Dolly Parton’s America: Podcast review.


Dolly Parton's America : NPR

After my last two journeys into the dark side of the human condition this is the flip side.

Dolly Parton, sorry Saint Dolly Parton, is such an American dream and institution that it’s about time a tribute as glorious as this was created, whilst she’s still alive, fighting fit and full of vim and vigour.

This extended interview series with the queen of country charts her life and songbook but places it all in the context of an America that exists around her.

We hear much about American politics, religion and culture and how Dolly and her extensive business empire and philanthropy fits into the broader cultural mix.

It’s delightfully presented by fanboy Jad Abumrad and reported and produced by Shima Oliaee at WNYC Studios and OSM (awesome, get it?) Audio.

It’s a sheer delight from start to finish but touches on the darker side of Dolly’s life: her women’s rights attitude that has been in evidence since her earliest, surprisingly bleak output through to her refusal to air a view on Trump (half my fans are Republicans why would I state an opinion on this?)

I’ll predict now that Dolly WILL come out with a view on Trump, before the election, and it WILL NOT aid his cause. Because Dolly is a Bellwether. Her view can influence American opinion – nothing she says is ill-considered or trivial – apart from maybe her own self-deprecating boob gags.

This is uplifting entertainment with a serious undertow.

I highly recommend losing 8 or more hours in Dolly Parton’s America.

You will thank me.

Dicktionary pic of the day #21.


The ‘Pictionary’ round in my weekly music quiz has proven to be a hit so I’m sharing it here.

My ‘drawers’ have 30 seconds to recreate a classic record, either from seeing the sleeve (as in this one), or by being given the name of a song.

The results are the basis of this simple question.

Day 21

What classic album cover is this?

Answer given tomorrow.

Please don’t answer here but please do click like if you think you know.

Answer to Day 20

Dicktionary Pic of the day #20.


The ‘Pictionary’ round in my weekly music quiz has proven to be a hit so I’m sharing it here.

My ‘drawers’ have 30 seconds to recreate a classic record, either from seeing the sleeve (as in this one), or by being given the name of a song.

The results are the basis of this simple question.

Day 20

What classic album cover is this? (A tricky one.)

Answer given tomorrow.

Please don’t answer here but please do click like if you think you know.

Answer to Day 19

Guy Robertson. RIP. One of Scottish advertising’s greats.


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Generous.  Gregarious.  Gallous.  Great.

That was Guy.

I came to know my great friend, Guy Robertson, initially as a TV icon – upon winning STV’s The Business Game, for his fledgling agency, GRP, not long after its launch in 1986. Soon enough I came face to face with him, 33 years ago, in the Tait and Mclay Golf Cup held at Burntisland GC, where his victory celebrations were cut short by some wee ned stealing his clubs from the car park.

Typical.

It was to be the start of an unforgettable friendship peppered with hilarity, passion and shenaniganery.

You see, Guy was a one off.

He had no peers.

Nobody was like Guy.

Generous

Of spirit.

Of his time.

Of his hard-earned cash.

Guy was one of NABS, our industry charity’s, greatest supporters. Every year, for the last 15, he’d pull together his legendary team of rag tags and bobtails, that he had somehow coerced into the long trip to Edinburgh, even though most of them had nothing to do with advertising. But Guy was paying, because he wouldn’t see NABS short. (And travelling First Class on Scotrail.  Always.  The only person I knew that did that.)

One of the last times I met him was when his team took part in the inaugural NABS ping pong tournament at Maggie Mays in Glasgow’s Argyle Street.  He was there to win (just like he was at the music quiz, and twice did) but sadly the callow youth saw off his beer swilling buddies in the semis.

And, not surprisingly perhaps, he was a mainstay of, and major contributor to, the longstanding Golf Day.

His spirit was defiant and anti-establishment (despite his posh-school upbringing and dubious respect for too many men in blue) but kind, caring and just, you know, inspiring.

He blasted into his term as Chair of the IPA with gusto and no end of enthusiasm.  An enthusiasm that was ultimately extremely rewarding for him as he sat shoulder to shoulder with adland’s great and good and concluded, aghast, that he was just as capable as most of them.

It was through this that he met his, and GRP’s, beloved mentor; Adrian Vickers.  They made an odd couple in truth, but it was a relationship that thrived on Guy’s generosity, gregariousness, gallousness and greatness.  Adrian played his part too, genuinely enthralled by Guy’s wit and his willingness to soak up the great man’s greatness.

And it’s a funny old thing, but that rubbed off on him in an unexpected way, because he’d recently begun applying those mentoring skills with the most important person in his life, the light of it really, his daughter Jemma, and in such a way that he found a renewed passion for the business.

After graduating from Aberdeen, with a degree in Business and Marketing, Jemma formally joined Guy’s new business, GRA Independent Marketing and Advertising last year and has displayed the same vigour in building the business with him as he always did and she fully intends to build on his legacy in the years to come.

Guy and I relished our roles as self-proclaimed advertising outliers.  We both eschewed the establishment but, in our own ways, eventually embraced it.

We liked to sit at the back, giggling, talking when the talkers talked.  Being naughty schoolboys.  Sneaking that wee extra glass of free wine.  Him in his blazer.  Me in my soup-stained t-shirts.  Sara Robertson shooshing us with a heavenward look and a barely concealed smirk.

Gregarious

Guy lit up rooms.

He couldn’t help it. Flashing a pearly smile at the ladies.  First at the bar for the boys.  Telling tales.  Rarely of woe.

Even when he had to break the news of his, Garry and Iain’s partnership finally succumbing to the financial crash-fuelled recession he spiced the gloom up with glee.   So much so that I was moved to share, on my blog, his message to friends to tell us of ‘GRP no more’.

He began his valedictory note thus:

Warm felicitations from the West End of Glesga,

And ended on a typically self-deprecating note…

So, thanks for reading my rambles and apologies if it comes across as somewhat self-indulgent, I guess that’s because it is!

(The full email is posted here.)

Gallous

I don’t need to explain to any of Guy’s many friends why that great Glasgow adjective, gallousness, was Guy’s very essence.

Guy was gallous, it’s as simple as that.  And I mean that in the most respectful of terms.

To me, as an Edinburgher, it means bold.  It’s immutably Glasgow and Guy was immutably Glasgow.  I was jealous, deeply jealous.  When we were on the town together gallous Guy made me feel like his accountant sidekick.  I was a great admirer and always savoured his dazzling personality, wit and repartee.

Great

His personality sometimes shrouded his greatness.

A quick thinker.  A sparkling wit and a gift for selling.  All givens.

But also strategic, opinionated, scholarly and a great lover of his art.

GRP didn’t thrive on his personality.  It thrived on his substance.

And greatness comes in many forms.  Guy’s greatness encompassed the many qualities that I’ve shared already but true greatness, to me, comes from the heart, from the essence of a good human and Guy was as good as they get.

Guy, your tragic and, frankly unscripted, denouement was in keeping with a life that refused to follow convention.

Your legacy will be one of greatness.

One of uniqueness and, once the grieving is over, one of joy.

Thank you for every moment my friend.

I will miss you terribly.

 

 

Dicktionary Pic of the Day #11


The ‘Pictionary’ round in my weekly music quiz has proven to be a hit so I’m sharing it here.

My ‘drawers’ have 30 seconds to recreate a classic record, either from seeing the sleeve (as in this one), or by being given the name of a song.

The results are the basis of this simple question.

Day 11

What classic album cover is this?

Screenshot 2020-05-27 at 14.00.10

Answer given tomorrow.

Please don’t answer here but please do click like if you think you know.

Answer to Day 10

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Dicktionary Pic of the day #5


The ‘Pictionary’ round in my weekly music quiz has proven to be a hit so I’m sharing it here.

My ‘drawers’ have 30 seconds to recreate a classic record, either from seeing the sleeve (as in this one), or by being given the name of a song.

The results are the basis of this simple question.

Day 4

What classic album cover is this?

Screenshot 2020-05-21 at 14.04.12

Answer given tomorrow.

Please don’t answer here but please do click like if you think you know.

Answer to Day 4

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The most impressive images of Edinburgh you will see this year. Covid-creativity at its best by Emilie Lumineau.


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New York magazine starts an article on the epic movie  I Am Legend, this way.  

A virus hits in 2009, infecting everyone but Will Smith. By 2012, New York is rife with monsters at night yet empty during the day: a spookily beautiful dystopia.”

Although it’s a great film we all know that the best thing about it was the abandoned cityscape that time had created.

So imagine my jaw dropping when I saw Emilie Lumineau’s virus-inspired vision of Edinburgh, should the lockdown continue in the same way.

Emilie is a graduate of Napier Uni and is working in the hospitality marketing sector but it is her private work that has caught me eye and you can see more of it here.

I have to say, it is truly outstanding work.  Simply the most interesting and exciting (and frankly beautiful creative idea I have seen about the lockdown since it started.

Thank you Emilie.

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My guilty schadenfreudey secret.


Why The Coronavirus Testing Target Is A Distraction From Other ...

Is it just me or is my schadenfreudey hatred of this hideous government’s behaviour getting in the way of my humanity?

All last week I watched Matt Handjob’s 100,000 testing target coming more and more into the spotlight the closer and closer it came to failure.  By Tuesday it looked dead in the water but then, lo and behold, amidst fanfare, triumphalism and a smIle bigger than Priti Patel could muster at a successful tribunal, he hit gold.

Not only was the target met, it was smashed into oblivion. (Better not just to creep – appropriate word in the context – over the line, eh?) But, you know, even as the printer ink was evaporating on the press releases one could see that the 122,000 declared tests included 40,000 tests that were ‘in the post’.

And of course the 122k, is now under 80k today: Sunday.,

And today it also transpires that last week’s tests included 31,000 that had been sent to care homes with inadequate instructions and, guess what, only 7% have been carried out (that’s under 3,000 and so knocks a further 28,000 out of his numbers for the week; although perhaps not the day).

Many of those home deliveries appear not to have been supplied with return envelopes – so what are people supposed to do with these tests?  Pop down to their GPs and hope the queue’s short enough to avoid the risk of infection?

So, target met (yet not met) then immediately fallen short of.

(When I ran, a golden rule when taking on steep hills, was to run through the top, not hit it and slow down.  That leads to momentum loss and more harm that good.  Seems a decent metaphor for this.)

I should, surely, on a human level, be pleased about the meeting of this colossal target. I, surely, should be celebrating this mammoth achievement.

But I’m not. Mostly I’m guiltily revelling in the schadenfreude of it all.

Why?  Because this government makes me sick to the pit of my stomach.  Not in a Trump-buffoonery way.  (He’s mentally ill, so he kind of almost doesn’t even really count.)

No, it’s a much more considered (and by that I mean ‘thought out’), systematic, partizan-political, stomach-churning approach to mass mis-communication that they have taken.

That it’s a conceit conceived by conceited cunts where headlines are much more important than head-counts is what makes it all so galling.

I feel I am living in the middle of the greatest lie ever constructed by a political elite that can’t, won’t, don’t know how to rail against the sort of eugenic-tinged canker that Dominic Cumming spouts and Boris, puppet-like, blurts out on the hustings.

But this isn’t hustings, those are long over.

This is the real thing.

The time for grown-up leadership, something I can’t even begin to conceive of from this burke.

And I too feel like a cunt, for wanting them to fail in hitting their targets – because it makes it feel like I want our healthcare to fail, which, of course I don’t.

It’s actually only this government that care about these numbers that are meaningless.

What is the significance of the 100,000 number?

Absolutely nothing, apart from the headlines.

I don’t really want to contrast this approach with the deliberately low-key tone of the Scottish government’s because you will probably immediately accuse me of hypocrisy and my own political point-scoring.  So, I will acknowledge that the Scottish job is arguably easier, even if health and social services is devolved.

Decision-making and, more importantly, its communication comes without fanfares in Scotland and our usual political infighting has largely been parked by all sides – to all-sides’ credit.

I’ve not touched on the PPE lies here.

Nor the late start as Boris was bungling Brexit, before turning flaggingly-late to the pandemic.

It’s piss-poor and I simply have to get over myself.

Rant over.

 

 

Intermittent Fasting Results: 114 days in.


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This isn’t me.  I’m still closer to the ‘before’ than the ‘after’ but I’m getting there.

I’m not one for fads and I don’t find dieting easy, but I can do it.

On January 5th this year, under the guidance of my daughter, a fitness and nutrition coach in London, I embarked on an intermittent fasting regime that is now nearing the end of its fourth month.

But has it worked?

Well, I’ve shed an average of over half a pound a day throughout that period.  In total 61lbs so far.

What’s the basis of my regime?

Four things:

  • Daily exercise
  • Intermittent fasting
  • No alcohol
  • Vegetarian diet with a careful balance of my macros

I’ve been walking in excess of 15,000 steps a day (an average of 14,000 this year so far).

I walk when I wake up and don’t eat until 1pm.

Then I typically eat a high protein brunch (scrambled eggs is the most common, with Avocado often).  I then eat again at around seven and, apart from frozen grapes in the late evening, that’s me.

My diet is now 100% vegetarian, although definitely not vegan.

I drink a lot of coffee, although decaf after 6pm, and often with oat or almond milk rather than skimmed cow’s.

I have binned the alcohol, although I will be back when this is over.  (In some ways this is the toughest part of the regime, even in Lockdown).

My 61lbs loss is 22% of my body weight (you do the math yourself) and I’m closing in on  the first of my targets, to be under 200lbs for the first time in probably 30 years.

The attainment of a normal BMI seemed unthinkable at the start of all this – if it is indeed even a meaningful thing – but I’m into the low 29’s and closing in gradually on the elusive 25.  But that needs another 28lbs weight loss so it’s a long term, rather than short term, goal.

Update as of Monday 15th June, 2020.  I’m now on day 161 and my weight loss is 76 lbs. (28.1% of my body weight).

I weigh 194lbs, so the first big target has been hit and I’ve switched to decaf coffee 100% now.  

My ‘intermittent fasting’ continues.

An alcohol free lockdown. (Or, how to fight coronavirus Corona-free)


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There have been reports that the average drinker is drinking more in the lockdown caused by Coronavirus.

I’ve done the opposite.

In fact I went dry on January 5th as  part of my annual ‘cleanse’.

As is my want I also began a diet and a new exercise regime that is based principally on walking 10,000 steps a day.

This year, for the first time, I also went vegetarian.

All four disciplines remain fully in effect.

101 days later I find myself 53 pounds lighter and feeling the benefit significantly.

I will report on this in a later post but, for now, I wanted to share with you and encourage you, if you’re thinking of taking the sober plunge, with my observation that not drinking through the lockdown is neither the end of the world, nor an unimaginable fate worse than dearth (pun intended).

One motivator for me in this is that I am self employed.  All of my work has dried up and I am not receiving a penny of government support, despite trying to feed a family of five, all adults, and none of us earning a bean.

My son and my daughter’s boyfreind are both just back from travelling – one was too late to find work and the other was unceremoniously dumped the second things got tough – only a few days before the furlough ruling was approved.

My wife doesn’t work and my daughter is a student.

Luckily I have savings and, let’s be honest, our outgoings are significantly reduced (especially as I was able to negotiate a three month mortgage holiday).

So, not drinking (my wife doesn’t anyway) has meant the budget stretches a fair bit further and that could be a primary motivator for you if you find yourself yearning an alcohol-free life just now.

But is it purgatory?

No, I have to say, the good news is it’s not.

The benefits, aside from financial, are manifold and for some of you that get ‘the fear’ when overindulging – thankfully not something I have ever experienced – that could be the biggest one.

In past purges I have substituted with alcohol-free beer, but I think it’s a bad move.  This time I took a conscious decision not to ‘substitute’ in this way and it lessens the sense that I am being punished.

My poison, instead, has been stove-top coffee (Illy Rosa is the king in my opinion) – caffeinated during the day and decaf in the evening.

Some other low calorie ‘treats’ you might like are frozen grapes.  Truly a guilt-free option of an evening.

You’ll find a number of benefits

  • weight loss – if you’re a fat bastard like me
  • good levels of energy
  • much better sleep
  • excellent concentration – particularly helpful in the endless Zoom quizzes you may be, like me, taking part in.
  • I think, generally speaking, better mental health all round

My advice would be to go ‘cold turkey’ rather than trying to wean yourself off.  Get in a good supply of caffeine free diet coke and the aforementioned coffees, but I like to start with a hangover so that at least on day two you immediately feel better.

If you want any support along the way drop me a line.  I’m happy to personally share my experiences.

Mazel tov.

 

 

 

Pine by Francine Toon: Book review


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It’s a sort of gothic horror for our times, although I’d describe it as more mystical than horrifying, and it brings in aspects of police procedural, but with no police.

Instead a crime is traced by 11 year old Lauren, a fairly neglected, and bullied at school, single-parent child.

Her dad, Niall, an alcoholic, has lost his wife (disappeared) in unresolved circumstances before Lauren can even remember what she looks like.  But is she dead, or is her ghost/spirit/person occupying the fringes of the novel?

Lauren has assumed mystical behaviours consistent with witchcraft, and perhaps inherited from her missing Mum.

It’s set on the edge of a pine forest in Northern Scotland and it’s written with great skill by first time novelist, Toon.  But what it scores highly on, in terms of writing panache and storytelling, it loses out a little on in tension.

It feels a little familiar and seems destined for our screens.  Indeed, for large parts. I felt I was reading a film transcript which let it down a little.

That all sounds a little dismissive, but if you are looking for a lightish read with a degree of writing quality (it’s published by Penguin after all) It’s worth picking up.

It’s a decent read.

 

 

Seeing life from a different perspective


My daughter Amy’s latest blog post. More positivity in these tough times.

Hitting the ground running

Whilst the world is trying to work out how to heal and make everything better, it is up to us to stay at home, stay healthy and remain as positive as we are able.

I have had so many conversations recently with people saying “oh my god such and such did this and it is really doing my head in”.

Every time it has prompted me to think and respond, “would they have done this before now?”, “would it have annoyed you then?”, “why do you think they did that?”

Most of the time the response is “yes, they normally did this it just seems worse now”. 

Each of us has our own way of dealing with life and responding to uncertainty. Nobody responds in the same way, no approach is good / bad / more superior. We are only human and it is in our nature, especially right now…

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World 2.0. After the lockdown. Can I help?


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It can surely be no exaggeration to say that the business world needs to hit reboot.

I’m not really sure when, or how that might start to happen (although starting now, to get ahead of the pack, might not be such a bad idea) because we will be entering a new reality.

I’m calling it World 2.0 for simplicity’s sake.

World 2.0.  The new reality?

We’ve had three Industrial Revolutions so far – in turn they were the consequences of the steam engine,  science and mass production, and the rise of digital technology.  They were all born of opportunity and technological advance.

None of them were caused by nature and all of them created booms.

But we’ve also had the opposite.

That has been the domain of World Wars and crashes; one of them financial (2008/9) and one of them (1929) founded on greed and wild speculation.

When we return to our desks, post-virus, post-furlough and scan our opportunities, most likely with a sense of doom, we’ll need to prioritise.

Big style.

It’s highly likely that workforces, everywhere, will be trimmer.

It’s highly likely that plans will be in disarray.

It’s highly likely that the idiom regarding loneliness at the top will never have been truer.

What’s the last thing you’re likely to be looking for?

Consultancy.

That’s what.

I dislike that word at the best of times but, you know, it’s what I do.

I bring to bear the biggest asset I have in my toolkit.

Experience.

The thing is though, I’ve never weathered an apocalypse, because let’s be honest here, that’s what we’re talking about.

So I don’t actually have any experience to offer you.

Right.  So should you read on?

Please stick with me, because my core skills will be as valid as ever as difficult decisions need to be taken about future investment, planning, positioning and your business’ true value proposition.

It simply won’t cut it if they’re flabby, comfortable – designed for World 1.0.

A trimmed down offer.

I’ve been using the lockdown as wisely as I can – or at least I think I have been.

I’ll be honest with you.  I gave up my latest role (with The Marketing Centre) only weeks before the tsunami struck.  I was looking to operate differently anyway, to go back to my own personal basics – little did I know just how differently that might be.

Since the turn of the year I’ve been exercising, dieting and then – enforced to some extent – resting and building up my energy for World 2.0.

Of course, that’s not all of choice.

My business has been hit hard.

Total and utter cessation of income at this point in time.

And at the time of writing I’m, physically, 17.8%  leaner as a result of my efforts.  I have aspirations to progress further but I can only report on fact. (Something much overlooked by many authorities in recent months.)

See these rocks?

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They weigh exactly 17.8% of my body mass.

I’ve been building a wall of them for months.

It’s a metaphorical wall now; one I can help you smash through as you look to re-establish your messages, your proposition, your value in this new world.

And I’ve decided that my contribution to your leaner outlook should be leaner fees, that’s why I’m knocking 17.8% off my World 2.0 invoices – every little helps.

I can help you with your marketing strategy, your business strategy and in visioning what World 2.0 might look like for you.

You never know; it might actually be a better place.

 

 

Borostounness Episode 5: The Articulate one.


OK.  As we settle into lockdown Helen and Rab have one small advantage.  Their pals Jeanie and Bill have already had the virus so they can come and go as they please.

They’ve popped round to cheer Helen and Rab up with a friendly game of Articulate.  (The Game in which you have to describe the words you see on cards under the category that your playing piece is on.)

It can be a little frustrating.

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Education is power


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Read Amy’s blog post via Education is power

My daughter Amy has set out in life as a nutrition coach.  It is exactly the measured thought process you find in this blog that makes her advice hugely valuable.  My wife and I have been following her coaching strategy and in three months we have lost 57lbs between is.  If that isn’t proof of the pudding I don’t know what is.  message me if you’d like details or follow up through her blog.

True History of the Kelly Gang: Movie Review


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Some 20 or so years ago I lay by a pool in the Algarve, Portugal, and read Peter Carey’s source book of the same name for this movie.  It had just won the Booker Prize and, if I’m honest, it didn’t blow me away. In fact, judging from the last page corner fold (p266 0f 408) I didn’t even finish it.

I wasn’t exactly blown away by the trailers for the movie either so I approached with extreme caution, not least because IMDB’s reviews were, at best, lukewarm and, at worst, damning.

I’m not even sure why I shelled out – not just for me but for my wife and daughter too.

Anyway, suffice to say, it was a good choice because this is a great movie in the tradition of modern ‘Westerns’ that include the 2007 masterpiece, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  

The trivia link?  Nick Cave. His son Earl Cave features in this Australian outback ‘western’ and Cave contributed the soundtrack to ‘Jesse James.’

The main damning criticism of the movie is, in fact, one of its strengths.  It’s languid.  Many say slow. No s-l-o-o-o-o-o-w.

For me, its pace allows it to breathe.  It allows the deep psychological distress, that has shaped Ned Kelly’s life and informed his young adult behaviour, to gestate.

The story concerns Australia’s most notorious outlaw’s life and times.  He and his gang assume personas as devotees of a secret society known as the Sons of Sieve, who disguise themselves through cross-dressing in reverence to legendary bushranger Steve Hart.

Their attire of dresses, charcoal face makeup and metal bucket masks, fashioned out of old ploughs, is entirely discombobulating as they are ruthless killers. It makes for an exciting visual impact.

Justin Kurzel (a director new to me) and his sidekick lighting cameraman Adam Arkapaw have conjured up a work of art.  And that’s why so many cinema-goers have loathed this film, expecting instead a blood and gore shoot out.  These come, but they are limited.

One such scene, towards the end of the movie, when a team of armed police advance on the Kelly Gang at the infamous Glenrowan siege, is electrifying and dazzlingly conceived.  Set to discordant music (Jed Kurzel, the director’s brother) the long line of the law are shot, at night, in rain, dressed in long rubber capes that, through a combination of stroboscopic lighting and some sort of weird white light, make them appear as a line of luminous KKK-like ghosts foretelling Kelly’s ultimate demise (at the age of 25).  It’s a searingly spectacular scene that literally took my breath away and is worth the admission fee for this alone.

George Mackay, who carries the year’s best movie (1917) almost singlehandedly, performs another excellent, but much more collaborative role here with a bunch of outstanding supporting players, notably his mother (Ellen Kelly) and his would be nemesis Nicholas Hoult (will he ever play a likeable character) as Constable Fitzpatrick. Russell Crowe astounds in my favourite performance of his career, albeit not much more than a cameo, as his early and wholly evil mentor.

This does have blood and guts, but its 18 (R) rating feels unjustified.  It’s a beautiful evocative celebration of early Irish immigrant exclusion, prejudice and societal revenge.  It’s a portrait of some sort of descent into mental chaos (although more subtly rendered than Joaquin Pheonix’s tour de force in Joker). But mainly, it’s just a damn fine movie.

 

Taking BIG steps in the ‘right’ direction


This is my daughter’s amazing post. Be inspired folks.

I left my job 27 years ago and have never had a job since. This one was in nappies.

Hitting the ground running

Sometimes we stay in, let’s say non ideal, situations for too long. Not because we want to, and not because we don’t want to get out, but because sometimes it is the only thing we really know and it can be hard to break out of that pattern until we find the right thing to go to.

It can be easy to look at a situation objectively and tell someone else what to do. It’s really, really hard to look at your own life, acknowledge a problem and do something about it.

I’ve been in a non ideal situation for a while now. At one point it was the combination of a toxic relationship, combined with a toxic job, and breathing toxic city air. This is just what I thought life was. Of course, I mean this flippantly. I have always understood and appreciated that I am in a privileged…

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Parasite: Movie review.


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I am going to be unpopular here because it’s unfashionable to do anything other than laud Parasite from the rooftops.

Let’s get a couple of things straight before the off.

  • I have no issue with the ‘One inch barriers” to universal film appreciation that director Bong Joon Ho describes subtitles as.  I have seen thousands of subtitled movies and Scandi Noirs.
  • I have no, unlike Mr Trump, political bias against (sorry, not bias, prejudice in Trump’s case) South Korean cinema.  Indeed I recently reviewed Chan Wook-Park’s The Handmaiden as 10 stars on IMDB. (Oldboy is a classic from Park, too.) I also loved Ho’s Okja and The Host, although I thought his English-speaking Snowpiercer was truly awful.

So this is not the problem, and just because I’m not raving about this doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, I did.  I just feel the praise that’s being lavished upon it is greater than my appreciation.

I read one review on IMDB by ‘mysticfall’ that suggested anyone who didn’t love this was a moron and clearly didn’t understand it.

I had no issue with understanding it.

It’s essentially a movie about class and privilege in which Ho brings together South Korea’s richest and poorest in one household, with the poorest as servants, and sets up a scenario where he does not judge either for their caste.

Except he does.

As the film progresses it’s clear that the master of the house has an ingrained prejudice against the poor that manifests itself in his inability to understand or articulate that it’s their ‘smell’ that reeks of poverty, and is therefore undesirable.

Variously described as a comedy and horror it leans far more to the former with some extremely funny lines and a pretty strong dose of slapstick – as seen in Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s excellent Inside Number 9 episode – A Quiet Night In in which two cat-burglars attempt to steal paintings from an occupied house without a word of dialogue.

Almost all of Act 2 of Parasite was essentially this episode.

The horror that we are promised is actually gore, and is reserved for Act 3.  It’s very much in the school of Tarantino, and, of course, Tarantino himself is heavily influenced by Asian film-making, so a certain circle is squared.

The  performances are universally excellent but I feel that, on occasion, Ho strays into slightly heavy-handed territory – much in evidence in his direction of Snowpiercer.  It’s not enough to spoil anything, but it clashes with the adulatory reviews I’ve read.

The cinematography is simply beautiful.

It’s a fine movie, but in my view 1917 was a more immersive cinematic experience and consequently deserved the Best Picture Academy Award.

Call me what you like, but I’m saying what I’m seeing.

 

 

 

American Factory: Documentary review


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I didn’t think I’d see a better documentary than For Sama this year, and having viewed Netflix’s American Factory last night, the Oscar winner in the documentary category, I stand by that view.

However, this is a fine piece of work.

It tells the story of a Chinese windscreen-manufacturer reseeding the site of a massive General Motors factory in Dayton Ohio some three years after its closure.

The main premise of the film is that this is a meeting of two cultures, both business and anthropological, and how the rise in Chinese commercial enterprise, even deep in rust-belt, Republican USA, is a success that won’t go away.

But the Chinese drive a hard bargain: much lower wages, poorer health and safety ideology, an intolerance of unions and a hard work ethic (in China overtime is compulsory, not optional).

The filmmakers – Stephen Bognar and Julia Rheichert  – are seasoned pros and have an interesting technique that makes this such an agreeable watch.  It’s not controversial, there’s little humour and there are no pyrotechnics.  It’s just a laconic stroll through the lives of the people on both sides of this cultural ravine, gradually exposing what it’s like for each of them.

They take no sides, they critique no-one, but clearly there is stuff in here that could enrage a very large percentage of its viewers, no matter their cultural persuasion.

That’s what makes it work.  That and a good soundtrack and a pleasing use of cinematography.

It’s not doc of the year, for me, but it IS an intelligent piece of documentary film-making that is as far from the Michael Moore one-sided tidal-wave of opinion and argument as one could get, and, for that, it is to be admired.

The Lighthouse: Movie Review


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Steptoe and Son, on a rock.

It’s marketed as a horror, but I’m not sure that would be my proposition given that it’s not very scary, but what it is, is interesting.

It’s arthouse.  Very arthouse.  So, if the word ‘pretentious’ leaves you cold leave The Lighthouse by the only exit, downstairs centre.

Robert Pattinson (an increasingly accomplished actor) and Willem Dafoe ( a criminally underrated performer) perform two-man psychological warfare as they set sail, in the fog, to the 19th century eponymous structure.

Silent and brooding, the two take a good 15 minutes to utter a word to each other and even then only grudgingly.  Dafoe, the old hand and the extremely domineering boss, and Pattinson, the new charge on his first tour of duty, play a curmudgeonly duo (think Steptoe and Son, but without the laughs) that only gradually begin to come to terms with one another when their hooch starts to flow.

Pattinson has a secret to hide, Dafoe is just a bullying old git that gets his rocks off on the rock by exposing himself to the lighthouse lens deep into the night.  Meanwhile, Pattinson fantasises about mermaids.

Gradually it unravels as the hooch takes hold and it becomes a battle of wits and strength between the two, the prize unknown and the purpose unclear.

As a vicious storm takes hold it’s uncertain as to whether they will ever leave the rock, let alone alive.

Shot in gorgeous black and white in an interesting square format (think Son of Saul and Grand Budapest Hotel) it’s a beautiful experience, albeit pretty grim.

It’s clearly not going to be of universal interest and I felt it outstayed its welcome a little, but it’s an interesting cinematic (not TV) experience and I’d recommend it with strong caveats.

 

Uncut Gems: Movie review.


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In which Adam Sandler has his second ‘role of a lifetime’ – his first being his remarkable 2002 performance as Barry Egan, the lovestruck pursuant of Emily Watson’s Lena Leonard, in Punch Drunk Love by Paul Thomas Anderson.

It’s the greatest rom-com ever made.

That was the film that made me believe Adam Sandler was a truly great actor.

And it’s taken him 17 years to live up to his potential.

But in Uncut Gems he does just that, prosthetic teeth and all.

I first saw a Safdie Brothers movie just a few weeks ago in anticipation of this.  Their Good Time, starring Robert Pattinson, is not a million miles away from Uncut Gems stylistically but this follow up is a step up.

For a start it has Sandler; and Sandler is magnificent.  Reminiscent of an X rated Clockwise in which John Cleese has everything in the world go wrong for him, this is just as agonising although much, much blacker.

Sandler plays hustling New York Jeweller, Howard Ratner, as he lays off one disastrous deal against another.  Buying favours, selling and pawning his clients’ most treasured possessions to find the cash to pay off gambling debts, loans and other unexplained debts.

It makes a Wonga debt look like chickenfeed.

His big life saver though is an Ethiopian Opal that he has happened upon, how legally we do not know, but certainly it’s morally dubious.

The opal is essentially the titular character and its possession leads to all sorts of ups and downs as the MAGNIFICENT Sandler negotiates himself between each final throw of the dice in his financial life, his business life, his sex life and his home life.

it’s an omnishambles of stupendous proportions.  You couldn’t make it up.  Except the Safries do.

Their style is hand held, oversaturated, jerky camera work conjoined with overdubbed, multilayered dialogue that is often so dense you can barely make out a word. The soundtrack is corn-tastic 70’s lift music /musak/ blaxploitation/ C Movie – it’s both breathtaking and gripping, despite its mix of unlistenable-ness and sheer beauty.

But this is all about shouty, sweaty, exhausting, heart-attack imbuing Sandler.  What a role – allegedly it took years to convince him to play it and, without him, the Safdie’s were  going to shelve the project.

Scorsese is an Executive Director and there are strong sniffs of Mean Streets and Taxi Driver in this.

All the better.

Bring it on I say.

The Safdies are a glorious new talent; Sandler an under appreciated titan of the cinema.

This is his legacy and he should have won an Oscar for it.

Wonderful.

(My wife hated it.  It is, after all, pure Marmite.)

 

 

 

The annual fast. — gibberish


My daughter’s take on my take on her take on things.

Hitting the ground running

I’ve said a lot about resigning and focusing on doing what makes me happy and that I’ve been studying. But I think I’m yet to actually go into what I am actually going to do.

As of next Friday, I will no longer be in a full time job. I’ll be doing a full time PT course and using my new found knowledge in nutrition to start coaching people.

In January I have started coaching a few people, my dad included in the mix. One of the biggest challenges and rewards I could get! It makes for an interesting dynamic to coach your parents, you say one thing, they nod and agree and maybe do some of it (mum between August and December), then they start to implement it (January) and absolutely smash it.

Or, they listen, but they stick to what they’ve done before (dad) and I have to…

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The annual fast.


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My daughter Amy, a nutrition coach, is helping me this year with a plan and it’s off to a very good start.  (You should try her.  She’s amazing.  Contact me and I’ll give you her details.)

I’ll give you a taste of her success to date – 6% body weight loss in three weeks.

My wife has also probably lost more weight than she ever had previously on a diet.  It’s my daughter’s regime that’s keeping her on track this time.

But it’s early days compared to my 160 day alcohol-free abstinence in 2018 (including attending PrimaveraSound completely without a drink.  You can read about the impact of that here.

But it’s good.

21 days in.

Intermittent fasting all the way and an average calorie intake of maybe just over 1,000 a day. (Although my daughter coach insists that is too low and will be putting me a short rebalancing phase soon – when I get to 8 -10% loss.)

One thing I am trying this time round is to not simply replace alcohol with alcohol-free beer which, although excellent these days, simply reminds me that I am not drinking alcohol.  And, in any case, my tipple of choice is wine, not beer, and alcohol-free wine is repugnant.

I do like a bunch of frozen grapes mind you, of an evening.

I think a key to this has been going veggie for the last three weeks, strictly so.  I have eaten some terrific meals – including the best cauliflower cheese I have ever tasted in my life.

I’ve also discovered a superb new stir-fry sauce consisting of light soy, palm sugar, fresh ginger and lime leaves.  To die for (except, ironically, it might do the opposite).  Last night we had it with mushroom, carrot, fennel, radish, onion and red pepper.

If i get any support for this I’ll put the recipes up.

Little Women: Movie Review.


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I haven’t read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, neither have I seen any of the previous film incarnations of her famed novel, so I came to this with no expectations other than that the cast is stellar and the director, Greta Gerwig, is highly noteworthy. (Lady Bird was superb in my opinion – next up is Barbie, written by Noah Baumbach and starring Margot Robbie – that should be interesting.)

What interested me structurally about the movie is that it is essentially both an autobiography and a fiction – the novel itself is represented as little stories but the narrative describes how the book came about.  For some critics this has been problematic as it requires (or allows if you prefer) a considerable amount of time-switching, that is not always captioned for the hard of intelligence.

The movie is an emotional rollercoaster with peaks of hilarity and depths of real pity as the four March sisters, that make up the main protagonists, live a struggling middle class life surrounded in close proximity by deep poverty and significant wealth.  It is this relationship with money, and the pursuit thereof, that is the central philosophical backbone of the movie and allows for many excellent vignettes and clear messaging that money is not the root of all happiness.

On the side of the rich sit three excellent portrayals; Timothy Chalomet (outstanding as the main love interest Laurie), his wonderful and generous of spirit grandfather (played beautifully and touchingly by Chris Cooper) and the ‘evil'(ish) rich Aunt March (Meryl Streep).  Laura Dern continues her annus mirabilis as the girls’ mother (it complements her performance in Marriage Story.)

More than once the beautiful tableaux’ that Gerwig sets up reminded me of Dorothea Langue’s Migrant Mother.  In that it resonates love and tenderness in the face of adversity.

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This is a tremendous piece of film making in every way.  It’s funny, moving, beautiful to look at, poignant and thought provoking.

Saoirse Ronan is excellent, as always, but Florence Pugh’s ability to appear both 14 and 26 is even more remarkable.  Emma Watson is solid and poor little Beth is played touchingly by Eliza Scanlen.

Overall it’s a great ensemble production with the real star of the show, Great Gerwig.

Bravo!