Meeting Dustin Hoffman – the age game

Last night, I was very lucky to be in the presence of someone who has been in the entertainment industry for over 50 years. Lucky, not because he’s an A-list celebrity or because I get star-struck (I’m well past this); because this was a man who brought the entire cinema to tears just listening to him speak.

I’ve been struggling with the idea that I’m going to be 30 soon – something that’s been prevalent for about two years now as my ‘To-do list before 30’ is nowhere near complete. Getting older isn’t something any of us want to do, but is clearly inevitable. Whilst watching Quartet last night, many insecurities hit home and then, quite surprisingly, almost vanished. I had an epiphany.

The film is set in an old peoples’ home designed to house retired opera singers. We are shown the lives of these ex-stars as they are when they are old and decrepit; something Hoffman touched on so deeply during his talk afterwards. He, too, has been feeling this purge from the stardom by Hollywood simply because he’s ageing. But, this is Dustin Hoffman we’re talking about! How can this possibly happen to him? The sad truth is that it happens to everyone – there is always someone younger and more beautiful than you in the entertainment business. Well, any business, for that matter.

As he sat there, hunched over the microphone regaling us of times passed, he appeared melancholic. Reminiscing of his early career days of being cast in The Graduate and thinking he was totally wrong for the role, it was enlightening to see how far this man has come from something that was merely an accident; he was terrible at school so a friend suggested he become an actor. Hoffman paused for a moment as he joined the dots between his career, where he was now and how you can’t take anything for granted. He then went on to talk about a sick friend and couldn’t hold back the tears.

All the while I’m sitting there, three feet from the man, wondering what the hell I’ve been worried about this whole time. I’m turning 30 and my career is more than fine. I’m a healthy, happy person and perhaps if I ever make it to 75, I might then have something to worry about. Hoffman has begun his directorial career with Quartet and I wish him all the best with it. If you’re after a charming, down-to-earth heart-warmer, then make sure you catch it.

“To infinity and beyond.”


Django Unchained review

With a whole host of A-listers signed up to strut their stuff, Django Unchained was bound to be a success. I say this because even if you’re not a Quentin Tarantino fan, you are still able to admire and appreciate the hard work that the actors have put in to make this an unforgettable production. Throw in one of the most controversial topics to date – slavery – and you have the attention of just about everybody. But, was it actually a success?

Tarantino has a knack of creating ridiculous scenarios for his characters to get to grips with and this film lives up to the hype. Taking obvious references to an abundance of spaghetti westerns and the original Django film from 1966 (of which the lead Franco Nero has a cameo), we are led on a journey by Christoph Waltz’s character, Dr. King Shultz, whereby he encounters a couple of ruffians on horseback who happen to be transporting chained slaves. Our hero, Jamie Foxx’s wondrous character Django, is then introduced and, as a consequence, is freed by Shultz (after a shootout, duh) in an attempt for Django to lead the ex-dentist to three bounty hunters he is after in exchange for his freedom. As is the storytelling norm, the two form a formidable bond and thus the quest to rescue Django’s still-enslaved wife, played by Kerry Washington, is also added to their list.

Django Unchained PosterIf you have previously seen Inglorious Basterds, you will already be aware of Waltz’s style and charisma in front of the camera. The man has a way to entice you into listening to every last utterance without you wanting to bat an eyelid. However, for this film, the combination of Tarantino’s infamous awkward timing moments and the bewilderment of why a German is wandering around the deep south on horseback in the 1850s will leave you somewhat scratching your head. I say this because the German references in the film are entirely irrelevant and could have just as easily been done in English. Whilst it is understandable that directors want to continue to work with actors they have affinity for, it can leave a weird taste in your mouth when the story really isn’t thought through. I should add though, the relationship between Django and Shultz is also something to be admired.

With all the usual blood, violence and gore you would expect from a Tarantino film, Django Unchained is no different. Bloody murders occur within the first ten minutes of the film and senseless violence continues throughout. Most notably are the ‘mandingo’ slave fights and the slave-eating dogs. It is definitely a great achievement for a Hollywood director to highlight such a notable piece of American history, but to do so without pertaining to the facts is simply peddling one’s own agenda. After a little research, it is clear that it would have actually been very unlikely for any slave owner to give up their own assets for bloody murder purely for the owners’ entertainment; slaves were just too valuable. However, there have been some cases noted of dogs attacking slaves in the past, so again, to add to the usual horrifyingly brutal scenes we associate this director with, these have obviously been ramped up a few notches.

Accuracy aside, it would be pointless to waffle on without giving credit to two actors who, quite simply, will blow you away. Leonardo Di Caprio plays Calvin Candie – the owner of the Candyland ranch that still has Django’s wife, Broomhilda, enslaved. Every time I watch Di Caprio nowadays, I am reminded of something I was taught at acting school, “You are always on audition,” and I feel as though he not only knows this, but it is ingrained to his very core as he will, time and time again, produce masterful performances.  Another respectable old-timer to be mindful of is Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of the ‘house attendant’. This character (Stephen) is a disturbing combination of racist slave-hater sliced together with aggressive arse-licker to his white owner. His rather casual use of the N-word reminds us that Tarantino likes to drive a point home; all the while Stephen’s character depth is breathtaking. The scene of Django and Shultz arriving to the guest house was genuinely a delight, as four incredibly talented A-list actors are comfortably handling their time on screen without the need to upstage one another. A lesson younger actors can take from.

Leonardo Di Caprio

Despite the film being centred on a redemption-style love story, I actually found myself pretty bored of that halfway through. I knew what Django was motivated by, but altogether found myself not caring for the predictable outcome of he and his wife – that story, for some reason, was just a little trite for my liking, which made me care less for Broomhilda. That’s not to say that Jamie Foxx or Kerry Washington did a bad job at all – for he nailed every scene and delivered his comedic lines with impeccable timing and she portrayed a helpless, but driven young slave with great might.

The soundtrack is a quirky mix of acoustic blues, western, folk rock, and even rapper Rick Ross gets a nudge – settling the score as not something you would want to listen to back-to-back, but convincing you that the sounds you hear were chosen for the scenes you should be watching. It is also quite clear that Tarantino sometimes needs to take a step back and actually learn to be okay with scrapping scenes when the 165-minute runtime sometimes leaves you feeling rather jaded.

On the whole, a thoroughly entertaining film with some fine moments scripted and acted by Hollywood’s finest.

Django Unchained gets a toe-curling 3.5 from me.


The Great Retreat

Oliver was only five when he realised that the world was about to end. By “the world” I mean ‘his life’, and by “end” I simply mean ‘completely change’. You see, he was a creative boy whose imagination took him to all sorts of special places; a child prodigy that his parents never understood. For now was the time that this little boy was to start school. Big school. Scary school. Big, scary school.

He had no siblings and he wasn’t exactly the most social child. Oliver wasn’t slow at learning, nor was he thick, but his lack of social teachings and graces didn’t give off the right impression to new faces. As a toddler, he’d been starved of affection by his parents forcing him to withdraw and find solace in his mind. If you’d asked him to make small talk with a few relatives, he’d turn his nose up at you in fear. But, if you gave him a pencil and some paper, he’d draw you a masterpiece without even taking the time to blink. By now, I’m sure you’re able to work out the sheer horror pulsating around Oliver’s brain as he tried to compute his chances of being able to stay incognito amongst hundreds, maybe thousands, of other children.

The first thing he did was lock himself away. Oliver retreated to his little hidey hole in his room – location: underneath his bed. He stayed there for a while… thinking…

When he was done, he crawled out and went into the garden with his notebook and sat on the swing. Barely pushing himself, he opened the book to a new page and started to draw a part of the same tree he’d drawn a thousand times before. But, this time he concentrated his energy on one single leaf that has fallen off its twig. It was a smallish leaf, with some parts of it that had already turned brown. It reminded him of himself and he nurtured this drawing into something so detailed and magnificent that he managed to surprise even himself. He sat there and stared at it for a while.

Upon further inspection of his own drawing he was able to see the many small parts that made up this leaf. Pulling himself closer to the item, he was able to see the many vein-like features that comprised the leaf’s form. In fact, it looked like there was a little tree upon the leaf itself. One that looked exactly like the tree the poor leaf fell from. It was at this moment that Oliver realised the circle of life really was inevitable and true. The entire world’s concepts and facets were one, big amalgamation to simply be churned out and melded into each other to form one brand new amalgamation.

And isn’t that what was happening to Oliver too? His life was simply joining another set of lives that would come together to create one big mess, called ‘School’. As the sun started to set, he was feeling a little chilly and so took his new friend, Leaf, and his new-found way of thinking indoors, to get ready for dinner. He was onto something. Something big for him.

After dinner, he found some tape and stuck Leaf next to its drawn counterpart in his notebook. That was the first time he’d drawn something tiny enough to be placed next to his own version. He would usually deliberately sketch and colour very elaborate looking buildings and test himself on the amount of detail he could put into it. Leaf was officially his first small-scale project. One that he’d just managed to learn a great deal from. He felt happier knowing he’d learnt a little more about the world and was able to sleep soundly that night.

Oliver was awoken at the crack of dawn by the noise of his mother’s racket downstairs as she yelled very loudly over the phone, dealing with business clients in another part of the world. He usually hated this part of the day and nothing was different about it today. Pushing himself out of bed, he grumpily got ready for the day ahead and grabbed some food from his mother in the kitchen. He had only a week to go now before he was shipped off to Big Scary School and the nerves were settling in again. After working himself into a bit of a sweat, he clambered under his bed. The panic set in and he found himself under there for a few hours. Upon returning to the world, he felt confused. And a little lost. He thought he’d managed to get himself past the horrible thoughts poisoning his mind. Apparently not – he was stuck and he knew it.

A few days and drawings later, Oliver’s mother asked him to pack for school. He was to be sent off on his own into the big, wide world all by himself. This is where he would grow into a Big Boy; someone who would never know his parents – except he didn’t know that yet. Had he been aware of this revelation whilst packing, he probably never would have begun the arduous task. Halfway through, he felt nauseous and opened his notebook. All the memories of being under the tree came flooding back as he stared at Leaf. Leaf stared back. He ran his fingers over its back, seeing it stuck there under the tape. Now more than anything he felt more like Leaf; trapped under this heavy burden of sticky, being told what to think and feel. He had to change his life and he knew it. If he didn’t do anything now, this feeling would last forever. He got his things together and sat gawking at his bag. Opening his notebook, he sketched his backpack. It was the roughest, most untidy drawing he’d ever pencilled. Tomorrow was the day.

The curtains were opened with haste and Oliver was dragged out of bed, kicking and screaming (in his mind). His clothes were shoved onto the bed for him to wear and his breakfast was already waiting for him. His mother explained to him that he’d be gone for a while and that she and his father would visit him. He wasn’t stupid; he knew where he was going. To spite her, he wore a different shirt.

In the car on the way to Big Scary School, his mother’s phone was ringing non-stop. She huffed and puffed about not being able to answer it and as they reached the gates of the school, she slammed on the brakes and left the car to return the call. Oliver looked ahead at all of the other children being left there. Boys and girls of all different sizes, being forced to occupy these large grounds because their parents didn’t care about them. Well, that was his opinion anyway. As he gazed, he saw this little girl sitting under a tree, with a notebook. He left the car to investigate.

As he got closer to the girl, he realised she was writing in her notebook and asked her what she was writing. She looked at him puzzled and told him she was telling her notebook how scared she was of starting school all on her own. For the first time in a very long while, Oliver smiled and took out his notebook. He ripped out the page with Leaf on it and gave it to the girl, telling her she was no longer alone. She smiled a bewildered smile and they both walked towards Mildly Scary School.

His mother called out after him wishing to say goodbye, but Oliver simply turned his head and raised a hand. His goodbye was short and sharp.

Oliver finally left school at 18. He went on to draw one of the best selling comics ever written, with his new found friend, at the age of 21. He didn’t really understand fame and why people liked him, but he was happy to be doing what he loved. They eventually amassed a small fortune and bought a house far away from prying eyes.

His parents grew older and eventually withered into old, lonely souls wondering how their only boy was doing. They regretted letting him just walk off into the distance, never bothering to chase him to find out where, or how, he was after leaving him at the school gates. I know for a fact that his mother thinks about him everyday.

She regrets never showing him love and missed him more as the years went by. She really did mean to go and see him, but work just got in the way. I also know that it pained her deeply every time he refused to come and see her when she did make her way down to the school, albeit a few years too late.

I miss you, my dear boy. I miss seeing you in the morning and I regret never giving you the hugs you deserved. I’m eager to hear from you and see how well you are doing. I’ve destroyed our relationship greatly and am asking for your heart to see me another way. I’m just sorry it’s taken so many years for me to write this letter. From the bottom of my heart, I do love you.

Please forgive me.

Yours forever and always,

Mother.


Toy Story 3 Review

Eventually, we’re all just going to have to admit that some of our best friends have been inanimate. I’ll be the first to come clean; I have no problems with that sort of thing. Then Pixar happily came along in 1995 and gave us a bundle of animated inanimate friends to get us through our days. When Pixar released their trailer for the third installment of pixilated goodness, I just knew it was going to please every fiber of my being. I remember chatting to some friends at the time who were mortified at the prospect of Pixar simply cashing in and trying to squeeze this franchise for all it was worth. I’ve personally never seen Pixar to be that type of company, but who can tell nowadays when every other film released is either some spin-off, sequel, prequel or end of a trilogy.

There were far too many questions I wanted to avoid at the time of the initial trailer release – will it be as good as any of the others? What new characters will we see? What’s the story going to be about? I was happy not to know or speculate anything until I was able to see the film for my very own eyes. Saying you’re in for a treat is simply downplaying; it would be the equivalent of giving a friend who has just graduated a pat on the back, without all the celebration, accolade and acceptance of hard work. I’m not going to lie to you; this film is a masterpiece – and I’m not just saying that because I love the two before it. This is actually the best one.

Read more of the Toy Story 3 Review over at Zath…


Iron Man 2 Review

Say the name ‘Tony Stark’ and the comic book geeks among us feel the surge in our chests, the ladies can’t stop their pupils dilating and the gents… well, they’re simply envious. It’s extremely difficult for someone with so much wealth, power and sex appeal to not develop a gigantic ego – especially if they had a pretty big one to begin with. But, despite Stark’s superciliousness, he has a certain je ne se quois that makes him admirable. We learnt in the first Iron Man film that he was willing to put aside his love for fame and power to do what was right. But, somehow, he’s managed to screw up again and the sequel takes you on a journey of the contents of his mind.

The only downside of being Tony Stark (Downey Jr), I would imagine, is that you aren’t able to switch your brain off. Constantly deliberating, but never contemplating the outcome of your actions makes for a very complex way of life. He’s so used to doing whatever he wants that he’s forgotten all the people that put him where he is – least of all poor Virginia “Pepper” Potts (Paltrow), working to the bone in her perfect pencil skirts and Christian Louboutins. Refusing to eat his strawberries, Potts brings home the bacon and tries to make him see what he is missing, with the help of Colonel James Rhodes (who they changed over for Don Cheadle).

Read more of the Iron Man 2 Review over at Zath…


Glee Season 1, Volume 1 DVD Review

There’s something really special about Glee. It’s not the singing and it’s not the teen drama. It’s not the spectacularly gorgeous male teacher and it definitely isn’t the cheerleaders. As the series rolls on, I begin to wonder what it is that makes it so magical to watch. Guys and girls alike are hooked.

Taking pieces from almost all high school dramas to date, Glee has managed to overcome every one of them. Reminding you of the moments you hated about your peers and the moments you wished you could live in forever, the characters all take you on quite a peaceful sojourn. You remember the idiot that always repeated the same inane action to wind you up everyday (slushies) and you genuinely recall the difficult times of being bullied so badly you were ready to dig a massive hole in the ground and stay there forever. The simple scene construction of everyday life in high school is not only tried and done to death, it’s now being done so that when you watch it you’re happy you no longer have to do it. Even if you’re still at school, you can recall moments that you’re happy are over.

Read more of  Glee Season 1, Volume 1 DVD Review over at Zath…


New job!

For the last year, as most of you know, I’ve been searching for new employment. After losing my last full time job due to the recession, I was certainly not in a fit state for a while – both psychologically and financially. Between now and then, I did manage to get a couple of freelance temporary gigs lasting a total of six months, but neither of them led to anything substantial.

I may have been a little too picky with some of the jobs I applied for/interviewed with and after a while I was starting to lose hope. Interview after interview went by and nothing was appearing. Some jobs were even retracted as the companies weren’t sure if they needed a social media person in house.

However, I’m pleased to announce that the hard slog is over and that, as of yesterday, I was offered a position at PokerStars as their new Social Media Community Manager. There was a very vigorous interview process (I met five people over separate four interviews) and even flew out to the Isle of Man – to see their head office. If someone told me last year that in a year’s time I would be handed my perfect job  – if you know me, then you know I LOVE playing and watching poker – I would have called them stupid and walked away.

Very much looking forward to joining the team over at PokerStars and am even happier I don’t have to move to the Isle of Man! Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I’ve already upped and left in the past (to move to New York) and I’m definitely done with the whole moving away thing. London is my home and I’m more than happy to stay here.

I start on April 19th and can honestly say that I’m very excited. In fact, I don’t think ‘excited’ quite covers it :)


Dell Studio 17 Laptop Review (Multi-Touch Screen)

Recently, the people at Dell have been doing a few swanky things that have grabbed my attention. From their 3D gaming technology to their new teeny-tiny Alienware M11x laptop that has a motherboard so powerful it’ll make playing with Robocop seem like child’s play, to their current new release; the Dell Studio 17 Laptop with HD Multi-Touch screen. Yes, that’s right – you can now finger your laptop in public and it’s acceptable.

At first glance, you can’t help but notice the size of the machine with its whopping 17.3-inch screen. In fact, the computer is so big the keyboard has its own number pad. I’m not entirely convinced that this is a necessary feature for any laptop, given the nature of a laptop is for it to be portable and convenient to transport. Another thing that lets this beast down is simply that the weight of the Studio 17 starts at an incredible 3.2kg – of course, depending on how much you decide to kit it out, this number can only go up. Just for the record, the one I have definitely weighs more than that.

Read more of Dell Studio 17 Laptop Review (Multi-Touch Screen) over at Zath…


Kick-Ass Review

What do you get if you combine a homemade superhero costume, a complete nerd and some poor fighting skills? You get your ass handed to you, that’s what. All that time spent as a kid wondering what superpower you’d want to have or style of Lycra you’d be adorning when you had said superpower resulted in nothing, didn’t it? Countless hours were wasted drawing pictures with a cape – and without a cape – only for them to then be tossed to the side when you finally came to the realisation that this dream would never be made a reality. Well, what if it did?

Effortlessly encapsulating all those moments you wanted to be awesome and didn’t know how, this film combines an Hollywood old-timer Cage (who plays Damon Macready/Big Daddy), Jane Goldman’s writing and the most beautiful Indie actors Moretz (who plays Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl) and Johnson (who plays Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass) on the screen in wondrous harmony. The film derives its central plot from connecting together the dots from all the sub-plots and we’re introduced to the usual mundane lives these characters live, day by day, in New York City. The main character is a typically geeky high school kid who goes by the name of Dave and likes to spend his evenings with his friends in diners and comic book stores.

Read more of the Kick-Ass Review over at Zath…


Wembley Stadium Tour

As part of the Dabs IT and Gadget Show 2010 at Wembley Stadium, I was offered the chance to have a tour of the complex. Given the gadget show was pretty boring, I was most definitely up for it. The new stadium has an enormous capacity of 90,000 and given this, I was more than intrigued to find out how many toilets the venue actually had. Albeit a pretty worthless piece of information on the whole, this is exactly the type of trivia that I find myself fascinated by.

The Stadium is an absolute monster in itself with its very own function room called ‘The Bobby Moore Room‘ which has a capacity for allowing 2000 guests to wine (and slightly fewer to dine) in luxury. It’s a massive room with an upstairs that has a glorious view of my home town from its windows. If I were to host a party in this lavish room overlooking the newly piled

rubble and scaffolding that is to be the new Wembley City complex, I’d be more than a little peeved. From here, we were taken through to the England changing rooms where we were able to see the players’ shirts hanging from each of their pegs. A little factoid that was certainly welcome to hear was that on any given match day each of the players could have up to six pairs of football boots with them. It’s nice to know that it’s not only ladies that enjoy their footwear. There are three massage tables in this room as well as three indispensable hairdryers. There is also no longer the famous big bath in the changing room, but now there are separate baths and showers with very limited personal space, it has to be said. I guess if you live, breathe and eat football with your compadres, you may as well shower with them too. Or something. Given the opportunity, I probably wouldn’t turn that down, would you? ;)

Shortly after all the changing room trivia, we were then taken to the pitch to enjoy our views of the stadium uninterrupted by screaming fans. Now, I’ve been to the stadium before, but not when it actually looked as it was meant to. I was previously here for the Race of Champions (back in 2007 and 2008) where, in our seats from way up top, you could see that the pitch was covered and transformed into a mini racetrack for all the Formula One race car drivers and Motor Cross champions. It’s a weird but consoling thought to think and see that such a huge place be transformed with such ease without causing any damage to it.

The roof of the stadium doesn’t close all the way over, but does cover every single seat. It’s apparently good for the grass to be able to get natural air, sun and moisture through – as well providing natural ventilation for such a large building. The pitch by itself with no-one around looks fairly mundane, but to think that this pitch has had all sorts of things done to it over the years, I bet it’s glad to get its time off. Some more little fun facts about the stadium, but this time with a more musical edge; the late Michael Jackson performed at the old stadium a total of three times, making him the artist that’s played at Wembley the most. George Michael was the first to perform at the re-opening of the stadium in 2007 and Muse were the first band to sell out the entire stadium in the same year. I’m pretty sure when it opened in 1923 nobody could have predicted that this stadium would have had this much history or that it would have undergone one of the most controversial makeovers a stadium has ever been through.

The iconic arch design is 315m wide and 133m tall. It not only serves to become a focal point for people to find the stadium (I’ve spotted it from atop the Millennium Eye, aren’t I just a smarty knickers?), but it has also been designed to be functional by way of supporting the rest of the entire structure itself. As well as this, one side of the stadium roof moves to open and close as needed depending on the weather. It’s quite remarkable to think that this stadium costs nearly a billion pounds, but it sure as hell redeems itself when you visit.  A few more fun facts before I go; the stadium has a circumference of 1km – no wonder it’s always taken me a millenia to get myself round it. The total length of the escalators is 400m and 35 miles of heavy duty power cables run themselves around the stadium. If you enjoy more silly trivia like this, you’ll definitely enjoy taking a tour, as there’ll be more numbers than you’ll be able to remember. Wembley is my home town and it was definitely a proud moment to be walking around our national stadium. Oh, and by the way, there are 2,618 toilets in Wembley Stadium. That’s more than any other building in existence.