Old Spice vs. New Spice

The Spice Girls

Finally a definitive answer to THE question of 2013:

Which is better, Spiceworld The Movie, or Viva Forever, the new musical inspired by the band’s songs?

Spiceworld The Movie

A film following five girls you may have heard of. It features several what-were-they-thinking celebrity cameos, a Union Jack painted bus and a pre-nose-job Victoria Beckham.

Best Dramatic Moment
If you like camp, implausible drama you’ll be spoilt for choice, but the finale which features a high-speed bus drive across London Bridge is good fun. A mention at this point should go to some of the best celebrity cameos, including Meatloaf as their driver, Richard E Grant as their manager, Roger Moore as head honcho, an evil Richard O’Brian and Elton John as, well, himself – it’s hard for anyone with such jazzy glasses to go incognito. My favourite celeb moment is probably Elvis Costello as a low-key barman, lamenting ‘fame is such a fickle thing’. This is much funnier now that I’m not 11, and know who he is.

Worst Dramatic Moment
They’re all ludicrous, but I suppose if you wanted to be fussy you could say the alien encounter was a bit much. Killjoy.

Best Song
Spice Up Your Life, seen in all its glory in front of a roaring crowd, which brings back memories of the enthusiasm and energy the band used to create. Sniff.

Worst Song
Wannabe, which is featured in a naff flash-back scene. Obviously none of the film is exactly anchored in the truth, but somehow lying about how they met (as friends, in a local diner, as opposed to put together from an advert in The Stage) brought out my inner-cynic. Plus they wear some pretty dodgy denim.

Best Joke
Victoria is a revelation. Her acting begins shakily self-conscious, but as the film progresses she comes to embrace her monotone delivery, and what my boyfriend calls ‘her Lynchian quality’, as assets. By far the funniest moment involves her shouting at a coma-victim.

Best Costume
There are a couple of excellent costume montages, which as an adolescent girl I was mesmerised by. One of the best involves the girls dressing up (and taking the mickey) as each other, with Victoria doing a rather good Emma (‘My mummy’s my best friend’) and Mel B letting off some steam as Geri (‘Urmm Girl Power, blahblahblah.’)

Campest Moment
Hands down their rendition of Gary Glitter’s My Gang, complete with male dancers in purple onesies with bumless-backs to them. Special times.

Total Number of Songs
A surprisingly paltry seven, but I haven’t included background tunes.

Spice Points
Well, it has to have five really, does it? It’s camp, tongue in cheek and very British – you can’t help but fall for it. 5/5 jars of cumin.

Viva Forever

A musical using the songs of the Spice Girls to tell the story of Viva – a young singer who starts out as part of a girl band on a reality show, but is quickly forced to choose between her friends or solo success.

Best Dramatic Moment
One of the best parts of the show was the way the songs (mostly about getting a bit of ‘zaggazigah’ with blokes) were re-imagined, particularly Say You’ll Be There (probably my fave Spicy song anyway) which was used to convey an argument between Viva and her former band mates about loyalty.

Worst Dramatic Moment
The low point was a complicated scene which seemed to have been added to build on the ‘story arc’. (Alarmingly Jennifer Saunders talked about the difficulties of building an emotional arc in the intro of the programme, and I’m not entirely sure the problem was ever resolved). It involved ‘aged’ (ie about 40) judge Simone trying to reveal Viva’s birth mother to her on camera in Spain, while her adopted mother burst in to support her; the stage assistant leapt around unhelpfully; Viva herself seemed fairly uninterested in the whole thing and her gormless Latino lover hung around at the back. Got that? No, me neither.

Best Song
Definitely a clever medley of Mama and Goodbye. It was performed as a mother/daughter duet, with simple staging and lighting allowing the lead to show off an impressive set of pipes. I got musical theatre goose bumps, not experienced since the girl with the green face reached the key change in Wicked.

Worst Song
There were a few to be honest, most of which involved Simone, who seemed to be given most of the big numbers. I’m not quite sure why. Probably the worst was Mel C’s I Turn To You, which I’ve never been a fan of anyway, and was delivered melodramatically and without moving the narrative along.

Best Joke
Again delivered through song, a scene involving awkward 50+ sex (think neon hotel sign and floral twin beds) between Viva’s mum and her friend/bedfellow Mitch, set to 2 Become 1. The audience caught the actors off-guard by adding in the ‘wanna make love to ya, baby’ refrains, which made them giggle all the more. I also liked the description of Pontins as a ‘celebrity spitoon’, which had Absolutely Fabulous written all over it.

Best Costume
A Latino-dance number involved a host of colourful costumes, and some impressively large piñata-style puppets. Unfortunately, the routine itself was underwhelming – more sad-sack than salsa.

Campest Moment
The rather brilliant Zumba class (think hip shaking and general ridiculousness) held by Suzi (Viva’s mum’s mate, and general thong-wearing, hilarity-provider) which seemingly without reason (although, who needs a reason?) involved lots of lycra-clad men. Hurrah! The hen parties in the audience were certainly pleased.

Total Number of Songs
The programme credits an impressive 22.

Spice Points
Perhaps my expectations were too high, but as a childhood Spice Girls’ mega-fan, and musical aficionado I expected a slicker, more polished show. I’m going to have to leave the spice rack half filled: 2.5/5 cloves.

Top Dogs (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Puns)

I’ve always had a thing for the underdog, so much so that I used to wish I was one. From the age of four when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would reply: ‘a dog,’ before crawling off, barking. I wore through every pair of trousers I had at the knees.

It was a crushing disappointment, aged roughly six, when I realised it wouldn’t in fact be possible, and to regroup I immersed myself in the world of canine cinema.

I thought choosing my top ten dog films of all-time would be easy, but the more I watched, the more I realised it’s actually a difficult genre to define. We all know that the delightful Jack Russell Uggie stole the show during The Artist, but does that make it a ‘dog film’, or is the title reserved for kiddy cartoons starring our four-legged friends? Then there’s how you define a good work in a genre that covers children’s animations, life action and even dog films with no dogs in them?

To settle it I divided them into cat(sorry)agories:

Kids’ films
I’ve always been fond of 101 Dalmatians, but if it came down to one top dog, I would have to say Lady and The Tramp. This was my first ever VHS (presented to me after I’d fallen into a patch of nettles) and it obviously sparked not only my love of dog themed cinema, but my feminist leanings, as I always wanted to be the Tramp. He seemed to have much more fun sleeping in a railway station and eating spaghetti than Her at Home.

Best scene-stealers
Jack Russells seem built for this category, and while Uggie is the obvious contender, I have a soft spot for wire-haired Arthur from Beginners, who really made the film stick in the mind long after watching. I particularly enjoyed watching Ewan McGregor giving him a guided tour of his apartment, both of them doleful-eyed and loveable, and – fact fans – so strong was their bond that Ewan immediately went and got his own four-legged companion after filming.

Best non-dog dog films
Not a pooch in sight in Reservoir Dogs, Slumdog Millionaire, Dogma, Dog Day Afternoon or Dogtooth. Shame.

The charming, if more than a tad bleak, Swedish film My Life As a Dog has mere glimpses of the main character’s dog, as well as mournful references to Laika, the first dog in space. It’s a brilliant work about a grim childhood, only lightened by boxing and boxers (well, a terrier actually, but that doesn’t sound as good.)

Also, weirdly, Must Love Dogs is surprisingly dog-light…I think they just liked the title. The central characters meet at a dog park, with borrowed pets (including one called Mother Theresa) who are quickly relegated to bit parts. Big mistake in my view, as MT was much more cute and cuddly than John Cusack.

Best in show
A good canine film ought to be funny, endearing and full of character, and Argentine film Bombon El Perro is hard to beat. I’d never heard of an Argentine Dogo before, but if they’re all like Bombon – sign me up! Enormous, slathery-chopped and strikingly white, he’s just what down-on-his-luck former garage worker Coco needs, when he’s given the pedigree specimen. Cue a fantastic shot of the two of them driving through the stunningly barren landscape, en route to various dog shows. It’s charming to see the renewal of Coco’s life, as well as exploring the many sides of dog behaviour – from blind aggression to obedience, all in the most expressive of canine faces.

Red Dog, the little Aussie hit that made it big is well worth a watch too. Following another little known breed – the gorgeous, auburn Kelpie – it’s the story of how one stray dog brought together a mining community. It’s more ‘blockbuster’ than the wonderfully understated Bombon, but if you’re looking for a more mainstream affair you can’t go wrong with Red. Based on a true story, it’s moving, silly and one of very few films with a ginger hero.

I also love adult animation My Dog Tulip, a whimsical reflection on the life of a dog owner. Based on a book of the same name written in 1956 by JR Ackerley about rescuing Tulip, a German Shepard, from an abusive home, this film can’t fail to make you smile and well up in equal measures. Beautifully narrated by Christopher Plummer, you really should see it now.

So, in summary, whether you’re an underdog, top dog, or just dog tired, there’s a canine film to suit every mood. Now in order to be fair I’m going to go and watch cat films for a while.