Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Tangerines DVD - making sense of the Citrus War

What did I get? Tangerines DVD
How did I get it? It was a competition win, but I'm not sure where from. It just turned up in the post.

Are you, like me, trying to make sense of the world? The internet has made us a global village with a great knowledge of so many cultures that we should be more understanding and friendly. Not so; members of the human race seem more intent than ever on finding ways to hate anyone not like themselves.

The Berlin wall coming down was a great moment that symbolised freedom to many. It was the fall of communism, the pulling back of the Iron Curtain, and yet it also heralded a chain of frightening times across Europe where ethnic groups fought each other to claim lands that all said was rightfully theirs. In Britain we are probably more familiar with the Balkan conflict in the former Yugoslavia and good luck to anyone who worked out what was going on there, who was fighting whom and why. Similar conflicts were taking place in the former Soviet Union that rumble on to this day. This DVD didn't resolve the whys and wherefores for me, but opened my eyes to what it was like at that time. It's a wonderful film.

Ivo is an old man living in his simple hut in Georgia. He spends his days making crates for his neighbour, Margus, who farms tangerines. They appear to be the only people in their muddy little lane in this rural backwater, ethnic Estonians who have refused to flee Georgia with their families.

The war draws close to their harsh existence and soon they are visited by Chechen mercenaries, muslim fighters who are battling the Georgians. They respectfully leave Ivo after he feeds them but soon are caught in a firefight with Georgians.

Ivo ends up tending 2 injured men, one from each side. Their convalescence starts with mutual hatred and promises of revenge, but Ivo maintains peace as the enemies come to know each other.

War is never far away and the pain it creates evident. I'm not going further as I won't spoil a powerful ending.

It's no wonder this was Oscar nominated for the best foreign language film. Simple in structure (about 95% of the film takes part in a stretch of road just a few hundred yards long, with Ivo's hut and workshop and Margus's cottage with adjacent orchard the only buildings) it has incredible performances with Giorgi Nakashidze being particularly mesmerising to me as Ahmed, the mercenary fighting for the Abkhazians. This film is an Estonian - Georgian film. If only everyone could co-operate to create, not destroy. Love and peace to you all.

Friday, 25 March 2016

James Clavell's "Shōgun" - my book of the year so far

What did I get? - "Shogun" by James Clavell (paperback)
How did I get it? - from a clear-out at work

My first post for 2 weeks but there is a reason. I have been trying so hard to finish this book that I have been ploughing through since early January. It's been a tough time at work this year and I think I must have dozed more than I've read on my commute.

When I started the blog I decided that the rule I would follow is to review something that I had received for free that I would usually have to pay for and nothing more complicated than that. Usually that's not too difficult as most of my posts are competition wins or items given me for review, but sometimes I get other stuff that would ordinarily cost me, or you, money. I reviewed a pencil last month. My blog, my rules.A second hand book would usually cost me money so in it goes.

So, during a clear out at work, I claimed a couple of paperback books that nobody else wanted. James Clavell is an author that I'd never read so I went for it. 

"I'm antioxidised like never before"

I'll be honest, I struggled to get into it. 1200 pages over two and a half  months - you must think I'm daft to have carried on. The thing is, reader, I can't leave a book once I've started it. the only book I can remember abandoning was The Dubliners by James Joyce, That's the benchmark I work by.

I'd reached page 400 when I lost the book. I put in a request to borrow a copy from my local library so that I could finish it and then I found it again in the glove box of my car. 

Shōgun is based on true events and characters and at the heart of it the fascinating story of the first Englishman to land on Japaneses shores who eventually becomes a Samurai. I say fascinating; the true story is fascinating but this fictional version known as John Blackthorne is less so. 

Blackthorne is shipwrecked on a Japanese Island at a turbulent time in their history. The heir is young and the islands ruled by 5 powerful regents. Blackthorne is captured by one, rescued by another, befriended and used by the same and is at the heart of political intrigue and plotting that culminates on a decisive battle. During this time he becomes truly Japanised (© Idiotinagrownupsbody) and comes to despise his original shipmates. There is romance, violence, politics and history in good measure.

  It's easy to understand why this is standard reading for students of Japan and Japanese culture. For 2 months I've drunk nothing but green tea - I'm antioxidised like never before - and I even tracked down some saké from a Japanese restaurant in Manchester before finding it in my local Tesco. I've eaten plenty of rice, pickled vegetables and fish. I've found a samisen album on Spotify that was on repeat for a while. What it didn't do for me was the basic requirement of a novel; it didn't grip me. The entire plot and action would make a wonderful 500 page novel, but the major plot points were dragged too far apart for me to really enjoy it. Given the chance to develop, I didn't really feel as if I 'knew' any of the characters, even though the story is told from various viewpoints. 

Clavell has sold enough copies of this and his other Asian sagas to show that my view isn't the majority one, but I don't think you'll find me reading Tai-Pan anytime soon. Samisen music and saké I'll be doing again, but not long-winded sagas. 

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Do a doodle on a Dodo-Pad why don't you?

What did I get? A Dodo-Pad

Where from? A competition win from Mums Club

I feel a little bit bad about this. Mums Club is obviously a blog for mums (which I'm not) but I do visit a number of sites like this. Dads' interests are usually covered by specific sites relating to sport, food, music, whatever. Blogs aimed at Dads don't speak to me, I don't know why - maybe it's a bit of jealousy that they all seem much more perfect dads than me. Am I falling into a typical social media trap?
Mums' blogs are in a more competitive sector and so the best stand out and I am more comfortable reading these in a detached manner. They are well written, perfectly targeted and (hopefully) an enjoyable and rewarding independent industry to be working in.  Mum's are a massive presence in blogging and a huge source of publicity, so they get some decent competition prizes too.
Going back to the perfect dad thing, maybe I'm envious that they seem to get so much time doing exciting stuff and then producing professional looking, well written blogs. That was an excellent link of mine to my latest freebie - a Dodo-Pad.
The Dodo-Pad describes itself as a 'combined diary-doodle memo-message engagement organiser calendar-book'. Apparently they've been going for 50 years, but it's the first I've heard of the matter.
The pad is set out in a week-to-page format with a free page to the left for scribbling. The bestest part of the pad is in the daily grid - there are 5 columns for each page. I suppose you can use these columns for whatever you want - work, school, play, food, telly for example. Being a family of 5 ours is easily assigned to each person so we can keep track of what each of the kids is doing each day or where I'm working.
I don't know if anyone still has those fancy seats in the hallway which had a table attached where the phone sat so you could phone your girlfriend/mother/speaking clock whilst twirling the cord around your finger? Probably not in this age of cordless phones, and we don't have a hallway to put one in. Anyway, this would be perfect for a table like that which is a useful fact I have given you and you're welcome. Leave it out and encourage doodling. I agree with the intro page of the Dodo-Pad which  doodling eases tension (and probably gives some scary insight into your evil mind) and the makers have started you off a few times.  
The Dodo-Pad is daft and useful, like me. And mums.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Hotel Transylvania 2 - monstrous fun

What did I get? Hotel Transylvania 2 on DVD

How did I get it? A competition win from National Geographic

It's exciting getting a parcel through the door after a competition win. Usually the postman brings it while I'm at work so it sits there until I come home. The kids urge me to open it as soon as I get through the door and then groan as it's something that is (to them) quite boring - a book, grown up DVD or clothing. Every so often I get something I can share with the whole family and this is the first one to appear on my blog.
I love modern family animated films. Until the mid nineties they were enjoyable but usually tied to a particular style, either aimed at girls, boys or young kids. I've watched a lot of the older Disney films as my children grew up and they are great, but I view them through the eyes of myself as a child. The entertainment is nostalgic as we watch and remember how we felt as a child. Toy Story changed that - that added depth to a plotline so that there was excitement, pathos and humour, some of which was real laugh out loud stuff that winked over the shoulders of children at the adults. Always clean, mind.
Hotel Transylvania 2 is one of those films. There are lots of full blown laugh out loud, snorting moments and some marvellous slapstick. I caught my wife and mother-in-law laughing lots more than my son.
I'm trying not to give away spoilers, so this might be a vague plot description. If you've seen HT1 then you'll know that it tells the story of how Mavis, a vampire, falls in love with Jonathan, a human, who stumbles across their hotel for monsters. The real star of the piece is Mavis' father Drac (voiced by Adam Sandler) who tries to stop the youngsters falling in love and failing.
In HT2 Mavis and Jonathan are married and along comes a little son, Dennis. Is Dennis a monster, or a human? Drac certainly hopes for the former but it's not looking likely so he enlists the help of various monster friends to teach Dennis his monster heritage, against Mavis' wishes.
The storyline isn't as robust as the first where the whole idea of monsters and humans sharing the same space was new. This film deals with the conflict of generations where a new generation wants to explore new horizons and the older generation wants to maintain a status quo. It's not heavy though, it's just a good excuse to throw loads of visual gags at us. It may not be a film you come back to time after time, but it's one that'll make everyone smile and even laugh for an hour and a half.