Tag Archives: Gavin and Stacey

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Extravaganza

Doctor-Who-50thThere’s something really lovely about being involved in a fandom, a special sect of people that understand why a TV show/movie/book is incredibly important and amazing.  There’s something even more wonderful when that fandom is recognized and appreciated by the wider public.

Though Doctor Who has been mainstream in the UK for many years (decades, really), it’s only grown to great prominence in American culture since the newest iteration started with Christopher Eccleston in 2005.  It’s still a bit of an outsider’s club on this side of the Atlantic, but that makes it a little bit more fun, if I’m honest.  But even in the US, the knowledge that the 50th anniversary special was happening this week was everywhere.  Theaters held special simulcasts of the episode, pubs had special nights for Whovians. I’ve heard rumors that a Mini Cooper painted like a TARDIS was spotted nearby.  We got our Google Doodle, though ours came one day later than the google.co.uk version. Is there any greater measure of cultural importance and legitimacy than a Google Doodle?  I think not.

BBC America started their Doctor Who marathon early in the week, and new content was there when I started my weekend.  Though I didn’t learn much from Doctor Who Explained, I really loved An Adventure in Space and Time. This was a made-for-TV movie about the origins of the show, and about the first doctor, William Hartnell.

4482503-high_res-adventures-in-space-and-timeI’ve actually never seen any of the pre-2005 episodes of Doctor Who, so I learned a lot from this movie about the beginnings of the show.  David Bradley (Harry Potter, Broadchurch, Game of Thrones) plays William Hartnell, and I think he did a superb job.  I also think the whole movie made me very sad.  When I compare William Hartnell’s love of the character and devotion to the show, with Christopher Eccleston’s attitude toward it…I’m forced to think very badly of the latter.

The movie also starred Sacha Dhawan (Outsourced, the History Boys) as the first director of the show, and Jessica Raine (Call the Midwife, Doctor Who) as Verity Lambert, my new personal hero.  She had a wardrobe of the most amazing ’60s clothes I’ve seen ever. Way better than on Mad Men. More importantly, she was a kickass feminist, dealing with a bunch of stodgy old men in sweaty tweed suits (the Old Guard).  She fought for Doctor Who, not just because it was her first producer job, but because she grew to love the subject matter and what it could be used to communicate. She forced the BBC staff (from executives, to set designers, to technical staff) to take the show seriously; we owe her a huge thanks.

Jessica-RaineThe movie itself was well-acted and had incredible sets.  A good portion of it took place at the iconic elliptical BBC building:

BBC-Television-Centre-007Probably didn’t take a lot of work to make it look like the 1960s again inside here, though they must have cleaned up since James May & co. drove a motorcycle through the interior.

After the movie, we had the Saturday simulcast to watch.  The 50th Anniversary special, complete with Doctors 10 and 11 (together at last), and John Hurt (Harry Potter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), all playing different iterations of the Doctor:

Doctor-Who-2458109Seeing David Tennant in his brown suit and Converse sneakers again made me literally giddy.  I miss his Doctor so much.  And we got to see Clara, and Rose (but not really), and all of the living actors who’ve played the doctor (sort of…damn you Chris Eccleston).

I thought the special was actually really excellent.  As long as I never think too much about the timey wimey stuff, I will continue to think that.  I have the feeling that the ‘time fissures’ and the Time Lord art won’t stand up to much rational scrutiny, so I will dutifully avoid any such scrutiny. I loved seeing Matt Smith and Clara, I adored seeing David Tennant again, and I thought John Hurt was fabulous.

It also felt really appropriate that we finally get to see the moment of the Doctor’s life that has really defined the show since the 2005 reboot.  The Time War. The moment the Doctor had to decide to kill his own species, in order to save the rest of the universe.

We also got to see the much-talked-about relationship between Ten and Elizabeth I.  Starring Joanna Page (Stacey of Gavin and Stacey) as Elizabeth I.  I thought she was great, although I don’t really think Elizabeth would have had a Welsh accent.

DOCTOR-WHO-50TH-ANNIVERSAR_THE-DAY-OF-THE-DOCTOR_01

I think my only real complaint is that, despite having Billie Piper and David Tennant together again, they don’t get to interact as Rose and the Doctor.  And I was hoping for more of Peter Capaldi as 12 (or he’s really 13?) , more than just a shot of his furrowed eyebrows. I suppose their keeping his costume and his persona under wraps until the actual regeneration happens.

Sometimes, when Doctor Who tries to do something big and important, it can be a bit of a belly flop.  I usually end up enjoying the little, one-off episodes more than the big important two-part season enders.  But this, despite hype and importance, was really fun and lovely and I was just grateful to see David Tennant again.  I think if he’d turned up with the suit and the shoes and the glasses, and read the phone book, I’d be just as thrilled.

I’m ready for the Christmas Special! To which, we now have a short teaser trailer:

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Sports vs Sport – UK & US Athletics

soccer-vs-football

When people think of me, they think of sports, right?  Ok, no, they don’t. I am the least sporty person in the world.  But after seeing the 300th commercial for the beginning of the English Premier League on American TV, I thought I might dip my feet in the water and see what all of this nonsense is about.  I’ve been exposed to American sports for my entire life, and have been thoroughly bored and annoyed by them for that same length of time.  But I don’t actually know much about British sport, so I may as well give it a small chance, in case football (soccer) really is so fabulous.  Maybe British sport is just better?  Anything is possible. So let’s discuss the differences. But please excuse in advance all the mistakes of vocabulary I am going to make during this post.  I can barely remember the proper terms for American sports, so if I say field when I mean pitch, do not murder me via angry comments. This entire post is written with tongue firmly placed in cheek, so don’t take it too seriously. Be gentle.

Sport vs Sports- Linguistic differences are so strange sometimes.  In the UK, you play sport or you watch sport.  In the US, you play sports or watch sports.  Where did the s go/come from?  I suspect it was taken off sports so that it could be added to maths.  

Another linguistic fun fact: As much as Brits decry us for saying ‘soccer’ instead of ‘football’, soccer was the original term and it was British in origin.  Soccer was called ‘association football’, to distinguish it from other types of ‘football’ that were played at the time (including Rugby–then called Rugger).  Association football was shortened to Assoccer, and then just soccer. So, it’s not an American thing.  Legend has it an Oxford student coined the term in 1863. That being said, football makes more sense for a sport where you are only allowed to use your feet than it does for our US football, where you primarily use your hands.

And to confuse everyone even more, the Brits often shorten football to ‘footy’, but the Australians call Rugby footy.  How anyone has any idea what game they’re playing is beyond me.  But this blog is mostly about the UK, so I’m not going to delve into Aussie sports now.

In the UK, there are two sports that are in the upper-echelons of popularity: Rugby Union and Association Football (soccer). Of those two, Football is the clear favorite, but Rugby is quite popular in certain geographical areas.

Rugby is very similar to American football, with one big big difference:

Rugby padsIt’s crazy dangerous. At least 110 players have been paralyzed during a game.  There are arguments to be made that all the padding US Football players wear adds to the amount of force that comes crashing down on opponents, but I’d still rather have a helmet if it was me.

The time of the games is different as well.  American football games last approximately 500 million hoursbut a big chunk of that is resetting and stopped time.  In Rugby, they don’t stop the clock unless someone’s injured and unresponsive. It’s a lot more fast-paced, and there’s a longer playing time.  That means leaner, meaner, faster guys. Much faster than American defensive players, who generally run 5-10 feet and then bash into someone with all of their weight.  It’s a different skill set.  To be honest, I’m not interested in either sport.

Other sports in the top 5 include Cricket, Tennis, and something Wikipedia refers to as Athletics. I believe this is what we would call Track & Field.  But really, if you’re talking UK Sport, you’re talking about football.  Unless you’re me, then you’re talking about Quidditch.

So let’s talk soccer/football. There are some things that make it recognizably awesome and the pinnacle of athleticism.  I can’t believe some of the crazy kicks and headbutts they do to get the ball headed toward the correct goal.  No American sport has that kind of gymnastics (except maybe gymnastics). And the crazy amount of running?  Your average baseball player barely runs during a game, your average American football player might run a little over a mile during a game. Compare that to the 7-8 miles a soccer player runs during a match, and you see why they all look like Adonis.

On the other hand, there’s a large percentage of games that end with a score of 0-0, and that sounds pretty boring to a spectator. No wonder they get so excited when a goal finally happens.

The UK version of the NFL/NBA/etc. is the Premier League. For the first time (ever), anyone in American watch any match in the season.  They will be airing the big matches on NBC sports, and then live streaming the rest on their website.  Apparently we have better access to the entire league’s games than the Brits do.  Perfect time for a novice like me to get started with footy. They even have several resources to pick your club and charming commercials with Jason Sudeikis. The most important thing about picking your team is that you can never change it. This is a cardinal offense and I believe they still punish you with a day in the stocks in any proper English village.

Remember that scene in Harry Potter when Harry is trying to talk to Cho, and Ron interrupts to inquire (very loudly and bluntly) whether Cho has always been a fan of the Tutshill Tornadoes, or if she just started supporting them since they began winning.  Lucky for Cho, she’d been supporting them since she was six, or she would have been in trouble.  Same principle applies to Premier League clubs. Of course, if you live in the UK, geography determines a lot of who you support, but we don’t have that luxury here.  It’s a big decision, and one I’ve taken quite seriously.

I’ve decided to support West Ham.  It’s the only football club mentioned in Harry Potter, so that was …pretty much my whole decision-making process.  Other things I know about West Ham: Smithy from Gavin and Stacey supports West Ham.  That’s good(ish).  Green Street Hooligans, a terrible Elijah Wood movie, was based on West Ham fans.  That’s really bad!  Their nickname is the Hammers.  I’m Switzerland on that one. West Ham’s celebrity fans include John Cleese and Barack Obama.  Good.  They also include Rod Stewart and Katy Perry.  Not as good.  Yep, that’s all I know about my chosen team.  I am such a sports fan.  Wait, I also know that they’re not that good.  I’m fine with that, since I prefer to support underdogs.  I could never support Man U.  It’s clearly the Yankees of the Premier League. Also, while I’m comparing football to baseball, Arsenal is clearly the Red Sox. Remember that Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore movie, Fever Pitch?

fever_pitch_01About the guy who was obsessed with the Red Sox?  Well, it was originally a British movie (with Colin Firth) about a guy obsessed with Arsenal.  So, if you’re a Red Sox fan, Arsenal is your team.

If you’re more inclined to back a winner than I am, here’s an article about the top 5 most-likely winners (Arsenal included). Pick one of these and you will have a good chance.

If you’re not quite as informed about football as I clearly am, the IT Crowd has taught me how to fake it.  Just visit bluffball.co.uk for your best tips on how to sound like you know something about football.

The most important lessons include: If Arsenal is playing, you can always say ‘the problem with Arsenal is they think they can just walk it in’.  And, start every football conversation with ‘did you see that ludicrous display last night?’  That lets people know that you are an expert.

So, I have a team and some basic vocab for those inevitable water cooler conversations.  What else do I need? Some basic knowledge of the sport?  Well, I’ve seen Bend it Like Beckham.  Done. I know all about the offside rule: The French Mustard has to be between the teriyaki sauce and the sea salt.

If you haven’t seen BiLB, and you need the most basic primer about soccer in the history of the world, here’s a website designed to help grandparents understand this newfangled sport all the suburban kids are playing.

Also, it’s important to know how the league works. The top 20 teams are in the Premier League, but the bottom 3 of that 20 are ‘relegated down’.  Below the premier league are other leagues of middling and lower-level.  We don’t really have anything like that in the US. It would be like if the White Sox did so badly that they were no longer Major League and were ‘relegated down’ to AAA baseball. The good part about this is if your team is not so great, they still have some nail biter matches later in the season, as they might be fighting to keep their place in a specific part of the hierarchy.

The top 4 spots in the Premier League qualify for the European Champions league, so you get a lot of international competition that we also don’t have here.  And then every four years, you have the  World Cup.  I watched the last World Cup, and my only memories of it are drowned out by the sound of vuvuzelas.  God those were awful. Anyway, the next World Cup is next year.  To turn to yet another Harry Potter reference, it’s very similar to the Quidditch World Cup.  Countries compete, so England tends to bring together its best players from professional teams, as does Italy, Spain, etc.

The amazing thing about soccer is that everyone plays it. it’s the main sport in almost every country except America.  So you can have these massive Olympic-like events where the best players in different countries are competing against one another.  I think that’s awesome. Far better than the Super Bowl, for my money.

The Premier League has a really long season.  I mean, I feel like all sports seasons in the US are too long.  NFL Football is starting again soon. Already?  But the Premier League goes from August to May.  That’s crazy long.  No wonder they’re all in such good shape. Anyway, I can’t guarantee I will be a major soccer fan by the end of the season, or that I will still be watching by then.  I’m not a sports person, by nature.  But, I’m giving it a try, and that’s…more than I would normally do. You should too.

If you think this was a terrible post about sports, from a typical ignorant American, then…you’ve got a point. But! I’m not representative of American soccer fans, and it’s not just Americans who don’t know about international sports.  Take, for example, this video of a (brilliant) Irishman commentating Olympic sailing, and then call me uninformed.

Or take heart that I’m just as ignorant about American sports as all other kinds.

Quartet

quartet soundtrackLet me start by saying I like the fact that UK filmmakers (and audiences) are unafraid of the aged population.  There are a number of incredibly brilliant English actors and actresses that still work regularly, that are older than three Hollywood actresses combined.  Similar to films like Calendar Girls and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet celebrates and examines the lives of people (gasp!) over 50.  Compare this to US movies with older people (titles like RED and The Bucket List) and it becomes obvious that the UK versions of these movies are smaller, and spend far more time dealing with the everyday lives of everyday pensioners.  They have less glitz and more heart, and I find them far more relatable. I really look to them to gain perspective as I age.

That being said, I didn’t love Quartet. Sometimes these films are so small, so simple that I feel let down by a lack of more dramatic change amongst the characters assembled. I felt that way about this film at the end.

The story follows the lives of several retired opera singers and musicians, all of whom live in a private retirement home for ex-professional musicians.  First, I thought, what an immaculate place to spend your retirement years.  Surrounded by music and talented people.  On the other hand, several of the characters are (literally) divas, making life difficult for those around them.

Three best friends, all opera singers, have been living happily in this home for years. Billy Connolly (Brave) plays the lascivious, flirtatious, Wilf; Tom Courtenay (Little Dorritt) plays the Felix to his Oscar. Reginald is a bit uptight, but kind.

wilf and reginald

 

 

Their girl Friday is Cissy, the scatter-brained, good-natured, slightly bland friend.

Quartet_Cissy

The three have a fairly nice life.  The home is a good place to live, and they are surrounded by music.  The place is aflutter, preparing for an annual fundraising performance in honor of Verdi’s birthday. Everyone is being bossed around by Dumbledore Michael Gambon, a music director who embodies every bossy self-centered stereotype you can imagine. I mean, look at the man’s outfit.

QUARTET

 

 

Still, they are living a nice life and relatively peaceful.  Enter Jean Horton, played by the incomparable Maggie Smith.

Quartet SmithNot only is Jean a diva, but she is Reginald’s ex-wife.  They are incredibly awkward around each other, a situation made worse by Dumbledore’s insistence that this quartet perform their greatest song together at the fundraiser.

The film has a lot of good and interesting things to say about getting older, about letting go of the pressures of performance and the expectations of others.  Jean is nervous to sing again, convinced she won’t be able to sing as well as she did in her youth.  She worries that her fans will be disappointed.  Wilf informs her immediately that all of her fans are dead.

I liked the characters and I liked the story, but there was just a little too little action for the movie to hold my attention.  The acting was wonderful, the music gorgeous, but it was just a wee bit boring.  And having four brilliant actors is great, but they don’t actually do a lot of singing on camera.  They certainly do not sing the great opera song they supposedly perform at the end.  I understand why (not everyone is an opera singer; it’s not like learning to play the kazoo), but it feels like a bit of a cheat.  It feels like when you can clearly see that the stunt double is twice the height of the actor/actress they’re playing.

There was one strange bonus in this movie: Sheridan Smith, aka Rudi (Smithy’s sister) from Gavin and Stacey has shed her chavvy costume and looks like a proper professional woman in this movie?!

Sheridan+SmithI know she’s an actress, and not apparently an actual chav, but I did expect her to zoom off in her heelys at least once in the movie.  That didn’t happen, alas.

Movie Review: Submarine

I watched this movie for the simple fact that Richard Ayoade, who I have loved since episode 2 of The IT Crowd, wrote and directed it.

It’s a far cry from the occasionally broad comedy of The IT Crowd, and I suspect more accurately reflects Ayoade’s quiet, artistic, erudite roots. He went to Cambridge, after all, and a podcast featuring him that I recently listened to proved he is very reserved, self-deprecating, but also incredibly intelligent and well-spoken (though he mumbles like crazy).  This film sort of reflects that personality. It is smart, it is odd, and I think in ways it would rather be noticed for being odd than being smart. It is sort of a British equivalent of a Wes Anderson film. Odd, endearing, but also in some ways too quirky to take seriously.

The story centers around Oliver Tate, a very strange teenage boy. The two quests he undertakes during the course of the movie are to get Jordana Bevan to love him, and to fix his parent’s marriage. The first quest is threatened by the fact that Jordana is far more popular than him, and she also has a mother sick with cancer. What ends up being the more difficult of the quests is the second. His father is obviously suffering from depression, and his mother ends up giving a hand job to her ex-boyfriend (an incredibly ridiculous mullet-clad martial artist-mystic) in a creepy van.  It’s a weird movie.  But I think that sort of reflects the weirdness and absolute nonsensical nature of adolescence. In the same way that Dali paintings and Alice in Wonderland irk me as an adult, I think they reflect something surrealist and strange about the world before we truly grasp how it works. Some things will always mystify me (mass violence, Yanni fans, people who like roast beef), but when I was younger, I couldn’t do a damn thing right. I remember that feeling, and I think watching Oliver Tate sort of reminds me how truly fucking weird we are as teenagers.  Our actions are truly bizarre because we haven’t really figured out how things work in the world yet. Which is incredibly difficult for the teenager, but also kind of wonderful because for those fleeting years of adolescence you have the capacity to comprehend the world, but also the true ability to be original. You haven’t internalized the rules, yet.

This movie was not a slam dunk, I have to say. It was original, it was interesting, it was visually quirky. But quirkiness for quirkiness’ sake, makes me crazy. It takes place in the ’80s, so I may give it a pass on my usual pet peeve of arty people using 8mm film to record their arty world–when in reality no one uses that stuff anymore.  But each character has a sort of representative color–Jordana wears red always; she has red stationary, a red backpack. Everything is red. It makes her more of a token woman more than a real one. I suppose this reflects Oliver’s ideas about what women should be, more than his capacity to see what they really are. He wants to be the best boyfriend in the world, because of some pre- concieved notion of what that is.  When she really needs him, he’s not there for her. Typical high school boyfriend, yes?

As much as the overly goofy, quirky, parts of the movie irked me slightly, I would take this movie any day of the week over a lot of other slick films about adolescence, like American Pie or Juno (another movie with more quirk than substance, imho). It is at least original, it does have some really nice scenes and some scenes that will make you say WTF?

Another bonus is seeing people like Dave Coaches and Gwen from Gavin and Stacey thrown into the mix. The movie takes place in Wales, so that explains their involvement. Sadly, no one asked ‘what’s occurrin’ for the entire film. Apparently, a lot of the Gavin and Stacey dialect is indigenous only to Barry Island, and looked down upon by other Welsh people. Sad! I think it’s cute. But I digress.

It’s definitely worth watching if you like Wes Anderson stuff, like The Royal Tenenbaums or Rushmore. If you’re more annoyed than me by quirkiness, I’d steer clear. Then again, if you don’t like quirkiness, you might not be drawn to Richard Ayoade’s work in any form.

TV review: Gavin and Stacey

I don’t think I would have ever gotten around to watching this show if it weren’t for this blog post.  Netflix kept suggesting it to me, because Netflix knows all about my love of British TV, but the cover of the DVDs

makes it look a lot like a weird version of Friends, and I was flashing back to that horrible American version of Coupling for some reason. I just wasn’t into it.

I’m so glad I gave it a try though, because I really enjoyed the entire series.  There are three seasons and a Christmas special, though strangely the special comes before the third season.

The story is about the eponymous Gavin and Stacey, initially, but it expands to include the lives of their entire extended families and close friends, particularly Gavin’s bff Smithy and Stacey’s bff Nessa.  Gavin and Stacey meet online and start to fall in love, and the show begins with them finally meeting in person.  Gavin brings Smithy and Stacey brings Nessa. The four of them get very drunk and the two couples sort of go their separate ways and hook up.  Smithy and Nessa are played by James Corden and Ruth Jones, who created the series.  Gavin is played by the adorable Matthew Horne (who has been in a lot of stuff I’ve never seen), and Stacey is played by Joanna Page, who was Judy (the naked girl with Martin Freeman) in Love Actually.

Things with Gavin and Stacey progress quickly, and they are engaged in a few episodes’ time. Nessa and Smithy have an off-again on-again thing for the rest of the series. We meet Gavin’s family, his mom Pamela and his dad Mick. These two are awesome, especially Mick.  We also meet Stacey’s family, her mom Gwen (who cooks omelets in every episode) and her uncle Bryn (played by the adorable Rob Brydon, who I now love despite finding him annoying in The Trip), who spends the rest of the series making you wonder about his sexuality.

I think if I met a lot of these characters in real life, or if they were presented differently on the show, I wouldn’t like them very much.  Almost all of them smoke (which I hate) and they litter their cigarette butts (which I hate even more). Smithy parks in handicap spots and Nessa is incredibly selfish. Pamela is vapid and occasionally horribly racist.  Or xenophobic, I guess.  Bryn is…hopelessly out of touch.

But the way the show presents them, and the way they interact with each other is so lovely and makes you care and appreciate and enjoy each one of the characters and their relationships.  I really enjoyed this show and it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling a lot of the time. It was also very funny. There were tons of weird colloquial slang words that I have already started to use, and the Welsh accents are fun.

Favorite moments include Gavin’s bachelor party (with annoying appearances by Russell Tovey), Bryn explaining how to use the internet to Gavin, and Pam pretending to be a vegetarian for most of the show.

Unfortunately this show isn’t on Netflix instant, so I can’t re-watch like I did with The IT Crowd. I may have to buy the DVDs for this one.  I highly recommend this show, and plan on watching anything else James Corden or Ruth Jones (Smithy and Nessa) work on in the future.