Art, Film Review, life, lists, Live music review, Music, Uncategorized

My Cultural 2017

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After a pretty dull and devastating 2016 I became determined to make 2017 more interesting and engage myself with human life.  So far so good

I have been fortunate to meet a new and good friend this year via my yoga class; a woman, 12 years younger than me, just out of a 12 year same-sex relationship.  We’ve been great for each other and I’ve even found myself, recently, sitting in pubs on a Friday night with a group of men talking drunken nonsense and frankly enjoying it.  I’ve always been quite shy and introverted sitting in groups of other men, finding myself becoming detached and uninterested but now I think, what the hell, and join in, contributing my own slant and opinion on completely unimportant matters.

I’ve been on 2 dates; one in a new town to me; Hebden Bridge and the other in a beautiful old pub in Manchester called The Marble Arch Inn.  Nothing came of either but I’m feeling better for getting out there again.

At the start of 2017 I made a resolution to myself to visit the cinema at least once a month and read at least one book per month.  Progress is encouraging.  Not only have I made six visits to the cinema already this year I’ve been watching more films on the TV; here is my list to date:

Julieta (Cinema)

Whiplash (TV)

Deadpool (TV)

The Survivalist (TV)

La La Land (Cinema)

Venus In Fur (TV)

A Serious Man (TV)

T2 Trainspotting (Cinema)

Hail, Caesar (TV)

Fargo (TV)

Toni Erdmann (Cinema)

Raging Bull (TV)

Jackie (Cinema)

Moonlight (Cinema)

I’m on course with my books too, with 3 completed so far and a fourth on the go.  The first book read in 2017 (or rather finished after staring it in 2016) was Peter Ackroyd’s Rebellion, a book I was inspired to read after visiting The Houses Of Parliament in London last year.  After watching Paulo Almodovar’s excellent film Julieta, I then embarked on the series of short stories which inspired the film; Runaway by Alice Munro.  That was followed by John Hopper’s The Italians and now I’m reading The Lonely City by Olivia Laing.  The Italians satisfied my taste for all things Italian and Olivia Laing’s part autobiography, part biography helps me come to terms with the loneliness and feelings of being alone I have sporadically felt since I separated in 2014.

BBC Radio 6 Music and BBC Radio 4 are my constant companions; the former for great music the latter for excellent political commentary; ‘that talking shit‘, as my ex used to describe it.  6Music continues to be a great source for discovering new music and this year I saw the outrageous Cabbage in Liverpool and Josefin Ohrn and The Liberation at The Soup Kitchen, Manchester.  Honeyblood, Blue Oyster Cult and Radiohead already booked for this year and mustn’t forget Austra later this month.

When I’m at one of my yoga classes I often get asked what I’m up to and we talk about places visited, gigs attended, films watched.  People say I should write a blog about my ‘interesting’ lifestyle.  Funny, I don’t consider my lifestyle interesting.  Like social media, for every photograph we post of ourselves in smiling posture for the camera there are umpteen moments of boredom, ennui, trivia and outright dullness.  That’s pretty much how I would describe my life currently.  I envy those in relationships talking about their holidays and trips they’ve made with partners or friends. It makes me realise my life is not complete because I don’t have the intimate contact of a partner or lover.

I separated from my 2nd wife in April 2014 and last year discovered the guy she was having an affair with was my next door neighbour’s son.  It was a seriously devastating discovery which had a profound effect on my mental and physical health.  The next door neighbour thankfully moved house in January so that perpetual reminder is no longer in proximity and my pursuits in 2017 are have helped put that distraction behind me (again).  But what I have learned is that no relationship is better than a bad relationship.  I deeply regret ending my all too brief relationship with MFM in April 2015 but there is no mileage in believing half-hearted physical intimacy is a substitute for a mutually loving relationship; for me anyway.

Film Review, Uncategorized

The Hateful Eight – A Review

My new year’s resolution for 2016 was to visit the cinema once a month, yesterday I went to The Island Cinema in St Annes On The Sea for my 3rd visit in as many weeks.

So Quentin, watcha got for us?  

A movie.

A movie, eh?  What kind of movie? 

A Western.

Ooh, a  western.  Any good?

Of course it’s good, it’s a Quentin Tarantino movie.

Oh, OK.

Actually, it’s not that good.  I mean it’s ok but this is a guy who’s back catalogue revitalised the movie industry with classics such as Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill and of course Pulp Fiction.  Django Unchained was uncomfortable but ultimately essential viewing and even Inglorious Basterds was a great watch.  It’s safe to say that my experience of the man’s movies to date left me perfectly satiated but The Hateful Eight is served like a big fat Christmas pudding that you don’t really have room for yet you masticate your way through it out of politeness before flopping ungracefully in front of the telly and dozing your way through the Queen’s speech.

I mean, it’s over 3 hours long.  What do you expect from QT?  Great dialogue, a cache of great tunes to add to your BBC Playlister, scintillating characters, ace acting and more twists than a box set of Tales Of The Unexpected.

First off we have Samuel L Jackson (again) and Michael Madsen (again).  Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and a host of other actors – and occasionally actresses – become the rather hateful 14 or so who make up the ensemble.  The action is shot almost entirely in the wooden shack that is Minnie’s Haberdashery – a late 19th Century truck stop of sorts where the coffee’s hot and the stew is good.  The outdoor shots are set in the snowy wilderness of Wyoming and compete with The Revenant for next year’s Christmas card vistas.

True to QT form there is the expected quota of gore, testicles being shot (a nod to IG) and a touch of nudity.  But 3 hours later you leave the cinema thinking there could have been so much more in so much less.  None of the cache of characters really develops into anything other than a cardboard cut-out of any number of Tarantino characters we’ve seen already through his back catalogue and maybe that’s the point.  We’re so familiar with them we know what they do and why they do it.

In a recent interview in Sight And Sound Magazine, Tarantino argued how the genre of Westerns through the decades reflected the prevailing zeitgeist of American political and social thinking.  If The Hateful Eight continues this trend and Tarantino’s brushes with American law enforcement departments over the past 12 months are anything to go by, then this post Civil War picture is a depiction of how the attitudes of post Civil War America are still prevalent in their country today although it is debatable whether Tarantino is doing a better job than Donald Trump of depicting the latter day bigoted American.

This, as you may have gathered is the least loved of Tarantino’s films, by me anyway.  The guy is an exceptional talent but this film might be an indication that either his skills are waning or his imagination has been sucked dry.  I’ll still await his next production with heightened anticipation but he lost a little of his gloss here. What’s next?  Something better, I hope.

Film Review, Uncategorized

The Assassin – A Review

IMG_0328I have wanted to see this film ever since I read a review in Sight & Sound magazine and also because my forays into the Wuxia genre – House OF Flying Daggers, Hidden Dragon Crouching Tiger – left me hugely satisfied.

Last week I directed a Tweet to my nearby independent cinema and Odeon  asking why this picture wasn’t being shown at their cinemas local to me in the Fylde Coast area.  Odeon replied it is on limited release, something to do with print availability and distribution causing me to travel 50 miles to watch it in a tiny 60 seat cinema in the HomeMcr (Home Manchester) complex.

I confess I had no knowledge of Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien prior to engaging my interest with this film but I read about his incredible attention to historic and material detail, meticulous research as well as his disclosure that in historical terms we have little knowledge about the lives and times of the inhabitants of 10th Century China under the Tang dynasty other than its rich written and artistic culture.  Therefore it may be no coincidence that Hou declines to offer little in terms of character backstories but finds sufficient in the beauty of the country, art, furniture and costume to keep us spellbound by his sumptuous and vivid spectacle.

There is a story of a troubled girl, born to a noble family but exiled on grounds of political expediency to be raised by her aunt, a Taoist nun, who trains her in the martial arts to become an efficient and effective killer.  What we see about this assassin, similar to Uma Thurman’s Black Mambo in Kill Bill, she has a conscience, which tends to be pricked when children are involved.  Her failure to complete 2 of her assignments incurs the wrath of her mentor but in between lies all the political intrigue prevalent in a dying dynastic empire of the characters who’s decisions may determine the future of the dynasty and the lives of the many people we encounter. Farmers, nobles and servants are all stakeholders but you get the impression that life, in all its beauty will go on come what may.

We all like a fight scene and on screen death is entertaining.  People die and fight in The Assassin but the combat scenes are fast, short and sporadic.  In fact, the violence is incidental to the film with few gravity defying feats of swordplay at all even though there are occasional nods to the parallel Wuxia universe of jianghu where the constraints of earthly physics are relaxed.  But don’t worry about that.

What makes this film so spectacular and worth the entrance fee is the spectacle and the soundtrack.  There is very little music in the film but instead, vast open vistas of Chinese country are accompanied by the plaintive noises produced by nature.  The chirp of unseen insects or the breeze blowing through the grass; chuckling children at family gatherings, watched at a distance amongst lowing cattle.  It almost has a soporific drawing the viewer into it’s dreamlike landscape – you could almost be in a dream or a spiritual, unseen watcher of preceding behind gently cascading lace curtains, hidden behind a wooden pillar or amongst nature in a forest, perhaps behind a waterfall.

The gentle pace of this film will draw you into its beauty and wrap around you with the warmth of a duvet.  Watch it more than once, it’s intoxicating.

Film Review, Uncategorized

The Revenant – A Review

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I did something yesterday which I don’t do as often as I once did.  I went to the cinema.  I went to the only independent cinema on the Fylde Coast called Island Cinema and paid a very reasonable £3.50 to see The Revenant.

The Revenant, as well as being a feature film of 2h 36m duration, is a vehicle for the acting talent of Leonardo DiCaprio and, as some suggest, might just net him the Oscar for best actor – it’s that time of year.

OK, what happens?  It’s 1832, the movie starts off in a hail of arrows  as a team of fur trappers, at the end of a 6 month tour of duty, are attacked by an army of Pawnee Indians who show no mercy in their pursuit of the furs the trappers have worked all season to collect.  The pace is fast and the action brutal as cameras follow victims underwater to watch them  drown and arrows kill indiscriminantly.   Post battle the hero, Hugh Glass played by DiCaprio, is violently attacked andmauled to  within an inch of his life by a mother grizzly bear .  Of the surviving trappers, 2 remain behind with the seemingly dying glass with the promise of a bonus when they return to their fort base.  One of the trappers turns out to be the villain of the film: John Fitzgerald played by Tom Hardy.  Some of Fitzgerald’s dialogue will be misunderstood by many who aren’t familiar with his deep Texan drawl but  his actions throughout the film are pragmatic and necessary for his own survival even if his menace is made malevolent by his own religious zeal.

Glass is buried alive up to his neck and left for dead by Fitzgerald.  The badly mauled Glass hauls himself out of his grave and so begins his journey back to the fort to exact his revenge on his nemeses.  At this point The Revenant becomes a road movie – a journey and like most road movies, be it Saving Private Ryan, Soft Top Hard Shoulder or The Duel, the story of Glass’s remarkable struggle home is punctuated with encounters with people, friend and foe alike, who would help him or do him harm.  The action is similarly slow and fast paced throughout but DiCaprio is put through his acting paces in the rugged snow bound terrain of the frozen Northern United States.

If there is anything which has put me off visiting the cinema in recent year it is the battle between every studio in Hollywood to out-special effect,  out-gore or out-vista their rivals.  Somewhere in the race to create the greatest cinematic spectacle the story is often forgotten along with the development of character and the thrill of dialogue.  The Revenant, alas, maintains this trend upping the ante with scenes of aching brutality and big screen vistas of snow filled territory.  It looks good but but then so did most of John Ford’s output, Lawrence Of Arabia and probably Broke Back Mountain although I haven’t seen the latter.  Just anything filmed in Montana essentially.

Glass makes it home after being attacked, mauled, buried alive, falling off a cliff, eating raw offal and surviving practically every other mortal threat the harsh and rugged landscape can throw at him, motivated to exact his revenge.  His leg heels remarkably quickly, the muskets are incredibly accurate for the era and that water must be terribly cold to survive in.  But that’s me being picky.  But the film ends in that style made famous by Braveheart and Gladiator (sorry, is that a spoiler?) and after 156 minutes it’s almost a relief.

I enjoyed Revenant but have been surprised that in all the reviews I have watched and read, no-one has asked what a Revenant is; it’s like there is a hint of snobbery about, that one must surely know and shouldn’t really ask.  Well prior to today I did not know that a revenant is someone who, quite literally, returns.

As well as being a fine spectacle the film is ultimately about survival in the new American Republic.  The human and animal occupants have co-existed for centuries on this hostile land which has enabled them to survive and prosper but the encroachment of the white European man has rattled the utopian food chain as a new species bids for supremacy at its head. There can only be one winner.

Good luck to Leonardo, he will probably win his Oscar for all those grimaces of pain and cries of anguish and I doubt there will be a more robust acting performance from Hollywood this year; Leo went through the mill and survived.  Go and see it on the biggest screen possible but don’t drink too much beforehand.