Tagged: 2017

Film: Hamlet (BBC adaptation with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart)

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This is the first time that I’ve seen or read Hamlet and I only had the faintest idea of the plot. This film is a good way to experience it. I definitely find it easier watching Shakespeare than trying to read it and having now seen a few of his plays I am less intimidated by the language and can focus on the story more.

It is a great cast but I was surprised how much the role of Hamlet was played for what came across to me to a large degree as comic effect – well suited to David Tennant – when I was expecting a lot more tragedy. I suppose that is why Shakespeare’s plays can be interpreted in many different ways and I expect that I would need to study the play more to see what aspects of the character I’ve not picked up on.

My only other comment would be that this comes across very much as a filmed version of a play rather than a fully fledged film in it’s own right.

• Spare Cycles: Much Ado About Nothing (The Globe Theatre, London)

• Spare Cycles: King Lear: Live cinema broadcast from the Globe Theatre, London

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Four great new jazz albums (October 2017)

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I’m not a big jazz fan, so this has come as a nice surprise.

A couple of nights ago I was flicking through the jazz section of Apple Music and I discovered the new album by Kamasi Washington, who I was lucky enough to see play live last year at the Royal Albert Hall in London as part of the Late Night Proms series.

Venturing further I came across Cécile McLorin Salvan’s new live album. She has a wonderful voice, total control and a delicious sense of humour.

That’s typically as far as my interest in jazz has taken me for a long time.

Then I took a punt on a couple of cool-looking albums – by Keyon Harrold and the Blue Note All Stars – and loved them both.

I’ve still got a lot of listening to do to appreciate them all fully but I highly recommend you check them out:

Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference
Cécile McLorin Salvant – Dreams and Daggers
Keyon Harrold – The Mugician
Blue Note All Stars – Our Point of View

Much Ado About Nothing (The Globe Theatre, London)

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I’ve never had a particular interest in Shakespeare but earlier this year we did a family tour of the Globe Theatre, situated on London’s Southbank. We had an engaging guide and this led to taking my daughter to see a rather unconventional version of Romeo and Juliet. I had a rough idea of the plot, but in that moment the play came alive.

The one problem we had was that – despite paying for pretty expensive seats – we had an obscured view. A wooden pillar a couple of rows in front meant that I spent most of the time leaning to the right a bit to make sure I had a good view of the stage.  The person next to me was very obliging.

Still, in the afterglow of the performance I booked to see Much Ado About Nothing.  This time I wanted to be in the midst of things, in with the crowd, exposed to the elements, up close.  This meant a couple of things:

  • I got a ticket for £5 (!)
  • I went on my own as my daughter refused to stand for 3 hours

Anyway, I got my clear viewpoint:

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Being that close is a fantastic experience, a visceral connection.  You get a face full of smoke.  The gunshots ring in your ears.  At times I had to shuffle forward as the cast passed through behind me to get to another stage in the crowd.

The performance was stunning, vibrant, poignant, funny.  The play is set in Mexico, 1914, and was performed with such energy I completely forgot that it was in Shakespearean English and just enjoyed the spectacle:

At the end you feel elated and with the sense that you must have just seen the best show in London.

At the time of writing (mid September 2017) there is still time to see the production.  If you can get tickets, I urge you to go even if you think that Shakespeare isn’t your thing.  After seeing this, it will be.

Next year I will be back, regardless of what is showing.

Mini review: “Dodgers” by Bill Beverly

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I came across this by chance and just could not resist given the reviews and the awards it won last year.

It is the story of a group of young black guys from a rough part of Los Angeles who are sent on a road trip across America to kill a judge when their narcotics operation is busted by the police.

Its pared-back tone belies the book’s emotional impact. This is more than a journey in a van for the main character – it is a rite of passage. I read through the second half of the book in one sitting one evening and found myself thinking about it all the next morning.

Somehow I managed to miss the fact that there was an audiobook version (it sounds good too…), so I went with the paper version.

Given that the book clocks in at only 300 pages there is a lot of story and character development built in.  A number of twists happen out of the blue and without fanfare that mess with the boys’ mission.

I wondered about the plausibility of such young characters being able to do what the plot asks of them but it becomes clear as the story progresses that it wouldn’t be difficult for people to disappear through the cracks of society and never be found. If anybody actually cares enough to look for them in the first place.

Take care if you are sensitive to sometimes harsh language. These are young guys gassing amongst themselves in a confined space. Reflect on this and decide accordingly.

I’m very pleased that I chose to hitch a ride on this particular literary adventure and would highly recommend it.

Wouldn’t fancy doing it for real though.

Spare Cycles turns ten…

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This lovingly crafted blog is celebrating its tenth birthday. A beer (or ten) is cooling in the fridge to toast the reaching of a milestone. Happy birthday!

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns nine…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns eight…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns seven…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns six…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns five…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns four…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns three…

Film review: Dunkirk (IMAX 2D)

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This film packs a powerful emotional punch.  Actually, it gets you in the gut.

If you get the chance you should see this in IMAX.  The big screen and massive sound give you the feeling that you are right up close to the action.  Each bullet sounds deadly and the aircraft engines vibrate you in your seat.  The story deserves to be told on this scale.

• The Guardian: Dunkirk review – Christopher Nolan’s apocalyptic war epic is his best film so far

Mini review: “The Final Empire (Mistborn Book 1)” by Brandon Sanderson (audiobook version)

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A while back I was in the mood for reading some fantasy (not something that happens very often) and I considered starting Game of Thrones but that seemed like the start of something far too big to be practical – there’s so much of it and ultimately it is unfinished.  I had checked out the first chapter of the audiobook and couldn’t imagine myself listening to the whole book.

So I looked elsewhere and having seen this recommended online I gave it a try.  It is the first book in the “Mistborn” series.

The story involves a plot to bring down the Lord Ruler, the ultimate evil power controlling the Final Empire, thought by many to be an immortal god.  The environment has been ruined, with ash coming down from the sky and mists coming at night.

I think that this is a story aimed at a young adult audience but is a good read for everyone – I certainly enjoyed it.   This is a story that could appeal to people who don’t want their fantasy too violent or graphic (Game of Thrones?) or too filled with dwarves and elves (Lord of the Rings).  Spoiler: there are no dragons.

The author has come up with some good ideas – principally that there is a race of people who have the ability to ingest and “burn” metals to give themselves enhanced physical abilities.  I always think these things sound a bit strange when discussed outside of the world that has been created but the “magic system” is plausible and works well – the details can be found here but don’t rush to read it if you are interested in reading the book.  It won’t spoil anything but the book does a good job of explaining things.

A note on the narration of the audiobook: I had never heard of the narrator (Michael Kramer) before but he does a brilliant, flawless job.  It was a pleasure to listen to. He is a professional audiobook narrator and it shows.  I’m very impressed.  I’ll be looking out for his name in the future.

This is a long book – nearly 25 hours for the audiobook – but the story never lags or seems padded out.  There are another two books after this one (and that is just the first trilogy of the “Mistborn” series) but there does seem to be a lot more story to tell.  I’m sure I’ll return to the series at some point but the next books are even longer than this one so they will have to wait.

Still, this is a slice of fantasy I can recommend.