Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

I was going to write a proper review of this film, but to be honest it would have just been a diaphanous excuse to mention that I was on the set in New York for one of the scenes. Yes, I was on set! There, I said it, and you didn't need to wade through a badly written precis of the plot to find out.

Of course, I didn't know what film it was at the time. We were wandering down 6th Avenue by Radio City Music Hall and saw a smashed up car. 'Ooh, someone's been in an accident' I sharply observed. But further down the block (yeah, we were blockin' it man), the presence of camera and lighting rigs were sufficient to explain that this was no accident. 'They're shooting a film!' I beamed, my observations getting sharper by the minute. A few tourists had gathered on the sidewalk (I'm just gonna go with the lingo) with cameras poised, but there didn't seem to be much happening. This was apparently downtime. There was one actor in a suit who I didn't recognise, but all the crew were just sitting around checking their phones. One girl said she had heard that Kristen Wiig was there a minute ago, which I mentally noted for identifying the film when I got home. We stood there for a few minutes, but nothing. Time isn't something you want to waste when visiting Manhattan for the first time, so we moved on. We were cool like that. Yeah, so we stumbled across a film set - whatever. No biggie.

I never did identify the film by searching online. I went on IMDb to see if Kristen Wiig had any films currently in production, but I didn't have enough to go on. I then forgot all about it until I saw the trailer for Walter Mitty and something about one of the actors looked familiar.

The top photo is mine, with who I now know to be a stunt actor enlarged below left. Below right is an official production photo of the real actor, Adam Scott, who plays Walter's nasty beardy boss Ted Hendricks.

If I had to review the film, I'd say it was a bit of a mess. The character of Walter didn't ring true for me, and several small things are rather ridiculous. Walter's daydream scenes, which is kind of what the film is sold on, stop half way through as his real life becomes so extraordinary that fantasising is no longer required, but with this the film loses its way and hinges on improbable plot devices to keep it together.

Worth a watch, but nothing special.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

New York City is off the bucket list

Last month, for my birthday, I fulfilled a long standing ambition by visiting New York City. As someone who had never been a fan of travelling, I always said that it was the only place I would make an exception for; something about it entranced me and I felt great excitement at the prospect of visiting locations that had become iconic from repeated exposure in films, TV and news coverage. It wasn't going to win me any points for originality, but so what? For a person as dull as me, it was a big deal.

The problem with having such high expectations of something is the strong possibility of being underwhelmed when you finally experience it. Pleasingly, I didn't come away with that feeling - it really is an exciting place to visit. The only surprise to me was how quickly I became accustomed to it. Within a few hours I felt at ease and at home.

I won't bang on about my findings and impressions since it probably isn't interesting to anyone else, but my brief highlights were:
  • Top of the Rock: a less famous vantage point than the Empire State Building, but the views are better and the observation deck less crowded. I went there just after sunset and took the image above.
  • Central Park: I knew it was big, but I didn't realise how beautiful it is. I spent the whole day there and saw only half of it. And if you like squirrels, it's paradise.
  • Circle Line Cruise: an improvised addition to my plans, this three hour boat trip around the whole of Manhattan was superb. Having great weather helped, but the tour commentary was fascinating.
  • New York Public Library: a stunning building in every respect.
  • Grand Central Terminal: surely the most awe inspiring station in the world. There are more people taking photos than catching trains.
  • 9/11 Memorial: what they've done with the site is very tasteful and fitting. No one is forgotten.
I took just under 1500 photographs. I agonised for a long time about what camera to take as I knew my existing set up would be too heavy and cumbersome to carry around for a week. In the end I bought a Nikon D7000 with a 17-55 lens and it served me well. In retrospect I'm disappointed with myself for not being more creative with my shots, but when you're seeing these places for the first time you tend to just snap away like the annoying tourist that you are. If I return, and I'm sure I will, I'll do it better. In the meantime I've uploaded a very small selection to my Flickr page.

My aversion to travelling has definitely been tempered. There's life outside these windows.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

I have deactivated my Facebook account

I've never really liked Facebook. Unfortunately I only discovered this after signing up, and of course once you've done that it's a tattoo. You can wear long sleeves but it's always there. You can completely reactivate your account at any time simply by logging on, so the only way to confirm that you've removed yourself is to search via someone else's account, which is nuts. Anyway, I've gone through the procedure (which involves a pathetic gallery with captions saying 'John will miss you', 'Steven will miss you' etc - I'm surprised they don't Photoshop some tears on their faces) so if for any reason you ever want to contact me you shouldn't do it via that site. The thing I don't understand is that it gives you a check box to opt out of email notifications - 'Your friends can still invite you to events, so don't check this box if you want to receive these invitations'. Huh? I thought I was removing myself. How can I be invited to anything? Perhaps it's all just a ruse, and my 'wall' or whatever it's called will say 'Graham thinks he's deactivated his account. Why not tell him what a dickhead he is?'

That's what I hate most about Facebook - you can't do anything without it telling all your followers, or friends, or whatever they call them. If I wanted to comment on someone's photograph, why the hell would I want all those other people to see what I'd put, or even be informed that I'd done it? If I sent someone an email, I wouldn't copy in everyone I know on the off-chance that they get something out of it. What's the difference? Perhaps I'm missing the point of social networking. Maybe there's an option to keep these things private but I doubt it. There's nothing wrong with sharing information but at least make it invitational; don't just spew it across their monitors and append it with an upturned thumb.

Twitter is more useful as an information source but I still can't participate. I've tried but it's not possible. You're either the sort of person who is comfortable telling people things or you're not. And once you've established yourself as an infrequent Tweeter you're stuffed, because anything you do write appears to be massively important to you - you can't idly say, after six weeks of silence, how much you like a certain TV show because your Tweet's isolation makes it even more trivial. You accept that stuff from people who Tweet twenty times a day because you expect it, rightly or wrongly. And you certainly can't attempt to say something clever or witty because you're imagining all your followers thinking He's really pleased with that one isn't he? It's insane.

Twitter exposes people too; the number of journalists whose spelling and grammar are worse than mine is baffling to me. If you owe your career to a sub-editor, I'd rather be blissfully unaware. I don't expect everyone to write properly, but when it's your profession... and celebrities; isn't the whole point of being a celebrity to appear better than the rest of us? Skilled in a way that sets you apart? If you're actually slack jawed and dull as puddle water you should keep it to yourself, for your own sake if nothing else.

I don't know why people are so keen to share things. If something is made too easy it has no value. Surely life was better when we were more judicious, when it was harder and therefore less appealing to flood people's time with nonsense. Speaking of time, that was the final straw that made me deactivate my Facebook account in the first place. Facebook Timeline. I'd never even heard of it until I read somewhere that it was soon becoming compulsory. I still don't really get it - I believe it's some kind of chronology of your entire life, which will presumably encourage people to share their experiences of being a toddler - but I knew that I didn't want to be part of it. What kind of people do you find most interesting? The ones you know inside out or the ones you know very little about? Mystery is dead. Privacy is happily eschewed and those who don't participate are forgotten because without constantly reminding them that we're still alive, people won't have room in their heads for us. When I die I want to leave behind a shoebox, not a warehouse.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Lovers in a Car Park

I found this rather beautiful image a while ago and thought it would make a nice painting, so I emailed the photographer to ask for her permission to use it. She didn't reply, so I used it anyway and produced the worst watercolour imaginable. I was sad, but moved on.

Then, about four months later, she replied and said it would be fine for me to use it as long as I sent her a copy of my finished effort. Not wanting her to think I was the worst artist in the world - because I still care about the opinions of people who take four months to respond to an email - I decided to have another go, this time as a digital painting. My tendency to realism is irritating to me, but I'm nonetheless pleased with the result.

I haven't sent it to the photographer yet, but may do so in May. She called the original photograph 'Lovers in Japan', but having discovered that this is the title of a song by the inept beat combo Coldplay, I have renamed it 'Lovers in a Car Park'.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

"So why don't you just go?"

Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha.


Monday, 9 January 2012

Let The Right One In

After bashing poor old David Hockney I must redress the balance by being positive about something.

I wouldn't normally bother commenting on a film that's almost three years old, but on Sunday I saw Let The Right One In for the first time and I thought it was remarkable. It defies categorisation more than any other film I can think of - to call it a horror film or a vampire film would be to sell it desperately short. Every cliché in the book is avoided and the result is startling.

I'm not going to review it though. All I really want to acknowledge is the brilliance of the swimming pool scene at the end; it's possibly the greatest thing I've ever seen in a film. You can find it on YouTube but if you haven't seen the film I'd advise against watching it out of context. Just rent it. What happens is horrifically brutal and yet it's shot in such a way as to be beautiful and touching. Talent borrows, genius steals.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

David Hockney, Britain's greatest living artist

This week's Radio Times cover enthuses something along the lines of 'Exclusive free postcards from Britain's greatest living artist David Hockney'. The four postcards are of the same scene in each of the seasons, all drawn by his finger on an iPad.

I have no right to criticise David Hockney, but they're just completely shit. If your ten year old had produced them you'd smile politely and delete them when they weren't looking. I'm not a fan of his style but I wouldn't ravage his proper work - I just don't understand why, after becoming successful at something, you should be not only allowed to get away with producing shit, but celebrated for it. Here are some different examples of his iPad artwork. It's absolute balls. Would it be acceptable for him to create a portrait by dipping his finger in acrylic and wiping it across a canvas? It shouldn't be. It's lazy. He slates Damien Hirst - quite fairly - for getting others to produce his work, but spending twenty minutes waving his cock over a capacitive screen is hardly leading by example.

I'll leave you with a painting I did on my phone (with my finger). Sensible offers in the comments please.