Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ian's World of Very Short Film Reviews

Some of these are films I saw quite some time ago.

Inception: Nice incidental music, surprisingly linear plot for something so many found confusing. Good performances. You have seen this already, so nothing more need be said.

The Secrets in their Eyes: V. impressive Argentinean crime film, with the emerging Dirty War as a vaguely acknowledged backdrop. Great performances from the leads. The film as a whole reminds of how well Argentina films.

Gainsbourg: Stylish but maybe a bit empty? Good for music, but perhaps problematic for people who do not know all of the Gainsbourg story.

Il Gattopardo [The Leopard]: Sicilian aristocrats battle changing times. Perhaps the most realistic depiction of a big party ever seen in cinema, right down to the room full of piss.

Things to Come: A fascinating film from the era of funny English accents. Great camera work and set design.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Boy's Best Friend Is His Mother

His & Hers is an Irish documentary film. Set in the Midlands, it features a succession of girls and women talking about the men and boys in their lives. Each speaker is older than the one before, so we start off with tots talking about their daddies, then we have teenagers talking about their boyfriends, then older women talking about their sons. The women all look different, but the way they progress in age, and the way neither they nor their menfolk are ever named, give them a certain everywoman character, as though we are watching the one person from early childhood to old age.

A lot of the film is quite funny (we particularly loved the woman with the amazingly dirty laugh talking about how although she and her boyfriend tended to sit in separate rooms of their flat most of the time, they would "come together at night. In bed"), the overall effect is quite poignant. This is particularly true as the film goes on, and the women progress from talking about sons getting married to husbands dying. One bit I found quite affecting was a woman who had survived breast cancer talking about her husband getting very upset when he thought he was going to lose her. Likewise another newly bereaved widow talking about how she would wake up in the night dreaming of having her arms around her husband, only to find herself alone in the bed. Later women seem to feel their loss less keenly, as though the passage of time makes the wound less raw.

The second last woman is very old indeed, and she talks about how she reckons she will soon have to go into a home (though she avoids using that term). The last woman is in a home; she says nothing and looks into space, suggesting the onset of senility.

I suppose that makes the film as a whole sound rather miserable, but that would be a false impression. I found it more a fascinating depiction of life's rich pageant and the passage of human life. It might well be the best thing I see this year.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pessimistic Dogs Anxious About Being Left Alone

Scientists have made the astonishing discovery that dogs who are anxious when left on their own are typically more pessimistic than their more independent fellows. Dogs who bark, howl, or destroy objects while waiting for their owners seem to be concerned that they may end up being left alone forever. Calmer dogs are typically optimistic, and so expect that if their owner leaves them on their own then he or she will return at some future point.

Scientists are reputedly also working on a hypothesis that the Pope could possibly be a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

More (BBC)

Yet More (Guardian)

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lonely giraffe makes a new friend

Gerald the Giraffe lives in Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, just outside Bristol. He seems to be the only giraffe there and has been a bit lonely. He is however a amicable fellow, and rather than lead a purely solitary life he has struck up a friendship with a goat called Eddie. Efforts to acquaint him with some others of his own kind have been thwarted by Blue Tongue regulations and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in South Africa.

But now Gerald’s lonely sojourn is at an end. He has been joined by Genevieve, a giraffe recently arrived from Eastern Europe. The two of them are now getting to know each other as Genevieve settles into her new home.


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Monday, October 25, 2010

It’s Close To Midnight

In North Korea, thousands recently gathered in Pyongyang for an event at which Kim Jong-Il’s idiot son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-Un was presented to them for the first time. The event was marked by the usual military parades and tank drive-pasts, but also by night dancing in Kim Il-Sung square.

The dancers included these fellows, who re-enacted the Thriller video.


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Friday, October 22, 2010

Silence Is Golden

for a song to be number one in the charts at Christmas has long been highly coveted. As the world has transitioned from physical singles to downloads, the Christmas number one spot has become much more open, as members of the public can download pretty much any song they want, not just the ones the record companies choose to offer up to them. This has led to the sudden reappearance of some older Christmas songs in the charts (such as Mariah Carey’s faux Motown classic All I Want For Christmas Is You, which popped back into the UK charts at no.4 in 2007).

More recently, the world has seen campaigns to make particular songs, or particular recordings of songs, the Christmas number 1. In Christmas 2007, Alexandra Burke of rubbish TV programme X-Factor reached the top spot with a recording of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, beating off competition from a Facebook-driven campaign favouring a recording of the song by Jeff Buckley (with Leonard Cohen’s original also making it into the top ten). Last year some other X-Factor song was given a festive horse-whipping by Rage Against The Machine’s Killing in the Name, prompting a quick cash-in tour by the anti-capitalist rockers.

2009 and 2008 have solidly established the idea that the Christmas top spot is all to play for, so various campaigns to make different tunes number one then have been bubbling around. The most interesting is the drive to make John Cage’s 4"33’ the Christmas number one. Cage’s avant-garde classic would be the most bizarre number one single of all time, given that it features no vocals and the playing of no instruments. If it was played on Christmas Top of the Pops, we would be treated to four and a half minutes of awkward TV silence. So, obviously, making it the Christmas number one is the duty of all right thinking people.

Click here to join a mailing list that will send you a link to a chart-eligible download of the track on December 13.


Guardian article on the campaign


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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Clever Dog Helps Find Whales

Tucker is a very clever sniffer dog with a rather unusual job. He rides on boats and helps scientists track Orcas (Killer Whales) and Right Whales by finding their excrement as it posts on the sea water. He enjoys his work, but is apparently a bit annoyed that he does not get to roll in any whale excrement found.

Click here to see a slide show about Tucker

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Friday, October 08, 2010

Indietracks: This Is The End

the last post in my amazing Indietracks 2010 series – can you dig it?

Attagirl disco
There were a number of disco things at Indietracks, run by various indiepop clubs around England. They all played 'Babies' by Pulp at least once. The best of the discos was probably the one run by How Does It Feel To Be Loved?, a London club night. This featured loads of sixties girl groups, Tamla Motown, garage rock, and that kind of thing – with indiepop noticeable by its absence. The Sunday night disco by Crimes Against Pop in the campsite was also good crack, with 'You Can Go Your Own Way' by Fleetwood Mac proving a surprisingly strong floor filler, though they were battling dreadful sound problems.

Crimes Against Pop
One of the other discos organised a CD-R potluck swap thing, where people made mix CDs and left them in, taking a random one from someone else in recompense. I tried to do a train themed compilation, but could not think of enough locomotive related songs in time and so had to pad out the disc with tunes by twee favourites like Cluster, Scooter, and Jobriath. It did seem rather like the other disc makers just made compilations of indiepop music, which seemed like a bit of a failure of imagination – you would think that Indietracks attendees have basically heard enough indiepop and could do with forced exposure to the wider world of music. Or maybe not; although someone did take my disc, I have had no communication from the listener, suggesting that it has generated a response of "Not Twee – Bag of Wee."

One final thing to note is how drøg free Indietracks is. For all that the young people seemed happy to knock back the hearty ales, illegal substances seem to resolutely off the agenda. I think I only got one whiff of doobage all weekend. What does this say about today's young people?

And that's that. Will I be back for Indietracks 2011? I am not sure. I find this a somewhat difficult festival to relax into, my ambivalence at the whole conservative nature of indiepop making me feel like a bit of an interloper. I kept fearing that when talking to people I would let slip that Los Campesinos are rubbish and would end up being chased from the festival by an irate mob of hairslide-brandishing indie kids. For all that, I did get to hang out with some fun people, and had surprisingly many conversations about popular band Prolapse. And the food is great at Indietracks too... two great veg food stalls in particularly (one possibly run by the Hara Krishnas), and a coffee stall (run by pirate carnies) that did the most amazing coffee. So you never know.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Indietracks: Everyday Is Like Sunday

That's right – I am still going on about the last day of that festival.

I went to see reformed Sarah act Secret Shine in the indoor venue, mainly because I hoped they would be rubbish and so we would be able to review them thus: "Secret Shine? Secret shite, more like". It was therefore a big disappointment when they turned out to be a kickarse shoegaze band. I was sorry to only catch the last few songs of their high quality set. They have apparently reformed properly (recording new material that apparently makes up a lot of their set), so it is possible they will come and play live in your town soon.

And then there were Shrag, playing on the main stage. These were also rather impressive. They play a more rambunctious strain of indiepop – based on shouting and jumping around rather than the insipid stuff that some people like. The music is both guitarry and synthy. I think, though, that what really sets them above so many of the other bands on the bill was star quality – partly of the band as a whole but primarily of the lead singer. Marvelling at how impressive a front woman she was I was struck by how few of the bands at this festival were fronted by singers who did not play instruments. Little Ms Shrag exuded energy and charisma in a way that so many of the others did not, though the generally appealing nature of the tunes also helped.

The fact that Shrag's singer had grasped the importance of jumping around a lot on stage while wearing a short skirt was not lost on many members of the audience. A number of pervertalists trained cameras on her in the hope of capturing a special image that could be of use for private research later. I tried to snap a picture of the perv photographers in action, but failed. This is the story of my life.

Slow Club
I was eating dinner when musical sounds lured us back to the main stage, to see Slow Club. There were two of them, a man and a woman. He did vocals and played guitar and she did vocals (sounding like she comes from a region), played guitar AND played drums (so she wins). They were funny and their music had a certain folkie quality to it. I remember enjoying them a lot, but I wonder now if it was mainly their amusing chit chat that I liked.

The Pooh Sticks
And then The Pooh Sticks, another reformed band. The only song by The Pooh Sticks I know is that 'I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Alan McGee Quite Well' one, which meant that I had them down as idiot savants, perhaps the Indietracks Television Personalities. But actually no – it turned out that i) they were surprisingly rocky and together and ii) great fun. As part of their general commitment to rock action they gave out placards to the audience with important messages on them like "E=MC5" and "Don't Bore Us – Get To The Chorus". They were also joined for some songs by Amelia Fletcher, but sadly they failed to do the wonderful version of 'Float On' they recorded for the celebrated anti-Poll Tax compilation Alvin Lives… In Leeds.

After enjoying such a succession of bands it was great to get one that was, at best, only alright – it meant that my critical faculties had not collapsed, that I had not been reprogrammed into the kind of person who likes everything. The not brilliant band in question was The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. They go in for washes of synthy noise to such an extent that they seem to have based their entire set on 'Friday I'm In Love' by The Cure. I was therefore annoyed to find this band not merely derivative, but derivative of something I dislike. Still, the band did have a certain proficiency. They were also the last band of the festival, so rather than stand there going "Bah C***bug" I decided to extend them a kind of grudging admiration. They certainly went down well with the rest of the audience, perhaps thanks to their continuous bigging up of the whole indiepop scene generally, something that made them sound like the indiepop Manowar.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Giant Penguin from Beyond

Scientists have found the remains of a giant 1.5 metre tall penguin that seems to have lived 36 million years ago. Elements of the flightless bird’s plumage have survived the fossilisation process, revealing that it did not have the familiar black and white pattern of modern penguins, but was instead grey and brown.

Sources from the Miskatonic University were evasive when queried on reports that headless giant penguin fossils have also been found. They also dismissed rumours of mysterious piping noises in the vicinity of the dig site. Claims that several of their team are now resident in secure psychiatric institutions were flatly denied.

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Monkey v. Monkey

There has been much discussion in the media about the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Much of this discussion has focussed on the apparent lack of preparation by the Indian hosts. However, preparations are well under way against one menace that could otherwise threaten athletes – the threat of monkey attack. Delhi is a city known for its out of control Rhesus monkey population, with civil servants and office workers often having to battle the cute yet fierce beasts to continue with their daily work. These animals can be highly dangerous. In 2007, the city’s deputy mayor was chased to his death from a balcony by the little fellows, while in 2001, Delhi was terrorised by a monkey monster described as part-man, part monkey.

Competitors at the Commonwealth Games need have no fear of monkey attack. The organisers have hired in Langur monkeys, natural enemies of the Rhesus monkeys, to scare away their smaller relatives. The Langurs have been deployed to a number of key Games-related locations.

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Indietracks: Don't Be Afraid Of The Robot

Although I rose early on Sunday, financial embarrassment meant that I had to trek into nearby Ripley to obtain more funds, thus missing many of the early bands. The first thing we saw turned out to be M.J. Hibbett & The Validators. I have seen Mr Hibbett before, and have a somewhat problematic relationship with him, because some of his songs annoy me. I was particularly incensed by 'Merchant Ivory Punks', where he made fun of punk rockers who are stuck in this eternal 1977 time warp. Fair enough, but he was playing this at a festival of indiepop, one of the world's most conservative musical forms, where most of the acts would not have been out of place on a Sarah Records compilation from twenty-five years ago. It therefore seemed a bit pot-kettle to be scoffing at the lack of innovation in other musical genres.

On the other hand, there is something appealing about many of Hibbett's lyrical concerns: giant robots, people being eaten by dinosaurs*, vegetarianism, and opposing the Iraq invasion. Furthermore, one of his songs does make the important things that you should not disown the things you like just because they are not kewl. I should also point out that on an Internet message board he also recommended the rather good Return of Bruce Wayne comic. So maybe he is worthy of respect after all.

The Specific Heats were, for us, one of the hits of Indietracks 2009. That time round they were playing in the Chapel and proved so popular that we could not get in to see them, so we stayed outside to listen to their garage rock sounds, pressing our noses against the glass to get the occasional look. This year they were in the larger indoor venue and seemed to have had a massive turnover in membership. And they also seemed to have left behind the Sixties garage rock revivalism and instead gone all indiepop! Oh noes. But then they started playing more garagey stuff and we remembered why we liked them.

I was also struck by how good their drummer was, especially after the monotonous thumping from a certain previous band**. That said, this band is in great danger. From playing at Indietracks, they seem to be picking up indiepop stylings. Their between song banter is of the friendly apologetic type you get from the more usual of the festival's bands. The Specific Heats basically need someone to throw out all their Smittens records, make them wear dark sunglasses onstage and do nothing but snarl between songs. "Stick to the acid rock", this tough but well-meaning Svengali might say. "If you do or play anything twee I will batter you".

After a few other bands I came to what, with Everybody Was In The French Resistance…Now!, might have been one of the real finds of the festival. Standard Fare had not been a band I was planning to see – their name suggests a certain lack of imagination and there was nothing particularly exciting about their write-up in the programme. However, one of our pals recommended them to us, and as he had previously implied a certain fondness for Hawkwind he was clearly a man to be trusted.
Standard Fare
So what do you get with this band? Well, they are a three piece, with a drummer and gentleman guitarist and lady bassist. Both the guitarist and bassist do vocals. The songs had a certain angular quality to them and owed little or nothing to indiepop. The band were all very good at what they did, but I reckon the bassist (whose name is Emma Kupa) is the real star here. Not merely is her voice very distinctive (albeit not necessarily a classically good singing voice, being a bit strained but in a way that suggests character), her bass playing seemed a good bit more interesting than the dum dum dum dum you get from most bassists. She and the guitarist played well off each other, and the songs they played had some odd lyrical concerns – one song was introduced as being about genocide, and then it was, but not in a Slayer-esque way, more focussing on the people who have genocide done to them.

Anyway, I was very impressed by Standard Fare, and hope to take a punt on their album to see if they also deliver on record. In fact, not buying their album there and then is one of my big festival regrets.

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* These appear in his rock opera, which he is touring to Edinburgh. Maybe you saw it in the Fringe Festival?

**This band, whose name I am not at liberty to reveal, set the percussion bar so low that I thought "mmm, great drumming" for every subsequent band.

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