Friday, 25 November 2011

Rambling, comedy and winter words

Some of you will remember that the subtitle, if you like, of my old blog was “rambling with Rachel Fox”. Well, when I started this new blog I deliberately left the “rambling” behind – I thought it was time for a change or two, I suppose. I thought maybe I would ditch the longer posts, the general vagueness of direction, maybe even the ellipsis habit. But of course old habits die hard... and sometimes that's no bad thing... so here is a good old rambly post.

This week I have thought a fair bit about comedy. As I mentioned in my last post comedy is one of my true loves, one of the staples of my life (that's true for many of us, I think... TV comedy in particular has a special place in our hearts) and certainly I have written about it plenty on the old blog. Many of us were raised on TV comedy – I know I was – so it can feel a bit like family almost (I've said before that Morecambe and Wise were like uncles to me in some ways and sometimes I even think Dave Allen was my Dad-substitute... remember I was fatherless from the age of 6). So what of the current crop...? Well, this family feeling does mean I take an interest in it all whether I like it or not. I watch the new Gervais/Merchant “Life is Short” (at least to start with), for example, and observe how disappointed many viewers are (I'm not particularly... I only thought “The Office” was OK, never brilliant or genius or any such... though brilliant at making money perhaps!).

But mainly, instead of the new stuff, I've been concentrating on catching up with shows that I've missed somehow. Take “Black Books”... for various reasons (mainly to do with giving up excess and having a baby in 2000) I never watched this one when it came out (and there are 3 series – 2000-2004). So recently I've been making up by watching it all... this month. It is very amusing too – quite “Fawlty Towers”, more than a hint of “Ab Fab” and “Young Ones”... but all in a good way – and of course the three principals are very, very good (Bill Bailey seems to be one of the very few comedians who doesn't have an army of haters online... unless I've just never come across them...). Over here you can see/hear the co-writer of "Black Books", Graham Linehan, talking about writing comedy (he also worked on “Father Ted” and “The IT Crowd” of course – quite some CV).

Oh, and while we're on the subject here's a nice bit from the“Black Books” centrepiece, comedian Dylan Moran... perhaps not for any of you who are very devout... or who can't bear the odd f-word though...

I quite liked this bit too... laughed out loud and everything...

Then on facebook I came across a comedy show I don't know at all yet – a bit of Louis CK's show “Louie”... via a post from poet Colm Keegan about the new Gervais/Merchant thing. The clip I watched is here but beware because (a) it is very explicit (lots of cock-talk) and (b) stick with it... it starts like just another tired bit of potty-mouthed misogyny but it does get to its, as it were, point eventually (then it goes a bit soft-focus, flag-moment “West Wing” at the end for me in fact... but you can't have everything now, can you..?).

So that was comedy... what else can I ramble about? Well, I've been walking a lot – clearing the head which has been a bit full of work stuff, family stuff... you know the kind of thing. I haven't made it to art class for a few weeks (because of the just-mentioned lots-going-on) but I've been taking heaps of photos – especially in the grounds of the (very) local mental hospital that's being closed down this month (one such photo at the top of the post – still working out what kind of tree that is...). And I even reworked an old poem the other day (I don't do that very often). The old version was here... but a snappier new version is below (it's still a bit doom-laden but it is snappier).

Bleak and winter

Suddenly the trees have less to say
The sun just blinks, then folds again
Barely a whimper of warmth for us
Huddled in our burrows for the snivelling season

Then we hark at the calendars 'Xmas is coming!
The goose, where's that fowl? We will eat till we burst!'
But even the feast has us cold these days
Nothing's right, all is humbug - no wood, fewer trees

And we don't even know why we want what we want
Our guiding lights have turned dim and dirty
Stars, twinkling smiles, any flash can switch us
We hunger for warmth - because apart it's all gone

Though it pains us, the forced plastic party of Xmas
Its bright crumpled hat and its family affairs
Without it what's left - the bitter midwinter
The coughing, the quiet, dark nights, darker days

RF 2009/2011

So that's me... ramble, ramble, ramble...ha, ha,, hoo, hoo. Crack open the December cheer early, why don't you?


Sunday, 20 November 2011

Some movie talk

I promised you a movie post recently... and here it is.

While we were away for the six months earlier this year we didn't get to see many movies... and the ones we did see were usually h's 11 year-old choices (she was with us pretty much all the time). Even in hotels and motels we had to watch junior-compatible fare as she was often awake till quite late (and even more so if we were trying to watch something - “what are you watching?”, “what are they doing?”, “who's in this?” - she's more the movie geek with every passing day). We managed “The Social Network” and the new “True Grit” whilst staying with relatives in Canada and found the former not too bad (if fiction, so they say) and the latter really very good. We also managed to sneak in series 2 of “Nurse Jackie” whilst with relatives elsewhere too but otherwise it was pretty much cartoons, tweens and Lindsay Lohan all the way (for 6 months...). Good job we had so much else to see and do...

Anyway, once back home (and needing to stay in a bit to save money...) we have been catching up on some serious grown-up movie-watching. Below are the good (and the average) of what I've watched since the beginning of August (all at home on TV because we are, once again, miles from a cinema now we're home). The only exception was our trip to Dundee to see the documentary "You've been Trumped" (but I wrote about that a few posts ago - here). So let's start with...

The Good

Four Lions (2010, dir. Christopher Morris)
This is a really excellent film - a perhaps unlikely comedy about British jihadists from the Chris Morris house of he-didn't-he-did-he-really-did humour. It's funny (always good from a comedy) and then really not funny at all in places (as you might expect... considering the subject matter). There is top notch acting too (Riz Ahmed as the lead is very good, Kayvan Novak as the daftest terrorist is... terrifying) and it's a really effective movie all round. A must-see really... unless you have no sense of humour of course.

Waitress (2007, dir. Adrienne Shelly)
This is the one where the writer/director, Shelly, died before its release (murdered in her New York apartment). Reviews for this one were good and they weren't wrong as it really is a charming film about crap marriage, pregnancy and pie. It was beautifully made and well-acted too (Shelby acted in it as well as everything else – she was in several Hal Hartley movies in the late '80s/early '90s). Try to catch this one - that's my tip (sorry!).

Inside I'm dancing (2004, dir. Damien O'Donnell)
(Also released under the title “Rory O'Shea was here”).
In this one the central characters Michael and Rory are both in wheelchairs (Michael has cerebral palsy and Rory muscular dystrophy) but whereas Michael is quiet and well-behaved Rory is gobby and full of ideas and schemes. The story starts when Rory (James McAvoy, as good as you've ever seen him) moves into the residential home where Michael has lived for years and pretty much turns lives upside down (Steven Robertson does a great job as Michael too). I loved it, really loved it. Proper drama, proper moving - superb.

Goodfellas (1990, dir. Martin Scorsese)
Well, most of you will have seen this one by now. Daughter was away for the weekend though and this movie was on the free film club thing so we threw ourselves once again into the world of pasta sauce, mass murder and hiding cocaine all around the house. The best mob film ever made? Quite possibly. I find it almost too enjoyable in some ways.

Burn after Reading (2008, dir. Ethan & Joel Coen)
For me Coen brothers films are a bit hot and cold but this project, luckily, is one of the hotter ones. Clooney plays a blinder (a really weird blinder...), McDormand likewise and the whole thing is kind of a “Tinker, Tailor, Shagger, Spy”. We loved it.

Un Prophète (2009, dir. Jacques Audiard)
This one came via the postal dvd business. It's a French film that doesn't rely on pretty little brunettes and moody music and, that for me, was a plus point straightaway. Instead it's a fascinating story of life in a French prison – seen via a young Arab inmate, Malik (Tahar Rahim). It's quite a long film but hey, time takes time and I'd say it's really worth the hours. It features a great central performance, an unpredictable story/screenplay and it is really quite a “Goodfellas” in its way. Highly recommended.

A Mighty Heart (2007, dir. Michael Winterbottom)
I've yet to see a Winterbottom film I don't like in some way or other (2002's "In this World" is excellent, for example) and this is quite some movie too. Even though it's based on the true story of Daniel Pearl and his kidnap and murder in Pakistan it's hard to feel sympathy for the journalists in places (and I should think that's no accident). Still the film draws you into the Pearl story bit by bit... and from so many other angles. Angelina Jolie is pretty good as Mariane Pearl and some of the details (like music choice) are so well done - good work.

Mean Girls (2004, dir. Mark Waters)
OK, so we're still watching some Lohan... but this one is so well-written in places that it makes me want to weep with joy (screenplay by Tina Fey, based on the original book by Rosalind Wiseman). Its certificate is 12 but in places it's so brutally honest (and just plain brutal) that I wonder really how good it is for the younger end of its audience (or at least the portion of that audience that is sensitive and thinks about things at all). Still, it's a very good film and in fact we've liked a few of Mark Waters' movies (the Lohan/Lee Curtis “Freaky Friday” is excellent and we enjoyed the “Mr Popper's Penguins” this year too). I notice that Waters' brother Daniel wrote “Heathers” back in 1988 (surely a prequel of “Mean Girls”). Interesting.

Funny People (2009, dir. Judd Apatow)
Though I've heard of some of his titles, I haven't seen any of Apatow's films to date (“The 40 year old virgin” etc.). Then I read about this one in the papers a while back and it did sound like my kind of thing (I'm interested in almost anything to do with comedy – good comedy anyway - and this story concerns Adam Sandler as a successful stand-up/comic movie star who is facing death). Again this is another quite long movie but it is one I really enjoyed – lots of humour, a good story and the very likeable Seth Rogen as the real hero of the piece (a wannabe comedian). Other comedy stuff I've enjoyed recently includes this interview with English funny woman Sarah Millican (currently at the “in everything on TV” stage) and this piece on the edgiest of edgy comedians (and one of my current favourites) Stewart Lee.

Field of Dreams (1989, dir. Phil Alden Robinson)
Somehow I missed this movie in the '80s (and boy, is it an '80s number!) but it came up in a movie quiz game we were playing recently and I fancied giving it a try. I expected heaps of baseball (the reason I had “somehow missed it” no doubt) but I wasn't expecting all that interesting stuff with James Earl Jones as the radical writer in hiding. I was surprised to really enjoy it ('80s hair and all).

The Devil wears Prada (2006, dir. David Frankel)
Daughter wanted to watch this so I tried it with her recently (I avoid fashion movies on the whole – I don't get any of the references for a start...). However this one, of course, has Meryl Streep in stunning form so its appeal cannot be denied. We both loved it but I was pleased to note that I still hated all the clothes the characters were all drooling over. I've always been more Millets than Milan when it comes to clothing (and accessories).

So that was the good – the films I really rated. Now let's have a go at...

The rest
(and see if I can diss/dismiss them all in one line each... though I may bend that rule here and there).

I am legend (2007, dir. Francis Lawrence)
Will Smith looks gorgeous, the dog is cute (and you know what that means...) and the zombie things are nasty.

Casino Royale (2006, dir. Martin Campbell)
James Bond is still pretty predictable – it just takes longer to find out (good freerunning scene near the beginning though).

The Road (2009, dir. John Hillcoat)
All I can say is... life is depressing enough (nice to see more of “the Wire”s Omar/Michael Kenneth Williams though).

Swimming with Sharks (1994, dir. George Huang)
The Spacey is great (as ever) as an evil movie boss in this cheapish “Player” meets “Misery” drama (in fact all the cast are good) but the script has some major holes for me (I hate watching a film that makes me shout “there's no way he wouldn't know that!” at the screen).

Shutter Island (2010, dir. Martin Scorsese)
Scorsese films are always watchable and/or striking but this one needed a script edit or two maybe.

Inception (2010, dir. Christopher Nolan)
Just because something is complicated and/or expensive that doesn't necessarily make it good.

Submarine (2010, dir. Richard Ayoade)
I so wanted to like this movie from the “The IT Crowd's” Ayoade but it just felt really unoriginal in the script department to me (I kept feeling like I'd heard it all before a bit... maybe a younger/less jaded viewer would get more from this film though... and it is about youth).

Twilight (2008, dir. Catherine Hardwicke)
We watched this to see when it would be suitable for daughter but really it's “Endless Love” with vampires (yawn)... saying that I adored “Endless Love” when I was about 13.

Salt (2010, dir. Phillip Noyce)
Featuring Angelina Jolie doing a “24”/Bond/Bourne type thing, this is preposterous (unless you like action movies... in which case it's all the usual stuff... leaping off buses, buildings etc.)

Music and Lyrics (2007, dir. Marc Lawrence)
OK, so this one was with the daughter (she likes a rom-com here and there). I expected to hate it but it was really quite funny in places (the com is ok, the rom is painful). The opening '80s video spoof (see here) is really quite amusing and Hugh Grant, perhaps unsurprisingly, does ham pretty well.

Now shoot me.


Thursday, 17 November 2011

City sights

So we were in Glasgow yesterday (man and I). It's not somewhere we get to very often but, considering it's November, it was a lovely day so mostly we just did strolling around and looking at things in the city centre. A lot has been done in recent times to clean up Glasgow's centre and you would have to say that a lot of it is looking very smart and spruced. It always reminds me of Leeds in some ways... and yesterday, with all the hills, it even made me think of San Francisco a little (that might sound odd but I think if you added in some streetcars and a few hundred thousand tourists you might see the resemblance too).

Anyway I'm too weary to write much today but here is a mini tour (some photos by me, some by him). First (above and below) the views from our lunch on West George Street:

And then some views from further up West George Street (I know these are similar - I can't decide which I like most):

One for a regular visitor:

And then just another view:

Here are a couple in Blythswood Square:

Here's one in the CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts) on Sauchiehall Street:

This one is outside the famous School of Art on Renfrew Street:

Then down on Buchanan Street the front of Princes Square is pretty fancy:

Next door looks like this:

More of Princes Square:

A bit of Xmas cheer on Argyle Street:

And then several cocktails and a good meal later here we are on our way back to the train station... first on George Street:

And then in George Square (full of protestors not so long back - just a Xmas tree there now... but that photo was a bit fuzzy...):

And now we're home again.


Thursday, 10 November 2011

Poetry this and that

Sometimes there is very little poetry in my life... but lately I have been:

  • listening to this Guardian interview with king o'the north poet Simon Armitage. It's about 40 minutes long but not uninteresting (shorter video version available too). In the long interview I liked the part where he talked about studying geography instead of literature (I hadn't heard any of that before) and he's also pretty good on not living in a capital city. It was interesting to see what poems people on't street could remember in the voxpop thing at the start too (Larkin wins! Yeh, Larkin... well, in England anyway). Would anyone know any Armitage out on't street now, I wonder? And will they once he's gone and buried and taken that kind of 'endearing delivery thing' he does with him..? Just a question... not meant as a slur (I quite like him... even if his face does look like a cartoon moon... or maybe because of that...).
  • reading the first part of Richard Holmes' Coleridge biography “Coleridge - Early Visions” (along with a "Selected Poetry" by STC). I have somehow missed Samuel Taylor Coleridge out of my life completely (see portrait above - by Pieter van Dyke, 1795) and I am trying to make up for this just now. In the biography I am just at the bit where he is writing “The Ancient Mariner” (hear it read by Orson Welles in five parts – here, here, here, here and here). The film that you can see with the Welles reading is by Larry Jordan (1977), using engravings by Gustave Doré. Here is the first part of the film embedded to give you a taste of it:

I have half a mind to write a long story poem packed with drama... but as yet it is only half a mind, sadly. I must get on and look for the other half...

And just in case you feared that my literary mind was filled with men... I have been reading Alice Walker's short stories too (as recommended by poet Judith Taylor in a comment some posts back). Each of the Walker stories in "The Complete Stories" (1994) is so huge (in terms of scope and content) that it feels like it almost needs its own book. As a collection it feels over-full somehow... but I suppose that is a compliment.

I've been recording some more audio poems lately too... and watching a whole heap of movies. I'll get to a movie post soon, I hope. Just for a change.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Green and greenerer...

Photo taken just up the road here, whilst out dogwalking last week. This was the photo I used for the pastel pic that I put on facebook this weekend (for those of you who saw it). That was class number 6. This week watercolours!

Last week I did something I haven't done for ages - I read a poem of mine aloud at the local folk club. It was a new poem (very new) inspired by the documentary about Donald Trump and his Scottish golf project (that I wrote about at some length here). Obviously all the Occupy protests are probably rolling about in there somewhere too. And lots of other things.

Now I know Trump will be quaking in his... what would it be... overpriced loafers to hear that British poets are writing about him... but still, protest comes in many forms... and from tiny acorns and all that. (N.B. Some changes to this poem since first posting... minor ones).

Money for green

So often money talks.
It says 'move over',
'what's yours is mine'
and 'boy, I like it here
this place is fine'.

Money can curl,
can twist the path around,
flash off its golden grin,
buy up the open road,
then kick the bloody door right in.

So often money burns
smoke in your eyes.
It takes the cleanest day,
stamps on its face,
thinks that's OK.

And money may not show
it's busy all the time,
it may not even call,
and then who knows for sure, for sure,
if it's really there at all.

RF 2011

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The wonders of Watercats

It's always odd when you feel your music tastes and habits changing... well, that's the way I find it anyway. Suddenly I don't know what I want to listen to, all the CDs on the shelf seem wrong, nothing seems to be just what I want at that particular time. It's been a bit like that here of late and maybe that's why I've not written much about music since starting this new blog. I suppose this kind of phase feels so odd to me partly because music has been such a big part of my life – certainly I've loved it more than almost anything else – and so when it seems to fail me I feel really exposed (no religion to lean on, no sport to support, now not even the trusted parent to turn to... agh!). But even as I write this I wonder if what really happens in these changeovers is that bits of me are changing and so my music habits have to change to fit that. Who knows... which is chicken, which is egg (and of course, like most things, it's probably a bit of both...)? Whatever it is I know I haven't been listening to much music lately and it's been weird... kind of empty. Without the revolting (but very funny) “Inbetweeners” on replay on TV I don't know how I would have survived...

Then recently I got a CD in the mail – from fellow bloggers and some time Poetry Bus riders the Watercats. And with it my heart sings once more. Here's a song from it:

Vick and Ron (for the Watercats is these two somewhat playful individuals... see photo further down) insist that the CD they sent is a demo/not good enough/needs rerecording etc. but I have to say that for me it is pretty perfect as it is – with its lovely rambling guitars, handful of harmonica and, of course, Vick's warm but wistful voice ('wistful' gets a bit overused for voices but really it does seem right in this instance). I even like Ron's less... conventionally pleasing vocals as used on these songs (well come on, we all like Tom Waits, don't we?). And speaking of Waits, there's a good recent interview with him here and a song of his that was played on the radio this week here (it was on the Jarvis Cocker show on 6 Music... and chosen by his guest Lawrence as one of the saddest songs ever... it was an interesting show altogether).

But back to Ireland... and the Watercats... the mood of their songs takes me back to when I was about eleven or so and used to listen to the sounds of long, meandering '70s albums coming out of my older brother's room when he was back from uni (I didn't always know which album was which but I know it all sounded good... and I'd hazard a guess that maybe someone in the Watercats and my brother share a little musical history too... let's hope that's all they share...). And the best thing of all, for me, about this collection is that there are ten songs on the CD (“Week Long Day”, “Even Odds”, “Tip of Sorrow”, “Begging Time”, “Blinding”, “Wolves”, “Scriptures Said”, “Remus Jackson”, “Perfect Weather” and “Avoid the Crows”) and I really like all of them (and how often can you say that of a collection of ten original songs on a demo?). All round it's a winner for me and the sooner they have an album out that people can buy/own/hear the better.

In the meantime you can hear more of the marvellous Watercats on their blog (right hand side to hear tracks) or at soundcloud. And a little bird tells me there will be Watercats content with the next issue of the Poetry Bus magazine. Go Cats.

p.s. I've been reading more on the Trump affair from last post (it gets worse the more I read...). More on that soon. Open letter from "You've Been Trumped" filmmakers to Scottish First Minister while you wait.