Change of address

Just updated this blog so it has its own custom domain at reuoq.com instead of reuoq.wordpress.com . I thought I should write a post to that effect. More reviews on the way soon…

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Radio: Good Omens (2014)

goodomensAuthors: Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Adapted by: Dirk Maggs
Language: English
Length: 6 episodes – 5 of 30 minutes and one of 60 minutes
Finished listening on: 9 Feb 2015

I always forget that the BBC still makes radio plays for Radio 4. But apparently they do, and evidently, they still make ones that are worth watching. I actually heard about this via Neil Gaiman’s Tumblr – a nice way for him to stay in touch with fans.

Good Omens was one of the first audiobooks that I downloaded using the Audible service a few years ago. In fact, I wrote a review for it on this blog back near the beginning. So listening to the story again was like a distantly familiar memory, even though it’s in a very different form overall. Here there is a cast of actors including some veterans of the UK comedy scene like Mark Heap and Peter Serafinowicz in the lead roles, and a bunch of child actors for the child roles, as far as I can tell.

One other key difference is that the radio play is much shorter, since it’s broken into smaller digestible chunks. This makes it easier to follow but leaves me with the distinct impression that they’ve left stuff out.

As for the story itself, I’m not going to recap it much here, but I ought to note that for whatever reason – it might be my growing cynicism as I grow older, or it might be because the scene was badly written – I found the final scene somewhat underwhelming and not profound. I can’t remember what I thought the first time I heard the story, but here the scene was confusing and the moral a bit empty.

As yet, I’m still wondering why they haven’t made a movie of this. But I definitely think the BBC should continue making things like this!

Before I end this review, it would be amiss for me not to mention Terry Pratchett’s tragic passing back in March. I was actually going to write my thoughts on it when I got to the review of Raising Steam, which I was reading around that time, and thus which stuck in my memory as important. Tacked on the end of this review they would seem too hasty, though, so I think I’m still going to wait until then. Rest assured it was nice to hear that he was able to make a cameo appearance along with Gaiman in the first episode – but I feel slightly ashamed for having missed that entirely until it was later pointed out to me!

Radio: Six Adventures of Tintin (1992)

577199author: Hergé
adaptation: Simon Eastwood
language: English
length: 175 minutes (six episodes of 29-30 minutes each)
finished on: 16 July 2014

I got a bit of a craving to listen to these radio adaptations of Tintin recently and had my mother send over the tapes from the UK. Then I had to like, buy a tape deck, since that’s now out-of-date technology. My plan was to convert them to a digital file. Since then I’ve actually found you can download them, since they were rebroadcast on Radio 4 a couple of years ago – and I might as well supplement the cassettes with that since there’s one extra episode that I don’t have on tape…

Anyway, since this is a re-listen I’m not going to go into too much detail. Whoever’s idea it was to adapt a comic book to radio was probably hailed as crazy, but it works surprisingly well, I always thought. Snowy establishes himself as unable to be heard by the other characters (it’s never outright stated in the books), and serves as a narrator for the visual gags that couldn’t quite get into the radio version but were important to the story.

The other main difference to the comics is that the conceit of Tintin being a reporter is actually exploited – Tintin narrates the background as if he’s typing on a typewriter to send in the story to his editor. In the comics it’s understood that that’s Tintin’s job, but nothing ever comes of it.

Compared to when I listened to these as a kid, I found them much shorter and more rushed than I remember. This may be more obvious in direct comparison to the Canadian TV show, which has 45 minute (two part) episodes, whereas this one only has 30 minute episodes. However, it was very good to refresh my memory of them – I think the last time I listened was five years ago – and I definitely enjoyed all the unique jokes that were added, certainly always in keeping with the original style.

I still have another set of tapes to listen to (but I won’t post about them here when I do – I’m pretty sure they’re no different from these in tone or delivery), and then I’ll see about acquiring the extra episode…

Music: Sigur Rós

sigurros2013v2-640x378watched on: 14 May 2013
at: Nippon Budokan (this photo isn’t mine, though!)

I bought the tickets to go to this back in November. It’s the first time I’ve seen Sigur Rós performing live (although I did see Jónsi a couple of years ago when he was doing a solo tour). The concert was held in the massive Budokan (martial arts hall) in central Tokyo, and I think there must have been about 10,000 people there. As a side note, it resembles the Central Hall of my university, so I almost felt like I was going in for an exam!

The music was very good, as always, and I got to hear some of their newest songs (I am now waiting for the album to be delivered – but from the UK, because I had an Amazon voucher) ahead of time. And hearing some of the songs, particularly the finale with “Popplagið”, was very exciting for me. They played a lot of their older stuff as well as their standard crowdpleasers. So, fine.

But the venue was kinda horrible. I was so far away that I could only see tiny little figures playing on stage. It was very hot inside (thankfully it wasn’t full-on summer yet), and I didn’t have a proper chair, so I started getting backache quickly. I feel like I’ve been permanently priced out of getting the decent seats at venues like this – the ticket was quite expensive as is! Afterwards I tried to buy merchandise but the T-shirts all seemed too small for me, and then trying to leave was a nightmare because there were so many people squeezing through a very thin gate to get out of the area.

Even the performance wasn’t without fault: the music was fine, of course, but there was excessive strobe-lighting on some of the pieces, to the point where I had to just close my eyes and bear it. The other lighting design was mostly mellow, with candle-like lights glowing across the stage.

And I still don’t get why encores are a thing. Glad I went though!

Music: Saint Etienne

20130130-202822-500431where: Billboard Live, Tokyo Midtown
when: 23 January 2013
length: about 90-100 minutes, fifteen songs or so.

Again, I’m late with posting, so this happened three and a half months ago. But I’m very glad it did. For some reason, although I’ve been very interested in this band for a number of years, this is the first time I’ve actually seen them live (the same is true of Sigur Rós, who I’m seeing for the first time next week). I kinda jumped at the chance when I found out they’d be coming to Tokyo this year.

To be honest, it was basically all I could have hoped for. If anything I wish they’d played more songs. I was, however, in a cheap seat with a crappy view, and went alone (I actually knew one other person there, but he was sitting somewhere completely different). Sarah Cracknell was fabulous. The others kind of faded into the background.

I think the most interesting thing was seeing how eager some people were to dance. One woman in a kimono was up as soon as the music started, and one guy on the balcony was the only guy cheering at the start. Even more interesting were the people who at first didn’t seem so keen – one guy in the front row who was literally the closest person to Sarah was looking up at her for most of the concert as if she’d interrupted his meal, although later he showed interest and started boogying with everyone else. And just generally it’s funny seeing businessmen in suits starting to let their hair down.

Anyway, Saint Etienne’s a very old band now and not one that’s very popular anymore, and one thing that did disappoint me was how popular their very first single still is – it’s OK, but it’s a cover with a different singer. And just as a general point about concerts, I really don’t understand the encore convention. Why does a band go offstage to applause only to come back on a minute later to play the final two songs? Who are they really kidding with that?

I think I was just most happy that I got them to sign my CD and T-shirt afterwards. Yesss.

Panto: The York Family Robinson

Watched on: 15 Dec 2011
Length: 3 hours
Language: English

It’s been four months since I went to see this pantomime, but I’ve been enjoying myself in Japan too much to care about this blog for too long now. Sorry.

Anyway, I went to York in December to see it, and my main remark is that it was one of their less remarkable ones. For a production that prides itself on not having much of a plot, this doesn’t really make much of a difference, though; I’ll be splitting hairs if I go into the reasons why, I guess, if I could remember most of them. Suffice to say that they could have had a more impressive slapstick/water throwing scene, from what memories I do have of it.

As with most York pantos, it was delightfully non-sequitur, and seeing it on opening night did mean that we got that special dress-rehearsal feel that you can’t replicate! I guess the plot was something to do with Robinson Crusoe, and they ended up in Australia for some reason. I don’t even know. Not important!

It’s also the last time I saw a bunch of people in York before I left for Japan in January, so all in all, I had a particularly fun weekend. That said, I think I spent about £40 in the Evil Eye – I think it was that weekend, at least! That place is like a sinkhole. Or at least I thought so before I started going out in Tokyo… things here are either ridiculously expensive or cheap, without much quality difference and without much in between. A large pricing gap, if you will.

So anyway, I love this panto, even though this time wasn’t the best. Berwick Kaler, the dame, is still a genius, and it was, I believe, my seventh time going to it. Trying to explain panto to Japanese students is quite fun, incidentally… a lot of the time they hear “mime” and think they know what I’m talking about. Nope.

Also, this post is quite exciting for me because I typed it out on my phone using my new wireless keyboard. Pretty cool!

Film #32: A Very Potter Sequel (2010)

directed by: Matt Lang
language: English
length: 214 minutes
watched on: 6 Oct

I’ve kind of classified this as a film, because I watched it via YouTube, although I guess it’s technically a stage musical or something – I don’t have a category for that. You can watch it for free on Youtube. At three-and-a-half of your best hours, it’s significantly longer than your average film… but definitely worth it. That said, absolutely none of it will make sense unless you’ve seen the original Very Potter Musical, and even less if you haven’t read the Harry Potter books.

It’s very like its predecessor in many ways, although I’ll mention right off the bat that there aren’t as many memorable songs as there were in the original. To begin with, a group of American college students chopped up different bits of the Harry Potter novels and stitched them together to form something rather unique – one of its major strengths is that while you may know the source material of the novels inside out, you won’t be anticipating how it fits together in this series, and the element of suspense is kept alive.

What I suspect happened in this particular case is that the writers of the series (as far as I know, this either is or includes Darren Criss, the actor who plays Harry Potter) realised at the end of the previous, uh, play that they had (spoiler alert) defeated Voldemort, and that there wouldn’t be much left for the plot to do after that, so they went back in time (using the time-turners from Prisoner of Azkaban) to the beginning of Harry’s first year at Hogwarts. And then they threw in all the elements of books 1, 3 and 5 (mainly) that they’d missed from the first musical.

The time travel plot is certainly more complex than the one presented in the 3rd book, and it requires a lot of concentration to keep track of it, as more and more layers start being added, especially in the second half.

All in all, it’s pretty good. Joe Walker, who played Voldemort in the original, steals the show as a Shakespeare-style-man-in-drag version of the evil teacher Dolores Umbridge, who falls in love with Dumbledore – who scarpers as soon as he realises that she’s not a man – and then proceeds to take over the school, in a slight variation of the way she does it in the books. And there’s a foulmouthed Remus Lupin who has paedophilic tendencies… as well as all the original characters. Draco Malfoy also steals the show.

Anyway, definitely worth watching if you’re a fan of Harry Potter and you’ve seen the original, which is also definitely worth watching (and better).

Stuff I saw in the Festival

A quick roundup of things I saw in this year’s Edinburgh Festival. Two months too late as usual, but here we go…

1. Andy Zaltzman (16/8/11)
Andy Zaltzman is a funny man. But as a political satirist, he suffers the insurmountable problem that topicality can change at any moment, and, to his own admission (while he pointed pointedly at his mocked up “Certified Satirist” award in an attempt to excuse any bad joke that came up), he had had a bit of trouble when the riots in London started a week or so after he’d arrived in Edinburgh, and he had to rewrite half his show to accommodate it. Tellingly, half the jokes were repeats of ones he’d already told on his podcast The Bugle. Anyway, it was great to see him live again, and a barrage of bad dog-themed puns by someone with experience is always much more preferable to seeing newspaper headliners attempting them. It was also the best thing I saw in the festival (spoiler alert).

2. Jay Foreman (18/8/11)
Jay Foreman is losing his touch, I feel. As his show is one of those odd blends of music and comedy, he is tied down somewhat by the expectation that he will perform his old stuff as well as new stuff and his comedy can suffer for that. His theme was something to do with “the Future”, which was basically him moaning about how he’s getting older. Fittingly, his song The Procrastinator has had the lyrics changed to “Who remembers MSN?!” rather than “Don’t go on MSN!” And there was a lovely moment near the start when he sang the first song at breakneck speed when someone walked in late, in order to get them up to speed. He must have been practising at that. Enjoyable, anyway. Perhaps not worth the price tag.

3. “The Truth Explained in Doodles” (18/8/11)
Free stuff is very hit-and-miss sometimes. This particular show, jointly run by a man of diminuitive stature and a young “guest star” comedian, very much had the air of comedians trying to find their feet and find out what works. The short guy (who did actually start riffing about his height later on in the show – I actually thought it’d have been better if he’d kept it as some kind of elephant in the room) started with a really awkward dance thing that didn’t make any sense, and then the main part of the show was conducted via some kind of powerpoint or flash video – I think it was the second, in which case it was very nicely programmed and well thought-out. But there weren’t really any doodles, just cartoony animals that popped up occasionally. As for the other guy, he talked about how embarrassing it is to get caught wanking by your mum, if I remember correctly. He got more laughs, but it felt insanely awkward and inappropriate on certain levels.

4. “International Gay Sampler” (24/8/11)
I actually only got to see half of this, because we had tickets to something else, but the two comedians that I saw – one from Canada and one from the north of England somewhere – were very good and had us in stitches. I kinda regret having to leave… as free stuff goes, this was particularly good.

5. 4 Poofs and a Piano (24/8/11)
I, well, didn’t really enjoy this. I felt strangely outside of its target market, because I swear most of the audience were straight women, and the guys were flirting with presumably-straight guys in the audience to try and make them feel uncomfortable. It had a certain charm, but in general it was just a bit naff – I think that’s the best way I can put it. And that’s partly why I regret leaving the other show to run over to this one. Never mind, though.

6. The Sexual Awakening of Peter Mayo (25/8/11)
We were lied to about this show – it wasn’t half price and there weren’t any free lollipops. Thieving bastards. Shouldn’t have bothered, really… it was an OK but very studenty theatre production with three actors, and halfway through I started to need a pee really, really badly, which distracted me. It’s basically about a character, who clearly takes after Moss from The IT Crowd, finding his sexual prowess and going to orgies, or something like that. The other two characters were originally presented as together and sexually confident, and by the end of it, it turns out through a very simplistic dramatic irony that they’re the ones who don’t really have it together and are hiding behind smokescreens. The play had a nice visual style to it; there was a box made of electric lights around the stage, and the characters would step out of it to “pause” the play and make a soliloquy or some kind of exposition. It was an effectively told, simple story, but I could take it or leave it, at the end of the day.

Comedy: Bill Bailey – Dandelion Mind (2010)

length: 92 minutes
format: DVD
watched on: 8th of April (argh, behind!)

If anyone’s even reading this, yeah, I’ve been putting it off … quite a lot, seeing as I watched this more than 2 months ago.

Thus my comment on it is going to be quite brief. Good, but not as good as Part Troll, which is the only other Bailey comedy gig I’ve seen. I got the impression from this that he’s not necessarily putting in as much effort with his shows; he’s now set for life, and has fans that will adore whatever he does unquestioningly. He seems to just need to crack a funny face and get the audience in stitches.

His particularly co-operative Dublin audience really seemed to make a massive difference to his show, in this case helping to take a joke and string it out into a mock religion or something. So that was good.

But there were certain other times when a joke seemed to come out from left-field – obviously this is standard fare for the comedian in question, but in some ways the freshness seemed to be stripped away when he showed a video towards the end that was a kind of montage of all the weird jokes he’d made during the show, reified. Because suddenly the jokes didn’t feel very special anymore – it’s the same effect that I get if I ever see a comedian twice doing the same routine. Maybe I’m spoilt by the rarer kind of comedian that will just get up on stage and start ranting about whatever pops into their head.

Oh, and he used that whole rewrite-a-well-known-song-as-a-German-techno-mashup trope already (in Part Troll… du machst das Hokie-Kokie…)! Get something new!

And maybe I’m just an old fart about this, but I really don’t “get” encores. Why can’t they just finish and leave? By the time he came back to do the third encore, most of the audience had left!

Anyway, I did enjoy it (and will have to watch it again), but I was just as interested in the extra on the DVD which was a short documentary about him travelling round backwater villages in the highlands and islands of Scotland and weird corners of England and playing to local audiences. Very different atmosphere to the DVD itself which was filmed in a massive arena in Dublin.