Thursday, 19 May 2011

Film:'ATTACK THE BLOCK' - yes, but why attack the audience too?

Yesterday went to see this new alien-invasion/comedy-thriller British film which has had some very favourable reviews. (South London mixed-race gang team up with their former female mugging victim fight to fight aliens attacking their apartment block). It's one of the laudable breed of film made on a relatively small budget - as was last year's 'Monsters' , which itself was an object lesson in showing how you don't need anywhere near the millions of bucks to create a worthwhile entertainment that can easily stand up against or be superior to so many of the multi-million blockbusters, which often end up provoking more yawns than true excitement.
But this new film was painful - literally. Why did this cinema (Odeon multiplex, Brighton) have to have the soundtrack turned up to such an ear-splitting, brain-bashing, mind-mashing level of volume that it not only distorts the words of conversation (and I refer here to normal talk, not shouts) as to make them near-indecipherable, and actually causing physical pain? As for when background music or sudden, far-too-frequent extra-loud thuds and crashes happen (intended to make you jump, but you can see them coming a mile off), apart from the agony they give rise to, they are counter-productive because the unnecessarily fortississimo sounds actually distract from what's going on on the screen. But I wonder if it's just me? Do the younger generations, towards which films like this are primarily aimed, have their hearing sensibilities already so damaged by the constant thud-thud-thuds found in night-clubs, bars and discos? - and then so many of them have those ubiquitous MP3 players plugged in all the time. Is that the reason why they can take these absurdly loud sounds without feeling the level of pain that I experience?
At the other extreme, I complained that last year's much-praised film 'The Social Network' was ruined for me because I just couldn't make out what they the characters were saying amongst all their under-the-breath mumblings. So if I also can't enjoy films like 'Attack the Block' for precisely the opposite reason, surely it can't be that my own hearing is at fault. Or could the rather scary truth be that my age is making me intolerant at both ends of the sound-spectrum? However, Ive not noticed any deterioration of my hearing in other aspects of my life - certainly not in face-to-face conversation, so I can't explain it.
Well, I suppose the next time I go to the cinema I ought be armed with cotton balls and be prepared to stuff them into my auricular orifices when necessary. As for this particular film - I'll grudgingly award it a 5.5/10. I really wanted to like it more.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Eurovision Song Contest - same old outcome but I still love it!

So, Azerbaijan triumphs in Dusseldorf with a song which I'd have placed around 20th out of the 25 finalists. It invariably happens that way for me.
I've just looked up the country in my atlas and though I knew it was somewhere in the Black Sea/Caspian Sea area I wouldn't have had any confidence about giving its exact location - and even harder pushed to have named its capital (Baku) .
Anyway, if that song was what people wanted, who am I to argue?
I got a little consolation in that my second-favourite song also finished second, even though commentator Graham Norton seemed intent on running it down. ("Who would have imagined that a song like that could have finished in the top half, never mind in such a high place!")
Final results:-
1. Azerbaijan
2. Italy
3. Sweden
4. Ukraine
5. Denmark

My own placings:-
1. Iceland (Actually finished 20th)
2. Italy (2nd)
3. Ireland (8th)
4. Switzerland (25th = Last!)
5. Spain (23rd)

I suppose it just goes to show how my own tastes are largely out of tune with prevailing moods.

United Kingdom came 11th (a considerable improvement on last year's - last) with, for me a run-of-the-mill song performed by resurrected quartet 'Blue', even now reminding me too much of 'All4One's' biggie of 20 years ago, 'I Swear'. (The song's title 'I Can' tells its own story).

With TV audiences this year being allowed to vote from the time before the first song was even performed (why?) it was inevitable that regional rivalries would predominate yet more than usual with countries largely voting for their neighbours as they are not allowed to vote for their own country. We are assured that countries bordering each other do actually have strong rivalries, which I am ready to believe, and that they really vote for the cultural familiarity of a song, though I rarely notice any marked difference in the songs performed. They seem more or less interchangeable, especially when so often the song's composers come from a country other than the one the song is representing in the competition. If it's true that they really do tend to vote for their neighbours, then we in the west of the continent must be at a disadvantage as the break-ups of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia have resulted in a myriad of smaller countries, each carrying the same voting weight as the bigger states in the west, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the U.K.
Well, it's an oft-voiced argument but no one seems to have any idea of how to rectify the balance. But must we get so worked-up about it? It's only an entertainment, a game, a bit of fun, for heaven's sake!

Okay, then. Roll on 2012! The U.K. haven't won for 14 years now so let's see if the the gloves aren't off. Let's show all these 'Johnny Foreigners' how to beat them at their own game. HAH!!!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Gore Vidal - a man never to be overlooked

I picked up for a song at a car-boot sale the other day this hardback edition of Gore Vidal's biography by Fred Kaplan (1999) - and am getting much pleasure from it. This 800+ page tome is every bit as dense on detail as Vidal's own novels, of which I've read about half a dozen, even though I confess that I rarely remember them afterwards. To be honest, I seem to find that his erudition gets in the way of his story.
Vidal is a figure I've been more fascinated by rather than admired outright. For me his talks and participations in discussions have outshone the undoubted literary merit of those works of his which I've read - but, my God, he was such a precocious writer from such an early age!
At the turn of the millenium BBC TV had a 20-part one-hour weekly discussion series about the history of Christianity, covering one century per week. Vidal was a guest on several of them, joining various notable philosophers, not all of them Christians, or even theists, as well as prominent religious clerics of various denominations. He never let the chance go to make a withering comment on religion, especially Christianity of course, and, above all, Roman Catholicism. It was worth watching the entire series just to catch his put-downs.
I've just read on the Internet some of the reviews of this biography. They are by no means all favourable but the majority seem to think it a good or (often) a very good work, which I, reaching now its half-way point, would largely go along with.
Vidal, no matter what you think of him, was never one to suffer fools gladly. His enormous capacity for sexual high jinks right from his teenage years and well into adulthood (mentioned in passing rather than described in detail here) make me quite envious. But even without that aspect he's led such a colourful, eventful life - and the people he's met and known, in the arts and politics in particular, is a name-droppers cornucopia.
Now in his mid-80s he is obviously close to, or even now running, his final lap. It would be impossible to write a critique of American gay culture without mentioning his name several times, though he would be scathing about being included in it as he doesn't recognise that a specifically gay culture has even existed. Be that as it may, for me he remains one of the really significant figures of 20th century America.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Why don't religions kick the hell out of each other (figuratively)?

I'm baffled as to why there seems to be such a dearth, or even total absence, of sound, intellectual, public debate between religions, despite each of them claiming that it and it alone uniquely possesses the 'absolute truth'. All their common fire seems to be directed at those who do not believe in any omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent Creator, rather than aiming at those believing in a Supreme Being at complete odds to their own belief - though Paganism does actually sometimes attract censure too. (On the grounds of worshiping 'false gods?)

I feel intensely irritated that whenever the question comes anywhere close to going asked, the topic is always closed down by a statement of the analogy "Ah, but you see, there is more than one path which leads up to the summit of a mountain." (or similar words), and this platitude is then left as being a satisfactory response. Well, as no one else will probe deeper, I shall.

So, presumably, what is meant is that there is more than just one way of reaching Heaven/Paradise/Nirvana, or what you will - and, further, I suppose, it's irrelevant which path you take as long as you finally reach the 'peak'. Is that really what they mean?
Let's ask a few questions:-

Does a Protestant Evangelical Minister really believe that it doesn't matter if you think that the Pope is God's sole representative on earth?

Does a Rabbi think it unimportant if someone refutes that the Jews are 'God's chosen people' and publicly states that anyone believing in a 'Second Coming' of the Messiah' is deluded?

Is an Imam unconcerned if one of his congregation converts from Islam to Christianity, thereby rejecting the belief that the Archangel Gabriel ever appeared to Mohammed? (Btw the single greatest 'crime' in Islam is apostasy.)

Is it of no consequence to the Roman Catholic hierarchy if the Virgin Birth is denied? - as well as the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary and the Assumption into Heaven of Mary, body and soul - the latter two being the subject of infallible Papal pronouncements ex cathedra and therefore 'beyond dispute as fact'. Likewise are they not bothered that Muslims don't believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead - or, as some believe, was even crucified at all?

Does a Mormon hold that someone's religion is irrelevant? I heard only yesterday that in their (grotesque?) post-death 'baptisms' of anyone in the past whom they wish to 'enrol' to their faith, they now claim that Anne Frank, of all people, is now a Mormon!

Don't other religions really mind that the reincarnation doctrines of Buddhism and Hinduism are in direct contradiction with their own 'one chance in one lifetime' beliefs?

I could go on and on but it's more than a little curious that religions seem so reluctant to disagree with each other publicly when I should have thought that it would have been the core of intellectual debate. It's almost as though there was an unwritten agreement not to diss each other but to focus their attacks on those whose reason casts doubt on the existence of any Supreme Deity.
Of course no one ( at least no rational being) would like to see a return to inter-religious wars, crusades and slaughter which have pervaded history, though, as we all know, there are regretfully still parts of the world where exactly this is advocated and, indeed, practiced. But, as I say above, it's strange that they seem to get most excited by those of us who don't subscribe to any of their faiths. It's like one is required to believe in some god - but it doesn't really matter what sort of god that is. (I think many betray their ignorance of Buddhism in particular, which does not hold to there being any individual Creator-Deity) .

So turn your cannons round, all you religious people. Be fair and also attack ALL those who think that your own particular beliefs are absurd and simply false.

Meanwhile, as long as the current situation prevails, it's all very peculiar - and exasperating.

Friday, 29 April 2011

.....and it didn't rain on their parade.

Well, that's over - until Harry's turn, I presume. But that event is not going to have anything like the razzamatazz which today's did.

Had it playing whilst I was reading 'King John'.

Will Will ever put a foot wrong? Unlike Harry, he seems to have lived a relatively gaffe-free life up to now (well, apart from one or two over-extravagant and unnecessary uses of a Royal Air Force helicopter for his own private needs) and he conducted himself impeccably here too.........Prince Andrew's daughters with hats which would have been more appropriate to the Mardi Gras in Rio.........Sarah Ferguson, (Duchess of York still, despite her divorce) conspicuous by her absence. Uninvited and presumably still well out of favour since that sting which caught her agreeing to sell access to the Royals - though it must have hurt to have her daughters there escorted by her Ex. (I'm pretty sure she was and is close to Will. She was, after all, very close to Diana.) Pity. ............Tony Blair also not invited. Particularly strange considering that most of us think that his finest hour was in the wake of Diana's death. He says it's "not a big deal." If that's true, good for him, but I bet Cherie was seething............Those who were invited included ambassadors from distinctly worse-than-dubious regimes - among them, Saudi Arabia, North Korea - and Zimbabwe, for goodness sake!............Elton & David singing their little hearts out (caught on camera a bit too frequently, methinks, but he is, at least, known the world over.).........Posh and Becks - she looking rather sour (as so often), he as soft, approachable and good-looking as ever (except for the tats)...........Rumours flying around that Catherine's brother (who gave the scripture reading) is gay. I'd like to say "So what?" (I didn't even know she had a brother), but if true, can only be helpful, provided he doesn't wriggle and deny it. But, stressing again the 'if', I hope he manages to conduct himself more decorously than I used to, because the tabloids will be just waiting and wanting to pounce. If he's hetero it would be laughed off as "Ha ha, what a lad!" but if gay it'd be "Look! He's bringing the whole Royal family into disrepute!" Certainly not at all bad-looking, though.............oh, and what was all that about "for richer, for poorer" ?!*!
And, not least, the actual marriage conducted by that 'Great Betrayer', the bushy-bearded Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. So gay-friendly before he was appointed by Tony Blair to gasps of horror from Church conservative 'traditionalists', while the rest of us rejoiced - rather prematurely as it turned out. But the former need not have worried. It didn't take long for the worm to turn and ever since he's been more concerned with appeasing his homophobic bishops and clergy than with any notions of fairness, justice and equality. Only last year one of his leading bishops called on all homosexuals to "repent". Was he slapped down? Not a bit of it. Not even the mildest word of admonition. Williams is just too afraid of bringing about a clamour calling for him to resign - and he's still spectacularly failing to avoid a split both on this issue and on women priests and bishops within his Church, with scores of his clergy, and, indeed, many congregations, converting to Roman Catholicism. ("Good riddance!" I say. They'll certainly find comfort there.) Williams' tenure of office as Archbishop will be ending shortly anyway - but there's not a single sign of hope for progressives amongst his likely successors.

Anyway, that's all by the by.

Will and the newly-titled Duchess of Cambridge will now be the target of paparazzi more than ever. Let's hope they can stand up to the increased intense pressure.

Finally, and even though I say it myself, I have to concede that for occasions of pageantry, it's one thing that the Brits do rather well. (Though I so much wish they'd dispense with the Queen's Guard wearing those bearskin helmets made from real bear. Totally unjustifiable and unacceptable these days. They've tried synthetic materials but apparently there's a problem when it rains. The solution is simple. Just change the uniform! Because it's tradition doesn't mean it's sacrosanct.)

Okay, so after a few criticisms and some plaudits, let's now get back to normal, colourless routine.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A little failure - but cheered up by this coming Friday's 'entertainment'.

Yesterday and again this morning tried to upload my first 'talkie' video onto this blog, but although it will play back from my own files I can't get it to replay here. Pity. I'll have to have another go some other time.
In the video I was only extemporising on this, that and the other (mostly the 'other') in the manner that the handsome Sean @ 'IdleEyesandaDormy' does so well, but it'll now have to wait a few days before I make another attempt. (Any tips anyone, please?)
Btw: Am I alone in having the experience in, when trying to make one's voice sound more gruff, butch and basso-profundo than it usually is, it comes out just as sing-song and nelly as ever?

Well, I've decided to watch the Royal Wedding after all (with sound off) as it could well be my last chance to see such pageantry. When Harry decides the time has come to restrict himself to utilising just one female orifice - or two - or even three, but of the same person (at least publicly), it won't have quite the level of fanfares as this week's will have, he not being very likely to ascend to the throne. Any of the sprogs resulting from Will's and Cath's union will slip in to succeed before him. (The government is currently suggesting the ending of male primogeniture, which would mean that if Will has one or more daughters only, then they will take precedence to the crown before Harry. As at now, and if nothing is done to change things, if Will becomes deceased having produced those daughter(s), then Harry would still succeed.)

I'll be watching because there may be an incident or two, which is always worth catching live. Any later replays are likely to be censored. I'm referring especially to threats from Muslim groups (one in particular - 'Muslims against Crusades') who, despite banning orders, are vowing nevertheless to protest outside the Abbey (they'll be lucky!) calling for Queen Elizabeth II to be put on trial for war crimes. (Good heavens! Such astonishing knowledge of our constitutional monarchy!) Of course, the arraigning of the Queen is just about as likely as Osama Bin Laden bending down to kiss the Pope's RING!
Also, our more militant gay groups are saying that they'll display banners calling on Will and Cath to publicly affirm support for gay marriage. Nice idea, but just as unlikely as the the last one, I reckon.
But of course I also need my regular visual fix of seeing again our divine Queen-in-Waiting. No, I'm not referring to Prince Edward, who will, even in current positioning, have to wait until he's about 250 years old. I allude to Her Royal Highness, the lovely Camilla (May God bless her, and all who sail in her). I need to see again that craggy, 'Easter Island', visage, ravaged by decades of chain-smoking, though slightly softened by her outdoor equine pursuits. Whether she put the fags (British sense) aside when she hitched up with the fag-despising (British sense) Chas is a matter of debate, as it's not quite clear which of them wears the trousers in the Royal Household. However, picture her pretty-pretty, comely figure, if you will, being mounted - while wearing those sexy high riding boots and jodhpurs. Oh, jolly hockey-sticks!

We're hearing on our news that a lot of Americans - and a significant proportion of the American media - are even more obsessed with the upcoming event than many of us Brits are. It must be hell!
The weather forecast is that there's the possibility of rain on the day, which ought to dampen down the hysteria a bit. However, it would be churlish not to wish the glamorous couple a long and happy marriage - maybe even longer than some of their closest relations on the Royal Family side (which shouldn't be too difficult).

Friday, 22 April 2011

My best (well, only) friends-in-the-flesh in the entire world.

I know it's something of a cliche to show off one's pets in one's blogs, but here they are - yet again!
The Noodles half of my Dynamic Duo (on the right), wasted no time in claiming the cardboard box in which I was meaning to store a few of my CDs, and has slept in it day and night ever since I found it in the road about three weeks ago.
Meanwhile Blackso, I've recently been told by the vet, needs an operation to clean his teeth and gums, at a cost of £140. Gulp!
But I love 'em both to bits.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Are our seasons shifting?

Above are some pics taken from my window, today and
last November.
We're currently experiencing temperatures which would normally grace July, after a Winter in which November was colder even than January usually gets. In this part of England we're now having the warmest April spell since 1949. So what's going on? Topsy-turvy weather seems to be an ever-increasing phenomenon. Still, though the reasons for this apparent disturbance in weather patterns could be yet more evidence of dire consequences ahead for all of us, at least for the moment it enables me to expose and brandish my knobbly knees outside.
(Btw, it may be noticed from the third and fourth photos that some of the trees have recently been felled.)

I add, for good measure, a pic of 'yours truly' taken a short while ago - trying to look a little more cheerful than she usually looks, but succeeding rather in looking sleepy!