Saturday, 29 May 2010

Five Foreign Language Films You Really Should Watch

It's funny the way memory works, because I distinctly remember that when I published my list of five obscure albums you all fell over yourselves clamouring for more of the same thing.

So here we are, back by lack of popular demand, with a list of Five Obscure (and subtitled) Movies.

And yes, I know, foreign language films are hard going - I mean: who wants to go to the cinema and read, right? Wrong.

OK so there is a very high percentage of French road movies about the meaningless of existence (as parodied nicely by Monty Python with their exploading cabbage sketch) and Ukranian films where people get chased by buildings - but watching a foreign language does two things for you:

Firstly - it opens your eyes to a way of thinking, a way of life and a way of film making utterly different from anything you have previously seen

Secondly - it makes you realise what utter shite Hollywood has been dumping on your plate for you to devour and how much of it is ripped off from other cultures. Their influence on Hollywood is immense: films like The Ring, The Magnificent Seven, Star Wars and Reservior Dogs (to name just a few) could not exist without a wider world of film making.

So: here are five films you might have missed and, most likely, won't be able to buy (try the internet, bound to be there)

#1: Battle Royale (Japan)
The Japanese are not known for their sensative and thoughtful films. They are, however, known for their innovation. B.R. is set in the near future in a society where the young generation are completely out of control and are constantly disrespectful of the older generation. In order to control the children the government introduce the BR Law - where one failing class per year are gassed and taken to a deserted island where they have to fight to the death until only one of them remains.

Sounds grim? Yes, it is highly violent and more than a few people get their heads blown off by exploading collars, but at the heart of this film there's a dark sense of humour - as with the scene of the relentlessly cheerful lady in the video explaining they're all going to die and the recurring joke with the teacher on the phone to his wife. Not for the faint hearted, and it's a shame about the rubbish sequel, but definately worth the effort.

#2: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (China/Hong Kong/Taiwan/USA)
OK so the purists out there might argue with the inclusion of this film because a) It's available in a dubbed version, b) it's the most commercial and c) any film by the Director of The Hulk and Sense And Sensibility has to be a bit suspect on the foreign film list

Having said this it is highly recommended that anyone who DOES chose to watch this film does so in the original Mandarin soundtrack with subtitles as it really does add to the sense of immersion in a world totally different to our own.

Effectively this is a story of love and revenge: a young girl is kidnapped by a bandit and eventually released back to her own world after they have fallen in love. She is tricked into stealing a sacred sword by an old and bitter woman and as a result an old sword master is forced out of retirement.

What's most impressive about this film is the cinematography - especially the tree-top fights where the camera comes close to producing poetry.

#3: Lagaan (India)
OK - so quick question here: which country has the largest film industry and produces the most films? If you said USA think again.

The Indian, or Bollywood, film industry is huge and although the western influence is beginning to take hold it still manages to produce unique films like this.

Set in the time of the British occupation of India it follows a true story of how the British bet the local villagers that if they won a game of cricket then they wouldn't have to pay taxes for three years.

As with many Bollywood films there is much breaking into song, a young couple facing an obstacle to their love, commentary on social exclusion and a portrayal of us Brits as complete rotters (to be fair, we probably were), but at the heart of this three-hour film (split over two disks to avoid Numb-Bum Syndrome) is a story that not only moves you, not only makes you enjoy watching an otherwise completely boring sport, but makes you want to get up and dance.

#4: Pan's Labrynth (Spain)
Anyone who has seen Hellboy, Hellboy 2 and is looking forward to The Hobbit will probably know the name of this film from Director Guillermo Del Toro.

Set in the time of the first world war it follows a young girl and her pregnant mother as they are transferred to the site where the father of the new child, a young and ruthless Captain, is fighting off some resistance fighters in the woods. He is interested in the mother only as a vessel for his unborn child.

Meanwhile the young girl encounters a fawn who tells her that she is a lost princess and sets her three tasks to complete in order to return to her kingdom.

Not a film for late night viewing as some of the effects are downright creepy, but this dark fantasy will linger in your mind long after the film has ended.

#5: The Motorcycle Diaries (Spain)
I mad a bit of a mistake when I went to see this film at the local Arthouse Cinema (IE non-multiplex), because I daftly assumed that no one else would have heard of the film and I'd have free choice of seat - as it was I ended up with my head two-inches from the screen and having to keep turning so I could read the subtitles.

It was worth the effort.

The Motorcycle Diaries is based on the published diaries of Alberto Granado and his more famous friend Ernesto "Che" Guevara and follows the pre-revolutionary Ernesto as he takes a gap year from his studies as a doctor to travel across south america. Along the way the poverty and hardship that he sees changes the man he is and by the time they reach the leper colony (where they have promised to help as doctors) he is a very different person.

OK so you could argue that this movie indulges in too much cannonisation of a man who would go on to create concentration camps for homosexuals and put Fidel Castro into power, but the documentary style of the film really makes you feel that the people they meet and the troubles they face are real and makes you wonder if anything has changed today.

Again this is a beautifully shot film and the two leads have great chemistry. There's even a brief shot of the real Alberto Granado at the very end.

So - there's another list of fives. Anyone who has a film they think I should watch please let me know.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Running Late For The Bus

OK - my apologies for another grim poem this week and for running late. I had a bit of trouble getting the idea together and I'm not really sure if it works as a poem, but here goes:

Poetry bus driver this week was Terresa who set the below picture as a starting point

NB: i seem to be having problems with line spacing at present - the lines just wont stay seperate, so if it looks odd please accept my apologies

The Death Of Tinkerbell

They cheered as she burned
They thought it was
part of the show
They'd always said that she glowed

They cheered as the smoke
caught in the eyes
of the still screaming Pan
"a spectacular end", said the telegraph man

Caught up in the moment
in the roar of the crowd
held up for approval,
the cheering so loud

Clap if you believe
Clap loud, clap hard

we do believe in fairies
we do believe in fairies
we do believe in fairies
we do

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Three Ideas For The Price Of One (Poems, Stories Etc)

OK so - 'tis Poetry Bus Time again and this week my single solitary idea for a pome was so grim that I thought I'd best follow it with a few things to cheer you up again and get you all talking.

As you know by now Total Feckin Eejit has stated good claim to be the owner of the Blog that Guiness would run if Guiness ran blogs (IE probably the best) and instigator of the Poetry Bus.

At the moment the bus is on tour and different past participants are taking it in turn to drive (look out for my stint behind the wheel in late June)

This week I had the pleasant experience of discovering a new blog via the bus as I ventured to Barbara’s Bleeuugh! for the first time and was set the challenge of starting a poem with "I got down on my knees and smelled the new linoleum..."

Out Of Gas

I got down on my knees and smelled the new linoleum
Picked up the heavy jar full of liquid petroleum
Struck up the match, held it over my head
Wished that I had gone and bought shagpile instead

OK - told you it was grim. So - idea number two is a quick one that I saw on a comedy programme last night, but which appealed to my sense of surreallness. The idea is the science of Oppositism.

So - you probably think that the opposite of a knife is a fork - but think about the function of a knife: it's to cut things. So the opposite of a knife would be glue.

And the purpose of hair is to keep the top of your head warm - so the opposite would be some kind of ice hat.

I'm sure many fun hours can be spent with following this idea to it's illogical ends so will leave you to devise your own.

And finally a return to Raven's Wordzzle's - a challenge that a few more of the Poetry Bussers might enjoy having a go at.

Raven sets a list of words: five, ten or fifteen depending on how adventurous you are feeling - and the idea is to encorporate them into stories (or poems, guys)

This week I've decided to stick to the mini: eggs over easy, lawn mower, forgiveness, cold shoulder, chipper and bring you an idea that has been lurking in my head for a day or so:

Are We There Yet?

Sir Henry Polkington-Smythe 3rd took a moment to look around at the view and did his best to breathe in a full lungful of air in the thin atmosphere. Despite the long climb and hard work he was feeling quite chipper and rather pleased with himself

"Ah Ptolome, we have made it"

Ptolome, the long suffering guide, who had done all the actual hard work of planning the route to the summit, carrying the bags and, one one occasion, pulling a particularly nasty thorn out of somewhere unpleasant, merely nodded and grunted as if he had done nothing more than reach the local bus stop.

Sir Henry ignored the guide, giving him the cold shouder as he took a second to think of some inspiring words, "I, Sir Henry Polkington-Smythe the third, do hereby claim Mount Bloodyhardgoing for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. By the grace of God may this mountain be forever a part of England"

There was a polite round of applause, so nearby that it took Sir Henry a moment to realise that it wasn't Ptolome. He looked around and saw the two old-aged pensioners staring politely at him over a mug of tea

"Nicely done lad, very inspiring" said the old man

"Who the bloody hell are you?" Sir Henry enquired

"Mr and Mrs Jenkins" said Mr Jenkins, with a gesture requesting forgiveness as he turned his attention back to the small stove that had been set on the rug just three foot from Sir Henry's now rather sad looking British flag, "I'll have my eggs over easy dear" Mr Jenkins said to his wife, "how about you?" Mrs Jenkins just nodded and pushed her false teeth back into her mouth so she wouldn't have to gum the food to death

"But..." Sir Henry tried to fathom what had happened, "I've just spent two weeks climbing up this mountain - the first explorer to reach the summit..." he trailed off as he realised that what he had initially thought to be a walking stick was actually the handle of a lawnmower

"Really?" Mr Jenkins said with a frown, "Barbara and I have been coming up this hill every wednesday for a picnic since we were fourteen. Normally we bring the dog, but he's not feeling well today"

"Hill???" Sir Henry nearly shouted, "But I nearly fell and broke my neck on the north face sixteen times!!!"

"Yes" Mr Jenkins said, "we saw that" He paused, "You know you really should have used the steps like everyone else around here does"


"Yes" Said Mr Jenkins as he got up and started folding the blanket, "Come on, I'll take you to the gift shop and tell you all about it"

Friday, 14 May 2010

Five Albums You Really Should Own (But At Least Four Of Which You Most Likely Won’t)

OK – so this is something I’ve been meaning to post about for a while and by return I would appreciate comments that suggest at least 2-3 albums that you think I’m not likely to own but might enjoy. Some of these bands or artists you will have heard of, others you probably won’t have. They appear in no particular order whatsoever.

No1: “Ukranian John Peel Sessions” by The Wedding Present

The Wedding Present were 4-5 lads and an occasional girl from Leeds who were mostly famous for their ultra-fast, but not especially brilliant, guitar playing. Singer David Gedge sang in a slightly monotone about life, love and failed relationships often with a sense of bleak humour

Quite how four lads from Leeds came to allow the one Ukranian member of the band to persuade them to record a series of sessions with (legendary UK DJ and radio presenter) John Peel is something of a mystery, but the end result is a rather odd, but engaging series of tracks that gets better with every listen. Fast, energetic and with a reckless sense of abandonment the album does require several listens before you really “get” it but after a few months you will find yourself wondering how you ever lived without it and why it isn’t longer

Where Can I Get This Album?
Well, that’s the tricky bit. You may still be able to order the vinyl at Amazon but it’s very expensive. The other option is to visit

The album will show as unavailable, but if you send them an email you will get a response in about 3 weeks saying “sorry for the delay, I had to pop to the warehouse to get a copy” – you will then be able to buy it from the site. It’s worth the price of admission just for the experience!

What Else Did They Do That’s Worth Having?
Debut album “George Best” is more their usual style and I love it – containing the much quoted “Shatner” amongst others

No2: “Foot Of The Mountain” by A-ha

Former teen-sensations from Norway the band comprised the increasingly complicatedly named Morten Harket (vocals), Pal Waktar-Savoy (guitars) and Magne Fulholmen (Keyboads)

In a year when all the bands that I liked back in the 80s were bringing out rather disappointing albums (Morrissey, Peter Gabriel, Pet Shop Boys, U2, Bruce Springsteen – you are all guilty of this) A-ha produced a tour-de-force that harked back to their synth-pop days without sounding dated. It soared where it should soar and left you wanting much more. Perhaps sensibly the band have now decided to disband and finish on a high note

What Else Did They Do That’s Worth Having?
“Soundrel Days”, released at the height of their fame is a surprisingly dark album with a recurring theme of crime and punishment and the genius of "I've Been Losing You", and the album“East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon” released just after they were famous but one of the finest in my collection

No3 “Vespertine” by Bjork

Darling of the US in the mid-90s, called a genius by some and a nutter by others Bjork Godmundsdottr is the musical equivalent of Marmite – you either love her or you hate her.

For me it’s that mix of innocence and raw passion in her voice that does it every time, even when she’s singing about eating limousines (as she did with her band The Sugarcubes) or doing an entire album of throat-singing (OK, so that was a bit hard going even for me)

Vespertine is an album that you put on and it just transports you to a really chilled out place and remains one of her most focussed albums

What Else Did They Do That’s Worth Having?
A good starter for people unfamiliar with her Icelandic weirdness is her first solo album “Debut” which is the most commercial of the lot – but I warn you now that anyone who disses the song “Coldsweat” by The Sugarcubes does so at their own risk – it remains one of my all time favourite tunes (look it up on youtube for the slightly disturbing video)

No4 “Half These Songs Are About You” by Nizlopi

Cut back in time about 4 years and to the year when Shane Ward (who??) won The X Factor. Just one week before his song was released for Christmas an entirely independent band from Leamington Spa sneaked into the number one slot with “The JCB Song” Comprising of just two members, a singer/guitarist and double bass player/human beatbox (yeah, I know) their debut album was a surprisingly good and solid effort of songs that were simple and uplifting

What Else Did They Do That’s Worth Having?
Nizlopi only produced one other album and an EP – neither of which I have, so cannot comment on

No5 “Little Creatures” by Talking Heads

70s/80s student Icons David Byrne (vocals and guitar), Tina Weymouth (bass), Jerry Harrison (guitar) and Chris Frantz (drums) started out from the punk movement, ventured into funk and veered sharply around the corners of country music

Three albums before their split they produced the most perfect album in the world ever (ruined only by a pointless remix chucked onto the end of the CD version) – I mean how can you go wrong when you have an album cover painted by someone who gets his pictures from God? (or so he claims)

Talking Heads remain one of my favourite all time bands (if not THE favourite) and “Little Creatures” just shows how damn good they were from start to end. If you do not own this album then your world is incomplete

What Else Did They Do That’s Worth Having?
The only album I’m not keen of by them is “Remain In Light”, but anything from “Speaking In Tongues” onwards is pretty damn good – a good place to start is with “Stop Making Sense” – and you can now get the full film soundtrack on CD so there really is no excuse. Again watch out for "(Nothing But) Flowers" on their final album "Naked" - insult that one and I'll be round your house with a baseball bat

Monday, 10 May 2010

Should I Curtsey?

The man in the high visibilty jacket peers into the window of the car. He is the most recent sign amongst many that I am way out of my depth.

He looks at me as I ask if there's a nearby pub where I can buy some crisps (potato chips) and gestures back down the road and past the very impressive, but ever-so-slightly scary ornamental gates that mark the first entrance to the house.

We go to the pub, use the facilites, buy some crisps and try not to sound totally out of our depths as we drive past the huge houses and my partner drops me off. I step out into the road by the sign saying "drop off point" and my partner drives back towards High-Viz guy and parks in the huge field next to the 4x4s.

I head up the drive way, trying not to be too awed by the three huge stables that flank the right hand side, and turn towards the house. On the lawn outside the house is a shut-down refreshment van that sits opposite the house in desperate need of a lick of paint and, sitting opposite the stable dedicated to a children's play area, is the marquee.

I don't go inside for the moment, but instead head for the house and step nervously over the threshold. Everyone is busy. Despite the hugeness of the house the insides seem barely furnished: almost as if this section is unlived in. I ask a few people for the woman that I've come to see. A woman asks me if I am the registrar and I correct her: no, I'm the celebrant

The husband shakes my hand and gives me a suspicious look. He shows me out to the marquee and I look at the Disk Jockey, the area set up for the band, the huge, expensive heaters and the flooring. Oh my god - what have I gotten into.

The father of the bride approaches - are you the registrar? No, i'm the celebrant - is this ok here?

I set up the music stand and my notes from the few conversations I've had with the bride. It's barely seven pages and I'm less than convinced it will last the full 20 mintes it's supposed to.

I feel awkward, not sure where to put myself as I wait - i don't feel comfortable to go back into the house again: it's private property and I don't know anyone here. I accept a drink of tea and step into the second marquee.

Yes - that's right, the second marquee. The one with the fourty-thieves decor and the barman and 2 waitresses.

The guests are arriving and sitting either in the first marque or in the doorway between the second and the house. The men wear smart suits, the women wear the kind of dresses that tell me they're rich enough to not have any taste in clothes and not care: unflattering boob-tubes for the young and purple hats for the old. I nod politely to a few of them and begin to realise that the first time I'm going to meet the bride is when her father walks her down to the front.

This all started two weeks ago when I got a phone call. Since I did my training as a Celebrant I've had a series of phone calls and emails from other celebrants trying to find out my fees, one very bizarre call from a woman who wouldn't tell me her partner's name and an email about a renewal of vows that came to nothing. My membership of the celebrant society has expired (and the fees have gone up), my website is about to run out and, quite frankly, when the bride rang two weeks ago i nearly said "Sorry, but I'm out of business"

Except I didn't. It became clear very early on that there was no realistic way to earn any money out of this (take away the website, membership, advertising and you'd be looking at weddings every week for six months just to break even) - and yet I've accepted and here I am, standing in front of a bunch of strangers, doing this for the first time and feeling that those present have every right to regard me with suspicion.

It begins to rain again and I look at my script again, reading it and preparing myself for the show. I don't feel nervous - just not quite sure where to put myself :should I talk to people, should I just nod respectfully? Hell, it's bad enough at a party with people that I do know - but here, in these surroundings where I keep expecting Prince Andrew to pop around the corner in his helecopter and give me a wave, and where despite all the offers of a drink it's clear in the eyes of everyone who speaks to me that i am the hired help? Square peg doesn't begin to describe it.

Except that none of the above is really fair. Most of it is just my lack of confidence in myself speaking up. These people have been perfectly polite and friendly and it's not their fault that I can contrive to feel self-conscious if left alone with a potted plant for any length of time - let alone a room full of strangers. No - what i mostly feel isn't that I am the hired help. I feel like a magician whose trap door is about to fall open and show the secret compartment: i feel like a fraud. This is nothing that a friend of the family couldn't do for free: the couple will be no more or no less married than they were before - so what business do I have taking their money?

The bride arrives, her arm draped around her father's. They are already married - two weeks ago in Las Vegas in front of The King (and why not). Groom proposed to Bride in Egypt - I couldn't even afford to propose to my partner over a Turkish Delight. They must be absolutely minted (very rich) - no wonder they can afford to pay me.

I welcome the guests, totally forgetting to allow them to sit. I perform the ceremony. A few people cry at the poem - more cry at the exchange of vows. This is a Good Thing. It means I'm doing something right.

The whole thing barely lasts 15 minutes. I try to talk to the Bride but she is whisked away by the crowd of well-wishers so I move to the second marquee and try not to get in the way. A few people thank me for the service, the grandmother loved it: another Good Thing.

From time to time the Bride catches my eye. I know that she thinks I'm waiting to get paid - right now I couldn't care. We've never met apart from just now and all i want right now is to know that she's happy, that she enjoyed it. I feel a little dirty even thinking about asking for money.

Someone arrives with a cheque and finally I get a chance to speak to her. There's a thousand things I should probably say, but she's busy having a great time so I just check that she's happy and leave her to it. The Groom asks me if I am staying for a drink, but I can see in his eye that it's only a courtesy - or maybe that's my doubts speaking again. What would I say to these people. having no idea and being aware that my partner is still sitting in the car I make my way back to the field.

I walk across the grass, sit down on the edge of the car and change into shoes that i can drive in. We turn the car into the field and try to get a grip on the ground with the tyres. Hi-Viz guy is still standing at the edge of the field, looking bedraggled. He waves me back out into the street and I pause to wonder if anyone will even think to bring him a coffee

Would I in their position? I hope so

Monday, 3 May 2010

Watercat Poetry Bus: (Just Like) They All Hate William Shatner

This week The Watercats were hosting the Poetry Bus with the theme of Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll and I have to say that in the spirit of this I watched the film of the same name last night with Andy (Gollum) Serkis as the legendary Ian Dury and thought it an interesting, if flawed, movie.

Anyway - this song comes with a bit of a story.

Back in 1988 a band called The Wedding Present emerged from Manchester (correction: Leeds) (and we shall speak of these again ere long) - they will be mostly remembered (where they are remembered at all) for their ultra-fast but non-precision guitar playing and lyrics about reltionships-going-wrong.

On their 1st studio album "George Best" was a song called "Shatner" which was all about a woman in an abusive relationship and David Gedge (the singer) was saying "you need to get out: this isn't TV, he isn't William Shatner"

This still remains one of my favourite throw-away lyrics of all time. So since William Shatner embodies the spirit of Sex and Drugs and Rock N Roll (sort of) I've decided to post my response to that song. Please note that the video is a close-up of my saxophone. The audio track was recorded on a Tascam 488 home studio with me on keyboard, bass and guitar - sadly the sound is a bit muddy as I never did work out a way to make the vocals stand out when mixing it all down: (and for those of you who don't already know - many of the Star Trek cast have gone on record regarding their feelings towards Shatner) - lyrics at the bottom

(Just Like) They All Hate William Shatner

They hate you, they slate you, they’d like to take you in a fight
They bait you, they break you, they’d like to stab you with a knife

Just like they all hate William Shatner, that’s how her friends must feel tonight
Life’s not an episode of Star Trek, so don’t go breaking hearts tonight

She was young, and still dumb, she didn’t know what kissing was
You made a mistake and now she’s a working single mum

Just like the other actors in Star Trek, they want to cast you from their sight
You know they all hate William Shatner, although the fans say he’s all right

Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Lord Of The Ringtones

Sauron is online

Frodo has found an old ring

Gollum likes this

Merry & Pippin are now friends

Gandalf has refused a friend request from Saruman The White

Frodo is going for a walk

Samwise likes this

Pippin is listening to Riders On The Storm

Saruman The White has cultivated five million Orcs on Farmville

Elrond has written on Galadrial's Wall

Aragorn does anyone know a good blacksmith? I just broke my sword.

Merry LOL

Sauron is looking for something that was lost

Samwise has thrown a sheep at Gollum

Gandalf has accepted a friend request from The Owls

Theoden is still hopeful of a promotion to King

Pippin has started talking to the trees

Merry LOL what a nutter!

Sauron daily horoscope: you are a giant floating eye intent on wreaking havoc

Grima is no longer friends with Saruman The White

Samwise says a McD's would go a bomb round here just now

Frodo has destroyed the ring

Sauron is offline

Elrond is leaving Middle Earth