Saturday, 24 March 2018

Free weeks of threebies - win three free fings!

Three weeks have passed since my last blog, but what a variety of riches they brought. From some hard hitting drama to a joyous musical via the by-product of brewing, this is quite a positive blog - nothing much disappointed me these past few weeks. You can win several of the things below in this posts hugely glamorous giveaway. Read on, metal guru.

You Were Never Really Here

I was lucky enough to see a preview showing of this film at The Printworks Odeon in Manchester. I didn't do any preparatory research and went into it totally blind. Well, not quite. I met my datemate for a couple of pints beforehand and he told me two  things: 1) It's not a comedy and 2) It's described as Taxi Driver for a new generation.Odd that we should be watching it together then as the only time I have seen Taxi Driver was on VHS 25 years ago when we both went back to some girls' flat with high hopes and spent the night on the lounge floor. It was our early morning viewing while we waited for those same girls to arise.

It is Taxi Driver for a new generation. A troubled individual saving a young girl whilst battling his own inner demons. It differs in that Travis Bickle starting breaking in front of us whereas here Joe is already broken.

Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely mesmerising as Joe. There is no glamour to the character, no heroics or quips or clever fighting techniques. Joe is efficient and terrifying to those on the wrong side of a hitman for hire. Phoenix has a driven weariness in his walk, his eyes and the small amount of dialogue needed. Flashbacks to Joe's childhood and earlier service days explain how he became this pill-popping merchant of death but the scenes that focus on Phoenix's face tell enough. He's always been an oddball and is known to through himself into roles but how much method does it take to get the story in the depths of his eyes? Honestly, the performance is extraordinary.

As a relatively short film the plot is secondary to the character. Joe takes on a job to rescue a politician's daughter from an underage brothel and in the doing so uncovers an even shadier affair. To be honest, you won't get that from the film and it doesn't matter. It's a film that is to be interpreted rather than followed. You can surmise things here and there and who's to say you were wrong? This blog isn't a spoiler fan so I'll leave it there on plot. What you do need to know is it is violent and very unsettling. The violence is mostly off camera and cleverly cut but don't be swayed into thinking it isn't a violent film - it is.

It's early in the year but Lynne Ramsay has produced a masterpiece that deserves to be talked about at Oscar time next year. An incredible piece of work.

The Amazing Spider Man 

Two films on the bounce, unusual for someone who's generally a book reader or episode junkie. This DVD came courtesy of Skystore as a free gift for registering - no subscription, commitment or postage, a proper freebiet. Even thought the film is 6 years old it's still retailing for £7.99 on the Skystore site itself so fair play on a generous offer.

I don't mind the odd superhero film but I can't say I'm a junkie. My wife and son guide me in what's what and I do get confused with the sheer number of films around. There must be a fair market for them though - this 2012 film is a reboot of a franchise trilogy that ended just 5 years earlier according to Wikipedia, the first of which was just 10 years earlier. If it's generally kids of a certain age that watch these then maybe there's mileage in going through the origins of the hero and giving them their own version. Like Roger Moore is 'my' James Bond and Tom Baker is 'my' Doctor Who, maybe one day kids will describe Andrew Garfield as 'their' Spider-Man.

And a fine Spider-Man he is too. It's not so much the times in costume that impress (as most of that is CGI and the talking bits could be anyone) but the bits in between. The awkward teenager that is regularly bullied; the science geek who finds evidence of what may have happened to the father who disappeared when he was young; the boy who makes the most of a piece of fate and gets the girl. I'm not the first to note how much Garfield resembles Anthony Perkins in Psycho - the nervous tics and twitches but the determined sense of being right when challenged. This is an interesting performance and brave to steer away from a wise cracking slick boy.

The plot follows (I believe) a similar origins plot as other films. Young boy lives with his aunt and uncle, sees uncle killed, gets bitten by a spider and gains spidey powers. The love interest changes (well, the name of the character does - played here by Emma Stone) and the villain too. Rhys Ifans plays the shadowy scientist who gives himself superpowers and becomes the Lizard, wreaking havoc on the city until - well, see if you can guess what happens?

The plot doesn't really matter. It's not challenging and there's no depth but that doesn't seem to matter. The action scenes are fine and Spidey's ways of swinging through the city are almost believable (unlike the cartoon series I grew up with, where one was never quite sure where the 'ropes' were attached) and fun. It's the opening half hour that really grabbed me. Garfield and Stone are reaally engaging and Peter Parker interested me more than Spider-Man himself.

I'm giving away my copy of this DVD, along with other stuff I've received this week. Scroll down for the comp.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.

 Another Goodreads win and lucky to be from one of my favourite authors. You may well know the plot but there are no spoilers in the review below (taken from my Goodreads profile). Scroll down to win the copy I won, amongst other things.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cards on the table (to reference another Christie book) - I adore Hercule Poirot. I'm a huge Agatha Christie fan but it's particularly the egg shaped head of the Belgian detective that excites me. I was lucky enough to get a copy of the latest paperback edition from Goodreads.

A train heads back to Western Europe from the Middle East with passengers from a variety of nations on board. Somewhere in the Balkans it hits a snow drift and remains trapped. It could be several days before they are rescued...

... and in one of the sleeping compartments a body is found, stabbed many times. The door is locked from the inside.

Classic mystery set up covering two of the most popular motifs - the locked room and the confined group. Since crime mystery stories first began the locked room has perplexed many of your famous fictional sleuths. How on earth can someone be dead in a room locked from the inside? Poirot will help you out. The carriage is stuck miles from anywhere in the snow with nowhere to escape, so the killer must still be amongst them. Will he or she strike again? Poirot will sort it.

What follows is a methodical survey of the scene, of each character and a listing of the facts as they arise. It's far more linear than most other Christie books and quite claustrophobic - mind you, Poirot gets to sit in the lunch carriage to conduct his interviews. Everyone else is stuck in their compartment, even the innocent must be ready to crack. A whole train full of killers, there's an idea.

The plot doesn't sound exciting but it is so intriguing. Poirot delights as ever and Christie builds the clues up like blocks until the structure is there but you can't quite make it out until Poirot suddenly spins it around and then OF COURSE! How did you not get that?

J'adore Hercule.

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Twentieth Century Boy - the Marc Bolan musical.

Last Monday an email dropped in my inbox offering free tickets to see this musical at Buxton Opera House. Now I adore that place, and I love the music of T-Rex so 24 hours later I'm on my way.

 If you haven't been to Buxton Opera House then I hope your wait isn't long until you do, wherever you are. It's divine. A stunning frontage leads to a small lobby (this is a very compact theatre) where the friendly staff all wait to greet. The bars are also small and quaintly set out (several pubs are so close that they also offer interval drinks to be pre-ordered) but I can never wait to get to my seat to take in the decoration of the theatre itself. Imagine this in the early twentieth century when it was built, and what a tragedy it would have been to have lost it in the seventies, as seemed likely. Now it's as busy as ever and a joy to visit.

But what of the show? Well the music is the star and George Maguire does a great job emulating Bolan, which can't be easy. To my untrained eye most of it looked live which gives even greater kudos.

The plot follows Bolan from childhood to tragic end, from the Mod model through the psychedelic folkie and into the Electric Warrior - the founding moment of Glam Rock. At his side throughout is his mother and alongside him his wife, June and later Gloria Jones who was driving the car on the final fateful night. The entire cast comprises of just about 10 actors who play multiple roles and the scenes merge in and out in quite a fluid way that reminded me (and this is meant in a good way) of Legz Akimbo - is there a term for that style?  It's not rich in scenery or effects, the music does the work.

For me, the times when June and Gloria sing slowly about how much they love him were a bit too long and I yearned to get back to the glam and louder music. Luckily, the talking bits were minimal and the best music saved until last with a fine finale. These actors graft hard and have quite a punishing touring schedule, they deserve plenty of praise.

Have a bop to this and then enter that competition.

So here's the competition. I'm giving away the Spider-Man DVD that I received, the copy of Murder on the Orient Express I read for my review and a wee pot of Marmite. All three things can be winging their way to you by entering the easy competition below. 
Listed On Loquax
My free weeks of threebies giveaway!

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Win a crap book!

Another fortnight of surprises, culture and downright greedy eating freebie fans. In spectacular shoot-yourself-in-the-foot fashion I have decided to give away the most disappointing freebie of the fortnight. Well, it's all about opinion and maybe you disagree. Flick through the soup, music, books, cultural event and ice cream to get to the stinker of a review and competition at the end. Enjoy life's little victories x

Nestle Meritene chicken soup 

 I received a sample of this dried soup mix in the post. It allegedly contains all the minerals, vitamins and protein needed for those over 50. I'm in my late forties so maybe I've done irreparable damage to my insides.
It tastes OK. Just like weak chicken Cup-a-Soup. There's no lumpy bits - no croutons or dried veg - just some green bits that could be parsley. This stuff retails for around £5 for 4 sachets whereas Bachelors Cup-a-Soup is around £1.20 for 4. So those added vitamins must be worth a lot, right?
Or maybe this is Nestle's latest attempt to stop a demographic getting their vitamins by natural means? Now that people are wise to their aggressive marketing of formula milk to third world countries then maybe they have turned to using us first world middle agers to expand their evil empire? As I say, it tastes OK. If I were you I'd buy normal dried soup mixtures and vitamin supplements or make your own chicken soup. You could sell it to African kids and become an international corporation.

BBC Philharmonic at The Bridgewater Hall. 

Can you believe that in all the years I have been in and around Manchester and with my fondness for a bit of classical music I have never been to the Bridgewater Hall? Well, my freebie adventure has resolved that. Built in 1996 to replace the tiring Free Trade Hall as the home of the Halle Orchestra and with state of the art acoustics, the hall is a breathtaking performance space. It's external shape is fine, pointing valiantly toward the city centre, but the materials seem dated. Inside it is wonderful. The foyer is average but the concert hall itself is stunning. Fans of straight lines should head to the auditorium where the seats aren't just on rows but large cells, all designed for acoustic perfection. I was lucky to have my free ticket right in the first row. Well, luckyish.

I had the perfect view of the solo performer for the first piece - 'A table of noises' by Simon Holt.The performer was Colin Currie, for whom the piece was written, and from my six foot distance I could see the concentration and skills with which he played each item, accompanied by a selection of orchestral instruments.

I've said before that I love seeing art and artists at work, whether in the creation or the performance of that art. This freebie blog has taken me to things I wouldn't ordinarily have gone to and it has helped me find new things to enjoy. This wasn't one of them! Undoubtedly talented and ticking all my creativity and performance boxes, but too syncopated and avant garde for me to appreciate.

After the break was my cup of tea. Conducted by John Storgards the whole BBC Philharmonic took the stage for Mahler's seventh symphony, the soaring 'Song of the Night'.

Why does Mahler get classed as heavy, I wonder? I've a few pieces and CD (but not the 7th) and find them quite invigorating and moving. This one was no different and my body tingled through the final movement with it's rousing but abrupt finale.
I've said it in several blogs before, I'm no muso. I write to express my opinions and to analyse fro my viewpoint, which in this case isn't that of an educated expert. To me, the performance was perfect and it's fun watching a conductor and wondering how his movements can be so important. I know they are, because every one of those talented musicians on stage kept their eyes on him. Marvellous how he waves an arm, someone draws horsehair over catgut and such exquisite beauty emerges.

For fellow non-musos the 2nd movement was used to advertise Castrol GTX in the early eighties.

Chinese New Year - Manchester.

I'm not going to review Chinese New Year - what right have I? I'd be happy to hear what my being born in the year of the pig means though.

This wee piece is just my experience of taking my family into Manchester to see the traditional parade. Again - 26 years in and around Manc and this is the first time I've done this. Disgraceful really. We headed straight to Charlotte Street to soak up the atmosphere in Chinatown itself. I'm glad we did - reasons later. A few stalls and fairground rides around here but we headed straight through and towards the Town Hall.

In Albert Square there were a few more stalls with Chinese toys (clacking drum things, paper dragons, that sort of thing) and some Asian food stalls. The square was quite busy and the view of the entrance poor so we headed round the corner and took up our spot on Princess Street. This too fills up but after about half an hour the dragons appear and bounce along the street, sweeping over the crowds to the accompaniment of drums (quite the percussive blog, this), back and forth the dragons dance, up and down their lengthy bodies. Great fun and a wonderful way to celebrate a cultural event. Sweets are given out and as the parade passes we follow towards Chinatown.

Yowser. Here it gets busy and, in my view, dangerously so. Crowds hold themselves inches from the tram track as trams crawl though and the small side streets of Chinatown are blocked off leaving the crowds to walk around looking for a way in. We gave up and, glad that we had at least walked though Chinatown before the parade, headed home. I wasn't content to leave town without eating some Chinese food but with everything choc-a-bloc we settled for noodles near the station. I great, free, event and there are a lot of other things going on around it in places the art gallery and central library. Can't wait for next year, and a happy year of the dog to you all.

Before I go by Catherine Cookson. 

Another Goodreads win - I won this for my mother but decided to read it first. Rather wish I hadn't! The review below is from the Goodreads site.

Before I GoBefore I Go by Catherine Cookson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another win from Goodreads and one I entered in the hope of a surprise for my mom - a big Catherine Cookson fan. Hands up from me - I've never read a book of hers but I am told that they aren't your typical family saga. No reason why only middle aged women should be the only ones to read a particular genre but there are genres that do have audiences of a particular demographic. The majority of Cookson's readers (and there will be many - she was the most borrowed author from British libraries for several decades) will be women.

When I was about ten I was given the responsibility of running the book stall at a fundraising jumble sale at my local chapel. People brought bags of old books as donations and I arranged them and sold them for a few pennies in aid of the church. My mom left me with a little instruction: "If anyone brings 'Our Kate' by Catherine Cookson then put it to one side and I'll put the money in the pot". I was so happy to open almost the first donated lot to find that very book and Mom was just as happy too as she dropped the pennies in the pot. She'll be delighted when she gets this too.

This book follows on from previous biographies and autobiographies (such as 'Our Kate') and is a previously unpublished memoir. To be honest, as my first experience of Cookson I wish it had stayed hidden. Cookson doesn't come across as particularly likeable to me and I feel bad about that.

Catherine Cookson came late to writing. Before then she earned a living through hard work running laundries and as a landlady. During this time she kept patience with her chronic alcoholic mother and was taken advantage of by several people she befriended, some for many decades and well into her years of fame. Cookson knew she was being taken advantage of but, and this is going to sound awful, she does seem to relish the victim state. She had several various serious illnesses and conditions throughout her life that eventually left her blind. She suffered a lifetime of bleeding and there is no doubt suffered long bouts of pain. Coupled with several heartbreaking miscarriages and it seems harsh of me to say she enjoyed relished being a victim but on top of this we hear about her debilitating fear of heights (she cowered on the back seat when driving on mountain roads) and other conditions that, to be honest, aren't really that serious and sometimes one can perhaps understand why several doctors fobbed her off even when she was ill. As well as illness the book also details many, many people who did Mr and Mrs Cookson wrong. In fact, one suspects the memoirs are little more than a black book of hate. The only person who has Cookson's unswerving love and devotion is Tom, her beloved husband. The love appears mutual and together they faced the endless trials like Mr and Mrs Pooter.

The book does touch upon the journey to becoming a famous writer but not enough to make this a book about her career. I am assuming that aspect is covered elsewhere. All told, this is one for the fan who has read everything else - the tagline on the back "A story of talent, good humour and determination" is quite misleading.

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Magnum classic ice cream

Quite a spectacular giveaway in Manchester Piccadilly Station last week. Thousands and thousands of these tubs were given away and they weren't sample size - they were your full size comfort eat. I didn't risk trying to get it home, I ate it at my desk and felt sick for the rest of the afternoon. That's not down to the product, that's down to greed.

You know your average Magnum on a stick is a creamy white ice cream covered in lovely Belgian chocolate? (I think it's Belgian, it tastes Belgian). Well image that ice cream filling a pot but still being surrounded by that chocolate. Yes, that's what his is - the entire pot is lined with chocolate and the chocolate filled with ice cream that itself has shards of chocolate in it. The idea is that you squeeze the pot to crack the chocolate and then smash through the lid to get at it - boy was it good. The chocolate really is something else (the ice cream I can take or leave). My challenge with my remaining pot is to see if I can get it out like a sandcastle rather than cracking it. Photos will follow if that is achieved.

Love, freedom, aloneness by Osho

yet another Goodreads win and one I'm going to giveaway to one of you lucky readers. I'm not expecting many entries as I gave it a stinking 1 out of 5 stars! But it's all about opinion - maybe you disagree? Win it and let me know.

Love, Freedom, and Aloneness: The Koan of RelationshipsLove, Freedom, and Aloneness: The Koan of Relationships by Osho
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Osho was an Indian spiritual guru who spread his teaching in Asia and the US until his death in 1990. His advocacy of more open sexual relationships was perhaps ahead of its time and stems from the overarching theme of love and happiness. Osho eshews family and marriage and this book wholly relates to his teaching of meditation and love of oneself. Everything is about oneself and to love oneself is above all things.

It's claptrap.

I fully agree with peace and love. Nothing epitomises my own beliefs more than this. I disagree with Osho's demands for communes and no families, with the selfishness of love for oneself and the simplistic belief that if everyone did as he said everything would be alright. The book refers to many religions and most of them are criticised (fairly in most cases), with Hinduism and Buddhism coming closest to being near Osho's own beliefs. On a general level I can see the frustration in politics and religion keeping people in their place but this is the outcome of moral corruption and not the primary purpose. I don't believe that without organised religion and a political system people would all be happy.

Two passages sum the book up for me. The first is Osho's description of his childhood "I have never been associating with people....they thought something was wrong with me"; "The reality is something is wrong with you, I am perfectly happy to be alone".

Fair enough, but why make this the basis for teaching and a belief that everyone should follow his guidance? The second passage is on the next page: "When I became the professor at the university...I used to park my car under one tree". You'll need to read the entire book to understand why this annoyed me, but 240 pages telling you to do nothing but meditate, love yourself first and just be, rather than think. Who services the cars, mends the roads or runs the university?

Nah, I'm not buying it. How this became a career is beyond me and advocating freedom and fulfillment in a book selling for $16.99, with links to the Osho Meditation Center and other corporate moneymakers does nothing for me. If Osho were around he'd probably just look at me with a sad smile and tell me that I just don't love myself yet. Fair enough, but I'm not believing the religious man either.

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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 ...