melissa McCarthy, Ellie Kemper, Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig

Don't get me wrong, this film is definitely worth a look. A few scenes are indeed laugh-out-loud, most are just amusingly surreal. Annie, already on a relationship and career low, is thrown when her oldest friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged, but leaps at the chance to be her maid of honour. The most amusing obstacle comes in the form of Helen (Rose Byrne), Lillian's glossier and richer 'new' best friend, and the two women's sneaky battle for best BFF is nothing short of hilarious. Byrne is deliciously despicable, and Wiig charmingly neurotic. For me, Annie's predictably schmaltzy romance with cop Nathan (played by the IT Crowd's Chris O'Dowd) only detracted from the insane brilliance of the all-female moments.

The only part that lived up to the trailer and the reviews, though, was Melissa McCarthy's performance as boisterous sister of the groom Megan - one of the best rom-com characters I've seen in a long time. And this is a rom-com. While critics claim it rivals dick-flicks such as The Hangover - and it does break ground in terms of vomit, swearing and realistic-looking women - the central romance, and Annie's anxiety about losing her friend, still keep it in traditional wedding-comedy territory.

In fact, I would've liked to see less of Annie's sad singledom (except for the painfully spot-on guy stringing her along at the beginning of the film) and more of Annie and Lillian's relationship. There was more than enough sentiment to be wrung from the erosion of the best friend bond, and I could take or leave the cop romance.

Still, there are laughs a-plenty, if not, as journos such as Zoe Williams have implied, gallons more wit or feminist pizazz than most decent romantic comedies. There is one particularly brilliant scene on a plane to Vegas, supporting bridesmaids Becca and Rita keep it light and funny, as do colourful characters like Annie's mum - who goes to AA meetings just for fun - and surreal roomates Brynn and Gil (Rebel Wilson & our own Matt Lucas.)

Wiig's Saturday Night Live past is evident in the ballsy screenplay; the film opens with the same song as ex-SNL colleague Tina Fey's teen masterpiece Mean Girls, and clearly aspired to a similar level of bizarre to her sitcom 30 Rock. Sadly, I just didn't feel it lived up to Fey's fast-paced, wordy scripts, instead resorting to vomit, bad sex and in-flight drugs to fuel the comedy.

I can't tell if the amount of hype ruined it, and had I just walked into screen 8 on a Thursday afternoon whim I would have been raving about it, but I'm not sure Bridesmaids is the innovative and stunning comedy the press has built it up to be. There are lovable characters and memorable moments, and Wiig has fantastic comic timing, but I don't know if I'd buy the DVD.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

True Beauty

A song came on my iPod this morning that I realized I always skip, but have never deleted. It was Beautiful by Christina Aguilera, now best known for being smotheringly overplayed circa 2003, and subsequently murdered by numerous talent show contestants. But when the song came out, it was a remarkable pop milestone. Not simply for Aguilera's catchy defiance, but for the haunting, controversial video that came with it (directed by Jonas Akerlund.)

A great teacher sat down my entire school year one morning, buzzing with attitude, prejudice and disrespect for their state education, and made us watch every frame. Men kissing, drag queens dressing, anorexics gazing in the mirror - you could have heard a pin drop. Uncomfortable perhaps, but it was a bold move in a school where homophobic bullying was part of the daily dialogue, and so many labels in that video were feared and targeted.

I can remember being absolutely astounded by the video myself, liberal as I was - gay kisses and diversity in general being even less visible in the media back then. I had completely forgotten about that moment until today, and am infuriated that I can't remember my peers' reactions to the video.

I guess I just want to credit Aguilera for championing love and beauty in all its forms, long before Gaga ever burst onto the scene. Ms Germanotta has done fabulous work raising awareness of issues like Don't Ask, Don't Tell and making a generation of 'little monsters' feel like they belong, but she does it with savvy lyrics and red carpet publicity stunts, rather than anything as daring as the Beautiful video.

The song was recently voted the most empowering of the last decade for gay and bisexual people in a poll by Stonewall (Born This Way came in third.) A cynical person might think that Gaga and Christina's 'people' both identified a powerful gay market to seduce and went for it, but as this type of reaching out isn't typical to Aguilera's back catalogue, I still believe her song is heartfelt. Gaga may be giving the LGBT community something to rave to, but Christina gave them an anthem.

Under the video on YouTube, the following message was posted just yesterday:

Dear Christina,

I am 18 and gay. I try to make the best of it but sometimes living in a house of homophobes can bring me down. But when ever I feel awful, I put on this song and feel stronger. I couldn't thank you more.


Cristina Aguilera - Beautiful by shqrk

It is important not to become complacent, thinking the world has moved on since that video. Last week, the landlord of the John Snow pub in Soho, of all places, removed two men on a first date for kissing, reportedly calling their behaviour 'obscene.' Pink News today reported that Facebook has removed a picture of two Eastenders characters kissing (yes, fictional characters) from a blog post in support of the 'kiss in' now being organised in reaction to the incident. My home town's MP and a coalition Minister of State, Chris Grayling, was in hot water this time last year for suggesting that B&B owners should be allowed to refuse gay couples. I can't find one still online of that kiss in the Beautiful video.

Whatever people's personal squeamishness about watching same-sex couples express their affection, there has to be equality when it comes to public places and forums. Get involved, question these things. Don't sit back and let the lifestyle of more than 3 million Britons become erased from our public landscape. Words may not bring us down, but we can challenge the actions of a prejudiced few.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

10 years of Glamour

Whilst on my magazine journalism course, I've been looking at my mag-habit a completely different way. We're told in lectures that women are largely impulse buyers, while men are more brand loyal, but I have basically bought the same magazines for years. A couple of monthlies, a couple of trashy weeklies, and the odd giant, luxurious Vogue or Vanity Fair for fun. The only one I buy practically every month is Glamour, which today celebrated 10 years on our newsstands.

Glamour was launched in 2001 as the smaller-sized magazine "that fits in with your life, as well as your handbag." I'm trying to work out from which point I started reading (I was 14 in 2001), but when I look at the first ever issue, currently published in PDF format on their Facebook page, I feel like I remember the cover. Maybe I had it or my elder sister did. I do know I've been reading it many years before I hit their market age range of 25-35.

So what's so great about Glamour? It has a real mix of subject matter and feature treatments - not Cosmo-sexpert, not Elle or Vogue-fashionista, but friends, single life, relationships, style, beauty, health and culture. I just flicked through that first issue and it was a really good read. Most of the celebrities featured have remained high-profile; Kate Winslet was their coverstar as a fresh-faced new mum, Gwyneth Paltrow's wardrobe was the most desirable and Victoria Beckham wrote a style feature.

It had tips on entertaining, timeless beauty, great reads (I think they would be wise to go back and extend their books content) shocking real-life features and fabulous celebrity access. I still read it every month, but I do think Glamour's upmarket content has slipped from that glossy first go. There used to be a layer of celebs who were Glamour-worthy; Rachel Weisz, Liv Tyler, Halle Berry, Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock and Natalie Portman all graced the cover in its first three years. Now, you're more likely to find Katie Price, Lily Allen and even Abbey Clancy staring back at you. Either the 'Glamour woman' has changed, or the team's budget and access has.

Obviously their sales figures must look favourably on La Price, or she wouldn't have popped up multiple times, but putting her there seriously downgraded the escapism and luxury factor for me. Similarly, Abbey Clancey's recent cover was a tie in with The Great British Hairdresser, on which editor Jo Elvin appears. It was trying to make a case for Abbey being misunderstood by the press, and really being a very sweet girl, but I think it missed the mark on what readers so love about Glamour.

Elvin has steered the ship since the launch (and writes a practically perfect first editor's letter in Issue 1.) In a recent lecture, Haymarket publishing veteran Mel Nicholls used Glamour as an example of brilliantly written and designed coverlines. They use bold sans-serif font, different sizes and colours, and highlight numbers, key words and hot lists. They especially know when to push a great offer or competition.

Features wise, Glamour isn't afraid to throw in something a bit political, controversial or uncomfortable. Recently they ran a feature about women in their twenties and thirties getting sick of hearing about other peoples' babies, which I'm sure got a lot of flack. But the team are not afraid of stirring up debate; post-Twitter, I even had a little clash with Elvin last year over their Women of the Year choices. She's very Twitter-active and often responds to reader comments.

I've also done work experience at Glamour, and the team were very lovely (and truly glamorous) in person. It's successful for a reason, and that reason is a good sense of consistency, reader needs and marketing genius. I love their little franchises and would miss them if they went: Hey, it's Ok, the witty lists on the last page, and the more recent Celia Walden lunch interview. I think Glamour deserves some serious applause at its birthday celebrations tonight. I think it's the cream of women's mags, and manages to be universally appealing without trying to please all the people all the time. Bravo.

Here are some of my favourite covers from the last decade (often the month they stopped dialling Britney and took some risks):

November 2004: Renee goes brunette.
The focus is unusually on fair skin and piercing eyes.

July 2003: Charlie's Angels. Glamour
breaks with industry tradition and triples
their cover star. Smokin'.

December 2008: Leona isn't the most exciting of celebrities, but as well as being one of their few mixed-race cover stars, it also looks like they've let her be herself. I also have to give them snaps for putting a cosy jumper on the cover in winter, rather than a skimpy party dress (see also Charlotte Church last December.)

December 2009: Leighton Meester
They also recently put her co-star Blake Lively on the cover, but
this shows a nod to the future of glamorous Hollywood, as a
new generation comes up through the ranks. More Blair and
less Jordan, please!