Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Only when I laugh...

I can be a bit slow at getting round to things. Back in August 2008 I read articles about English comedian Mark Steel's book 'What's Going on?' (and blogged about it here). For Xmas this year I finally got hold of the book in question (thanks my Mark) and I'm reading it this week. It is brilliant (though some of the references may be very British for those of you in the lands of far, far away) and so it is my recommendation for this year, next year, indeed any year with a number in it. Yes, go forth and read Mark Steel's book – it has excellent lines on news, politics, life, relationships and it's also packed with lots and lots of really good, clever jokes. Poetry's all very well but really...this book is something else. Any fool can write a poem...

p.s. Happy New Year for Friday.


Monday, 28 December 2009

Saving music

There's been a lot of talk about that TV programme 'X Factor' this Xmas (what with the campaign to beat it to number one and all). I've only ever watched 'X FActor' once (at someone else's house) but that...was enough. A couple of years ago I wrote a very short poem about its main man. It's in the book (p14) but today that little poem is up at Ink, Sweat and Tears (here). Obviously for full effect you should sing the poem to the tune of the New Seekers hit from 1971 (which rather hilariously started off as a Coca Cola jingle...who said shameless commercialism is new?). And while we're on the subject here are the New Seekers. I loved this song when I was 4...still like it today really. No-one ever said things were simple.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Just one song

I'm still very much off blog duty but since we were talking about movies two posts ago here's a song from a movie that all four of us watched here last week ('About a Boy'). It is possibly the only film with Hugh Grant in it that I really like (well...OK...'Sense and Sensibility' too) and I'm not a huge fan of other books by the writer Nick Hornby but I really like both the book and the film of 'About a Boy'. Also the soundtrack by Manchester's Badly Drawn Boy is favourite album of his (and we have all of them...somewhere about the house). Here's one of the many lovely songs from the album:


Monday, 21 December 2009

Quick before the sleigh leaves!

There's a Xmas Eve poem for children at Ink, Sweat and Tears (here). It's the first poem I've ever written especially for children. See wot u fink.


Sunday, 20 December 2009

Let's go to the movies...

Historically for me one vital Xmas feature has always been the special edition, two-week 'Radio Times' (and for those of you outside the UK the 'Radio Times' is la crème de la crème of TV/radio guides here). And in the days before VHS, DVD (and all that) one of the most exciting sections of the Xmas good book was the film guide. In those days it was different...we hadn't already seen was all new and exciting (rustle, rustle)...and as we looked at the precious pages we would find out what new films we would get to see this Xmas, which classics we might watch again and of course (the big question) when exactly 'The Wizard of Oz' would be on.

In the spirit of this most treasured tradition I thought I'd give you a film guide of my own...but not of the films on TV over Xmas...instead I've covered all the movies I've seen over the past 12 months (really, I have...just call me 'anal list-keepers anonymous'). I've been working on this off and on for a while and I don't plan to be doing much other posting over Xmas so this epic can last you all a while maybe. I hope you enjoy reading it (however much you get through) and maybe in the comments you could list your top 3 films of the year (they don't have to have been made in 2009 – just watched by you in the past 12 months). Or maybe you could just say what films or TV you're looking forward to watching over the holidays (assuming you get holidays...).

As you read the piece all these factors should be taken into account:

- often I watch films that are not necessarily my choice. I watch some that are our Girl's choice (and remember she's 9) and some that are Mark's choice (and remember he's an unashamed bloke in this respect – he has varied taste but he does like spy films and war films and lots of action and...lots of other things I wouldn't necessarily choose first). Also as Grandma lives here too I sometimes watch things I hope my Mum will like (mysteries, thrillers, anything with Meryl Streep...). Because of all these viewers I will rate each film (G) for Girl's, (M) for Mark's, (GM) for Grandma's and every now and then there's an (R) – something I chose! I'll score them all out of 10 too. And why not?

- the movies are all USA productions (unless otherwise stated). I try to watch a mix and not be overwhelmed by Hollywood...but for kids stuff especially...they have the market pretty well covered. And it's not all rubbish.

So. Here's what I watched in...

January 2009

Madagascar (Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath 2005)
Recorded off TV (G).
I laughed much more than I expected to along with this Disney Pixar cartoon about animals wanting to escape from a New York zoo. It's not original but it is funny and our Girl had seen it at the cinema but she liked it all over again. It was New Year's Day and we were tired – we all watched it (except Grandma who was probably asleep).
8 / 10

Ray (Taylor Hackford 2005)
Rented DVD via post (R)
Jamie Foxx is brilliant in this life of Ray Charles (and, let's be honest, he's bloody gorgeous too). I loved the music in the film (how could you not?) but it's a biopic...and it does follow the formula pretty much. We had a post about biopics after I'd watched it (back here) and it got the most comments I think a post of mine has ever attracted. People just like talking about films, I guess.
8 / 10

A History of Violence (David Cronenberg 2005)
Recorded off TV (M)
Mark recorded this and I watched it whilst doing something else (can't remember what...sewing...ironing...blogging?). I couldn't remember a thing about it until I looked it up again online so that tells you quite the impact it had on me. It's an action/suspense/thriller thing (so not really my area unless very, VERY good).
4 / 10 (Mark says 7)

Still Crazy (Brian Gibson 1998)
Recorded off TV (R)
A friend insists this British 'old rockers get back together' number is one of the funniest films ever made. I'd seen it once and been VERY disappointed (maybe it was her big build-up that did it...) so I wanted to give it another go. I did find it a little funnier second time round but still more corny than rib-cracking. Great actors of course – Timothy Spall, Bill Nighy...and Billy Connolly features too – and I'm sure it was a lot of fun to make. Some good costumes on Nighy too.
7 / 10

Camp Rock (Matthew Diamond 2008)
Borrowed DVD (G)
Lots of girls in her class had seen this summer camp of pop flick so our wee 'un wanted to catch up. I try to watch things with her the first time she sees them (well, apart from all the Barbie films...they are beyond me) so I watched this too and it was OK. It's like 'High School Musical' (same Disney factory) but with probably less style and certainly less appealing 'pretty' boys (the Jonas brothers...please no). It's a bit like a cross between 'Fame' and a boarding school story by Enid Blyton. Bland at its blandest.
4 / 10 (Girl says 8...but then she never gives under an 8 to anything!)

Hairspray (John Waters 1988)
Rented DVD via post (R)
This is the original film with Ricki Lake, Debbie Harry and, of course, Divine. I saw it when it came out but because of the new Hairspray (2007 – one of our Girl's favourites) I wanted to see the old one again (mainly because she kept asking if it was something she could watch and I couldn't remember how explicit it was). After seeing it again I'd say that mostly she wouldn't understand the 1988 version (very adult humour...though it gets a PG rating on the DVD I notice) and it doesn't have all the fun songs from the new one so she'd miss them too. It's very entertaining for adults though and it features excellent cheap sets (well, they look cheap anyway).
9 / 10

Happiness (Todd Solondz 1998)
Recorded off TV (R)
I wrote about this back here. It's very well observed and acted though very uncomfortable to watch in places. Not a family matinée number (despite the title!).
9 / 10

War of the Worlds (Steven Spielberg 2005)
Recorded off TV (M)
Mark chose this but for me it's Spielberg at his cheesey worst and it felt like it could have been written by a 10 year old (and not a very imaginative one at that). I don't think they should have been allowed to use the title either. And it makes Tom Cruise look very gone-by-sell-by ('Jerry Maguire' seems a long time ago...).
2 / 10 (Mark says 6)

Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle 2008)
At the cinema! (Sound of fanfare...we don't get there very often) (GM)
This British film shot in India was very enjoyable and lively and well worth seeing on the big screen (I saw it with my Mum who loved it). The story got a bit corny in places but that's big rollercoaster movies for you. I liked all the scenes in the Indian call centre particularly (nice to see things from that perspective).
8 / 10

Leatherheads (George Clooney 2008)
Rental DVD (GM)
I grabbed this in the DVD rental place thinking someone in the house might like it as it's a romantic comedy set in the world of 1920s (American) football (so it says on the web page). This is another one I'd forgotten I'd seen but now it is starting to come back to me...R Zellwegger and G Clooney camp it up big style in a film made to catch all audiences (men with the sport, ladies with the romance and the Cloon...). Some funny moments but (as you can see) fairly forgettable.
6 / 10


Snow Cake (Marc Evans 2006)
Recorded off TV (R)
This is a brilliant, unusual film that is part mystery, part social drama. Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver...two great actors in a gentle movie with something new to say. Hurray! Worth hunting down.
9 out of 10 (or maybe even more)

In Bruges (Martin McDonagh 2008)
Rental DVD via post (R)
I watched this Irish film after reading about it on Ken Armstrong's blog. It is harsh and full of swearing and violent, sometimes shocking, scenes with a particularly good performance from Colin Farrell (who I have to say I usually find wooden in the extreme). All this considered we enjoyed it (though it's a bit silly at the end as violent films so often are). Lovely shots of Bruges though...enough to make us stop off there on our summer trip.
8 / 10

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry 2004)
Recorded off TV (R)
I had been dreading this as I'm not a huge Carrey fan, a huge fan of the co-writer Kaufman (found both 'Malkovich' and 'Adaptation' too convoluted for my taste) or a fan of affected kookiness in general...but what do you know? I loved it. It is genuinely endearing, interesting and original (and Kate Winslet is good too). Hurray again!
10 / 10

Toy Story (John Lasseter 1995)
Old VHS copy of our Girl's that I bought second hand years ago (G)
Who hasn't seen this? It's a great film and Tom Hanks makes a great cowboy doll. The second one is just as good too (if not better...Kelsey Grammar and all).
10 / 10

28 Weeks Later (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo 2007)
Rental DVD via post (M)
Oh dear. The first film in this British zombie series ('28 Days Later' Danny Boyle 2002) was great but this one is dead from the neck up (and the neck down too probably). It's one of those of films that makes you shout 'oh, for god's sake' at the TV (a lot).
3 / 10


Stardust (Matthew Vaughn 2007)
Borrowed DVD (G)
I thought our Girl would like this and she did in the end (though she was a bit nervous about watching it for some reason). It is a fair adaptation of the Neil Gaiman book (though aimed more at kids in the film version) with fun performances from Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert de Niro. On film it's a bit Harry Potter without that annoying Radcliffe boy who doesn't do it for me at all.
7 / 10

Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess 2004)
Recorded off TV (R)
This was recommended by a friend who said 'if you liked 'Juno' you'll like this'. I did like 'Juno' (a lot) but I found this fairly dull. Quirky characters alone do not a good film make I'm afraid.
6 / 10

Billy Elliot (Stephen Daldry 2000)
Bought DVD (R for G)
I love the dance and music sequences in this British film and was keen for our Girl to see it but when I put it on it was only after a few scenes that I remembered why it might not be suitable for her (SWEARING! LOTS OF BIG SWEARING!). She'd already heard all the words after five minutes so I just said 'you know you're not to say any of these, right?' and she said 'yes' so we carried on with it. I loved Jamie Bell in this (and Julie Walters of course) and it's not Shakespeare or nowt but that scene where he dances round the yard to 'A town called malice' – that is cinema heaven! I've never wanted to see the stage's all new Elton John songs isn't it (and 1970s Elton John is OK but nothing later than, no, no!)? T Rex music used brilliantly too in the film of course.
8 / 10 (and 10 out of 10 for all the dance bits)

Lemony Snicket's 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' (Brad Silberling 2004)
Recorded off TV (G)
Unusually for us, we saw this before reading the books (I usually insist that Girl and I read the books first) and I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected (the Jim Carrey factor partly...'the Mask' has a lot to answer for). This is a beautiful movie though with some lovely cameos, gorgeous children and amazing outfits. It made the Girl want to be Violet for Halloween. The books are good too.
9 / 10


Black Beauty (Caroline Thompson 1994)
Recorded off TV (G)
Sad, sad, sad. How many times can humans be (fictionally) cruel to a horse? I remember the TV series from the 1970s (very vaguely...great theme tune..) but I have never read the book (I was not even remotely horsey as a child). This British movie is a real tearjerker though and whips through all the sad phases of poor old Beauty's life at such a pace that you feel pretty knackered too by the end.
7 out of a 10

Nanny McPhee (Kirk Jones 2005)
Girl's DVD (G)
Our Girl loves this British kids film and I have to admit I do too. It is a bit 'Mary Poppins' meets 'Love Actually' but somehow it works (b'gad, a real miracle!). Emma Thompson is as marvellous as ever, Colin Firth quite acceptable, Kelly Macdonald just dreamy and it's a good story too. OK it's about as relevant to most kids' lives as the Clangers but hey, they need to learn about everything (including dressing up donkeys in their Sunday best). The wedding scene is just beautiful (it almost makes me want to get married...almost...) and I'd never heard of the 'Nurse Mathilda' books before this (Thompson adapted them to make this script) but we have read them since. They are quite fun but much more rambling than the film (lots of servants).
9 / 10

Kung fu Panda (John Wayne Stevenson and Mark Osborne 2008)
Girl's DVD (G)
She got this cartoon for her birthday and so we all had to watch it at least once. It was surprisingly OK. Certainly above average. It is about a panda that learns to do Kung Fu.
8 out of 10

Monsters vs Aliens (Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon 2009)
At the cinema (more fanfare) (G)
We saw this in 3D (what a waste of time). I found it a kids film by numbers and could barely stay awake. Yawn.
6 / 10

Prairie Home Companion (Robert Altman 2006)
Recorded off TV (R)
Not Robert Altman's most memorable movie but his last (he died in 2006). It has much Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin and a little Lindsay Lohan and it's very wandery but with some pleasant moments.
7 / 10 (but if you're an Altman fan, as I am, you'll watch it anyway and like it)


Bedtime Stories (Adam Shankman 2008)
Rented DVD (G)
Adam Sandler's is not a name that makes me pick up a DVD box but the Girl fancied this and it was a lot of fun and quite charming (stories that come to life...done with some imagination). We watched it a couple of times...and to be fair I do quite like the grown-up film 'Spanglish' which features el Sandlo too.
(As kids films go) 9 out of 10

High School Musical 3 (Kenny Ortega 2008)
Girl's DVD (G)
Well, I'd already seen this at the pictures last year with our Girl but now the DVD too! In honesty it's really OK (as far as slushy, predictable, bubblegum kids movies go). She watched it a lot.
(For what it is) 8 out of 10

Enchanted (Kevin Lima 2007)
Girl's DVD (G)
This is a hugely enjoyable kids film (well, for girls and parents anyway...can't speak for small boys). We saw it at the pictures when it came out and we all love it (and I defy you to not smile during the big Central Park dance sequence – blogged back here). Lots of laughs and good vibrations.
10 out of 10

Happy Feet (George Miller 2006)
Girl's DVD (G)
We saw this at the pictures when it came out and I found it just too bizarre (disco dancing penguins...and an awful lot of Earth, Wind and Fire's 'Boogie Wonderland'...never their best track). Seeing it again on DVD I found it slightly more bearable but she got bored and went off to do something else.
7 out of 10


Defiance (Edward Zwick 2008)
Rented DVD via post (M)
Daniel Craig and others playing a group of Ukrainian Jews who go to live in a forest to escape the Nazis during WW2. We started off thinking it was going to be a bit 'crap accents and cheese' but we watched to the end and it really wasn't too bad (and quite effective in places). It's based on a true story (no, not just the war...). Worth a look.
8 out of 10

Splash (Ron Howard 1984)
Cheap DVD (G)
We thought the Girl would like this one (and she did...she always has liked mermaids). I presumed I had seen it growing up but as I watched it didn't seem familiar at all. I enjoyed it...and I even enjoyed the DVD extras about the making of the film (Girl loves all that stuff...she has the makings of a real movie nerd).
8 out of 10

Golden Compass (Chris Weitz 2007)
DVD Girl got as a present (G)
This is one of those trying-to-pack-a-long-book-into-one-and-a-half-hours films and they very rarely work – you just rush from scene to scene and it makes no sense to anyone (particularly a child who really wants to UNDERSTAND ours does). This film looks pretty but really it's a bit duff.
5 out of 10

Rendition (Gavin Hood 2007)
DVD we were given as a present (don't ask)
This is kind of an exciting thriller but at the same time just a bit of silly American nonsense. Hollywood and politics/current affairs...not often a marriage made in heaven.
5 out of 10

Happy Go Lucky (Mike Leigh 2008)
Rental DVD via post (R)
I had read two very different reviews of this British film on blogs (see Ms Baroque's here and Poetikat's here) and so I wanted to see for myself. As often happens with me I could see both arguments ('yes, it's total bollocks' and also 'yes, it has a heart of gold') but overall would I recommend it? No. I often find the same thing with Mike Leigh films...I wish they were 30 minute TV dramas instead of long feature films. Not enough happens and the dialogue is really boring and sometimes inane to the point of derangement (if I want to listen to people talk longwinded crap I don't need to watch a DVD...). But at the same time I admire what he's doing...making the kind of films he wants to make, doing something different and I never hate the films...but they're never my favourite either. I did like 'Vera Drake' probably best of all and mainly because it was ABOUT something. This one is well-meaning but tiresome (like its central character really).
7 out of 10

Uncle Buck (John Hughes 1989)
Cheap DVD (G)
Again we thought our Girl would like this one (and she did...lots of rude bits and bad behaviour). It's a good memory lane bit of nonsense (1980s fashions – urgh!) but better than I remembered too and John Candy is brilliant in it.
8 out of 10


Marley and Me (David Frankel 2008)
Rented DVD (G)
By now you might know that our Girl likes dogs. She (and her Dad) loved this film at the cinema and enjoyed it at home. I didn't like it much...but I kept quiet.
Girl 10, Him 8, me 4 out of 10

I've loved you so long (Philippe Claudel 2008)
Rented DVD (GM)
My Mum likes anything with Kristin Posh Thomas in so I rented this for us to watch together. It's a very French and fairly sad family drama but it's also thoughtful and not too predictable. I did think the end was a bit of nonsense (one of those where you're shouting 'but everyone would have known that!') but it's not really story-led's more about character and acting really.
7 out of 10 (maybe 8 for some aspects)

Australia (Baz Luhrmann 2008)
Rented DVD (GM)
My Mum likes Nicole Kidman so I rented this...Australian movie for her to watch but she couldn't follow it for some reason and fell asleep. I watched it the next day and really quite enjoyed it – it's a right good old romp through the outback but it's quite a long romp so it's one for a long winter's afternoon or something.
8 out of 10 (if you stay awake)

Beverley Hills Chihuahua (Raja Gosnell 2008)
Rented DVD (G)
Girl has to see all dog films (and boy, are there a lot of dog films!). I was dreading this one but it was really funny.
(For what it is...a film with lots of jokes about dogs wearing clothes...) 8 out of 10

Fame (Alan Parker 1980)
Rental DVD via post (R)
This is the original movie and I watched it this year because I couldn't remember what it was like and one of the songs was stuck in my head (see here). The Parker film is much more serious and adult than the TV series and it has both some great scenes and some cringe sections. Lots of legwarmers, obviously.
8 out of 10 (but not for young kids)


Hotel for Dogs (Thor Freudenthal 2009)
Rented DVD (G)
Another dog movie...and a really good fun one in fact. Phoebe from Friends turns up as a useless foster mum and overall it's time not badly spent.
For what it is (another dog film) 8 out of 10

Duplicity (Tony Gilroy 2009)
Rented DVD (M/R)
This was one of those 'it's 4 for £10, quick grab another one' items and it features Julia Roberts and Clive Owen as undercover industrial spies (or something). Ridiculously complicated but not unentertaining. And Julia Roberts is still lovely on screen.
6 out of 10 (Mark says 7)

Inkheart (Iain Softley 2008)
Rented DVD (G)
Another kids film where they packed a bit too much in I think but in all honesty I can't remember that much about it now. It has a nice central idea (when the lead character reads a story the events in it really happen...) but it just ends up with lots of running about. Might be better as a mini series. Or not.
7 out of 10


17 Again (Burr Steers 2009)
Rented DVD (G)
This was a bit old for our Girl really but it's Zac Efron (he of 'High School Musical') and lots of her peers are huge fans of ZE and I try to keep her in the loop (don't know why I bother...she's not really one for the loop to be honest). Anyway, it's a bit of a 'Back to the Future' thing really and quite a lot of fun. We all enjoyed it but it is strictly light-hearted entertainment! Chandler from Friends is the grown-up Zac. He seems to have one approach to acting.
For what it is (i.e. fluff) 8 out of 10

Hannah Montana – the movie (Peter Chelsom 2009)
Rental DVD via post (G)
Our Girl has not been one of the Hannah army but (as above) I try to keep her at least in the same universe as the rest of her class. This film is your total pre-teen be-yourself, express-yourself, pop stuff but we enjoyed it and the ballads are surprisingly bearable (though the hip-pop stuff I can live without).
For what it is...8 out of 10

Red Road (Andrea Arnold 2006)
Recorded off TV (R)
I'd had this film recorded for ages and eventually we got round to watching it. It's unusual, very non-Hollywood (Scottish in fact), bleak but very watchable. I'm not sure the end is as good as the rest of the film but that can happen with good novels too (it can be hard to find an end that is worthy of the rest). Still overall it's an interesting film – good acting especially – and a new take on 'The Conversation' perhaps.
Him 8, me 9 out of 10

The Merchant of Venice (Michael Radford 2004)
Recorded off TV (R)
Al Pacino in Shakespeare? Why the al not? I'd never seen or read this play (well, Shakespeare did write a lot you know...and I've been busy...) and I found this a really good introduction. It's beautiful to look at, lively, spirited. Really not bad.
8 out of 10 (maybe even 9...)

Milk (Gus van Sant 2008)
Rental DVD via post (R)
We saw this because of the Oscar for Sean Penn I suppose (partly). We both really enjoyed it (and in fact my Mum did too...even with all the talk of regular bumming). Penn does give the performance of his life and it is one of the better biopics I've seen (again perhaps because Harvey Milk actually DID something rather than just drink and take drugs like so many famous people...). Some great era evoking too.
9 and a half out of 10

For your Consideration (Christopher Guest 2006)
Recorded off TV (R)
This one got a good write-up in the Radio Times (or something) and we did enjoy this film about a corny little Jewish movie that gets rumours of an Oscar nod (with humorous consequences...). It's not all laughs though (some harsh truths here and there too).
8 out of 10

Life and Death of Peter Sellers (Stephen Hopkins 2004)
Recorded off TV (R)
Geoffrey Rush plays a blinder here as Sellers and though it is one of those drink'n'drugs (and belt your missus...) biopics it manages to keep the viewer interested enough and it looks very groovy most of the time. Not brilliant but very watchable and unusual in places. British, I presume.
8 out of 10


Bee Movie (Steve Hickner, Simon J. Smith 2007)
Rented dvd (G)
This Jerry Seinfield animated vehicle is funny at the time but instantly forgettabubble. Bees save the world (I think). Whatever. Always nice to hear the Zellwegger voice of course.
7 out of 10

Bridge to Terabithia (Gabor Csupo 2007)
Rented dvd (G)
Most parents know that this is the 'kids film where one of the main characters DIES' and prepare for tears. In fact our Girl (though she was nervous about watching it) was not so fussed about the death (far more tears when we read 'Charlotte's Web' or watched 'Lassie'for example) but she did like the whole imaginary world (Terabithia) sections and it's probably one we would watch again. A nice break from the HSM, Hannah Montana wave of this movie one of the families is even poor too! Can you imagine?
9 out of 10

400 Blows (François Truffaut 1959)
Rental DVD via post (R)
I decided it was time to watch a Truffaut film (somehow I never had...and I've seen my share of French cinema over the years). I went for this one because there used to be a band named after it and it's a very documentary style piece about a young boy who bunks off school and runs a bit wild in Paris. Obviously it's very dated now (it is 50 years old!) but it has beautiful faces and is an interesting not-so-rosy look at the 'good old days when no-one even knew where their kids were'.
8 out of 10

Up (Pete Docter, Bob Peterson 2009)
Cinema! (G)
We really enjoyed this tale of the flying house and the talking dogs at the flicks. It's not one of those that left much impression afterwards though so I'm not sure it's quite the 'classic' everyone was saying in the autumn (was I one those people...almost...). One thing I didn't like in it were the faces though...very empty...I preferred the dogs (it must be catching...).
9 out of 10 (though that's fading to an 8 over time)

Coraline (Henry Selick 2009)
Rented DVD (G)
What a beauty! This is a really gorgeous stop-animation film (it has all the expression and emotion that 'Up' lacks for me). Our Girl loved it and so did we...haunting, creepy, unusual, delightful. The extras on the DVD are all great too (though don't bother with the 3D).
10 out of 10

The Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood 2008)
Rental DVD via post (M)
Well...yes, Eastwood is great to look at (still!) and it's great that it is another section of the US population getting a look in and yes, it's an important topic (gangs in US cities) uses a lot of corny plot devices (and worse) and there were things about it that I really didn't like too (can't say too much – don't want to give away plot). Good but not for me.
7 out of 10 (Mark says 8)


Garage (Leonard Abrahamson 2007)
Rental DVD via post (R)
I watched this quiet little Irish film for our friend TFE's writing challenge (if a little late) and I wrote about it here. Well worth checking out.
9 out of 10

In the Loop (Armando Iannucci 2009)
Rental DVD via post (M)
This is the feature length child of the British TV political comedy 'In the Thick of It'. This time the useless and the mean head off to the White House and the U.N. but are just as useless and mean there. Compared to other 'TV comedies go film' I found this enjoyable and perfectly watchable with still a good proportion of genuinely funny lines (asides especially). I didn't believe for a minute though that they had any kind of insight into the US political system (everything just seemed too cheap and small) but still it was great to see James Gandolfini again (he plays a US military... heavyweight). Since finishing watching the Sopranos (back in August – see here) I've really missed Tony S...I mean James.
8 out of 10 (Mark says 7 or less...harsh!)

Muppets from Space (Tim Hill 1999)
Recorded off TV (G)
Girl likes muppets. I used to love them as a child (who doesn't/didn't?) though of course we only really saw the Show (not any movies). This one was OK. Much Gonzo.
7 out of 10

Bean (Mel Smith 1997)
Recorded off TV (G)
I didn't see any Bean when he was around in the '90s and thought Girl might like it (she likes slapstick humour). She was interested enough (though not wild about it) whereas I laughed a lot more than I expected (I didn't know a lot of it was a spoof of the art world). I particularly liked the Whistler's Mother merchandise (tie anyone?).
8 out of 10 (no, really)


Nativity (Debbie Isitt 2009)
Cinema! (G)
We had a cinema opportunity and this was the kids film that was on. I didn't have particularly high hopes but we all really enjoyed it – 'The Office's Martin Freeman is lovely in it and all the kids are brilliant. Lots of songs, lots of Xmas, lots of feel-good... but not in an unbearable way.
8 (or on a good day 9) out of 10 (and at the right time of year, obviously)

The Unloved (Samantha Morton 2009)
Recorded off TV (R)
Desperately sad but beautifully made, this is Morton's made for TV film about a little girl in a children's home. Amazing in many different ways.
10 out of 10 (but not something to be watched lightly)

Tom's Midnight Garden (Willard Carroll 1999)
Charity shop DVD (G)
Girl and I read the 1958 book by Philippa Pearce this year and (after a slow start) we enjoyed it (she is very keen on time travel books and films – she loved watching all the 'Back to the Future's with her Dad this year too). This film is on the cheap side in places (and the boy seems too old) but all in all our Girl gave it a thumbs up – enough of the original story, good girl characters, a bit of adventure, interesting costumes, ice-skating. Not amazing but acceptable.
7 out of 10.

Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby 1971)
Rental DVD via post (R)
I had missed this film somehow but kept seeing it in people's 'must watch' lists. They're not wrong either (said people) as it is a little jewel of a film and it features great acting, great visual variety, great acting, great lines, great music (by Cat Stevens). 'Harold and Maude' is often listed as a comedy but I would say it is only's one of those artworks that's really beyond genre (think 'the Graduate' meets 1971 'Willy Wonka' with a bit of 'Mash' thrown in and you might start getting warm). It's also uplifting without being crap – quite a feat – and very quotable. My favourite line on first viewing is (Maude to Harold) 'you gotta aim above morality'. My motto for this Xmas, I think.
10 out of 10.

So that's my year (so far) in film. Can't believe I've watched all those really!

And now...

The End.


Thursday, 17 December 2009

The best live performer of poetry in the world? And some thoughts on getting noticed

A while back (here) we were talking about which poets are good performers of their work. I've only seen video clips of this one but even so I'm not sure there's a poet alive who can hold a candle (careful!) to Chloe Poems. Here's a little something I watched this morning via a facebook link from Chloe's other half Gerry Potter:

Some of Chloe's output is a lot ruder than that (much, much ruder) so it's not for everybody (though it probably should be). Living here exiled, as I am, in a very beautiful but very suburban and sometimes polite-to-the-point-of-real-rudeness part of the world, a few snatched moments with Chloe and her delightfully free mouth can sometimes make my day feel more real somehow. And you should hear her on Jesus...and the Queen...(though not least not yet).

Also this week I've been dipping into a couple of books I found in the library by Scottish poet John Glenday. I saw his name for the first time the other week (on a website somewhere) and noticed that the very marvellous musician, singer and songwriter Kim Edgar was playing at the launch of his new book 'Grain' (remember Kim played at an event I organised in Edinburgh back last year – she's brilliant). Then I noticed one of Glenday's books in the local library poetry section, liked its title 'Undark' (Peterloo Poets 1995), opened it up and saw a poem called 'Colours' with the first line “Memory is blue. Yes,” All those factors made me take that book (and an earlier one of his, 'The Apple Ghost') home.

And all that makes me wonder – what makes you pick up a book (especially a poetry one) and take it home for closer inspection? In that case (for me) I suppose it was a mixture of online mention, link with someone whose work I like, stand-out book title and a good first line inside. As folk have been saying elsewhere recently there's a lot of poetry about and it can be a fight to get these things matter I suppose (if you want to be read...or heard)- even if it does take some readers (like me...) 14 years (at least...) to get to you (sorry, JG). Luckily poetry (on the whole) does not have a sell-by date so this year's must-have book is no more must-have than anything that went before (and anything to come). We are not in a race for the poetry Xmas number one after all...and thank X for that.


Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Jingle bells? Not here, not now...

I am so not in the mood for Xmas music this year (remember we talked about Xmas music last year - here). I listened to this yesterday and thought I might post it here (play LOUD please!).

It's a cover of the Public Enemy track 'Black Steel' done by Tricky and taken from the BRILLIANT 1995 album 'Maxinquaye' (possibly one of my favourite albums ever...).

Oh and let's have some Public Enemy whilst we're might remember this track from the Spike Lee movie 'Do the Right Thing'.

Cliff Richard it ain't.

p.s. Just got a nice book mention over at Susan's place. Rejoice!


Monday, 14 December 2009

Local colour

Walking the dog this morning the sky was just so amazing - so many different colours and partly made up of layers of of swirling cloud that gave an effect like marshmallow soup. It reminded me why so many painters and other visual artists live in places like almost made me wish I was a painter too (for about 2 minutes).

It also reminded me of my wee Montrose poem (written not long after we moved to this part of Angus). The skies here are particularly stunning...the sea, the Montrose Basin...I guess all that water has something to do with it. The poem contains one Scots word (they creep in now and again - there was another poem with some Scots in back here). Anyway, here it is:

Looking up in Montrose

Here the sky has every blue
Cornflower, indigo, violet too
Every grey and pink and white
A different black for every night
What else on earth can you possibly need
With so much choice above your heid?


p.s. I don't have a particular sky photo to post today but there are lots elsewhere (e.g. here).


Saturday, 12 December 2009

So little

No time for much just now. Just this:


Let me just walk
With the dog
Till the pain's all gone

RF 2009

Maybe it's a short poem. Maybe it's just a sentence (if one that lacks any punctuation whatsoever...). To be honest that's not the kind of thing that keeps me up at night.

I was reading Charles Simic's 'Fear' this week (also a short poem) and enjoying it very much. I can't find it shall I just post it? Oh go's nearly it is:


Fear passes from man to man
As one leaf passes its shudder
To another.

All at once the whole tree is trembling
And there is no sign of wind.

Charles Simic

I've always been impressed by intelligent brevity...but also a good ramble (when the time is right). Variety. Is all. Almost.


Wednesday, 9 December 2009


Mark and I had a day release yesterday. So where did we go? Here's a clue...

And here's another one...

And then when we got back we got down to the serious business of Niamh's poems in shops month (she has quite a few different posts about it so I've linked to the blog rather than to a specific post). Here is my 'Save the trees' postcard going crackers...

And here it is in with wrapping paper...(for full text of poem click on pic to enlarge or go to my website under poems and modern world)

I left the card behind. Hidden...undercover...


Saturday, 5 December 2009

On winter

Three things!

(1) Remember back here I posted a summer poem. Well, here's its winter sibling.

Bleak and winter

Suddenly the trees have not so much to say
The sun just blinks, then folds again
There's barely a whimper of warmth for us
Huddled in our burrows for the hibernation season
Heads thick with germs, full-on snivelling

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 (the humbug) - no wood, fewer trees

And we don't even know why we want what we want
Our guiding lights now dim and dirty
Stars, twinkling smiles, any flash can switch us
As we hunger for warming, stirring, helping
We dream of together, because apart it's all gone

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


(2) So it's winter...doing some Xmas shopping? Here are a few books (all by bloggers or friends/associates of bloggers) that I have read this year and that I would recommend as Xmas present possibilities. All these are available online so buy them and make a blogger smile. :)
That's the first smiley face I've ever typed by the way. You know I am more a kiss (x) person.

Anyway here are the books:

John Baker 'Winged with Death' (novel) Buy (read my review)

Anna Dickie 'Heart Notes' (poetry) Buy (read my review)

Tom Duddy 'The Small Hours' (poetry) Buy (read my review)

Liz Gallagher 'The Wrong Miracle' (poetry) Buy (read an interview)

McGuire 'Riddled with Errors' (poetry) Buy (I haven't written about this yet...but I's fantastic edgy writing...messy but alive...and for some reason I want to use the word 'spunky'...)

JoAnne McKay 'The Fat Plant' (poetry) Buy (read my review)

Hugh McMillan All his books (poetry) Go here and buy anything that's not nailed down

Nuala Ní Chonchúir 'Nude' (short stories) Buy (I haven't reviewed as such but these are the best short stories I've read in years)

Lemn Sissay 'Listener' (poetry) Buy (Again I haven't really reviewed this...but I do love it and I did mention it here)

Of course there's always my book too (hell, I'm so underground you can hardly see me).

And (3) I know what I want for Xmas...the Unthanks new CD! The band formerly known as Rachel Unthank and the Winterset are now the Unthanks (if you'd missed that memo) and here they are on Jools Holland's TV show (clog dancing and everything):

I love their sound so much...and I am kind of from their part of the maybe I do have a spiritual home* after all.


*It's been a bit of theme this year plus I was talking with McMillan about it over here.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Liz Gallagher comes to town

I haven't done much interviewing on this blog. This is partly laziness and partly (as I wrote back here) because I have done quite a lot of interviewing in previous stages of life (journalism, market research...). Still, every now and then I get the urge to dip my questioning toes back in the interview water, as it were, and today is one of those nows (or thens). So off we go again - in an author blog tour stylee, no less.

And who has stopped by? Well, look who it is... Irish poet (and resident of the luscious Canary Islands) Liz Gallagher. I've been in blog contact with Liz for a while now and have always been attracted by her friendly words and total lack of poetry snob paraphernalia so when she announced the tour to launch her book of poems 'The Wrong Miracle' I asked for a date on it. And lo (sorry, we are getting towards Xmas) here I present her answers to the three odd questions that I sent her (as requested - the questions, not the oddness). Liz's own blog is here and if you like the sound of the book (though I know quite a few regular readers already have it) you can buy it here. You can also find author information and a sample poem via that link.

Before we would I describe Liz's book?
(1)Beautiful cover (always a good start...I'd quite like a big poster of this one for my wall),
(2)The poems...? They're like a brightly coloured paper bag, stuffed to the brim with every kind of pick'n'mix sweet you've ever seen (but with a few other things in it as well as alligator maybe...and a witch's hat...) and
(3)It's one of those books that you don't really want to describe because it has so much to say for itself (and in so many different ways). Just read it. See if it takes your fancy.

And now...on with the three questions. Welcome Liz!

Thanks for having me here, Rachel. And what great music you have...looking forward to listening to some of it while we chat. Here is a bottle of Spanish champagene (CAVA) to ring in the New Year with (or to drink or serve at your choosing) : )

Q1..An alien comes to visit and says 'we don't have poetry on our planet...what's it all about then?' What would you say to this alien and please provide a reading list of ten books (collections, anthologies, work in any language, anything you like) to get it started on the poetry of planet earth.

OK, Ms. Alien, take a seat...this is going to take a little time....Well, for me, at least, poetry is being able to plonk a cushion cover into my writing if I want it so, I don't have to do a prelude to the entry of that cushion cover, the cushion cover doesn't have to explain itself nor have an exit plan, it's in the poem and there to stay...On its own, it can have power in that poem without the trimmings, it can tell its own tale by just being sat there whereas in a novel or short story you've got to prepare the entrance of the cushion cover, there has to be a plot for the cushion cover where the cushion cover interacts with the sofa, the foam lining, the silk material etc, and the cushion cover demands a final adieu with the reader either clapping or shooing in other words, poetry says stuff that other writing has to go round in circles to say.

It feels hot, urgent and necessary, hence the cutting-the-top-of-one's-head feeling that poet Emily Dickinson referred to...this feeling helps one know that they have come across great poetry. The exact quote is: 'If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire could ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way? (source: here)

What else? Oh yes, I imagine you might have kids (alien or not) or have come across kids, Ms Alien, so poetry is a little like allowing oneself to be a kid with words, you can hopscotch about all you like with words as words in poems like to be woman-handled into many things from the dreamy, deep and serious to the comical and fickle. Words in poems even like being thrown up in the air and they love the unpredictability and surprise of where they might land.

And poetry isn't bossy nor lets you, the reader, decide what it don't have to fit into its way of thinking but it can fit into your way of thinking if you are prepared to meet it half-way. You see, poetry is something special because sometimes we don't know what we think until we see what we write..and poetry holds a mirror up to us, the poet (and maybe the reader sometimes too) and says: this is what you're thinking. And you know something, it makes you grow up, you learn about yourself and get all worked up about learning more and's a great journey and you pick up loads of things you never thought you wanted along the way like cushion covers, chimney smoke, a blue moon, a crowing rooster...

Ok, Ms. Alien here is my list of recommended reading for a starter poet or actually any poet really inclusion of analytical academic works until much later, if at all. Ms. Alien, there is poetry inside every one of them, hope you find it and it finds you.....

Poems of W.B. Yeats, Arlene Ang's 'Secret Love Poems', Roahl Dahl's 'Revolting Rhymes', 'The Book of Laughter and Forgetting' by Milan Kundera, Anthony Burgess' 'Earthly Powers', The Brothers Grimm Tales, 'Sing Me the Creation' by Paul Matthews, Anne Sexton's 'Love Poems', Tao Lin's 'You Are a Little Bit Happier Than I Am' poems.

Q.2.How, why and where does poetry fit into your life?

Poetry fits into my life for a lot of the reasons I gave Ms. Alien above. How? Through reading and daily writing (even though the daily writing part is on hold for the foreseeable future). Poetry is very important in my life – it leaps out at me from all angles which makes it exciting....when I'm in a poetry-writing mood, I seem to see it everywhere, things beg to be written about, poetically. It settles me, calms me, excites me, gives me confidence in me, makes me be more empathetic, more other words, it makes me feel things strongly....guess I really need it...even now when writing poetry isn't happening, I still sense it there....hovering on my periphery, possibly winking at me and saying it will wait for me....meanwhile, I am hoping it really does wait for me and not piss off in a huffy strut. Seriously though, Rachel, after a long spell of not seeing poetry anywhere, it's great that it is in my life now and I really hope it stays.

Q.3.I know this is tricky...but if someone else had given you a copy of 'The Wrong Miracle' to read (i.e. so imagine someone else wrote it) what do you think you would have thought of it?

As you say, a totally tricky question, Rachel. It's impossible to be so objective, after all this book is like my molly-coddled darling who has dared to take steps out into the with a sporadic big leap of the imagination (and clutching 'The Wrong Miracle' to me), if someone had given me 'The Wrong Miracle', I would think the following: unusual, original, daring, inventive, good fun....sometimes loses the run of itself but means no harm, playful, is a bit on the wild side at times, motivating word play, large expanse of themes, humorous, has a heart, wants to connect, is massive as in it feels voluminous – not so much in pages but in ideas, thoughts etc, treats the theme of love and war in challenging ways, revealing about the author's life, gives specific memories which can evolve into generalised memories, is personal but becomes universal through connecting with not afraid to speak out, has wings and wants to fly, is not presumptious, is philosophical.....energetic and honest...does not bear grudges....loud and silent, all at once, for those who read in low level lighting settings.
See, Rachel, I did try though, but it is fairly impossible to be objective...I just love 'The Wrong Miracle'! ; )
Thanks for the chat, Rachel. It's been fun.
And next week, on the 10th of December, I hope to be on Serena's Blog 'Saavy Verse and Wit' ...maybe see you there!

Thanks, Liz, for all these passionate and persuasive replies...and especially for that last answer (because it's quite a mean question...and the kind of thing lots of people would make a fuss about answering...). In fact, at risk of sounding like one of those blogs where everyone just loves everybody, I would have to close with the conclusion that that Liz Gallagher, she's a total star. Maybe even the star on our communal Xmas tree. What do you think?


Radio, radio

I keep missing this series of 'Adventures in Poetry' but there's a half hour radio programme about Philip Larkin's 'An Arundel Tomb' here. Philip Spender made me laugh too!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

With gusto

Many of you will already have seen the Muppets do 'Bohemian Rhapsody' that is doing the rounds (see here). I like the singing bananas but overall I much prefer this version (and the original of course):

What a song – even with the Myers factor it takes you right back, doesn't it? 1975...watching it on 'Top of the Pops' week after week after week...would it still be number one? I loved it...and Freddie's miraculous teeth...and the above clip is timely too because just the other day Mark and I were doing a good impression of Wayne and co as we were singing along in the car to Meat Loaf's 'Paradise by the Dashboard Light' (remember we've been on a rediscover '70s rock classics trip lately?). We were singing with such Waynesque...enthusiasm that our Girl looked quite shocked. 'Are we scaring you?' I asked. 'Er, no,' she said, obviously not quite sure what to make of the ageing karaoke up front. I guess we are moving into embarrassing parents territory about now. It's fun, huh? Altogether now...

p.s. Liz Gallagher here on Thursday (right, Liz?).