|Saturday, November 22nd, 2014|
|Tea At The Tate
Once again this week I supported one of my service users at work to the Tate Britain gallery where she is about to begin volunteer work. For part of her session I was not needed so was pointed in the direction of the staff canteen and given the security code for the door. I'm not suggesting this is a breech of their security as it is nowhere near anything sensitive or valuable (it is just a workers canteen) but I'm very pleased with the prospect of nipping 'back stage' for free tea/coffee on future visits to the gallery. The staff are such a friendly bunch (and seem to be used to contractors using the facilities) so I don't even think they would even mind.
This week I have been mostly reading: Bigger Than Hitler, Better Than Christ by Rik Mayall Current Mood: awake
|Saturday, November 15th, 2014|
|The Full Monty - On Stage
To celebrate my friend Kate's birthday we went to see the stage production of The Full Monty at the Derngate theatre in Northampton. The play had been running in the west end but despite receiving really good reviews it didn't do well enough financially so has gone on a national tour to make some money while another play takes its coveted London spot.
The good reviews were well deserved - the adaptation from screen to stage has been pretty successful. The Northampton audience was a bit weird. There was something like a 1:30 male/female ratio in the audience as a whole rising to something like 1:50 in the upper circle where we were sat. Some of the female audience members gave the impression that they had probably been to more strip shows than plays as they heckled their way through some of the critical moments of the play. A group of women also burst into the gents toilet I was in during the interval. They were cackling like drunk witches on a hen night when I left them. A good night though.
This wek I have been mostly reading: Did I Really Say That?A Calamitous Collection Of Gaffes Current Mood: awake
|Friday, November 14th, 2014|
|Natural History Photography 2014
Its that time of year again - the Natural History Museum is hosting the annual wildlife photography exhibition. My friend Yiota came with me today (I introduced her to the exhibition last year). We both agreed that this years exhibition wasnt as good as last years - which was a relief to me as I thought that I might just be having a grumpy old man moment. There were still plenty of wonderful things images to see. I Guess I can already start looking forward to next years show.
This week I have been mostly re-reading: High Society In The Third Reich by Fabrice d'Almeida Current Mood: awake
|Wednesday, November 12th, 2014|
|The Wallace Collection
I've been living and working in and around London now for 17 years and it is a genuine delight when you can still make new discoveries - especially if what you have discovered has been there the whole time. My latest 'discovery' (thanks to a recommendation from a colleague) is the 'Wallace Collection' a free to enter museum and art gallery just a short walk from Oxford street in central London. They have a serious collection of antique armour and weapons (and furniture etc) but also quite an extensive art collection which includes (perhaps most famously) The Laughing Cavalier. Its not the museum itself which has briefly rocked my world (though it is very nice and I will gladly visit again) - more that there still seem to be great surprises just waiting to be discovered even smack bang in the middle of the city. I suspect that the Wallace Collection people could use a little help with their P.R. unless they want to continue to be a secret. Current Mood: surprised
|Monday, November 10th, 2014|
I spent the afternoon visiting friends in their new home - a houseboat in East London. Moving into a houseboat is possibly the most bohemian thing any of my friends have done in years and while I admire the romance of the adventure the practicalities would put me off even if the finances made it viable. I envy anyone who lives on the water - but not to the extent where I have to empty my own toilet tank or give most of my books away due to the lack of storage facilities.
My friends have done well to make their boat a cozy and welcoming place to be but a few hours of that reality was enough to convince me to lay to rest any dreams I might have had of living that way. I like the romance, I like the location and I like the novelty - but I also like coming back to my full size flat. They seem happy with it though, which is obviously more important. Current Mood: awake
|Saturday, November 8th, 2014|
|Behind The Scenes At The Gallery
I supported one of my service users to the Tate gallery earlier this week. She is just starting a volunteer job at the gallery, meeting and greeting people arriving at the gallery and offering basic assistance/directions to those who need it. I have to be honest but a little part of me is jealous. I have no pressing need to volunteer there but the glimpse behind the scenes kind of made me want to work there.
There is a crappy dress code though and the pay is far from brilliant but I might keep my eye out for future possibilities - and if volunteering is a way of getting your foot in the door then I might even throw my hat into the ring! Current Mood: awake
|Wednesday, November 5th, 2014|
|William Morris: Anarchy & Beauty
I dropped by the National Portrait Gallery to catch their new William Morris exhibition, Anarchy & Beauty. The exhibition focused more on Morris' legacy and influence than the man himself or his work but that is part of what made the exhibition more interesting. (I've seen some of his arts and crafts work in other exhibitions but his wider ideas seem to be rarely discussed outside of socialist circles). Even here his radical politics were mentioned but not examined in any great depth. Most of the focus fell on his belief in the 'transformative power of beauty'. (An idea that thankfully has proved quite tenacious).
My one minor criticism of the exhibition is that maybe it tries to do too much in a relatively small space. Because it touches on his politics and his art and the influence in both of these regards it never quite satisfyingly enough explores either. Its still a pretty decent place to start though if you are new to William Morris and his many works.
This week I have been mostly re-reading: IBM And The Holocaust by Edwin Black Current Mood: awake
|Friday, October 31st, 2014|
Anselm Keifer is the second German artist whose work I have been introduced to this week and is to my mind by far the better of the two. The Royal Academy of art is currently exhibiting his work and I managed to swing by yesterday to catch it. I had never really heard of Keifer before this exhibition and this show is a great introduction.
The artist works in both painting and sculpture - sometimes both at the same time and often on a very dramatic scale. The second world war and its impact on those who witnessed and survived it informs much of his work (unsurprisingly, perhaps) but there are plenty of other subjects explored too. Compared to the other German artist I saw exhibited at the Tate earlier this week, this was so much more engaging and enjoyable.https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/anselm-kiefer Current Mood: awake
|Thursday, October 30th, 2014|
|The Gothic Imagination
Having missed the British Comics exhibition at The British Library this Summer I was determined to not miss their current exhibition on Gothic art and literature - especially as their main publicity image is a painting by Dave McKean, one of my favourite artists.http://www.bl.uk/events/terror-and-wonder--the-gothic-imagination
The exhibition lived up to my high expectations, focusing mainly on gothic literature (obviously, being The British Library!) but also touched on architecture, film and music among other topics. Well worth the entry fee.
This week I have been mostly re-reading: Green Shadows, White Whale by Ray Bradbrury Current Mood: awake
|Wednesday, October 29th, 2014|
The Hayward Gallery can usually be relied upon to lay on interesting and thought provoking exhibitions - regardless of whether or not you like the actual art involved. 'Mirrorcity' is their latest offering and it is no exception. The theme is living in London in the 'digital age'and it is hope is to explore "the spaces between fact and fiction" as well as the impact upon us of living in a modern 'digital age' city.
Very few of the exhibits in this collection made any sense to me. I wandered around the gallery trying to match what I was seeing with the brief the exhibition had suggested. Some of the pieces made sense, some I liked a lot but the overwhelming majority left me feeling slightly baffled. Maybe that's the point or maybe I'm just not quite immersed enough in the digital age to recognize what the work was suggesting. Maybe I am just a bit clueless. Whatever happened, I left the gallery reasonably entertained if not actually any better informed. Current Mood: confused
|Sunday, October 26th, 2014|
|Malevich & Polke
After work yesterday I dragged my but across town to see the Malevich exhibition before it closes (today) and while I was there I had a look at the Sigmar Polke exhibition too. Visiting two exhibitions on the same day can provoke an interesting reaction that you might not have felt if you visit the exhibitions singularly.
Previously I had only a fleeting awareness of Malevich and none at all of Polke. The reaction after seeing both exhibitions was to reflect on how incredibly subjective such visual art is. I was very taken with Malevich. I found his work both engaging and pleasing to the eye. Polke however was very much the opposite. As I wandered around the Polke exhibition I decided that I had seen better executed and more interesting work at A-level art shows. Polke has been deeply popular (apparently) and is cited my many other artists as a great influence - but just doesn't do it for me. I read some of the context of his work and some of the social/political points he was trying to make (mostly about post-war Germany and mass consumerism) but I don't think that I would have got any of that without the helpful descriptions provided by the gallery.
I am glad to have caught the Malevich exhibition before it closed but I didn't learn much from the Polke exhibition other than I didn't like it much. I visited the Tate shop before I left as I often buy the exhibition catalogues. The Polke book was 'on sale' at a special 'exhibition price' of £50 (normally £60). I wouldn't have paid even half of that price. The Tate have had some very good exhibitions in recent years but this one seems wide of the mark on lots of levels (to my subjective eye at least).
This week I have been mostly re-reading: Enemy Combatant by Moazzam Begg Current Mood: awake
|Sunday, October 19th, 2014|
|Halloween Movie Challenge 2014 - Movies 30 & 31
This batch is the last of my Halloween challenge movies of this year. It consists of a pair of films which have been kicking around for years so I'm almost embarrassed to admit to not having seen them sooner:
30. Surf Nazi's Must Die:
This is a low budget, post apocalyptic gang feature from the vaults of Troma. Following a devastating earthquake the gangs of LA (at least the ones who hang out near the beaches and like to surf) have united under the terrible banner of the Surf Nazis, with crime and terror the order of the day. There isnt much that is horrific in this movie apart from its exploitation. The mother of a black man killed by the Surf Nazis tools up, quits her nursing home and hunts for revenge. Its all pretty silly - including the invention of 'Switch boards' - a combination of flick knife and surf board which would be potentially lethal to anyone who happened to be immediately in front of a surfing nazi. It's just silly, which is fine if you like this sort of thing.
31. Meet The Feebles
. Imagine if there was a muppet
version of Requiem For A Dream
. Meet The Feebles
is pretty much just that. Peter Jackson (before he gave us The Lord Of The Rings
movies) took a look backstage at a muppet-like variety show and saw every depraved drug, sex and sleazy degraded puppet action you can imagine plus a few he thrown in for free. Its very scatalogical, sometimes funny and (if you are in any way delicate) fairly frequently disturbing. I wonder what genius looked at Peter Jackson's C.V. and decided that he would be perfect for Lord Of The Rings. It's a fun movie but has not managed to displace Brain Dead
as my favourite Peter Jackson 'being gross and silly' movie. Current Mood: awake
|Saturday, October 18th, 2014|
|Halloween Movie Challenge 2014 - Movies 27-29
More zombies in this batch - these with a comedy spin:
27. Kill Zombie!:
A Dutch zombie film? Who Knew? Overall the film is fun to watch but the humour is a little broad for my tastes. Many of the central cast of characters are total idiots so the general vibe is something like the three stooges or Mr Bean (with added zombies). I've got nothing against idiots - they are often a great source of fun but it is slightly over played here. There are some nice touches and over all the film isn't bad - but a smarter writer with better jokes would have been welcome.
Having said that I wouldn't mind seeing a Three Stooges zombie film if it was done right. I could even tolerate Mr Bean meets the zombies as long as he died horribly early on.
28. Dead Sushi:
They don't come much sillier than this. A disgruntled pharmaceutical worker injects a chemical into sushi that is about to be fed to his former boss. The sushi then re-animates, grows teeth and flies (!) off to attack. Imagine something between 'Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes' and 'Piranha 3-D' and you wont be far off the mark. To be fair the movie is probably more of a creature feature than a zombie film but as the killer sushi is re-animated dead fish and the sushi victims also re-animate to join the fray I'm going to claim in in the name of zombie films - albeit one from the willfully weird section of Japanese cinema.
The film's climax sees the heroine (a karate trained daughter of a master sushi chef) fighting in a duel with the pharmaceutical worker (who transformed himself into a killer tuna fish) using sushi nun-chucks and aided by a heroic piece of acid breathing egg-sushi. Once again the comedy is broad but the outright silliness of the concept will win it many friends.
29. Harold's Going Stiff:
This is a British indie and may be a contender for the best film I've seen in this challenge - it is certainly the best in this batch. 'Harold' is the 'patient zero' of a world where a new disease is making men (and only men) become stiff-limbed and eventually degrade to zombie like conditions. Very much grounded in reality we see isolated widower Harold struggle with his increasing arthritic stiffness and his growing friendship with the community nurse who comes to help him. This is juxtaposed with footage of the local vigilantes who 'volunteer' to hunt down and kill the zombified men who roam the Barnsley countryside if not properly contained. The medical profession want Harold for tests to help identify and cure the disease. The vigilantes want Harold for the kudos is will bring them for taking him down.
There is plenty of Human drama as we see Harold struggle both with his deteriorating condition (and the effect on those around him) based in large part on the writer's own experiences of losing a family member to advanced dementia. The tender relationship that grows between him and his nurse is particularly touching and well portrayed. The comedy comes mostly from the footage of the slack-jawed vigilantes but at the end of the film the comedy eventually gives way as Harold's condition becomes stark.
This film makes a big impression. It is touching and compassionate and often funny. The writer and director Keith Wright deserve a lot of credit as do the whole cast who do a fantastic job of making this such a great movie. Current Mood: awake
|Friday, October 17th, 2014|
|Halloween Movie Challenge 2014 - Movies 23 - 26
So what could be better than three back-to-back zombie films? Four back-to-back zombie films, obviously! Here is the latest batch:
Based on a comic by Stephen Niles, author of 30 Days Of Night
, Remains is sadly a standard issue zombie flick (unlike the fantastic 30 Days). The distinctive feature of this film is that the survivors of this zombie apocalypse come from the slightly seedy, twilight world of a casino/hotel in Reno. Other than that the film is competent and watchable but largely similar to any number of other zombie movies. Under any other circumstances I would usually be quite happy to find a zombie film this good but from the pen of Stephen Niles I might have expected something much better.
24. Zombie Transfusion
: This film has been appearing in my Amazon recommends list for a while but I have been dragging my feet a little because I was put off by the stupid sounding title. Having watched the film now (and on reflection I don't actually remember there being any transfusions at all) I still think the title is stupid but the film isn't bad at all. Like 'Remains
' this is a decent by the numbers zombie film that doesn't really excel but is a pretty decent watch. The back drop to the zombie apocalypse this time is a high school so we get to see the characters play against the usual teen dramas before the zombies show up and chow down.
25. Knight Of The Dead:
The title might have been just a bad pun but the film hold up surprisingly well. Knight Of The Dead is unusual as it is set in Britain during the dark ages with the bubonic plague rampant, contains actual armour clad knights and a sub plot involving the holy grail! The film has been graded so as to be almost bleached of colour so all the landscapes look so grim and full of death that the would not have looked out of place in The Seventh Seal
. There were any number of places where this film (on its no doubt minimal budget) could have gone quite silly, but the dark tone is carefully handled throughout making for am unexpectedly satisfying film.
26. Dead Girl:
This film was darker and more well written that I had imagined.Two teenage boys find a woman abandoned and imprisoned in a disused mental hospital and quickly discover that she cannot die. The boys fall out over what to do with her as one wants to go to the authorities but the stronger of the pair wants to keep her, basically as a sex slave. Clearly this cannot end well! The 'zombie' in this film is the girl who appears to be dead when she is found and cannot be killed thereafter. (Anyone she bites soon lapses into a similar condition). In this film though the zombie is far from the biggest monster. We see high school boys willing to objectify and abuse women to an extreme degree without any thought to the consequences. We see the friends divide over the issue but even the 'good guy' is largely ineffectual as he struggles with his own collusion. Eventually there is a climactic show down as events escalate. This film is excellent. Current Mood: awake
|Thursday, October 16th, 2014|
|Halloween Movie Challenge 2014 - Movies 21 & 22
A pair of movies from the same series in this batch:21 & 22. Troll & Troll 2:
Part monster movie, part modern fairy tales but sadly lacking the wit, charisma or charm to properly pull of either. The first film sees a 'Troll' try to take over a modern day apartment building using a magic ring. A kid called 'Harry Potter' (apparently no relation) stands in his way. Harry Potter's sister is the kid from the original 'V' tv mini-series. There's also a witch. The closest film I can compare this to is probably Labyrinth but it lacks the humour, script, talent and quality Henson puppets (not to mention David Bowie).
The second film is not even half as good as the first. The trolls in this film are referred to as Goblins throughout, the hero kids family often manage to be creepier than the Goblins and I'm not sure that is by design. There also seems to be some underlying message that vegetarianism is somehow inherently bad/dangerous, which is probably the movie's only saving grace.
As tough as I have been on these films I can actually imagine having a fairly fun Halloween with them. If you are not looking for any kind of scare or gore and are prepared to watch a pair of films that are a bit rubbish (I guess if you are looking for something maybe a bit childish) these might fit the bill - but I would struggle to call them horror in the strict sense. Current Mood: awake
|Tuesday, October 14th, 2014|
|Halloween Movie Challenge 2014 - Movies 18-20
A Zombie triple bill in this batch:
There was an interesting idea at the heart of this film starring Dexter Fletcher - start the zombies off as total undead morons and watch as they gradually get smarter and more dangerous. So the movie starts with the vast majority of the human population being suddenly and unexpectedly wiped out by an airborne virus. While the few survivors begin to huddle and work out what to do next those who were killed by the disease suddenly start wandering around again seemingly clueless to the point where they just walk into walls etc. The survivors begin to argue among themselves and ultimately separate while the zombies/infected begin to get smarter. So far so good but the plot moves at such a soporific pace that the film eventually ends just at the point where the zombies are only marginally smarter than the were in Romero's Night Of The Living Dead. Arguably this gives us a chance to see some of the characters strugle to come to terms with isated lives after civilsation uultimately the film struggles to get off the ground.
19. Before Dawn:
A genuinely excellent British zombie film directed by and starring Dominic Brunt - a man best known for appearing in Emmerdale (a terrible tv soap) but who organises the Leeds Zombie film festival in his spare time. The film follows a married couple who are taking a weekend in the country to try to resolve their marriage issues - just as the zombie apocalypse kicks off. The first third of the film is more or less straight relationship drama with a few foreshadowing hints - then it all kicks off. There is a decent balance of tension and action, some great effects and because of the time we spent with the relationship drama we never lose sight of the characters either. This may be the best British zombie film I've seen in a while and I think would pass the litmus test of being acceptable to people who aren't already fans of the genre.
20. The Dead Undead:
From its title onwards this film is unrelentingly stupid. Some spoiled annoying teenagers arrive at 'the lake' and shortly afterwards zombies attack. People with guns show up to kill the zombies. We then find out (**Beware spoilers**)
that the zombies aren't just zombies they are some kind of zombie/vampire hybrid which makes them hard to kill, but vulnerable to sunlight. (Nobody knows or cares why). The 'people with guns' turn out to be mostly vampires who are dedicated to hunting these hybrids. Some were Vikings, one was a Vietnam vet, one was from the old west. (Nobody cares, its hardly relevant. The main thing is the Vampires for whatever reason are trying to stop the hybrids from breaking out of whatever valley they are in to stop them spreading globally. How they got in the valley isn't ever explained either and there are far too many shots of crowds of hybrids rushing towards the vampires only to be shot down with automatic weapons. This happens a lot and not much else does - and it gets old pretty quickly. There are more holes than plot, no effort on script, story or characters and even the title is crap. What a pointless film. Current Mood: awake
|Monday, October 13th, 2014|
|Halloween Movie Challenge - Movies 16 & 17
This batch: A pair of zombie movies with Danny Trejo!16. Zombie Hunter & 17. Rise Of The Zombies:
Not just one but two zombie films starring Danny Trejo. Well, I say starring, you would think he was playing the lead role in both films from the way the films are packaged but in reality he only has a small role in both.
In 'Zombie Hunter' Trejo plays 'Father Jesus' - one of a small group of human survivors desperately trying to make it to an airfield to escape the zombie apocalypse. 'Father Jesus' is a kick arse, 'Machete' type figure well deserving a film in his own right but here he only gets a few minutes of screen time. In 'Rise Of The Zombies' Trejo's character gets even less screen time and unlike the cartoonish 'Zombie Hunter' is much more grounded.
Rise Of The Zombies sees a group of survivors (including Ethan Suplee, 'Randy' from My Name Is Earl) struggle to stay alive while trying to find the antidote/cure for the zombie apocalypse which rages around them. Both films are fun but Zombie Hunter has the more cartoonish violence and characters - imagine a post apocalyptic road movie like Mad Max 2 but with zombies and you will be close. The film also has additional monsters but these are rendered in such poor C.G. that I kind of wish they had not bothered. Neither film will set and world alight and neither use Trejo enough but both are better than average for the genre. Current Mood: awake
|Sunday, October 12th, 2014|
|Seth Lakeman Gig
Thanks to my friend Kate I was treated to the Seth Lakeman gig in Northampton last night. Part of the 'Word Of Mouth tour he is currently engaged in, the show was a pretty good showcase for his talents - a lively mix of music from folk ballads to full on jigs and reels. The support act Kim Churchill was also worthy of note turning in a barn storming performance mixing his own songs with bluesy Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan covers. A pretty good night all round.
This week I have been mostly re-reading: The Thief Of Always by Clive Barker Current Mood: awake
|Saturday, October 11th, 2014|
|Halloween Movie Challenge 2014 - Movies 13-15
I didnt really have a consistent theme for this batch. Its more or less a 'Misc' batch of films that didnt really fit into the other groupings I had organised. The closest they come to having a coherent link is their snappy, one word titles!
I used to be a big fan of Stephen King but for some reason I had never seen this adaptation or read the book it is based on. It turns out that its actually a made for tv jobbie shown on US tv over two nights which lends towards being quite a lengthy film structured around ad breaks. The dvd copy I have stops abruptly and without warning just as things are warming up nicely - luckily I tried playing the other side of the disc for the last half of the film.
The story follows a group of kids in small-town Maine who discover an evil paranormal clown that is living in the sewer system and terrorising/killing the towns children. The kids defeat the clown but vow to return to kill it if it ever comes back. The story moves to the current day where as adults the kids now are summoned back to complete their promise (the children's part of the story is told through flashbacks while the adults assemble.
'It' is sadly uneven in quality. The parts of the film that deals with the children is much more enjoyable. The kids are kind of superficially designed (there is a fat one, a ginger one, one who stutters, one with asthma, a black one, a Jewish one and a girl, a short-hand that is used to identify individuals in a fairly large group of characters throughout the film) but as a group they share an enjoyable chemistry. There are some moments where I was reminded of 'Stand By Me' as the group of best friends go of on the quest, this time to defeat the evil clown - there is something of the modern fairy tale about it.
The adult's part of the film is more complex and while this may have been handled well in the book it is not so in the film. The adults learn that the clown is just an outward manifestation of a greater evil that has been lurking under the town for centuries, manipulating fear to lure, control and destroy its victims. The show down that follows should involve the adults dealing and confronting their various fears and while this is superficially touched on there is the addition of a creature-behind-the clown (manifested in piss-poor special effects) which the combined adults confront on a physical basis. The creature is anti-climactic on two levels. Firstly the potentially infinite evil 'presence' behind the clown becomes finite and mundane even before the rubbish effects are taken into account. Secondly the clown was played by the brilliant Tim Curry and so was imbued with a fiendish and joyfully twisted personality and it is a real step down from that to a crap puppet.
Like too many other Stephen King adaptations there are some great ideas, characters and moments but is too uneven to sustain its tensions.
This is an ultra-low budget comedy horror that actually kin of works. A struggling semi-alcoholic cartoon writer takes home a dog he has hit with his car. The dog begins to communicate with the writer, giving him both ideas and instruction, but the writer is then driven to kill again and again. The film keeps the balance nicely between the dog being a malign presence and the writer being a total stone-bonker. The total lack of budget isn't really an obstacle here as there are no monsters, little in the way of effects and most of the film takes place in and around the writer's home or similarly mundane locations. The humour is a bit hit and miss but was enough to keep me amused and the dog stole almost every scene it was in!
This is a totally effective French horror that works on one basic fear - home invasion. We see a young couple living in a large rural (isolated) house woken one night by someone or something trying to get into their house. Once it is in the fun starts as the couple are hunted and toyed with by the invading force. The film is dark and tense and a total pleasure to watch right up to the closing credits. Current Mood: awake
|Friday, October 10th, 2014|
The Tate Britain gallery already boasts a fantastic collection of paintings by Turner but their current exhibition focuses on his late period and brings together paintings rarely seen in Britain (with items already in the Tate collection) to offer a fresh perspective on his work. I've seen plenty of Turner's work as he is hardly a fringe figure in the art world but this collection (which I visited this evening on my way home from work) offers a chance of a different perspective. Its a really nice show.
This week I have been mostly reading: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett Current Mood: awake