Tuesday 28 January 2014

Suited and booted

OK, I'm probably the very last blogger this side of Raxacoricofallapatorious to comment on the 12th Doctor's new costume but I couldn't resist posting this picture of a very sharp-looking Peter Capaldi. I definitely approve of this new, stylish look for Capaldi's Doctor. It's pretty much exactly what I'd hoped for  -  a darker, more severe look for what is being heralded as a darker, more severe incarnation of the character. A few people here on t'internet have compared this image to a stage magician, and the hand gestures certainly back that up... and hasn't the Doctor always been a kind of magician? The coat's red lining also reminds me of John Simm's Master. As well as Dracula. And a crombie coat and DMs? Perhaps this Doctor's an ex-skinhead...

Soundtrack: Grace by Jeff Buckley

Sunday 26 January 2014

Winter Walks

Even though the weather's been pretty dismal lately here in the Shire, whenever the sun's ( briefly ) come out Sarah and I have tried to get out in the countryside for some fresh air. Here are a few recent photos, firstly from a beautiful sunny day up at Cranham on the edge of the Cotswolds...

I really like this shot: the shapes of the trees and their undulating shadows on the hillside. We were walking along, kicking at the fallen leaves, and disturbed a deer who was grazing nearby. On hearing us blundering about he ( or she ) ran across the path and disappeared into the trees.
Are those my feet...?
These next few photos were taken at Saul where the River Frome runs into the Severn but had burst its banks in places and flooded the fields. So, I had to go wading, didn't I?

Here are Sarah and my Auntie Carol ( and her dogs, Max and Pippin ) on the banks of the Gloucester / Sharpness canal.
And this is the usually-placid Frome rushing down to the Severn...
...and flooding more fields on the way.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Songs Of 2013

As the year known as 2013 is already a distant memory ( hey, it's nearly Summer now, isn't it? ) I thought I'd do the usual ridiculously late look back at the songs that rocked my world over the last 12 months. Of course, the universe of popular music in 2013 was ( unbelievably, improbably ) owned by a man in his sixties. More of him later. First of all... here come the girls...

Maybe not such a great year for female singers in my opinion ( for what it's worth ) compared to previous years ( even the usually-reliant Rihanna didn't seem to put out much material worth listening to ) but 2013 did see some great pop singles from the following:
 Burn by Ellie Goulding
I Love It by Icona Pop
Roar by Katy Perry
Somewhere Only We Know by Lily Allen
Royals by Lorde
No Strings by Chloe Howl ( one of the best live artists of the year )
And as well as making fantastic, upbeat, sparky pop music Chloe knows a cool T-shirt when she sees one :-)
On a global scale one of the best things to happen to music last year was the meteoric rise of Haim, three sisters from LA channelling the ghosts of '70s / '80s FM rock... but in a good way. Their combination of Fleetwood Mac-style tuneage, Michael Jackson-style grooves and Haim-style attitude was a winning combo on songs like
The Wire / Don't Save Me / Forever
They even turned up at Glastonbury, performing their own material and also doing backing vocals with Primal Scream. I think they're going to be massive...
I didn't really listen to a huge amount of dance or Rap in 2013 ( no real reason ) but some of the good stuff did come my way:
Look Right Through by Storm Queen ( albino panther pic from cool video above )
Animals by Martin Garrix
Thrift Shop / Can't Hold Us by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Latch / White Noise by Disclosure
Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke ( feat. Pharrell ) ( controversy ahoy! )
After bemoaning the lack of good new indie / Rock / whatever bands for the last couple of years, 2013 seemed to be bursting with them. As well as the usual old fogeys, I managed to see a few great young bands live last year and, luckily, they lived up to their promise on record too. Some of the best songs were:
Follow Baby / Lovesick / Float Forever by Peace
Cough Cough / Duet / Don't Try by Everything Everything
Superfood by Superfood
Peace by Kids In Glass Houses
Not quite so young, but equally awesome were the following:
Reflektor / Joan Of Arc by Arcade Fire
2013 / It's Alright, It's OK by Primal Scream
Stoned & Starving / Master Of My Craft / Careers In Combat by Parquet Courts
Xanman / Giant Tortoise by Pond ( the Australian Psychedelia renaissance continues )
And then, of course, there was Mr. David Jones...
David Bowie somehow surprised this spoiler-ridden, internet-addicted world by appearing from nowhere after a ten-year absence and rumours of illness and retirement with a new single and, soon after, one of the best albums of his career. Only Bowie could have pulled off such a trick, like some Victorian magician wowing the crowds with his legerdemain. And on his 66th birthday, too.
The Next Day sees a return to a more traditional Rock sound for Bowie after his turn-of-the-century forays into Drum 'n' Bass. But that doesn't mean it's old-fashioned: ace producer Tony Visconti updates the sounds of "Heroes" and Scary Monsters for the modern age and Bowie is on top form, his voice betraying no signs of age and his song-writing skills as keen as ever on wonderful songs like
The Next Day / Where Are We Now / The Stars ( Are Out Tonight )
 But, after all that, my Song Of The Year doesn't come from the Thin White Duke but from a couple of French robots. Yep, the ubiquitous Get Lucky by Daft Punk ( with the help of Pharrell Williams and Chic legend Nile Rodgers ) was the earworm of 2013 and, even now, after listening to it approximately 10,000 times ( probably ), its all-conquering robo-funk groove still sounds as cool as on first hearing.

And this brave new world of 2014 is looking pretty good, too. Brand new music is expected this year from The Horrors, The Maccabees, Everything Everything, Peace, Kasabian and more. Onwards and upwards!

Oh, yeah... that was post number 750. Phew!

Thursday 16 January 2014

Mammoth Movie Meme Part Four

It's finally here: the epic, awe-inspiring conclusion to the world's greatest, most exciting meme EVER. Or something like that. Anyway, here are the final 15 questions and some typically evasive, waffling answers:
46. A film that always makes you laugh.
Just one? That's tricky. I've already mentioned Withnail And I, one of the ultimate British comedies, so for this question I'll go for one of my all-time fave American comedies  -  Ghostbusters. I'm sure I don't need to tell you how wonderful that Saturday Night Live -meets- Lovecraft movie is. So, instead I'll just post a totally gratuitous pic of the lovely Sigourney Weaver...
( You're welcome... )

47. Movies that you think everyone should watch (not necessarily your favourites).
Um... anything by Spielberg, Coppolla, David Lean, Powell & Pressburger, Nic Roeg, Scorsese, Hitchcock, Woody Allen, Ang Lee  -  that's a good start, anyway...
Oh, and Dougal And The Blue Cat...
48. A movie that took you a couple of viewings to appreciate.
 Donnie Darko. Not because I didn't like it on first viewing, but because it was such a dazzlingly bewildering, but rewarding experience. The kind of film you watch then want to immediately see again to try and grasp all the twists and nuances. James has recently watched this for the first time and also had his mind blown by it. ( He's getting into some surreal stuff lately  -  he's just watched my Twin Peaks box-set too. ) Hmmm... I'll have to dig the DVD out...
49. A book you want to see adapted to the big screen.
There have been a few tentative movie adaptations which I would have loved to see but that never got made  -  David Fincher's Rendezvous With Rama, Spielberg's The Talisman  -  but one novel which is really crying out for the mega-bucks blockbuster treatment is Dan Simmons' epic Space Opera Hyperion / The Fall Of Hyperion.
 A huge, sprawling tale of Artificial Intelligences, galactic war, poetry, religion, buildings that travel backwards in time, and the awesome, godlike Shrike, the Hyperion Cantos would really work best as a series of films, preferably with a suitably gifted film-maker at the helm, someone capable of telling a human story on an epic canvas. Anyone got Peter Jackson's number?

50. A book you really, really, really don’t want to see made into a film.
Mein Kampf...
51. Favourite child performance.
David Bradley in Ken Loach's Kes  -  a raw, painfully realistic, heart-breaking performance, once seen never forgotten...

52. Favourite pre-code.
I imagine this refers to the censorious Hays Production Code which emasculated Hollywood movies for decades. I really haven't got an answer for this one.
53. Favourite silent film.
Uncultured slob that I am, I've never watched many silent films. I'll cheat here and say my favourite is a compilation of all the best, most iconic images from three classic silent genre films: The Phantom Of The Opera, Nosferatu and Metropolis. You know which scenes I mean  -  underground unmasking, staircase shadows and new electric life...
54. Favourite coming of age film.
Stand By Me, without a doubt. It's a beautifully observed look at teenage boys on the verge of adulthood, with all their concerns and adventures, and is probably the closest any movie has come to capturing Stephen King's unique voice.
55. Favourite superhero film.
Recently I've loved many of the Marvel movies ( Thor and Thor: The Dark World, Avengers Assemble, Captain America: The First Avenger  ) and James has just mentioned the fantastic Scott Pilgrim vs The World which is a kind of superhero film, I guess... but... for nostalgia's sake and for pure comic book  fun my ultimate favourite superhero films are Superman: The Movie and Superman II. ( Just like the first two Godfather movies, I can't separate them. ) Even though they have their faults ( especially in California ha ha ), these two films still work for me as iconic evocations of the superhero ethos.
And, yes, I still believe a ( Super)man can fly. RIP Christopher Reeve.

56. Best cinematography.
So many films to choose from, but I'll go with the amazing work of Gordon Willis from The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, truly painting with light and shadow.

57. Movies you know you should watch but you can’t bring yourself to do it?
A strange question. There are many, many movies I know I should watch but haven't got round to or haven't had the opportunity to see. But "can't bring yourself to do it..."? The only example I can think of is The Sound Of Music. It's a film that is easy to make fun of ( Julie Andrews, nuns, whiskers on kittens etc. ) but I've never seen it properly so shouldn't really comment. We recently bought the DVD for Sophie so I could watch it... I suppose... hmmm...
58. Favourite genres.
Well, Mexican wrestling movies, obviously. No? OK, I'm lying  -  I haven't seen a luchador movie in my life... but that's a cool poster. Anyone who reads this blog and / or has trawled through this Mammoth Movie Meme series must have a fairly good idea of the kind of stuff I like by now...

59. Least favourite genres.
What I refer to as "Cowboy" Musicals  -  Oklahoma, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Showboat etc.  -  and Torture Porn -  such as the Saw and Hostel franchises. And who ever thought those two genres would ever be mentioned in the same sentence?
60. Biggest movie pet peeve
Sorry, but I'm not going to end this Meme with something negative. I love movies
( well, good ones anyway... and a few crappy ones ) and love the experience of going to the cinema to be transported to another world, to share the visions and ideas of film-makers... and to possibly buy some ridiculously over-priced hot-dogs :-)
So I'll just leave you with this...
That moment when you've just seen something you've never seen before, up there on the silver screen...

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Music 1973

After blogging about my favourite comics from 1973 the other day, I'm now going to turn my nostalgic gaze ( with all the cutting-edge topicality you'd expect from The Glass Walking-Stick ) to the music of that far-off time of platform boots and flares. Yes, forty years ago ( plus a few days ) the world had turned Glam. Everywhere there were painted, prancing, peacock-like creatures cavorting in a cavalcade of androgynous ecstasy... and that was just the blokes etc. etc. Well... no, the world wasn't really like that. But it would have been fun.
If you could see beyond the middle-of-the-road novelty pop which clogged the arteries of the early '70s charts ( Brotherhood Of Man, Osmonds, Cliff Richard, Dawn, David Cassidy  -  it really was a grim time ) there was some great music being made, and being both commercially and critically successful. David Bowie, of course, owned the year. ( Happy Birthday, by the way, Mr. Jones ) He had huge hits with The Jean Genie, Sorrow and the immortal Life On Mars?, the Aladdin Sane album was number one for 5 weeks ( this is the UK charts I'm talking about, of course ) and he infamously retired his Ziggy Stardust persona at the end of his UK tour in July, to the sounds of wailing school girls... and boys.
TBH at the time I was less aware of Bowie than I was of bands like The Sweet, who seemed to be on Top Of The Pops every week, pounding out their hammy, glammy foot-stomping anthems like Blockbuster, Hellraiser and Ballroom Blitz. They looked like a bunch of brick-layers dressed as the most unconvincing transvestites ever... but I thought they were amazing. And, of course, there were the mighty Slade too, with their terrace-chant tunes, glitter-ball hats and humongous sideburns. They may not have been able to spell properly ( Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me? ) but they were unrivalled at smuggling hard rock into the lives of pre-teen British kids.
 And the Glam sound reverberated throughout the best singles of 1973, from arty popsters 10CC's Rubber Bullets to the epic Live And Let Die from Wings and See My Baby Jive from Roy Wood's Glam-meets-Spector project Wizzard. Over in the Big Apple they had their own take on the greasepaint-plus-sequins-plus-riffs style in the form of the proto-Punk New York Dolls, but they were unfortunately ahead of their time and didn't trouble the charts.
 1973 was also the year of what is still one of the greatest albums of all time, Pink Floyd's all-conquering Dark Side Of The Moon. The stereo-system-testing, existential stoner-rock of Dark Side is one of the most important records in my life and I probably need to do a separate post about it. In fact, it should have popped up by now in the long-dormant 15 Albums if I'd kept it going. Maybe I'll revive it...
  Rock of the hairy-chested, macho kind was, of course, the biggest seller of the time with only a few 1973 bands like Deep Purple ( Woman From Tokyo ), Led Zeppelin
( Over The Hills And Far Away, No Quarter ) and Thin Lizzy ( Whisky In The Jar ) managing to stand out amongst the denim-clad, patchouli-scented crowd. But it wasn't all heavy duty stuff...
Former member of the Velvet Underground, Welsh virtuoso John Cale released one of the strangest albums of the decade. Paris 1919, with its surreal lyrics, mannered art-rock and nostalgic sense of longing sounds as out of place and yet timeless today as it must have done back then. A few years ago I bought this on vinyl for a quid at a church fete of all places, and fell under its baroque spell. Spine-tingling, baffling, beautiful  -  every record collection should find a place for it.
Away from the world of white boys with guitars the ever-awesome Diana Ross released a couple of her most famous singles, the yearning All Of My Life and the monumental, heart-breaking Touch Me In The Morning. This latter song was much played when I was in my late teens, during and after a three-year relationship which had many ups and downs before it finally disintegrated. The song still recalls those days of nearly ( gulp! ) thirty years ago and still brings a lump to my throat...
 Meanwhile, a young rocker by the name of Bruce Springsteen released his first two albums to critical acclaim but a massive shrug from the record-buying public. It wouldn't be until the release of his epic third album, Born To Run, that Springsteen would have his breakthrough but many of these early songs like Blinded By The Light and Growin' Up made his reputation and set him on the road to superstardom. Dear reader, you've heard me yak on about Brooooce many times before ( check out the "Springsteen" label in the sidebar ) so I won't say any more, except to remind you that I stood stone-like at midnight, suspended in my masquerade, I combed my hair until it was just right and commanded the night brigade. Well, actually... that was Bruce, not me...
I've probably forgotten a load of great music from 1973 that I should have included ( like Steely Dan's Reelin' In The Years which just popped into my head ) but the above are the songs / albums that immediately spring(steen) to mind. A lot of them I wasn't aware of at the time
( only being six years-old in that far-off and far-out year ) but caught up with years, and even decades, later. So, after comics and music of 1973... I suppose films must be next... watch this space.
Oh, and I'll just leave you with something totally uncool but wonderful all the same:

"When I was young I'd listen to the radio / Waiting for my favourite songs
When they played I'd sing along / It made me smile"


Monday 6 January 2014

Mammoth Movie Meme Part Three

New Year, same old blog. The Mammoth Movie Meme wearily trundles ever onwards... sorry, I meant to say "forges adventurously ahead into unknown territory"... yeah, that sounds better...

31. Favourite animated film.
I really struggled over this one as "animated film" is such a broad church. ( Not Broadchurch... ) Should I go with the classic Disney movies I saw on telly as a kid, such as Sleeping Beauty or The Jungle Book ( still awesome films ) or something more recent like the ever-wonderful Wallace And Gromit claymation masterpieces? Or, indeed, something like Avatar, in which huge chunks of the film are purely CGI, so must count as "animated"? James came to my rescue and immediately said "What about A Town Called Panic?"
I first saw this insane Belgian animation at the good ol' Gloucester Guildhall a while back, the first film in their monthly Mystery Movie series. Along with everyone else in the cinema I sat waiting for this unknown film... and when the animated titles appeared I thought "What the hell's this? A kid's film about plastic toys? Okay..." Within five minutes I was hooked. This crazy tale of the adventures of Cowboy, Indian and Horse is one of the funniest, most imaginative films I've seen in a loooong time, constantly topping itself with ever-escalating lunacy. It can't be adequately described  -  you really have to see it. So... go and see it now. What are you waiting for? ( And look out for the brilliant Singin' In The Rain homage below... )
32. Your most anticipated films.
After the grim, childhood-trampling  disappointment of the Star Wars prequels, the movies I've most anticipated are the recent crop of Marvel blockbusters. Making up for the frequently lame treatment of other Marvel characters ( FF, Daredevil, Ghost Rider ) by other film-makers, Marvel Studios finally redressed the balance with their spot-on approach to the adventures of Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and The Avengers. In fact the next movie at the top of my anticipation list is Captain America: The Winter Soldier. ( Check out the link for information from top blogger,  Marvelous Matthew K ). Really looking forward to this one.

33. Last movie you were disappointed with.
With the price of cinema tickets being so ridiculously high nowadays, I only tend to see movies on the big screen that I really want to see and consequently don't often feel disappointed... because I've got such good taste :-) Probably the last film I saw that let me down was Tim Burton's Dark Shadows... but then, I should have known better, really  -  I shouldn't expect much from Mr. Burton any more, as I don't think he's made a really satisfying film since Ed Wood... and that was a long time ago...
34. Last movie that surpassed your expectations.
I watched Drive on telly recently and was very impressed. Ryan Gosling is Hollywood's Golden Boy at the moment and I was interested to see him in action. He gives a very subtle, quiet, almost Zen-like performance as the un-named stunt man - turned - get-away driver. Trying to save neighbour Carey Mulligan and her young son from local mobsters, the Driver gets caught up in a spiral of shocking violence in a neon-lit LA, beautifully directed by Danish film-maker Nicholas Winding Refn.

35. Actor in need of new agent.
King Kong

36. Actress in need of new agent.
The Bride Of Frankenstein

37. Share an unpopular film opinion you have.
I don't like The Shawshank Redemption. No... I really don't like The Shawshank Redemption.
38. Favourite Oscar win/speech.
Many of my favourite movies are Best Picture winners but the most satisfying win was definitely The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King in 2003. It was exciting to see a Fantasy film get such recognition after so many serious and worthy but obvious movies getting the gong. It may have been more of a recognition for the trilogy's huge box office take, but it was still great for Peter Jackson and genre film lovers to have their moment.
39. Biggest Oscar snub(s).
Like many others I was annoyed when the overrated, saccharine and worryingly conservative Forrest Gump won the 1994 Best Picture Oscar over Tarantino's blackly comic crime masterpiece Pulp Fiction.

40. Who do you think is overdue for another nomination/win?
Somebody who is overdue for an Oscar win ( but not "another" one because he hasn't won any yet ) is Lenoardo DiCaprio who I think has grown into one of the best actors of his generation. Seriously, his time will come.

41. How many movies have you seen (rough estimation, of course)?
More than ten. ( How am I meant to answer this one? I really don't know... but it's obviously a lot. )
42. A movie that made you go ‘wtf was that’.
Troll Hunter. I saw this a couple of days ago: a found-footage horror / fake documentary... with trolls. Proper, giant, Norwegian trolls. It sounds bloody awful but is in fact rather good... but definitely falls in the "wtf" category.

43. A film that scarred you.
Is that "scarred" or "scared"? Quite a few films have scared me but I can't say I've been scarred by many. Unless you count the 1984 BBC TV movie Threads which terrified a generation living under the threat of nuclear war. This ultra-realistic, bleak and despairing glimpse at a possible nuclear strike on the north of England was so frightening because the apocalypse seemed not just possible but inevitable at the time. I was having regular nightmares about the Bomb back then, so this didn't really help matters.  I actually watched the film on TV and then, for some unknown reason, saw it again ( once was enough! ) at school a few days later. I blame sadistic teachers...

44. Most movies watched in a single day.
Again, I don't really know. I've never gone in for huge movie marathons, so probably no more than three or four in a day at the most. My problem is always trying to stay awake... ( no offence to the film-makers but that's just what I'm like )
45. A film that always makes you cry.
OK, I'll admit it: I'm a big softy. There's not just one film that always makes me cry  -  there are quite a few. I cry when Dorothy realises there's no place like home. I cry when George Bailey finds out he's really had a wonderful life. I cry when Kevin Costner plays baseball with his dad. I cry when Peter Carter wins his case in the heavenly court of appeal and is reunited with June. And then there's this scene in The Railway Children which always turns me into a blubbering wreck:

I'm sorry, I seem to have something in my eye...


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