Film Discussion – ‘Her’ (2013)

Her is an interesting film written and directed by Spike Jonze, which differs from many films that I have seen. Jonze’s previous credits come from a variety of areas; music video collaborations with artists such as Daft Punk, Björk and Kanye West, producer for the zany Jackass as well as directing Charlie Kaufman’s mind-bending Being John Malkovich and Adaption alongside the highly-anticipated Where The Wild Things Are. (As a side-note here, I have seen and love Being John Malkovich, but have not yet seen either Adaption or Where The Wild Things Are, however it seems likely they are also great films).

This film represents Jonze’s first screen-writing credits and is definitely successful in that respect, winning several highly-prestigious awards in the process. The storyline is a traditional one, yet different from any you might know and incredibly absorbing. For me it was one of those films that draws you in very early on and just holds onto you until the credits are long gone. This I think is due to several different factors. Obviously the writing is very good and the acting performances also warrant mention here, with the top-billing going to names like Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde and Scarlett Johansson – a pretty good indication that something special is afoot here. The acting itself is, as you would expect from these names, of great quality. However this is not where the greatness ends. Visually this film is stunningly beautiful, with the colour schemes and cinematography (provided by DoP Hoyte Van Hoytema, who was also responsible as DoP for several other films such as Interstellar, The Fighter and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) combining to make a film that is simply very, very pretty to look at. This to the extent that makes Lost in Translation look potentially drab in comparison.

In accompaniment to the visual aspects of the film comes the soundtrack. I am a self-confessed lover of film-soundtrack as a genre of music but this one in particular is very poignant. Scored by the indie-rock band Arcade Fire, the soundtrack fits really very well with the film and the world created by the whole package. Creating a state that is deeply emotional but at the same time very calming and relaxed, the score is understated and lets the slightly unusual arrangements and simplicity of the tunes create the perfect companion to the film. If you feel so inclined I cannot advise you enough to simply listen to the soundtrack as a stand-alone activity. Both with and without having seen the film, it is heart–achingly beautiful and calming, and just generally good for the soul.

Here is a link to the Official Trailer which just begins to set the tone for the film and gives a brief glimpse into the world that is Her. Definitely a must-watch.

Sunday Morning Album: Champion Jack Dupree – ‘Blues From The Gutter’

This week’s Sunday morning album is an old blues classic, Blues From The Gutter by Champion Jack Dupree. Born and raised in New Orleans in the first-half of the 20th century, he was often considered to be the last of the great barrel-house pianists. He lived a tough life, orphaned at an early age and then growing up in a rough area of New Orleans he then spent much of his adult life struggling with addiction, a theme that is present throughout this album.

The album itself in it’s remastered format (as I own it) is in remarkably high quality. Many great blues records including those recorded up to the early 60s often suffered from hiss and scratching on the recordings even once remastered for later re-releases. Luckily the master tapes from these sessions must have been of a high-standard as the music is preserved beautifully, as it deserves to be.

Originally released in 1959 on Atlantic, the album consists of a majority of original tunes written by Dupree accompanied by two older folk tunes, namely ‘Frankie and Johnny’ and ‘Stack-o-Lee’. Each of the tracks on the album is a joy to listen to as Dupree’s moaning vocals with slight N’Orleans’ twang accompanied by his deft piano-playing and the rest of the band’s great back-up create a real sense of the old blues. Special mention at this point should be given to the line-up of the band; Pete Brown, Ennis Lowery, Wendell Marshall and Willie Jones. Each of whom fills their role wonderfully. Brown and Lowery with their tasteful solo playing  and Marshall and Jones who provide a solid rhythm section that melts away into the background but is also unfailingly consistent at keeping the groove flowing.

The majority of the tracks on the album take the form of slow blues’ allowing Dupree and the soloists to languish in the laid-back atmosphere of the tracks. There are several exceptions to this however, for example the upbeat, faster-paced ‘Nasty Boogie’ that’ll get your toe tapping at the very least, as well as my personal favourite track of the album, the final ‘Stack-o-Lee’.

A great example of the older blues music preserved for generations to come and some great tunes to listen to as a bonus.

Happy Sunday.

Dennis and the Sticky Buns of Doom: A Cautionary Tale Regarding the Dangers of Morons with Cakes and the Benefits of Networking as an Entrepreneur

Part I: A moron, some cakes, and an idea.

Dennis loved cakes. He loved everything about them. He loved baking them, buying them, eating them, and even just thinking about them. Down the road from Dennis’ house was a bakery that baked and sold delicious cakes. However, what Dennis enjoyed most about the bakery was to go down there and buy a cake, then return home, eat it, and then log onto the internet and bitch about it anonymously. He did this because he was spineless; Dennis had no courage. But as he grew older he realised that his Daddy was a successful businessman who owned a flour company and so was very important man. The more Dennis realised this, the more confident he became.

Eventually one day Dennis returned home from the bakery and logged onto the internet using his own name. He let forth his torrid opinions with one hand whilst stuffing cake into his mouth with the other. By this point Dennis had grown into a large orangutan of a man but was still very much a child at heart. His daddy’s company was still successfully processing tons of flour every day and the money kept rolling in. The response to Dennis’ personal opinion was surprising. People from across the country seemed to delight in his child-like grammar and sense of anger that could only stem from the bowels of a man irritated by years of sugary abuse. The next day he did the same. He came home from the bakery and logged on using his own name and let forth a stream of unedited opinion in the heat of the moment and then sat back, licking the frosting off the keyboard whilst waiting for the responses to come in.

He continued on with this pattern each day, and by now he had become known online in several different countries. However, today was going to prove to be slightly different. As he sat before his computer, snorting lines of crumbs off his desktop, the responses flooded in as usual. But in one of these responses was something very dangerous. In this one response was a stupid idea. But, for a man like Dennis, there are no such things as stupid ideas. Everything is a great idea. This one idea, suggestion, or even mere musing caught Dennis’ eye. It stuck under his skin and began to work its way around inside his little custard-encrusted brain; “You should start your own bakery.” To any rationally minded person with no baking experience, this would be dismissed almost immediately. However to a man of Dennis’ intellect with an ego swelled by the faux-love of the internet, this idea stuck. It resonated with him and his desires to consume cakes and insult bakers. How better to crush that baker than to become a rival with an internet-following that would guarantee success? He became more and more excited and began to bounce up and down in his office chair, clapping his pudgy hands together and salivating at the thought. Unfortunately, no office furniture is intended to undergo this sort of treatment and so the chair in which Dennis was sitting finally gave up the ghost after years of increasing pressure with a final, resigned crunch and disintegrated beneath him.

Part II: One donut to rule them all.

He called the bakery ‘Dennis Thompson’s Cakes’, for that was his name and his ego would allow nothing less. His daddy had given him a large sum of money with which to start the business and was meeting all of the bakery’s flour needs free of charge. This combined with Dennis’ internet following blindly providing patronage regardless of quality meant that business began to thrive. The original bakery down the street that had been the source of Dennis’ confectionary lifestyle up to this point began to struggle. Their customer-base began to decline and very soon they were making no profit at all. They closed up shop and moved away, and no one really noticed. That is, apart from one person; Dennis. He spotted the boarded-up shop front and decided to expand his rapidly-growing business out into a second location. He did not have to spend any of his profits on the new shop however, as his daddy decided to buy it for him as a present for the success of the business.

The cakes he served were terrible, after all he had no baking expertise whatsoever. But he did know that sugar made people happy and so filled his cakes with it. The mixture was full of sugar, the cakes were then filled with a sugary-creamy filling after baking and then iced with a fine-sugar frosting. Each cake was as artificial as Dennis’ new-found fame, but this didn’t stop people coming from miles around to buy his cakes. He continued to spout his ‘wisdom’ on the internet and in doing so continued to induct many new fad-loving nobodies into his soulless world of instant gratification and terrible baking.

Many professional bakers and cake-lovers across the world warned of the dangers that this growing obsession with Dennis and his cakes could cause, but people didn’t listen. Their minds become one-tracked and they craved nothing but the creamy, sugary empty calories of the cakes. Very soon his business grew into an empire and spread out across the world. He gained an almost complete monopoly over the world’s baked goods and confectionary. Almost all the other bakers and confectioners worldwide lost their business and closed their shops, empty-handed.

Part III: The bakers of the world unite and a sticky ending.

One day, some of the last remaining rebel bakers decided to take a stand. They were baking and selling cakes of substance. Cakes that provided energy and used fruit and contained low amounts of sugar. They didn’t stuff the centre with an air-filled cream that puffed them up and made them only aesthetically pleasing. Their cakes didn’t provide that instant sugar hit, but instead gave a longer-lasting satisfaction that led to the better overall health of their consumers. These bakers gathered their few staff and several of their small-but-loyal customer base and together they prepared for the confrontation. They baked long into the night, with clouds of flour rising from the sieves and the whisks gleaming in the artificial light. The roar of the ovens providing an industrial soundtrack to the fevered baking and icing of the rebels.

The morning light rose on rows and rows of perfectly baked cakes. Behind them, a team of bakers stood tired but ready, whisks glinting in the sun. Over the horizon came hordes of sugar-crazed cake-heads, blindly following behind the now-enormous figure of Dennis. He lay on his side wearing a sharp suit embossed with golden trim and a pink candy-stripe lining atop a large, delicately icing-dusted sponge-on-wheels. As he caught sight of the opposing bakers he raised one arm and began making a vigorously rude gesture. Unfortunately, in doing so he disturbed a small cloud of the icing from the sponge which he inadvertently inhaled and began to choke on. This in turn caused yet more clouds of icing to rise around him shielding him from view in a somewhat menacing manner, but also continuing to obstruct his airways. Eventually the coughing subsided and he rose once more from the top of the sponge. He raised a fist to the sky and then dropped it to his side, dramatically signalling for the battle to commence. However, he had neglected to consult with anyone on this particular signal and so it produced a resounding lack of anything. He tried repeating it, but to no avail. People on both sides of the field began to look at one another, wondering what to make of this movement. Eventually he gave up on this and reached down, grabbed a fistful of the sponge and flung it in the direction of the rebel bakers. This seemed to have the desired effect and soon cake was flying through the air from both sides.

The well-prepared rebel bakers were soon beginning to run low on pre-baked goodies and so were forced once more into the kitchens. Electric whisks and ovens were fired up and soon the heat of the baking spread into the battlefield. Sweat combined with icing dust to form thick, globules of icing running down the faces of the frenzied cake-fighters. The heat began to get to Dennis and a sense of panic began to rise inside him. As the walls of his all-too-temporary gingerbread bunker crumbled, he started randomly grabbing fistfuls of cake and shoving them into his mouth. He waved his hands in the air and screamed as he realised what devastation and chaos he had caused. He began running about the place smearing frosting over his eyes to shield them from the devastation and members of both sides began to stop their brawling to watch him. He zig-zagged across the battlefield, nearing first one set of kitchens, then another, before beginning to get dangerously close to the cliff edge. With the thick frosting setting over his eyes and a sense of panic guiding his feet, he finally came too close and tumbled over the edge with his screams and a trail of crumbs following him. This caused a pause in the ruckus as people realised that the great cake-dictator had fallen. Members of his following began to drop their utensils to their sides as they began to realise the one thing they had missed about their leader right from the very start; Dennis was a fucking moron. This silent realisation was short-lived as very soon several of the ovens over-heated simultaneously and exploded in a huge shower of sparks and half-cooked cake mixture which showered the entire battlefield.

Eventually the flour began to settle and survivors began to rise from their hiding places, wiping frosting from their eyes and looking cautiously about them. Cake batter matted their hair and coated most visible surfaces. A silence had fallen, broken only by the creaking of broken mixers in the wind and the dripping of frosting melting in the morning sunshine. All was gone, all was destroyed, all for a piece of cake.

In Defence of Mondays

Mondays always get a bad wrap. I mean the majority of people spend their Sundays dreading the return of Monday morning. “Someone’s got a bad case of the Mondays” and all of that. But this is all relatively unfounded.

I have become a big fan of Mondays. In fact I would even go so far as to say that Mondays are now my favourite day of the week. For me they present the start of something. An opportunity to start afresh, begin again and really get going. I haven’t always thought in this way. I used to, like much of the rest of the world, dread Mondays and all that they stood for. But, I suddenly began to see that the only thing needed to change this dread of the start of the week was a change of perspective. Now I look forward to Mondays. Sunday evenings are spent in anticipation of the restart, planning and getting ready for the week ahead without a sense of dread.

I propose that we try and change this hatred of Mondays and all try to be a bit more accepting, if joyful is too much of a stretch, and use them as a springboard for the rest of the week as opposed to some sort of trapdoor into the hellish world of drudgery and tiredness. Prepare for them ahead of time. Plan your morning a little. Set the alarm a little earlier than normal and go out for a run, or go swimming, or cycling or even just a little walk to get the oxygen flowing and the day started right. Come back and get a decent breakfast before going off to your daily commitments.  Avoid lazing around until the last minute, banging on that snooze button as if it pauses the entire world and then rushing around dopey-headed and stressed in order to avoid being late. Don’t go into the day with a bad mood and spread your message of despair to all that come near. Be positive, and embrace the start of the week.

If by this point you are wondering what sort of joyous prat would suggest such a thing, much less embrace it, then you are exactly the kind of person that needs this. Change your perspective and see Monday as a chance to start again after a rest. Get going on something positive and achieve something. Perhaps set yourself a simple goal to achieve by the end of the day and work to make sure you get there. Maybe some exercise-related goal, the start of a new diet, part of a hobby, be it new or existing, or maybe just to remain positive until the end of the day. Make your day about something other than being miserable that the weekend is over. Make it about the week beginning again.

Sunday Morning Album: Bill Evans – Sunday at the Village Vanguard

Good morning and a happy Sunday to you.

This morning the weekly album choice is Bill Evans’ aptly named 1961 album Sunday at the Village Vanguard. Anyone in anyway familiar with the wonderful world of Jazz will know the name Bill Evans. He played through a great career, trragically cut short as a result of demons that plagued him throughout his life. This album was recorded with his jazz trio, with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. Regarded as one the finest trios ever to play and record together, but unfortunately no longer still with us. 

The album itself is generally considered one of the finest live jazz recordings ever to have been cut. Within even the first few minutes of listening Evans’ tasteful piano voicings and Bud Powell-esque flourishes combine with the fine rhythm work of LaFaro and Motian to create that quintessential trio soundworld. As with all great trios they work as single unit, keeping a tight groove and playing off each other with almost intuitive precision. The ambience of the room with the sounds of the club flowing over some of the quieter sections generates a window into a lost time. Close your eyes and be transported to that room with the smoke curling, glasses clinking and Evans sat at his piano with the music just flowing out of him. This sets a precedent against which live recordings should be compared. Very few recordings actually exude atmosphere quite like this, but this does and in spades. 

Both LaFaro and Evans present wonderful improvisations with tasteful slower sections and more fiery faster runs that carry the motion of the tracks forward and present a sense of virtuosity without once stepping over the line into overindulgence or creating an intensity that overshadows the chilled vibe of the room. Motian follows the pair with unbreaking support and is understated and tasteful in his grooves. Together they present a great recording, one that deserves a place in everyone’s collections, even those who are not die-hard jazz aficionados, alongside ubiquitous albums such as Kind of Blue. It is an hour and 20 minutes of chilled grooves that functions as both full-concentration listening as well as background ambience. It can provide the soundtrack to your morning coffee, brunch, dinner party or evening drinks. 

Give it a listen. 

Happy Sunday 🙂 

Film Review – ‘The Perfect Host’ (2010)

“You can’t kill me, I’m having a dinner party!”

I should preface this by saying that I am not in any way a professional or even experienced critic. I would be hesitant to call this a review, and it certainly will not be comprehensive.

‘The Perfect Host’ has recently become one of my all-time favourite films. I must have watched it around 10-15 times, drawn back by some indescribable quality. The film centers around Warwick Wilson (played by David Hyde Pierce) who is throwing a dinner party when he is interrupted by the arrival of John Taylor (played by Clayne Crawford), who is on the run and looking for a place to lay low for a while.

The major plot twist happens fairly early on in the film but the continued character development and later, smaller twists carry the film on regardless. The entire production of this film (writing, acting, direction, set design etc.) is of stellar quality and it is a shame that it seems to be such an underrated film. I know that I would likely not have come across it had it not been for me running out of Frasier episodes to watch and so looking through Hyde Pierce’s body of work for new sources of entertainment.

The two main characters are so well-written and the to-and-fro of the plot-line make it difficult to root for either one for any length of time. The presence of two main characters that oppose each other yet neither taking the role of either protagonist or antagonist makes this a delight to watch. I must confess at this point that Warwick is one of my favourite on-screen characters alongside big-hitters such as Greg House and Jesse Pinkman. He has some fantastic lines delivered to perfection by Hyde Pierce who creates a character that becomes successively more and more creepy yet more and more likable as the film progresses. Any initial similarities to Niles Crane are quickly dispelled as Warwick soon reveals a very different side to his personality.

Crawford takes the role of the criminal who, whilst on the run from the law following a bank robbery, lands at Warwick’s doorstep in the hope of hiding out. Starting out as a well-organised, in-control thief he quickly discovers that not only has he been identified and is now sought for the robbery, but that he is no longer quite in control of the situation. It is difficult to say more without spoiling some of the better aspects of the plot but needless to say, the film is damn good.

Restaurants and Simplicity

I have been thinking recently about eating out in restaurants. Of course just the mention of ‘going out’ brings to mind Jerry Seinfeld’s bit on ‘going out’; “Of course we’re all out now, not one of us is at home right now…”. It’s a funny routine, if you don’t know it then check it out. But back to my thoughts. I’ve never been a big fan of restaurants. You may already be wondering why that is, but please don’t fret. You’ll find out soon enough if you continue to read this.

When I have broached the subject in the past people always have the same arguments for going to the restaurant. They say that it’s easier than cooking for yourself. Now, despite that being a monumentally lazy excuse, I don’t really understand it. I mean, there’s so much more involved. The entire process is much more complex than you think.

You decide that you want to go to a restaurant, then you have to decide who it is that you want to go with. What kind of food do you want? So, which restaurant are we going to go to? Then, these preliminary decisions made, you must decide when you are going to go. When is everyone available? Are you going to combine this experience with any other evening activities? Are we going to see a show? Are we going to have drinks? Are we going dancing? Then if so, what order are going to do it all in? It all comes down to that one big question; What time do you want the table?

Even once all that preparation is through, there is still more to come. The big day arrives. Everyone is excited in anticipation of the great feast. Some people will even have skipped lunch so that when the time comes, they can really let loose. Invariably you get dressed up and then you have to decide how you are going to get there. Are we walking or do we need some form of transport? If so, are we driving or drinking? Who’s driving? Who’s drinking? Maybe we should take a taxi? How many taxis do we need? Once all of this is sorted and you get to the restaurant, a whole new conundrum announces itself. Who is going to sit where? So once everyone is sat down, then comes the time to order. What are you getting? I don’t know, are you having a starter? Shall we get drinks? Do we want wine? Bread for the table? Even at the end of the meal there are problems to be overcome. Who’s paying, and how much should we tip?

There is no way to convince me that all of this is easier than a bit of DIY cookery. But this isn’t the only issue with restaurants. The whole concept of the restaurant I find a little unsettling. You don’t know what happens to your food before it arrives at the table. Some of the time you aren’t even 100% sure what is in the food. All we have to go on is a brief blurb written in the menu. You don’t know what it has been through. It gets prepared by a person you don’t know , in a room you can’t see, in far less time than you would reasonably expect it to take. These things concern me, but maybe I’m a little distrustful. Don’t even get me started on buffets. Where did that idea spring from? Who walked into a restaurant and thought; “How can we make this less hygienic?”

People also argue that you go to a restaurant for the ambience. I don’t really understand that either. Why do we pay to go and sit in a large, noisy room filled with people that we don’t know to eat our meals? Why do we reserve a time slot to go and relive the school canteen experience of our youth, albeit in a slightly more sophisticated manner? A brief search online reveals that almost every restaurant in the city in which I currently live will deliver the majority of items on their menu to your house if you are particularly set on paying through the nose for slightly fancier food. Perhaps this will become the future of dining. I suspect this will remain an aspect of our culture that I shall never fully understand, however clearly I am missing something.

The Start of Something… Interesting?

So, I have decided to start writing a blog. It feels like a good time to do it, I am imminently going to graduate and then be released out into the real world and so it felt right to find a place to collect my random musings and release them out into the world as well. I don’t currently have any agenda for this blog and so each post will likely contain various, seemingly random thoughts and perhaps the occasional insight. You never know.

Today in the UK it is St George’s Day, now traditionally this involves … well, I feel I should be honest here; I don’t actually know how St George’s Day is traditionally celebrated, so this may provide an opportunity for discovery. Unfortunately it turns out that apart from the legend about the dragon which is unlikely to be true and the fact that George was not in fact English or even a visitor to our pleasant land, that St George’s Day doesn’t seem to provide a wealth of excitement. In fact, it is seemingly just another event on the calendar which can pass by relatively unnoticed. Whilst on the subject of calendar events, yesterday was Earth day. Now, this seems like a much more worthwhile day. The main aims behind this celebration are to educate people on environmental and climate issues and the damage that ignorance of these can cause. Teaching people not to destroy the very environment in which we live seems like it should be an unnecessary task, however unfortunately this is not so. Across the world marches for science were held and large numbers of people turned out resplendent with their hand-made signs, some complete with ‘witty’ slogans. This display of solidarity shows humanity at its best and creates a sense of community among those preparing for the future.

Today is Sunday which, although you won’t yet know, is new album day. Each Sunday I like to take an album that I haven’t heard and listen to the whole thing in its entirety. This morning’s selection is Jack Johnson’s From Here To Now To You. As with all of Johnson’s work, this so far is filled with sunshine and warmth. The vibes seem to stretch out into the room and make you want to lounge around barefoot, drinking coffee, eating fruit and maybe watering your houseplants in the rays of morning sunlight. As a native Hawaiian, he manages to exude a sense of Polynesian calm through his music to the extent that even a small city flat in the UK in April can feel like a beach by the Pacific.

As a final-year undergrad my desk is partially filled by a large selection of books, many of which will remain mostly unread until the time comes to return them to the silent shelves of the library. Through some ingenious planning on my part coupled with some luck, my final deadlines fall in the first few weeks of May and unlike for many other students these are not followed by any final exams. This means that in just a little over three weeks’ time I will be officially finished with all the work for my degree. Whilst this does mean an end to the research, writing and re-writing of coursework projects that has filled the past seven months it also spells an end to the laid-back life of being a student.

So as I begin to run low on thoughts for the moment, these seems like a good place to draw this to a close for now. So, best wishes, good vibes and all that. I may write again soon, then again I may forget about this and never write again. We shall see. Until then. Love.