Thursday, 28 April 2016

Rush DVD review

Whatcha get this time? Rush DVD
Where from? Part of a competition prize package from Gay Times

I was 5 in 1976. I first became aware of Formula 1 around 1979/80 when Niki Lauda was still racing and appearing in my Panini sticker book. It was the year james Hunt finished racing but I barely recall seeing him do what he did best. Hunt was there throughout my childhood but usually as a chat show guest or commentator.

This film tells the story of Hunt and Lauda's rivalry through the 1976 season when Lauda was reigning champion and Hunt an English playboy pretender to the throne. It's a true story and sticks mostly to the facts, the main ones being the eventual winner of that year's championship, the circumstances of that victory and Lauda's infamous crash part way though the season. Lauda was trapped in a burning car for over a minute and suffered horrific burns to his face and hands - the scars of which we have all seen throughout his continued involvement in F1. Incredibly, Lauda returned to race after just 6 weeks and became more successful in F1. Hunt died tragically early in 1993 at the age of just 45.

The story starts a few years before to set the scene of how Lauda and Hunt became F1 drivers. The film flies through this and barely sets the scene, but it's all that's needed to keep the film interesting and way from being a geek-fest.

Our Nellie found the acting incredible. She was most impressed with the accuracy of both actors. I'm a little more fussy and found the odd Hemsworth attempt at well spoken English awkward, but mostly fair enough. Bruhl, as Lauda, is more convincing with his dental work. One wonders how close their portrayed personalities are to actuality. Both come across as not very likable but brave and honourable. Hunt in his selfish quest for self-glory and fun, Lauda as the quintessential Teuton driven to succeed by efficient application.

At just under 2 hours Rush literally races through the plot and is no worse for it. I'll probably watch it again if it's on telly, but doubt I'll turn tot he DVD on a quiet night. It's a must for anyone unfamiliar with the story of the 1976 F1 season, an interest for the rest.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Wrangler coat - warm, but pricey

What did I get? A Wrangler Blizzard coat
Where from? A competition win from Littlewoods

This is my biggest win of the year so far. In naive blogger style I am writing about it as the spring arrives and people aren't thinking about winter coats. I also think it's a discontinued line so no point waiting until next winter! Still, at least I am writing with 2 months of experience and not in the first flushes of excitement, which is pretty a good thing as you'll see.

The main point about the coat is that it's warm. Very, very warm. The snuggliest coat I've ever owned and I love that. I sank my chin right down on those snowy commutes or chilly night matches and at no point was I even close to being cold. It's (fake) wool lined in the hood and shoulders and quilted elsewhere.

It's also very waterproof. I get the impression that the waterproofness will last for years and not wear off like walking type jackets, it's not greasy either like wax jackets can sometimes feel.

Great point number 3 - loads of pockets. Decent buttoned waist pockets with hand pockets to the side of these. the hand pockets are lined with what's described as "smartphone cleaning lining" - a velvety affair. Well, my phone is in a case but it works a treat on my glasses. There's a decent sized pocket inside, a pen pocket where you'd expect that to be on the inside and 2 huge sized hidden pockets around the moob area that could be useful for tucking your hands into or carrying paperwork. There's even little buttons inside the sleeves and the only function I can think of for those is to attach your mittens when you go to the park with mummy.

The fur trim around the hood is detachable and this came off right away. that was a bit too trendy for me and as you can see from the pic it's a bit too in my face. The remainder of the hood sits OK on my head but I do find the wool clings to my hair so that when I turn the hood tends to come with me and needs adjusting once in a while.

And now the negative points, and some are quite serious when I get to the price. The first is about quality, and maybe I was unlucky ("unlucky he says - he got a free coat!") but the pocket stitching came apart in the first week with an audible ripping sounds. All I did was put my hands in my pockets, and they ain't big hands.

Secondly, the cursed zip. It sometimes takes me ages to get it zipped and it catches on the inside flap several times on the way up. Honestly, I have needed my wife to try and do it for me some days. This sounds daft but I can't begin to tell you how frustrating it is to have a zip that's so fussy, even though it is strong and tight when finally zipped up.

Final gripe - the design around the chin and neck. The arms and everything else is perfect so I don't believe it to be a sizing issue, but the chin part comes above the chin. This coat is made of VERY stiff material - I can stand it up on its own. Under my chin it rubs and I need to undo it (and the buttons) a bit, but then the zip works it's way down and before you know it you're open to the chest.

Overall, I do really like my coat. The pocket has been stitched and nowhere else looks to be a problem, I'm sure I'll get used to the collar and the zip and me will just have to learn to love each other. But the question of value....

The coat (so I was told by the very friendly and helpful marketing agent) retails (retailed) at £190. I would be very disappointed if I had paid that amount. I didn't, so I'm happy but this is meant to be an honest and objective blog after all. Looking at other outlets you can get this coat for £55 - £75, it's a fair deal at those prices.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Room soundtrack (Stephen Rennicks)

What did I get? Room original motion picture soundtrack by Stephen Rennicks
And how? Part of the same prize package as the book, thanks to the excellent Gay Times

So, after yesterday's post about the emotionally exhausting but stunning book I wanted to get straight to talking about the soundtrack. This is the soundtrack to the film (obv.) and I have no idea how the film might differ from the book. Looking at the song titles suggests not too much.

The song titles nearly threw me. I took the soundtrack on holiday with me last week, before I had read the book, and listened to it a few times. It was only when I started reading that I realised I might have a an idea about what might be coming. 'Mouse' might not give too much away but ... well, just be careful when checking the track list OK?

Like the story, the soundtrack is very minimal. The simple notes of 'Opening' are repeated in several other tracks throughout and even the track that I assume accompanies the most heart thumping, dramatic part of the book is barely a single note, the sparsest track here. It would be interesting to see the direction of the film using the music as a guide.

This isn't really a soundtrack, it's more incidental music. A book that is set in a single room that neither occupant has left for 7 years demands a soundtrack that fits the mundanity of their lives. This album is just that, but it is also beautiful. Simple, calming - it could be the sound of gentle rainfall, the birth of a baby, leaves falling from a tree. I might fall asleep to this album tonight.

Rennicks produced a few songs for the weird film 'Frank and they too fall into the gap between soundtrack and incidental music. A talented musician who interprets scenes well, I'm sure I'll be hearing more from this composer in the future. That's the beauty of Spotify, I can go explore like I did with other soundtrack composers such as Yann Tiersen.

Maybe the album's not quite as memorable as the book, but it's pleasing all the same. The film has a lot to live up to.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Room by Emma Donoghue - my new best read of the year so far

What did I get? Room by Emma Donoghue (paperback)
How? A competition win from Gay Times

This is the first instalment of a decent competition win from Gay Times. The soundtrack to Room will
follow and there were a few other DVDs in the package too, all deserving of their own article. Gay Times has some excellent quality reviews and articles on their site and I've been following it for many years. They have great comps too.

Room (not The Room - that's important) is by Irish writer Emma Donoghue but set in the US. It's a work of fiction that I assume is inspired by harrowing stories of people kidnapped and kept captive for many years. The entire novel is told from the perspective of 5 year old Jack as he describes his life with Ma in the room that has been his entire world since his birth. Everything in Room is part of his world - Bed, Wardrobe, Sink etc. Old Nick comes often enough to provide food and other essentials.

It's difficult to discuss too much of the plot without giving the development away. I was prepared for heartache (nothing - NOTHING - makes me sadder than things happening to kids who don't understand why, in fiction, film or real life) and I admit to having to wipe tears away on a busy train.

I don't think this is a spoiler, but if in doubt stop reading now...

...I wasn't as dismayed as I expected to be. Donahue could have taken the easy route and written the story we expect. The Hollywood story. That she chose to tell an entirely plausible story makes this book the stunner I wasn't expecting. It's interesting to see other reviews on Goodreads and find opinion split on writing from the perspective of the child. I found it sensitive, respectful and believable; others find it a but nauseating. I really hope all those negative reviewers stuck with it to the end and didn't give up. Being held captive in a single room IS boring, I believe that to be the point of the start of this book. I certainly didn't find it boring to read about because Jack has a child's enthusiasm and approach to play. There are two major points in the book that demand you read through to find the outcome - I defy anyone not to.

I really wasn't sure that I was in the right mood for this book but oh, my days! It left me emotionally exhausted and it fully deserves the praise it has received. The bond between a mother and son is so strong for most of us, maybe this is what strikes home most.

This song is relevant, but you'll have to trust me on that - or read Room.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Schiele and Vermeer books for children

What did I get? 2 children's art books by Catherine de Duve
How did I get them? A competition win from Galina Varese's lovely blog

In my header I state that I don't enter competitions for things I don't want or need. I wasn't sure what to expect from these books when I entered. I enjoy art and art history and anything that keeps the kids interested in them is good by me.This prize contained 2 books - "The Little Egon Schiele" and "Colour and Learn with the Little Vermeer"

Catherine de Duve is on a mission to bring art to children and has many books in print. What is most interesting is that she produces books that cover artists beyond the usual Van Gogh or Monet. The books are aimed at different age groups.

The Little Egon Schiele is aimed at a slightly older age group, maybe 8 - 10 years. The book is 30 pages long and gives a brief overview of Schiele's life with some historic background. The words are challenging but well-chosen for the age group. They complement the wonderful illustrations well and probably deserve a place in a school library. What irks me somewhat is the questions posed on each page. They are pitched at a quite different level to the language used in the text and quite patronising to someone reading the book and understanding the biographical details. For example, on one page we have the paragraph

"During this time locked away, Schiele becomes even more indignant against the authorities. he is furious that people can be so narrow-minded. Alone in his cell, he produces 13 drawings, including one which he calls Obstructing an artist is a crime, like murdering a life in the making!"

This page is faced with an explanation that the orange in one of these drawings represents Schiele's hope. The reader is then invited to draw the fruit which represents hope for them. This is such a waste of space - an intelligent description of an artists troubles followed by a space to draw a fruit. It makes a half-decent reference book a piece of ephemera that can only be used by one child. The idea behind this was lost to me.


The Little Vermeer suffers similar confusions. This is most definitely aimed at a younger audience than the Schiele and the words are fewer and chosen carefully. The bulk of the book describes the cultural and historic context in which Vermeer worked. Sadly, the book contains little of Vermeer's work for the child to see and is instead filled with black and white representations of his work for children to colour. This is a good idea but the quality of the drawings is quite poor and I can't see how this would hold the attention of a younger child. 

My children are 11 and 13 so a bit older than my estimated target audience. They certainly didn't see it as aimed at them. I've judged the books on how they would have seen them a few years ago and also through my own undergraduate training in childrens' literature. The books are a great idea to bring art to a younger audience but I don't think they would hold attention for more than one sitting. At £6.99 for the Schiele and £4.99 for the Vermeer they aren't extortionately priced, but perhaps extravagant as colouring books.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Why I'm fat

What did I get? A steak, red wine and mushroom pie.
How did I get it? Doing what I do best.

A return from a week's holiday and an unexpected little freebie. My local football club have a loyalty scheme during the course of a season. If you buy 10 pies you get the 11th free. Today was my 11th pie, so I'm claiming it for the blog as today's little victory - I had my money out ready to pay and the pie was free!

The pies are supplied to Glossop North End FC by Mettrick's and I've been enjoying them for years. They are award winners and one of the many reasons why I love watching my local team - affordable entry, friendly atmosphere, you can watch the match wherever you want, no segregation needed.

My choice of freebie pie was steak red wine and mushroom. Even when not given freely it's a steal at just £1.50 (the peas and gravy were an extra 50p, I paid for that).

Look at that lean chunky steak, all cuddled up with mushrooms in a red wine gravy. The pastry was sweet, moist and held shape well.  These are award winning pies from an award winning butcher - you won't find better value at any ground at any level.

We lost 1-0. Hey-ho.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Harry Hill's novel is as daft as you'd expect.

What's the freebie? Escape from Deathrow paperback by Harry Hill
Where from? Another grab from a work clear out

A few posts ago I discussed Shogun by James Clavell, one of 2 books I liberated from an overflowing bookshelf at work. That took me months and I needed something different. Anne Diamond recommended this book to me one lunchtime as we enjoyed a Blue Bols spritzer in the Winding Wheel pub, Cannock.

It's the bizarre flight of fancy you'd expect. The novel is actually about 14 years old but you wouldn't realise it as neither Harry Hill or his output has changed me in 20 years. Look at this video, that's 20 years old is that.

Nowt wrong with Harry Hill maintaining the same act if you like Harry Hill. I don't mind him, he's found what he's good at and made a decent living out of it.

Anyway, back to the "plot". There isn't one really. A pig thrown into the world of celebrity culture, told by Harry Hill in the first person. It's a barely structured series of musings that has flowed from the end of Harry's pen (a 1993 Papermate judging by TV Burp or You've Been Framed you'll know Harry delights in putting celebrities into implausible situations. Thus it is here, including Harry himself.
the prose) full of pop culture references which do date the book. If you've seen

If you're amused by Hill and spot this at a car boot sale then give it a go, it's a daft bit of fun. if you don't like Hill then avoid like the plague, you'll hate it.

617 Squadron - the Dambusters at war by Tom Bennett (book review)

  This review is from my Goodreads page 617 Squadron: The Dambusters at War by Tom Bennett My rating: 3 of 5 stars This was given freely ...