Archive for the ‘Other Ramblings’ Category

Once upon a time in a far and distant land people’s favourite entertainment was the theatre.  There were only two theatres in the land, and if you wanted to use them you had to pay a fee every year.  They were sort of independent, but the government who controlled how much the fee was, and who had to pay it.  They were on something of a short leash. Then came a third and a fourth, and eventually a fifth, they were independent from the other two.  They didn’t charge an annual fee instead, they used to stop the plays every so often to let salesmen in.  These salesmen paid the theatres lots of money to convince the audience that they wanted to buy shit they didn’t need.  Then the government stepped in and made rules about which salesmen could come in, at what time and for how long, it helped a little.  But here’s the catch if you ever visited one of these independent theatres, you still had to pay the fee to the original ones.  Then one day another company came swooping down from above and opened lots of little theatres.  They charged another even higher fee.  They were closely followed by another and before long the two companies had merged.  The reason for their success, they not only showed plays, but also all the sport.  While all the theatres had performers from far and distant lands,  this one had all the plays from a distant land across the see to the west, and they had them before anyone else. 

The problem with all these theatres, is they choose what was on and when.  If you didn’t like what was on, all you could do was walk down the street and watch something different.  But if you wanted to see a particular play, you had to be in the right place at the right time.  The old theatres were accused of repeating too many of their plays and being poor value for money.  This was probably true, but they didn’t spend their money on plays, they had other ways to inform, educate​and ​entertain​. 

Then one day everything changed a magician came from the land across the sea to the west and flicked his magical net across the land.  He created a special magical theatre where every visitor chose what they wanted to watch and when they wanted to watch it.  The choice was massive, there were thousands of plays to watch, long and short, old and new.  They could watch half a play or just a few minutes of it and come back and watch the rest another time.  Things would never be the same again.  He charged everyone who came to visit a monthly fee, for this they would get a password they needed to get.  They were allowed to share this password with all the people in their house, but nobody else.  However, some people only visited occasionally and didn’t want to pay every month, but this was okay because if you had a friend who would share their password.  The magician new this was happening, but he didn’t mind because more and more people were visiting.  While all this was going on a magical book salesman had being making his own magical theatre.  Nobody noticed because it wasn’t as big or as good, and it really confused people because it kept changing its name.  But slowly it grew and became a serious rival for the magician. 

Then over time, everyone learned the magic and lots more magic theatres opened.  All the old-fashioned theatres opened magical theatres along side their big old ones.  They didn’t show anything new, but you could watch all their old plays, or catch up on something you had missed.  Best of all they didn’t charge any extra.  It wasn’t all good.  Some of the theatres were poorly built and frequently stopped working.  Some of them still let the salesmen in, they would stop the plays for even longer than in their other theatres because they had different rules.  It was a brake new world, and for a time everything was good.  Because you could watch anything at any time, the theatres started telling longer story broken up into lots of little plays that you could watch a bit at a time or all in one go and people loved it.  This had been done before but they spent all the money in the world and did it so much better.  The people declared it a golden age.  Then a plague swept through every land across the globe and people couldn’t meet up in public for two whole years.  The magical theatres that let people be entertained in isolation thrived as they entertained the world.

But then over time the cracks started to show; there were countless magical theatres across the land, too many!  People didn’t have the time or money to visit them all so had to pick and choose the ones they wanted, but the choice wasn’t always easy.  The magicians who owned the magical theatres started spending more and more money to attract people to their theatre and away from the competitors.  For many years the first magician who owned the biggest and the best theatre wouldn’t tell anyone how many people came to visit his theatre or what plays they were watching.  Very quickly the audience began to smell a rat so the magician gave some cryptic information to appease the masses.  It didn’t really work, but it gave them something to talk about.  The magician wasn’t exactly evil, but he was ruthless and had a wicked streak running though him.  He created a magical device that he called the algorithm.  The algorithm was a cold hard and heartless machine, it didn’t care about the people, its only goal was to please its magical master.  The algorithm quickly worked out that shiny new plays would bring in new audiences at a faster rate than the existing audiences would leave if their beloved plays were cancelled.  The algorithm was really clever, it knew that some plays were really popular and could be stretched out for a very long time, even if they got progressively worse.  It cancelled many beloved plays that were really popular, but it knew they had stropped bringing in new audiences, but it distracted them with new stories every week.  Often disposable rubbish that wouldn’t last long.  Occasionally very good but equally doomed.  But the plan was foolish and short-sighted.  The plays were no longer entertainment, they were content, an opium to distract the masses. 

The cracks turned into rifts.  The magician was spending more money than he was bringing in and the quality of his plays was dropping.  Nobody knew if his theatre was still the biggest, but everyone could see it was no longer the best.  There were many new players in town.  One was a magical mouse, that despite a dubious past was beloved across all the lands.  The other was one of the biggest companies in the world, according to the legend it had made its money selling stylish but overpriced fruit.  The magician had to do something, so he made a plan.  He had two ideas.  The first was he would give some of his customers a discount, but in return he would let the salesmen.  The other was to put guards on the doors to make sure nobody was sharing their passwords with other people.  If people were caught in the act they would be made to pay or not let.  Many people had already stopped visiting, it was clear things would get worse.  But it wasn’t the magician that was having a hard time.  the original two theatres were constantly restructuring and downsizing as they battled with the government over how much their fee should be and what sort of plays they should make.  All this was happening at the worst of times following two years of plague and a war in the east made everyone’s food and heating bill higher. 

I don’t know how the story ended, but it was clear the magician was on shaky ground and his theatre wasn’t as well built as he thought it was.  Would it last?  And surely there were two many theatres charging too much money, some would have to merge or go bust?  One day we will find out what happened next, I don’t think that will be a happy or pretty story for everyone!

This story is entirely fictional, any resemblance to actual persons or streaming service living or dead is entirely coincidental.


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Never one to turn down an opportunity for a new experience, I found myself at the ballet earlier this week.  To clarify “new experience”, my knowledge of ballet doesn’t extend beyond The Red Shoes, Black Swan and Billy Elliot.  It is no surprise that my awareness comes from the movies, but it is also very appropriate as my introduction to the art form was Swan Lake, the background to the movie Black Swan.  The venue was Birmingham’s fantastic Hippodrome, the home of the Birmingham Royal Ballet since 1990.  For those who know even less than me here is the synopsis provided by the Birmingham Royal Ballet:

Ballet’s greatest love story returns in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s lavish production. This romantic fable of ill-fated passion, powerfully illuminated by Tchaikovsky’s legendary score, has bewitched audiences for generations.

By a moonlit lake, a grieving prince witnesses the transformation of a swan into a beautiful princess. Compelled by an evil spell to spend her days in the form of a bird, she can only be saved by the power of love.

Filled with exquisite ensembles, lyrical pas de deux and bravura solos, this Swan Lake is atmospheric, romantic and beautiful – an unforgettable experience.Birmingham-Royal-Ballet-shows-Swan-Lake (1)

The story is split into four acts:


The first was possibly the weakest and felt a little repetitive.  Things got going in act two with the introduction of  Odette, Von Rothbart (the evil sorcerer, who has enchanted Odette) and the swans.  It came as a surprise how long it took to introduce the main character (remember my knowledge costumes and what appears to be hugely technical and complicated dancing and the introduction of Odile (The Black Swan).  The final act starts with the shows standout moment.  For a performance that is all about dancing, the breathtaking moment came from total lack of movement.  The curtain rises on the lakeside we saw in act two.  The stage is filled with dry ice smoke like an 80’s disco (or a scene from Alien).  As the mist pours out over the edge of the stage into the stalls and orchestra pit it reveals a stage filled with the swan-maidens.  The whole performance lasted around three hours including two intermissions, the time flew by.Birmingham-Royal-Ballet-shows-Swan-Lake

You may have picked up from my tone that I enjoyed it, the surprising thing is just how much I enjoyed it.  I have never had any interest in dance or dancing but found the whole spectacle enchanting and enthralling.  I know nothing about technique or the positions and movements associated with ballet but anyone with an interest in art can appreciate aesthetics and form, but like a football match you know when someone has done something special or spectacular.

If you want to know how good the lead dancers were look for a review from someone who knows what they are talking about.  Odette/Odile was performed by Céline Gittens and Prince Singleton by Tyrone Singleton.  I looked them up after the show, they are very highly regarded.  Both are mixed-race, a big deal was made of this when they first took these roles three years ago “it will be the first time the ballerina role has been taken by a black dancer in the UK”.  Although this was portrayed as a positive moment for ballet, it is a shame that it is something was even worth mentioning.  The one thing I did go in knowing a little about is the music.  I have a few albums (yes real albums on vinyl) of ballet music.  It is the one form of classical music that I enjoy.   I am pleased to report that the music performed by The Royal Ballet Sinfonia was fantastic and I would have happily listened to it even if I hadn’t enjoyed the visual performance.rs-swan-lake-celine-gittens-and-tyrone-singleton-sorrow_1000

I am not about to sign up for a season ticket and declare myself as ballet lover, but may well go again in future.  For those interested Swan Lake is on for another few days in Birmingham before going on tour.  

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Once in a while I go off on a tangent and write about something other than movies. On Saturday , I did something a little different. Looking online for things to do on his planned visit to Birmingham, Jon, a friend from university came across Keyhunter.

In the words of their own website: “Keyhunter is an entertaining puzzle-based live escape game; a new form of entertainment where you must escape from a room you are trapped in by finding hints and clues that point you to the right direction to solve various puzzles. These puzzles are the key to the objective of the game: unlock the safe, get the key, and escape.”Keyhunter

Not knowing exactly what to expect we booked online and headed down on Saturday morning. Located in an unassuming building on the fringe of Birmingham city centre on the aptly named Sherlock street. There is a choice of three games: “The Triads, The Double Crossing and The Red Curse”, we went for the middle difficulty The Double Crossing. After a short briefing we were locked in a room with an 1 hour countdown timer on the wall. The Game involves finding clues to unlock locks. These in turn lead to further clues to open other locks, until eventually you get to a safe containing a key to escape the room. They did give us a two-way radio allowing us to ask for up to three hints. Not wanting to give anything away, I will not say any more about the game.sherlock street

Starting slowly, taking ten minutes and needing to use one of our hints to solve the first puzzle, we quickly got the hang of things and finished the game with just over ten minutes to spare. The organisers recommend between three and six members per game, so we felt pleased with ourselves to complete the game with just two of us.Keyhunter Andy and Jon

Brilliant in its simplicity, amazingly I can’t find anyone else doing anything similar. If you are ever in Birmingham, I would recommend you give it a try. Jon is already planning a return visit with his wife Helen keen to join in too. Find out more on their website HERE.


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11 11 11With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

“For The Fallen” by Laurence Binyon

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I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

American Pie by Don Mclean

This morning I heard the sad news that that music store HMV has appointed an administrator. If a buyer isn’t found for the struggling retailer, it could see the end of a British institution. Starting life out as a gramophone company in the 1890’s, their first store opened Oxford Street, London in 1921 by composer Edward Elgar. Following the demise of Virgin Megastores (renamed Zavvi after a management buyout then went into administration) and Tower Records, HMV are the last remaining large high street music and video retailer in the UK. With the onslaught of online retailers and music downloads, high street retailers have being fighting on two fronts for more than a decade and in recent years have been losing.His Master's Voice

This sadly isn’t the end of the demise of traditional media retailers. Booksellers could follow in the footsteps of music stores. With sales of ebook readers and tablet computers, book sales could go the same way as CD’s. Home video has been given a stay of execution in the form of the high picture and sound quality of DVD and Blu-ray, but how long will that last? More and more people are streaming and downloading movies and the quality is improving all the time.kindle

The real sad thing about the changing way we consume media is not just the tactile and physical pleasure of owning a book or record but the social aspect of it. Whether on your own or with friends, there is something special and magical about browsing book and record stores that you don’t get from downloading and online ordering. Looking a book covers and reading a the first page or looking at album artwork and sleeve notes are all part of the process. Talking to friends who are shopping with you or the staff in the shop about the product, and listening to recommendations of other artists or authors has always been a great way of discovering new things. Online retails try to replicate this, but it is far from the same thing.book_as_gift

Online ordering is a solitary experience, but it does however give the purchaser the same solid item to have and to hold that a virtual download does not offer. This may seem like a small point, but it does prompt the question, have you ever given or received a book, CD or DVD as a gift? I imagine most people reading this has probably done both. I would also suggest many people will have lent or borrowed a book, CD or DVD from a friend. I have introduced many people to movies, music and books that I love and have gratefully received the same from friends and family. I have never given nor received a virtual book, movie or record and wouldn’t know how to! I still own every CD or Vinyl record I have ever owned, I’m not convinced by the security of my backups and with it the security of my downloaded music. My parents have recently given me some of their old records some of them dating to the 60’s. Will people in 50 years time be sharing their old MP3’s?Francoise Hardy tous les garçons

I am not a total Luddite and appreciate many forms of technology, I’m just not impressed with the effect they seem to be having on retailers and consumers alike. The real threat to the music industry in the modern age may not be piracy, but apathy! It isn’t all bad news, there is a wealth of music and books in circulation. And I still have the last bastion of sanity in my hometown, Birmingham, The Diskery; A privately owned second-hand record store specialising in vinyl records that is still going strong after more than fifty years. 

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As mentioned before I try to avoid political comment on my blog, but what’s the point of having a virtual soapbox if I don’t stand on it once in a while. Earlier today three members of the Russian “feminist punk-rock musical collective” Pussy Riot (Maria Alyokhina 24, Yekaterina Samutsevich 29, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova 22) were convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment for “hooliganism.” What was their crime? The judge described what they had done “crudely undermined social order”. What the actually did was sing a protest song in church:

The impromptu performance took place On March 3 this year at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow and is said by the band to be a protest at the Russian Orthodox Church leader’s support for Vladimir Putin. I don’t speak Russian so can not comment on alleged blasphemy of the song, but based on the fact the charge wasn’t blasphemy I suggest this is a red herring. Amnesty International have called the ruling a “bitter blow for freedom of expression in Russia” and have quoted a group of Russian lawyers who published an open letter stating “the actions of the three women could not be qualified as a crime and that bringing charges against them was in violation of Russian law.”

Any government or religious group that isn’t open to reasonable criticism or even ridicule isn’t fit to rule or to preach and only helps the case of those who criticise and ridicule in the first place. The fact that the church and president Putin have received support from a lot of Russian people proves that they are strong enough to not need the support of an over zealous legal system. I don’t see this as a matter of right and wrong on the side of the band, this is a reflection on the government and the legal system. I would like to think that even those who support Putin agree with Pussy Riot’s freedom of thought, expression and speech. Freedom of speech that challenges authority has to be a good thing for society especially in a country like Russia that is looking to the future and not its imperial or communist past.

This isn’t just a political rant, it does have a (vague) movie connection, given the coverage the case has received and the fact the band record their stunts, there must enough footage and interest for someone to make a documentary.

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99.99% of this blog is about movies but once in a while I am compelled to write about something else. This time because there aren’t any movies coming out, they have all been scared of by Christopher Nolan and a little sporting event happening in London.

We British often revel in our sporting failure as plucky losers, but once in a while we have something to shout about. After just a week, it has already been a successful London Olympic games, both as a spectacle and for the home team, but tonight things got just a little special.

At 5’5” Jessica Ennis is by no means small, but in the company of other athletes in her chosen event, the heptathlon she looks tiny. And yet she is amongst the best in the world. She has become the “poster girl” for London 2012 and Team GB despite never competing in an Olympic games before (she was forced to drop out of the Beijing Olympics with three stress fractures in her right foot).

Going into the 800 metres, the last event of the heptathlon Ennis was 258 points ahead of her nearest competitor having set three personal bests in the first six events. As the race started Ennis took the front from the start and crossed the line at the end of the first lap in first place but soon dropped back to fourth place. As they came round the final bend she found herself boxed in but found her way through to the front for a final sprint to the line. She crossed the line with her hands in the air knowing she had won the Olympic gold medal beating her own British record. Before the medal ceremony she did a lap of honour draped in a union flag to the soundtrack of David Bowie’s Heroes. If it were a movie we would all dismiss it as sentimental and clichéd. But it isn’t a movie, it is true and it has just happened at London 2012!

But is doesn’t end there, as I type this Team GB have won two more gold medals: Greg Rutherford wins the long jump, the first British winner in this event for 48 years: Mo Farah is the first ever Briton to win Olympic 10,000m. To put this in prospective we only won four athletics medals in Beijing (1 Gold, 2 Silver and 1 Bronze).

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Carina Round

I am taking one of my occasional breaks from rambling about movies to talk about one of my other great passion music. For just over a decade my favourite singer has been Carina Round. Not as well know as she should be, Carina is a truly talented singer songwriter to restore your fair in music in this X Factor/Pop Ideal celebrity obsessed age. Click HERE to see her new video on the Rolling Stone website

Her new album Tigermending is out tomorrow, you can hear it HERE via AOL album stream. If you aren’t already familiar with her music it is also worth checking out her previous releases, most notably her 2001 debut The First Blood Mystery. As good as her albums are, she really comes into her own playing live, whether on her own with an acoustic guitar or backed by a full band Carina always gives a memorable performance. This is a live version of my favourite of her songs:

For more information and tour dates check out her official website.

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Levon Helm 1940 - 2012

Mark Lavon “Levon” Helm who died today was a talented multi-instrumentalists but will always be remembered as drummer and founder member of The Band. I stumbled across The Band in the mid 80’s when I caught Martin Scorsese’s concert documentary The Last Waltz (1978) on TV. The clip below is from that film and is probably their most famous song “The Weight,” its certainly my favourite

Also an actor, Helm made notable appearances in the Loretta Lynn Biography, Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980) and the epic story of the birth of the space program, The Right Stuff (1983).  His last appearance was in the Tommy Lee Jones (who was also in Coal Miner’s Daughter) film In the Electric Mist (2009). 

His passing was announced earlier today on his twitter account:

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I have often heard it said that it’s a bad sign if your first knowledge of a movie is seeing the poster on the side of a bus or on a bus shelter. Despite this I actually have high hopes for A Lonely Place to Die, a movie I had never heard of until I saw the poster on a bus shelter today. I quickly looked it up on IMDB and found this synopsis:

A group of five mountaineers are hiking and climbing in the Scottish Highlands when they discover a young Serbian girl buried in a small chamber in the wilderness. They become caught up in a terrifying game of cat and mouse with the kidnappers as they try to get the girl to safety.

Filmed in the Scottish highlands including Ben Nevis and Glen Coe (places I have visited many time). The star and “poster girl” for the movie is Australia actress Melissa George. Having made her name on television Gorge had several small parts in prominent films (Dark City, The Limey, Mulholland Drive) before carving a niche in horror/thrillers such as: The Amityville Horror, Paradise Lost, w Delta z, 30 Days of Night and Triangle. Interestingly (according to wikipedia so it must be true!) George’s character, Alison was originally intended for Franka Potente who is one of my favourite actresses. I am actually more excited by the prospect of a new Melissa George movie following her great performance in Triangle.

Having already appeared at film festivals across Europe and North America it is set for release here is the UK on 7 September and in the USA on 11 November.

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