"Capturing Mary" (A Review In Kind)

As grammar is one of my strong suits, I have decided to become a 1950s gossip journalist. This blog is now only going to be filled with amazing tales of glamour and celebrity.

Yesterday, with the sun setting orangily across a mild Autumnal night, as I was crossing Hungerford Bridge in London’s fashionable South Bank district, I passed the legendary film actor Mr Dustin Hoffman. Mr Dustin Hoffman! And that was but the start of it!

I was perambulating across the river on the way to the National Film Theatre where I was attending a screening of a film that my friend Ms H* is in. Ms H was late, due to the fact that she was doing something or other of great glamour and importance**. I bartered with the box office staff, they gave me one of our two allotted tickets and said that I should go in in case the film started. It was a preview of a film that is going to be on the BBC – written and directed by Mr Stephen Poliakoff, with Ms Maggie Smith, Ms Ruth Wilson (the one with the extraordinary mouth who was in Jane Eyre) and – bizarrely – Mr David Walliams.

I entered the theatre and some man-jack was sitting in our seats, so I said “Excuse me, I think I’m supposed to be sitting there”, and they started to gather their things together. It was then that I realised I was moving Mr Walliams himself! Calamity! I still made him move regardless. I sat down next to the girl that Mr Walliams had been delightfully chatting with and said “Whoops, I just moved Mr David Walliams” and then bumbled on for a bit about that being something of a faux pas. It should also be mentioned at this point that I was carrying a Morrison’s bag containing a crumpled suit, so I didn’t exactly look prepared for high art.

Then Ms H came and greeted the girl next to me, as she was also in the film. Another hilarious faux pas!

The film was quite long and preposterous – at points unbearably tense, at other points rather crass and camp. This isn’t helped by Mr Walliams being in it. Mr Walliams plays a sinister sociopath, with several haunting moments where his large face stares ominously into the auditorium, intoning something drastic and dramatic. He also makes a salad. Much like Mr Kelly, it is difficult to know how to take a figure traditionally associated with light entertainment as a sinister figure – to my knowledge, Mr Benny Hill never played Iago, and with good reason. Ms Smith is splendid in it, though. The story is told in flashbacks, with Ms Smith narrating it to a charming Cockney lad and it gets a bit clogged up with exposition. Anyway, the film is going to be on the BBC, you can sample its delights yourself then if you wish. It is called “Capturing Mary”.

During the film, I recognise an actress playing a confidante of Mr Walliams, but I am unsure from whence. (From where? From whence? I am unsure of the correct formation.) As the lights go up in the theatre at the end of the cinematograph, I realise that I am sitting next to the actress in question. Troisieme faux pas! Her name is Ms Gemma Arterton, and she is soon to be in the new St Trinians film, god bless her.

Messers Poliakoff, Wilson, Walliams and the aforementioned charming Cockney then assemble at the front of the stage for a question and answer session. Little of note is said, although apparently it was very good that the actors were “in the moment” at seemingly all moments. How they managed that is quite beyond me. How brave! In fact, the only revelation is that the Cockney lad in real life is not a Cockney at all but a very well-spoken young man. What an actor! Mr Walliams stares at me throughout, as if ominously intoning “You stole my chair. You stole my chair.” The effect was quite sinister, but then perhaps he was just creating in his mind a new sketch for his “Little Britain” entertainment where someone asks someone to move in a cinema and the person who sits in the chair finds it is made of sick.

Mr Walliams did not, however, make a salad.

After this bijou dollop of insight into the film, we were afforded a further… a further dollop, I suppose, in the form of a short film starring the mouth and indeed the rest of the person of Ms Wilson. For fans of Ms Wilson, Ms Wilson’s mouth, Dalmatians, and china trinkets, this short comes highly recommended. For fans of logic, perhaps not so.

Anyway, it rounded off a perfectly splendid evening of Poliakoffanalia. The mildness of the evening translated perfectly into the mildness of my affections for each of the films! Would that every Autumnal night were blessed with such a cinematic decoupage of delight!

* This is how they refer to people in these sorts of things, isn’t it?
** The District Line was down.

"Pimp My Ride" Weekend, TMF

It could be argued by a man cleverer than I that capitalism breeds cynicism. I, for one, am pleased as punch that “Pimp My Ride” – an MTV programme given a whole weekend of themed programming this week by cable channel TMF – refutes this accusation strongly.

In writing this review, I must inform you that I am staving off the urge to make Dickensian analogies with regards to the premise of the show. A down-at-heel eccentric introduces us to their car, which is in desperate need of repair. Often, these people work in the community, and do not have money to spend on car repairs. The rapper Xzibit then meets the car-owner, who is generally overjoyed to see Xzibit. Hands are slapped, rappers are hugged. Xzibit says some funny things – he lambasts America for using duct tape to hold its cars together, and tells Americans to leave bodywork repairs to the professionals. He is full of attitude and charm.

He takes the car to West Coast Customs, a repair and customisation workshop. Here, a team of lovable car mechanics puts the car back together, repairing damaged bodywork, replacing missing parts, and restoring classic cars to their former glory.

But they do a bit more than that.

“Needless ostentation” is the name of the game here, people, and these mechanics add literally thousands of pounds worth of gold, bling, leather interiors, electrics, LCD-screens, and speakers to the car. Of particular note is the loving attention given to tyres and “rims” (hubcaps); things you only hear about when they get namechecked in rap lyrics. Also, as part of the customisation, personal information about the car owner is transmogrified into… well, into complete lunacy. A man who likes bowling has a bowling ball cleaner and automated shoe rack installed in his boot. A man who is training to be a mechanic has a TV put underneath his car, so he can watch TV whilst repairing it. Someone – I forget who – has a log fire put in the back of their car – I forget why. A student has an espresso machine installed in their armrest. It’s very silly.

Whilst the customisation process is going on, we get to meet and learn to love the mechanics, including my favourite, Ish, who mumbles in a Latino accent and does a lot of work with fabrics. There is also a man called Big Dane, whose job is “Accessories”. At one point, whilst customising a bowling ball for the bowling guy, he yells at the camera “You’ll be KILLING THEM!” in a way that is hilarious, and not at all threatening.

Finally, the car owner is brought in, their car is revealed, they scream, they leap about, hands are slapped, rappers are hugged. They are shown around their car and then they drive it away.

Their “ride” has been “pimped”.

Now, I generally loathe cars. I can’t drive, I know nothing about them; I once watched an episode of “Top Gear” and nearly slipped into an anaphylactic coma. However, this show takes something really boring and ugly – car repairs – and raises it to not only excellent TV, but also amazing creations; turning old and decrepit, to new. MTV’s “Cribs”, where we get to see around rich people’s houses, offers only a voyeuristic view of the “bling” lifestyle, whereas “Pimp My Ride” says “This life of ridiculous wastefulness can be yours, too”.

The reason I find this show so affecting is that it is so rare that altruism has been celebrated so joyously. The premise of the show, at its most fundamental level, is that people get given presents. Everyone loves to see people get presents, and this show is like watching someone give thousands of pounds out to complete strangers.

One episode I watched had a suitably manipulative viewpoint. The car owner was a community youth leader. His car was horrible. He said that if the kids on the street saw him in a bad car, and then saw a drug dealer with a good car, then he was fighting a losing battle. At the end of the show, he said “This is proof that if you are good, good things happen to you”. And, I must admit, my cynicism was defeated by that.

Now, there are deeper concerns here, not least how much insurance MTV pay so that when these “pimped rides” return to the scuzzy neighbourhoods they aren’t propped up on a pile of bricks within half an hour. The show is a reflection of a certain America – a nation where a person is judged by the car they drive, where hope comes in a golden ticket, where money is there to be wasted, where the way to happiness lies in expenditure. However, in terms of raw exuberance, intelligent artistry and a lot of stupidity, “Pimp My Ride” is an entertaining half-hour.*

* Or, thanks to TMF, an entertaining two-and-a-half hours of back-to-back “Pimp My Ride”. Sweet.