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'Mothers of America, let your children go to the movies' or something like that. The poet Frank O'Hara wrote poems on the subject of films and the cinema frequently, always praising it to the point of worshipping it. If he were still with us, O'Hara would have probably written a poem for Cameron Crowe, the director who brought us 'Vanilla Sky'. He would have praised Crowe's outstanding treatment of Alejandro Amenábar's original film, 'Abre Los Ojos', of which 'Vanilla Sky' is a remake, probably with remarks such as 'you opened our eyes, in English!'. O'Hara would have commented on the dream-like manifestation of a story based around a rich, young New Yorker whose life changes direction after a horrible car accident, which leaves his face disfigured. Indeed, the poet would certainly have been affected by the unconcious conciousness of the film - 'Vanilla Sky' is a dream on a screen, that throws clues as to the conclusion from the moment it opens its eyes. Crowe once said that he wanted the act of watching the film to be like looking at The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album cover, with all its intricate clues and codes. Even the music, which makes for a wonderfully varied rock/pop/folk/jazz/ soundtrack, throws out ideas and clues as much as the visuals. Tom Cruise would have made Frank O'Hara go out and rent 'Cocktail', having passed it off as unworthy of his eyes and he'd probably have been entirely captivated by Penelope Cruz. He'd also, perhaps, have been scared stiff of Cameron Diaz, whose character haunts the film like De Niro's in 'Cape Fear'. And I'll agree with Frank. This film is probably the greatest film I've ever seen, but I'll never be too sure. I guess this film will always be the dream you think about for weeks, but choose not to tell friends about - after all, you're not sure whether it really was a dream or not. If this is all too confusing, watch the film. You'll know what I mean then.
I studied Plato last year, as part of an English degree. We incorporated quite a few philosophers, in fact. Aristotle likes to come back and haunt us from time to time, and there's always room for a little Descartes. Sophocles slips in for a cup of coffee when the mood is right, and Nietzsche likes to pop up from behind and scare us when we least expect it. They have all done their bit in making the world look a little less foggy. Having said that, none of them have been able to say things more clearly and more precise than Woody Allen. I was just climbing over the wall into my teens when I first read 'Getting Even', Woody's funniest book. Too young to know who this man was, I took the book down from the shelf because of its front cover - an illustration of Woody with a typewriter jammed in his forehead. After reading, I caught 'Manhattan' and 'Annie Hall', before braving the video shops to collect his back catalogue. Many years on, now in my twenties, I've just about got through every Woody Allen film, book and biography. I can hereby proclaim that Mighty Aphrodite is one of his best. The story is quite simple. Man and woman are married. Woman wants a child. Man and woman adopt. Man wonders who the real parents are. Man finds mother - a New York prostitute named Linda Ash (or Judy Cum on the porn scene). Man falls for Miss Cum. I won't say more than that, but will say that the entire film is set in modern day New York City, but the story is told like a Greek play. From time to time, a Greek chorus interupt the proceedings, often bantering with Allen on the subject of his curiosity. There is nothing funnier than a Greek God holding a post-it note whilst Woody Allen writes down a telephone number. Mira Sorvino is wonderful as Linda Ash. If you've seen any Woody Allen film, imagine one of his leading ladies exaggerated 14,000 times. And Helena Bonham Carter manages to pul l off a New York accent just fine. This is one for the Woody Allen fan and for anyone who liked Romy and Michelle.
As far as I'm concerned, there are four main issues that come with those grizzly years called 'teen'. One is either a mass of facial blemishes, or the deep, screaming fear of a mass of facial blemishes. The second is hair in all kinds of places. The third is a traditional and unjustified hatred of your parents and the fourth, and probably the least messy, is an addiction to trashy horror novels. Of course, sometimes the average teen continues to read trashy horror novels, missing the vital exit onto the route of better, more literary horror novels. Those who happen to see the signs and turn off just in time are likely to end up with a Stephen King novel in their sweaty, oxy spot cream scented palms. I read Carrie, King's first major novel, at a time when pimple-squishing was my most time-consuming hobby. Ironically, Carrie is about a teenager who struggles with the changes that occur during these funny few years, only Carrie is a girl and has telekinetic powers. But I'm not here to praise King's novels, despite the fact that I could go on about them for hours. Instead, I'd like to turn to his recent book, 'On Writing', which is a fascinating stroll through King's entire life as a writer, starting with the school magazines and wandering right up to his unfortunate accident in 1999, in which the master of the horror novel was critically injured when he was hit by a van. If you are a budding writer, this is not to be missed. There's nothing better than hearing all the tips from the horse's mouth - and King is one of the best horses for the job. In fact, he goes twice around the racecourse and still comes first. King, at times, is witty - making fun of his formative years and the idea of becoming a writer. For the remainder of the time, King is utterly hilarious. This is a very funny book, which exhibits a completely different voice to the one that hides inside each Stephen King novel. You're not going to be scared when you read this book, neither are you going to have to spare several weeks to wade through a hefty book. Slim and with small chapters, King's book is a desk top necessity for all beginners to the land of fiction writing. It is also an absolute must for the King fan, along side the Stephen King Companion which was released some years ago. A gem of a book.
Having made the mistake of buying a laptop, using courier services has become a well established activity. And it takes the edge off sending your laptop to some unknown land of screwdrivers when the courier service is friendly, reliable and almost too good to trust. DHL are just perfect. It's as simple as that. The friendly uniform comes and picks up whatever it is he's picking up, talks to you as if he was the funny guy at your wedding, offers to make YOU a cup of tea, asks if you would like a million pound just for having a nice face, offers to become your servant and begins replastering your hallway. At least, it seemed that anything like the above could have happened. And the best thing about sending something in for repair, it will most likely come home again. So, DHL brighten your day for a second time. This time, they'll walk your dog and varnish the new fence in the back garden. I suggest the services of DHL to anyone who gets fed up of waiting, of excuses and of untrained hillbillies. DHL is a company that you can really trust, despite the fact that it is a service in the UK (home of Railtrack, NHS etc.)
I like reading books. I like listening to Jazz. I like drinking coffee. I like poetry readings. I like Piano recitals. I like soft sofas. And I like Borders, because everything I like is fused into one, like an artistic overload. Going into Borders is like entering the head of Melvyn Bragg. There's nothing missing, especially rare poetry titles, which always have me jumping for joy. And if it's not enough to find a rare import of the Frank O'Hara collection I've been thirsting after for years, there's a cafe in which you can take the book, have a think about whether or not it's the one to buy, whilst enjoying a frothy Cappucino. Then there's the music. Filtering around the shop on a speaker system is the light sound of Jazz, Classical and all the other Bohemian grooves to accompany the reading of your choice. The sofas and armchairs are perfect for relaxing in whilst chewing over a book, listening to Miles Davis, Friends Central Perk style. And there's the CD department upstairs. In there, any kind of music that has you tapping, including rare imports again! And the prices aren't bad. They might often be a little higher than expected, but this is, afterall, Heaven on earth for the reader, listener and coffee drinker. As well as having an incredible magazine department, which offers such titles as New Yorker and Time, Borders also have a selection of calendars that are equally as stylish in home or office. Then there's the Borders schedule of Poetry readings, Piano recitals, storytelling, lectures and the like. Yes, this store opens late into the evening, with entertainment and plenty of relaxation for the hard worker of the daytime. I'm usually witty when it comes to reviews, but I'm not going to add any humourous remarks to a review of a place of worship! This is the artist's church, the poet's confession box, the Mecca to all readers of all tastes .
Having lost my patience with the British railways, the NHS, the Labour Government, Student Loans Company and all the other services that lie to you and say 'hey, we'll help you!', it was nice to finally find a reliable service. Another.com was, and I stress WAS, a wonderful little service that delighted me when it made opening emails easy, from whichever computer I liked, wherever I was and with just a couple of clicks. The mailbox became personal, with an ednless choice of bright pretty colours for all seasons, and the opportunity of making up your own domain. For the first time ever, I could say, email me at email@example.com! It made my friends' eyes roll with excitement, and gave me that little burst of joy! But, alas, everything must come to an end. I began receiving lots of 'spam' mail. Of a day, I would receive at least ten messages, advertising life insurance, horoscopes, prize draws and viagra! There would hefty messages that basically asked you to sign our life away and receive a free pen. And they were mostly from another.com's team of annoying advertisers. And then, if things couldn't get any worse, I arrived at the computer to check my mail one day and it asked me to send another.com money before I could read my emails again. The free service, which had been so friendly, began throwing stones at me and calling me names. We went our separate ways. We never spoke again. I got new friends, such as YAHOO. Don't rely on a free service. This is the UK, after all.
There is nothing funnier than the way we live. Actually, there is only one thing funnier than the way we live...a fat bloke up a tower, telling us about the way we live. Peter Kay is the lovechild of the Wheeltappers and Shunters Club and Billy Connolly. He is alternative whilst remaining, well, Ken Dodd. He is a white Charlie Williams, but from Bolton and not Doncaster. He is perfectly round, like a funny circle. Peter Kay - Live at the Top of The Tower, is an hour of cheek-hurting, side-splitting, Rola-Coke drinking fun. From the intensely mundane, such as rain in school playgrounds, comes the remarkably surreal, like the singing the Jim'll Fix It theme song under an umbrella in an indoor rainstorm. If you saw Peter Kay's TV shows, such as the brilliant Phoenix Nights, you'll know what to expect. But forget the dressing up. In Phoenix Nights, Peter managed to play a host of different characters at a suffering nightclub, not unlike the Wheeltappers and Shunters. What he brings to the stage is the surreal reality of Phoenix Nights, but in a blue shirt and comfortable trousers. Garlic Bread? Garlic Bread? This is the perfect gift for anyone who likes old seventies comics, Billy Connolly, Eddie Izzard and even Jim'll Fix It. There is a handful of swear words, but his mum is in the audience, so he's a bit careful. Garlic Bread? I only wish I'd have been there, in the audience, with a green platic hat, getting wet, laughing and singing Jim'll Fix It for you, and you, and you, and you.
Yesterday, I visited the home of Edith Sitwell, the late poet who was born in Scarborough. Lining her living room was an army of large oak bookshelves, looking down on me, putting a shadow over me, being bigger than me and scaring me. Some people just have too many books. I myself have too many books. And too many books can mean too many big, nasty shelves. I'm beginning to sound like Carol Smiley. So, what better than a book that holds all books inside two covers? The Norton Anthology of Poetry is a delight, not just to read, but to place on a shelf, stand back and say....ahhh....and enough space for a plant! Here is a book that guides the reader from the very beginnings of poetry, with Caedmon's Hymn, to the contemporary delights of Cynthia Zarin. Each poet, of which there are very many, is given a couple of pages to shine. Very few poets are left out, and most of those are modern poets who somehow don't really fit. There are, among the 1998 pages, the obvious landmark poems such as T.S. Eliot's 'The Wasteland' and Coleridge's 'The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner'. The Beat Poets are all there, as well as the New York School of Poets. Shakespeare sits comfortably between Marlowe and Campion and bits from Beowulf and Chaucer's 'The Canterbury Tales' are gems of the book. The introduction is a little too heavy going, with unnecessary analytical pieces. Let's face it: poetry is art and what matters is the reader's opinion, not the worded academic. But the poems are to die for, in quality and selection. Perfect for student, poet and happy reader, this is a collection that is cheap at twice the price, and, although heavy, lighter than Edith Sitwell's reading room. I have been referring to the Fourth Edition. I hope you like it as much as I do.
Five of the least successful things to do in England: 1. Vote Labour 2. Travel by Train 3. Go to McDonalds and ask for NO SALAD 4. Travel by Train 5. Get a Student Loan In September 2000, I began a new chapter of my life, kissed mummy and daddy bye bye and went to University. Thankfully, I didn't use a train to get there. I would have still been somewhere between Doncaster and Leeds, trying to make sense of a ticket salesman if I had. When I did arrive, I was introduced to the very bad, very slow, very vague Student Loans Company. Since July of that year, I believed that my loan installments would actually arrive on time without any hassle. Oh so naive. Aren't I cute?! What to do when you call Student Loans Company following no sign of an installment: 1. Talk over the incomprehendable Scottish woman who is trying to explain that its YOUR fault. 2. Hit the receiver repeatadly with the base of your hand. 3. Start to cry. 4. Warn the woman on the other end of the phone that you'll commit suicide. 5. Commit suicide. The Studen Loans Company come with one guarantee: you'll wait for your money! Then there is the problem of paperwork. Student Loans, along with your LEA, University and School, obviously detest trees. So they send reems of good paper to you, that you needn't fill in, nor read. But they often come in handy later, when you loose your sense of maturity and have paper aeroplane contests in Univeristy Halls of Residence or when you run out of loo roll. There is no way out. If you're going to University, you'll probably be force fed by the Student Loans Company. They will make you cry. All I can really recommend is that you fill in everything you need to VERY carefully, photocopy EVERYTHING and make sure that each phone call is recorded on computer by the person you talk to. They won't make a note of your phone c all, so tell them to before you even start talking about the problems you're having. I promise. You will contemplate a grizzly murder after three months of Student Loans. However, you will get your money. It may take time, but your loan will eventually arrive. Almost as fast a train from Blackpool to Preston or a burger with NO SALAD to the counter at McDonalds.
There's a Record Shop near my home that is identical to that in the film adaptation of Nick Hornby's 'High Fidelity'. In there, they have one of those poles with a couple of pairs of headphones dangling from there saying, 'Hey you! Pick me up and put me on!'. So I did. What I heard when I had finally realised how to work the volume control to prevent further eardrum damage was 'Something in My Eye', the first track on Ed Harcourt's new album, 'Here Be Monsters'. I was instantly, in my crude cross-referencing, musical-minded, 'do you like my signed Van Halen t-shirt' sort of, who does this sound like way, making comparisons across the board. We have, here, Jeff Buckley shaking hands with Ben Folds, who is doing a leap-frog over each member of the Divine Comedy, whilst listening to a Nick Drake cassette with Miles Davis' 'Kind of Blue' taped on the reverse side. There's the obvious knock on the door from Paul McCartney and a bit of a tickle from Debussy and Rachmaninof, whilst Tom Waits spins a plate in the corner. Phew. I stood for the entire length of the album, listening to Ed play and sing so incredibly, I managed to prevent the staff at the shop from closing up for the evening. It's that sort of album. It makes you stop the staff from closing up. Ed plays Piano and all other instruments that were ever invented, but not all on the album. He sings like he has a bird in his soul. The lyrics on some of the songs are in the same scrapbook as those of Randy Newman, Tom Waits and, mmmmm, John Keats. If its poetry, Nick Drake Style, go no further. I adored such lines as 'Spider has eight legs you know'. I didn't really know that until I listened to Ed singing it at me. 'Hanging With The Wrong Crowd' is lovely, starting with a hypnotic sound that reminds me of the old beginnings to the documentary show 'Arena', with the bottle with the neon sign in it. Remember? My favourite on the 11 track splendid symphony of an album, is the third track -'She Fell Into My Arms'. There is something very Ben Folds Five about it, the only difference is that Ed Harcourit does it better. He makes you laugh with a chord. He makes you tearful with a melody line. And then there is 'Those Crimson Tears', a song that I have begun rating as highly as Lennon's 'Imagine' and the Jeff Buckley version of Leonard Cohen's 'Allehluya'. It sounds as if I'm going over the top, but I'm not, because this is an over the top, seducative little record. If it were a book of poems, it would go everywhere with me. If it were a painting, it would hang all over. Buy it. Or if you don't buy it, borrow it from a more intelligent, clever friend who already has it.
A couple of weeks ago I saw 'Sid and Nancy', the Biopic of Sid Vicous and his relationship with Nancy Spungen. Gary Oldman was wonderful as Sid, doing to him what Geoffrey Rush did to David Helfgot in 'Shine'. But I'm not a fan of the Sex Pistols. In fact, the Punk era stands out, to me, as a gaping hole in musical history, filled with maggots. What I did adore about the film is the references to the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. I am intrigued and captivated by hotels, especially if they have a literary background, or something like a Stephen King style story attached to them, that I can sink my teeth into. The Grand Hotel in Scarborough is the exception. No gruesome tales of Punk heroes, but the perfect situation for a break by the sea. I have stayed in the hotel over six times in the last year, which wouldn't usually be regarded as out of the ordinary. However, I live less than a mile from the great Victorian building that sits with its elbow resting on the St. Nicholas Cliff in Scarborough's South Bay. It's like the Queen popping over to the London Savoy for a night when she has a perfectly nice little place a few miles down the road. I simply cannot resist checking in. But this is what the Grand Hotel does to you. I first visited the hotel when I was nine years old with my grandparents and, having already seen 'The Shining', my imagination started running amock. The plush red carpets and occasional soft lights down the long, often creeky corridors, just add that extra hint of Agatha Christie to the place. But there is nothing sinister about the Grand Hotel. In fact, it is one of the most comfortable, pleasant and warm hotels in which I've ever had the pleasure of staying. There is the suitable literary link, in that Anne Bronte died in a house on the site of the hotel. And historically, the hotel is leaking with wonderful stories about Winston Churchill's sui te and Broderick's fantastic design of what stands out as Scarborough's finest hotel. The rooms are tall, spacious and very comfortable. They come in three price ranges, the cheapest being just as creeky but just as enjoyable to use as the supreme suites. And most of the rooms are en-suite, which is always an asset in a building with such long corridors. TVs are also included, along with the usual coffee, tea and accompanying kettle. And if you manage to be situated at the front of the hotel, with a blacony, you can enjoy tea in front of the unbeatable curving vista of Scarborough's divine South Bay. The Lighthouse is best photographed from a front room at the Grand. And no matter which floor you're on, the stairs are accompanied by trustworthy lifts. At any time of year, the Grand is perfect. The nightly entertainment from a team of truely proffessional entertainers, with a Pontins/Butlins edge, is top notch. The hotel does not allow children to stay, hense the mature attitude of the entertainers. For the quieter guest, a drink on the lobby balcony is just your cup of tea. And, as the hotel is so large, the sound does not carry much further than the ballroom doors. The meals are excellent. The three course dinner in the evening is a cross between a good old fashioned English nosh-up with a fine European, gourmet feel. And the breakfast is just as good as the view from the Grand Restaurant, which overlooks the bay. For £17.50 per person a night out of season, and just a few more pounds in season, there is nowhere else worth staying in Scarborough if it's the hotel experience you're after. And I must add, the Grand is central in Scarborough. A few steps takes you into the bustle of the town centre, and a few the other way, onto the picturesque promenade. The Italian Gardens are just over the Spa Bridge to the side of the Grand and the Spa complex, which frequently entertains with music ha ll shows, jazz music and classical recitals, is a very short walk along the prom. Yet, if you decide to stay in the Grand, don't hesitate to use their small Casino, visit the Craft Fair on Saturdays in their Lounge or play Darts, Snooker and many other games in the Games Room. There's even an information desk and gift shop offering postcards, sweets and other holiday essentials! Where else but the Grand?