X Men School #atozchallenge

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XWho’s your favourite member of the X Men – or X Person (if you feel that a group of super heroes of both genders should have had an appropriate name change by 2016)?

Is it Wolverine, with his wolf-like retractable claws and less wolf-like self-healing powers, or Cyclops, who wears cool designer ski goggles because red laser beams constantly shoot from his eyes. You might favour Storm and her ability to roll her eyeballs 360° and manipulate the weather, or Rogue, one of the coolest for her knack of absorbing the abilities of others thus rendering her all-powerful (and consequently, in the patchy  X Men 3, just a little bonkers).

To be honest, Marvel’s X Men – created by the amazing Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby in 1963 – now one of their most successful comic book and movie franchises, is a bit of a swizz. Coming up with a collection of superhero mutants with different powers (and admittedly silly names and even sillier costumes), Stan Lee knew that his characters could literally do anything – which means the stories would end up becoming more outlandish and ridiculous as the years went by. Kicking off as a clever commentary on race and equality in the turbulent early 60s, these all powerful characters would end up only being able to fight each other before Lee and his writers had to think of even more astonishing beings that would challenge them. You’ve seen the movies, well the comics are even more mind-boggling.

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Marvel turns it up to 11 in a recent Uncanny X Men series

I do love the X Men (although I’d say the movies peaked at X Men 2) but I always wonder if Dr Xavier’s school for gifted children – where these extraordinary mutants are taught to harness their gifts – should offer courses for those with more mundane, everyday powers. Perhaps you have the amazing ability to open jars that have been closed too tightly. Off to X Men school with you! They would call you The Twist. You might have an uncanny sense of direction. You’d be in there too and your X Men name would be SatNav. Perhaps you just give incredible hugs, the kind that have awesome regenerative powers. You’re enrolling! You will be known simply as The Bear.

These powers are no more useful than teleportation or the ability to manipulate metals with your mind. They might even be more useful. How are these X Men going to find their way to a battle without SatNav – or more importantly, find their way out. Where do they go if their feeling a little low? That’s a job for The Bear.

So what would your X-power be? What gets you into X Men school? Are you particularly good at Sudoku? Do you always arrive on time? Perhaps you have an uncanny memory for pop lyrics of the Nineties. I’ll get you an application form.

My power is that I am incredibly good at finding things: keys, wallets, school ties, household bills – if you’ve mislaid it, I can get it for you. I’m pretty sure I’d walk into X Men school with that humdinger. I bet Wolverine is always losing stuff. They’d call me Findo. Now, I need a costume.

Kraitt out.

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Wolverine’s lost his mobile phone again!

Wilder #atozchallenge

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WThere they are! Arguably one of the greatest film directors of all time and his muse. From the screwball comedy of Some Like It Hot to the greatest tale of Hollywood in Sunset Boulevard; the ultimate film noir of Double Indemnity to the searing – still contemporary – Ace In The Hole, Billy Wilder delivered classic after classic after classic. Jack Lemmon was the star that fitted Wilder’s brilliantly conceived characters like a Saville Row three-piece and was never better than in my favourite movie of them all, The Apartment.

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Jack plays C C Baxter (“C for Charlie, C for Calvin, but most people call me Bud”), the lovable but conniving corporate climber, running a knocking shop for randy executives from  his bachelor pad in New York. Bud loves troubled elevator girl Fran Kubelick, played with wit and warmth by Shirley MacLaine, and wants to close the doors of his love nest for good so he can feather it with her. Trouble is, life just ain’t that simple…

This is a movie about so many things: ambition in corporate America, urban living, loneliness, friendship and infidelity. It can be truthful, heart-breaking, dramatic, gripping, romantic and as laugh-out-loud funny as you’d expect from the best of Billy Wilder.

Every character is played to perfection: Fred MacMurray’s sleazy Mr. Sheldrake; the effervescent MacLaine and, of course, the legend that is Lemmon giving the most natural but nuanced performance of his life. Even Bud’s neighbours, compassionate Doctor Drefyus and his disapproving wife (“No napkins?! Beatnick!”), are colourful, complex and believable. No wonder the movie won 5 Oscars (when it meant something). Wilder won for the movie and his sublime directing, as well as the pitch-perfect screenplay written with long-time writing partner I A L Diamond (criminally this is the only Oscar they won together, though they were nominated for Some Like It Hot and The Fortune Cookie). Academy Awards were also given for art direction and editing but MacLaine and Lemmon went home empty-handed. It was a tough year. Jack lost out to Burt Lancaster’s Elmer Gantry with Laurence Olivier’s The Entertainer snapping at their heels (Kirk Douglas wasn’t even nominated for Spartacus – then, neither was Stanley Kubrick!). Shirley MacLaine was pipped by Elizabeth Taylor for Butterfield 8, no shame there.

So do yourselves a favour. Stock up the fridge, lock the front door, put on your PJs and turn off the phone. Then, settle in for a Wilder weekend. Perhaps kick of light with Some Like it Hot and Sabrina, maybe take a detour through Irma La Douce, before getting serious with Witness For The Prosecution, Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity. You mustn’t forget The Fortune Cookie for some Lemmon/Matthau fun, but you could get obscure with Ace In The Hole and Stalag 17 or even the underrated Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. There are, of course, many more to choose from.

Save the last slot for The Apartment. I’m not even sure if it’s his best picture but it’s my favourite Wilder-wise, and movie-wise in general (and if you watch it, you’ll get the joke in that last sentence). Cynical romantic that I am, I think it’s just heaven.

Here’s one of many brilliant moments, and some of the best movie writing you’ll find.

See you tomorrow for some super powers.

Kraitt out!

 

Van Man #atozchallenge

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Once upon a time, I was a white van man.

VMy step-brother Adrian used to own a fish and poultry supplier on Highgate Road, London called Fish And Fowl. You may remember it, if you lived in the area. He used to open up to the public on the weekends; selling all kinds of fresh fish and free range chickens. His partner Robert (pronounced the French way because he is…er…French) was the most charming fishmonger in North London!

Ade’s main business was supplying to some of the best restaurants across London, such as The Ivy, The Square and Bibendum. He’d be up at the crack of dawn to buy his wares at Billingsgate and, on Saturdays through my late teens, I’d pick it up at 9am to deliver across London. There I was: windows wide open, elbow out, smoking a fag and singing to the radio at full volume. What a feeling!

Yes, there was a downside. Every week, I’d go home stinking of fish and had to scrub myself clean. At least it was only once a week. Ade had to deal with it every day!

One of my favourite parts of the job was entering the city’s most celebrated restaurants through the back door and seeing the kitchens at work. Joe Allen in Covent Garden always reminded me of the long shot in Goodfellas where Henry Hill takes Karen through the kitchens of the Copacabana on their first date (see blog post G for Goodfellas): the hustle and bustle; the smells and the stream; the meat and fruit and veg piling up as the deliveries poured in at the same time. I’d have to stand by as furious head chefs prodded the fish and sniffed the chickens, meticulously inspecting their quality as they barked orders over their shoulders to the quivering staff. It really was every cliché you can imagine.

My other driving job was also restaurant-related but a little less glamorous. In my year off before college, I was delivering laundry and hot towels to Indian and Chinese restaurants in London and the Home Counties, and picking up the dirties. I still loved the life on the open road but it wasn’t much fun sorting through curry-crusted tablecloths and mucky hot towels.

One afternoon towards the end of my time there, when I’d had it with the laundry and the traffic and the M-frickin’-25, I was ordered on one last delivery when I should have been clocking off. I threw the laundry parcels in the back of the van, slammed the doors and screeched off petulantly down the alleyway behind the factory . When I returned, I discovered that my boss had prevented World War Three with our mechanic next door neighbours because I’d knocked off the wing mirror of one of their cars. I escaped a beating that would probably have had me off work for a few days and had to pay for the damage out of my wages. I quit the next day.

The van man feeling never quite leaves you. I still find myself driving like a Londoner; a little aggressive, a little reckless with the gaps (“You could get a TANK through there!!”) and always looking for the perfect short cut. I happen to think I’m a great driver. My children say my driving makes them feel ill.

Tomorrow, my favourite film of all time. Until then, the best ever movie moment featuring a van.

Kraitt out!

Felix Unger #atozchallenge

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UJack Lemmon would have to be my favourite actor of all time (and on Wednesday you’ll discover which of his movies is my number one) and The Odd Couple‘s Felix Unger is one of Lemmon’s most memorable roles. It’s Lemmon’s genius that he can make his audience laugh at – and then feel deeply for – a character at the bottom of his own pit of despair and attempting suicide – not to mention Neil Simon’s brilliant writing that gives him the opportunity. This is also a movie where the double act of Lemmon and Walter Matthau as Oscar is utterly perfect. You couldn’t imagine it without either of these Hollywood legends.

There are so many great Lemmon moments in this picture: Felix clearing his sinuses in the middle of a restaurant; Oscar ruining Felix’s linguine; Felix turning a perfectly promising double-date into a miserable sob-fest. I could go on but fortunately the original trailer (below) features these and more best bits (isn’t it the case that Seventies trailers went on forever and basically gave you the whole movie?!). But you really should seek out and watch this film. Neil Simon’s script is so completely spot-on about the modern male and his self-centred crises. It’s also non-stop hilarious. Ultimately, you’ll like these guys; you’ll feel for these guys; and you’ll love watching their odd relationship unfold.

I know there was a very successful, and long-running, TV spin-off of The Odd Couple starring Jack Klugman as Oscar and Tony Randall as Felix. I never saw it so I can’t really comment. I do love Jack Klugman – Quincy may well have been my Q blog post if I didn’t have a good Queen story. There was also a just-about okay sequel made in 1998 when Paramount realised these legends (including Neil Simon) were actually alive and should still be making movies. However, for me, the original is one of those unique films that should remain as it is. It couldn’t be any better.

Before I go, let me take you back and across the sea to Morocco in 1989. Myself and Ed Fowkes (we last saw him in D for David Bowie) were travelling as part of our year off between A Levels and the future. I think we were on the train between Casablanca and Marrakesh, minding our own business and  enjoying our view of this beautiful country as it trundled past the window. I realised after a short while that the muzac being piped through the speaker system was on a loop. The same tune was repeating over and over again, and I knew it from somewhere. But I couldn’t place it. What was it?! I was racking my brains until it came to me. The train muzac on the journey from Casablanca to Marrakesh was the theme to The Odd Couple! Go figure…

Kraitt out.

Texan #atozchallenge

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TWelcome back, everyone. In today’s post, I’m going to tell you about my very favourite chocolate bar – the (now sadly defunct) Texan.

Produced by Rowntree in the Seventies and Eighties, this delicious treat was basically a hunk of toffee covered in milk chocolate. If you chomped down on this block of awesomeness and pulled away from your teeth, the gorgeously chewy toffee would stretch out as far as your arm could go. Also, if you managed to purchase a fresh Texan at its maximum chewiness, the bar would last for ages. You got proper value in your mass market confectionery in the old days, kids!

Rowntree’s oh-so-clever advertising people used this chewiness to great effect in their campaign for the Texan, producing some of the most memorable ads of my childhood – starring the Texan cowboy who would use his trusty Texan bar to escape various scrapes.

For some unknown reason (probably the same insanity that drove the chocolate industry to change a Marathon to a Snickers), the Texan was discontinued in the Eighties – even though it has since been voted the nation’s favourite ever chocolate bar. Nestle brought out a limited edition Texan about ten years ago but it only lasted a few months. I have no idea why they don’t just bring it back for good.

Here’s my favourite of all the Texan commercials, a wonderful memory and one of the reasons why You Tube is the greatest invention ever.

See you on Monday for the final week of this arduous A to Z Challenge.

Kraitt out!

 

 

Starfish and Coffee #atozchallenge

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Rihanna #atozchallenge

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RIf yesterday’s post was for James, this one is for Molly.

Rihanna is my favourite current diva. Mind-bogglingly prolific, effortlessly f-you in her attitude and unique in her style. She delivers a perfect pop song pretty much every time and even makes Macca look cool in today’s clip (although Molly and her friends call him The Raisin!). Over to Miss Robyn Rihanna Fenty…

I’m crazy and I don’t pretend to be anything else.

…and I believe it!

Looking forward to singing along in the car with you this summer, Molz…

Kraitt out.