Animation and music to make you smile.

I thought I’d share a Youtube song with an animated film, which made me feel really happy when I saw it. Happy weekend time.

It is Gogol Bordello’s Pala Tute.

Directed by  Aliaksei Tserakhau, the video is a mixed media collage which blends stop-motion animation and live action, with a lot of green screen work.

The story line is four minutes of mischief, featuring a tale of star-crossed lovers shown by Tarot cards. The action incorporates a tongue-in-cheek twist on traditional favourites such as Adam and Eve, King Kong and Dracula.

The visuals are stunning, featuring caravans which pass through time and space in fantasy, with claymation animated models of the three band members Eugene Hütz, Elizabeth Sun and Sergey Ryabtsev. The animated action is interspersed with Eugene’s performance, which is equally enthralling and animated.

The video, originally released in 2010, promotes the song Pala Tute from the excellent album Trans Continental Hustle. The chorus,

Lela lela lela, lela pala tute
Jas kana meres, mirala pala late

translates as

get her get her get her get her for yourself
and then, when you die, you’ll die for her

It is a lively song, great to dance to and, as I  have seen this band more times than fingers and thumbs I was born with, I can recommend any gig they play.

They tour all the time and are spectacular live. They have 2 days in London this summer, on 26/27 July, and are always memorable for their high energy and musical mayhem.

Don’t make the mistake I once did, last time I saw them in London, of buying a ticket for a seat. You won’t be able to sit in it for long. Every other time I have seen them has been on two feet. This band are best appreciated from the front of the auditorium, dancing in the crowd.

Mishto!

Magic fingers, bubbling music, spellbound.

Today as the sun was shining in the South of merry England, a postman dropped a brown envelope through my letterbox and walked away, whistling a catchy tune.

I was busy writing so I left the post for later, which made the contents of the envelope a real treat when I finally ripped the paper apart. Inside was a CD called Glass Ceiling by the Roger Gardiner Trio and I put it on my CD player and let the music saunter up into the sunshine, all rock and jazz and sweet sounds.

The trio comprises father, Rog, and two sons, Jack and Luke: all three are dazzling practitioners at their own instruments, but together the mix is magic.

Journalist Bill Parry, who writes the CD sleeve notes, is a gentleman, a scholar and a musicophile. The breadth of his knowledge of musical history equals his admiration for auditory ecstasy and his writing is quite special. He belongs to a genre where the reviewer’s write-up  is erudite, unpretentious and completely effusive. A treat to read. But his words are not superlatives without reason…

Rog plays an 8-string bass and it bubbles and bursts beneath the rest of the music like a volcano about to explode. It can’t be ignored but it rumbles and groans and persists with a hightailing effervescence which changes suddenly to a peppery warning which would be reckless to overlook.

Luke’s drums are consistent and creative: he has been shaking the sticks since he was in nappies and the experience and practice have paid off with faultless perfection as he weaves mischief with his spirited thunder.

Jack is a guitar-maestro: acclaimed worldwide as a rock musician, he creates a unique sound, all spiky licks and rippling riffs, music to make your head bend with each note and your soul soar like a rocket. His spider fingers weave across the fretboard and create a sound which is mesmerising and explosive.

Together the three cast a spell of pure genius. Add to the brew the smooth-as-honey voice of guesting singer, antipodean vocalist Lexi McDonald, and you have a melting, hypnotic and soothing delivery. It’s a strong brew, mixing the cauldron-bubbling bass, the magic sparks of the drums and the wild and ethereal elusiveness of a lead guitar which spins and whirls like a willo the wisp.

Glass Ceiling has seven tracks and was engineered at Glass House Studios, Birkenhead, an enterprise masterminded and managed by Rog’s wife, Jan.

Four of the tracks are innovative versions of some favourite musicians’ work, a homage to bands such as Cream, Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead. There is the beautiful, funky track,  Artist’s Garden, a creation by genius and ex-Dead Poppies guitarist, Ken Rutherford. Then there are two pieces by the three Gardiner boys themselves: Jam and Bossa Jam, both enthralling platforms to show off the impresario skills of a family whose musical ability rises beyond expectation.

On the back of the CD is the cutest picture of the band some 15 or so  years ago, when they had probably already been jamming together for several years. The boys were about three and six years old, grinning and frolicking with their instruments while Dad is pictured in the background, always hammering the ubiquitous pounding bass.

Starting them young is key to achieve consistently high-class musicianship – these guys could’ve recorded this album in their sleep – but what really makes this album special, beyond the faultless and inventive music, is the unifying sense of rapport, enjoyment and prowess which these dynamic musicians share as a trio. After all, three is a magic number.

Three times to yours, and three times to mine, and three times again, to add up to nine. Enough! The charm is ready.

It goes beyond family and energy and enthusiasm: Glass Ceiling is a masterpiece of sublime musical fusion.

Up a hill in the middle of nowhere. What would you miss most?

So, here I am in the middle of rural Brittany, up a very vibey hill which has legends of elves and korrigans and spirits and all sorts. The wind is moaning and dark clouds hang. Someone has just taken a photo of someone else and they have come out twice on the picture, no gadgets or tricks used, Very weird. And there’s no wifi and no technology. Nothing normal happens here…
What would you miss most from the real world as the darkness rolls in?

Strangely enough, it’s my electric toothbrush I find myself searching for. And music.


Food is good because I have a bottle opener and some wine, salad leaves and lots of fresh vegetables, strawberries and a packet of oat cream. But it’s very quiet here and there’s no music so I am left to my imagination to dream up what I’d play if I had Spotify.

In a quiet environment, one can go one of two ways. Either it has it be relaxing soporific mellow sounds. Or it has to be noise. You know which one I’m going for up a weird mountain in the dark.

So here’s my top five songs to play in the scary darkness…

Number five

Weezer. Hash Pipe. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRQswKjgF0E 

Lovely reliable music with a great repetitive riff, crazy lyrics, totally predictable rocky music which sticks a big grin on your face. Turn it up loud.

Number four

Damien Marley. Hey Girl. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPXd45pi4Xg

Superb live version with mad lyrics which make me laugh. Totally danceable and it is happy and clever and good to sing along to. This will banish any ghosties outside the tent or camper van…

Number three

Johnny Winter, Hustled down in Texas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-2I5UePDBQ

Johnny died last year, aged 70, another incredible loss to rock music. Now he could play a guitar like a-ringing a bell and such a gutsy gravelly voice. I could choose a lot more of his music but this is one to keep the toes warm. I forgot the bed socks so I need something to keep the feet moving. 

Number two

Jack White/ White Stripes. Jolene. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4m5KrPXL4wI

This is such a lovely live version of Dolly’s song and Jack is just the right person to make this song rock. Beautiful, cheeky, clever and full of angst, with Jack’s crazy voice and indulgent guitar. The ideal track to listen to as the wind bangs against the tent flaps.

Number one

My favourite band in the whole world. I can sleep safe with this lot and a bottle of wine in my tent.

Gogol Bordello. Madagascar Roumania Tu Jesty Fata.

Lovely version of a traditional song mixed in with some original Gogol punk. Turn it up loud. Dance. Dance with friends. If an encore is needed before bed, try the old favourite, Start Wearing Purple. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=um1dSSPzc1I

Finish off the wine and curl up and go to sleep safely while the rain batters outside and tomorrow morning, as the tent flaps open, the world will be clear and calm, softened by mists and mellowed in the morning dew.

Then down the road to the nearest bar for a coffee and a pastis before breakfast…

We should dance more! Join me – become a crazy dancer..

Dancing is such a great way to celebrate and to enjoy how our bodies react when we’re enveloped in the rhythm and the emotion of music. I have decided this summer is all about spontaneous dancing. When no one expects it. Unplanned. Grab someone by the hand or just leap onto the table by yourself, shake a leg, a hip, arms up and just go wild.You don’t need an audience. You don’t need a reason. You just want to celebrate feeling happy.

It’s fun being a spontaneous dancer! This morning, as I was making breakfast, Shame, Shame, Shame by Shirley & Co came on my Spotify. The toaster was ignored; the coffee bubbled over, the marmite was left out in the cold. We were  in the kitchen, giving the raunchiest moves to a wonderful piece of music which transports you to fun clubs on outrageous and mischievous nights. By the end of the tune we were all on chairs, tables, jazz hands waving, with smiles as wide as slices of watermelon, feeling like who cares?

Which, of course, set me thinking. I should dance more often.

I was not the sort of child who was sent to ballet or tap classes. We weren’t that kind of family. Of course, I danced as a kid, from the beginning- I bet you did too, that saggy nappy dance where the knees bend and the bottom skims the floor, baby’s round face breaking a smile bigger than trapped wind and an innate, natural rhythm takes over. This is atavism. We were born to dance and we didn’t care less how we looked.

Remember it? We should bring that feeling back into our lives.

My Mum didn’t dance when I was a child. She was too poorly, too tired, too busy and harassed and anyway there wasn’t a lot to dance about. She did sing a lot of songs, mostly about death and loss.

My Dad, however, would have a couple of drinks at night and then he’d whip off his boots, leap over the fence and do a midnight watusi on some posh neighbour’s freshly mown lawn. The next day their roses would be flattened, their tulips downtrodden, and yes, that was my Dad who was probably snoring it off in a nearby hedge. Great days, bless him!

So, we should dance while we can. All the time. Throw our arms in the air, shake our bodies and sing. And here are five tracks I will put out there for you, especially to bring in a spring to your step this coming summer. I will be certainly pounding the floorboards  with these songs, and I’d love it if you’d join me.

Track 5. Motorhead. Ace of Spades. What else can I say? No need.

Track 4. Here’s an ideas you’ll love.You must try it. On a balmy summer night, take a table outside, on the patio, roof, balcony, street, by a lake, under a tree, somewhere you can light candles, put two chairs down and look up at the moon.Set out two glasses, a bottle of Vin Rouge, your favourite savoury nibbles and invite the love of your life (or someone you would like to be,) to join you. After a little conversation, a bit of gentle laughter, put on Manu Chao’s song, Si loin de toi. Whisk your amour to his or her feet and dance cheek to cheek to this tune. Best aphrodisiac, best smooch, bring on the good times.

Track 3.Or try this one. With a bottle  of beer and some good friends at night in the park or early on a Sunday morning to blow the cobwebs away.In the streets, on a bike, on a boat, or at the end of a great house party before everyone goes home. I’d bring in the New Year with the Dropkick Murphys. I’m Shipping up to Boston

Track 2. This is perhaps the most romantic song to dance to when you’re not by yourself and you don’t want to be: it has to be this one. I mean, if you wanted a slow dance with someone you know so well, someone you love or someone you just want to get to know better. If you want to pop a question or even ask a question you shouldn’t, or apologise or if you feel inarticulate and just want the music to do it all for you and express some deepest sentiment, here goes. Just rely on the Rev to rev the mood up for you.  Al Green.

Track 1. Here is my favourite track to dance to. I can rock to this one day and night and it makes my heart bump. For me, this is one of the best anthems by one of the best live bands I have ever seen, and I have seen them many, many times. They speak the thoughts of my soul in their lyrics and their music takes me to the place I am most at home in the world. I can dance my feet to stumps on this one, and on pretty much every song they have ever done.This song says it all – dance to it with fists punching the air, legs like pistons pounding, head back and singing along. It will always clear the dust away and banish any bluesy mood. Strong, positive, infectious music and a message I love. The best. Gogol Bordello’s Break the Spell.

So come on, let’s dance- as the classic song says, put on your red shoes and dance the blues. Bowie’s for another blog, with possibly lots more crazy dance tracks to follow. I mean, I haven’t really got started yet, have I? Where’s the reggae?

Meanwhile, barefoot or booted, get on down and live it up. It doesn’t matter who you’re with or where you are or what you look like when you’re doing it. Let’s just enjoy the moment and  crazy dance the summer days away!

The Tiger Lillies: so beautiful, Brechtian and bad to the bone

Love is a strange thing. We love things which lift our spirits. Spring time makes everything feel better. Or a glass of wine on a Friday night, an unexpected gift or a compliment, a work of art we can see at close range in a gallery, Beckett performed live,  a quiet beach at sunset.

How much happier do we feel when our spirits are lifted by something beautiful?

The Tiger Lillies are in this category, as far as I am concerned. They make me smile and I can’t help it. Their music is evocative, sensual, raucous, cathartic but they are truly bad to the bone.

Like many fans of The Tiger Lillies, I discovered them through watching the film Plunkett and Macleane. Their songs Hell and Whore featured in the score and I wanted to know who this band were who played accordion and sang in the crazy falsetto  style, and I checked them out. Since then, I have been hooked.

Think of Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, a play set to music: a narrator with a white painted face mask enters, barks obscenities at the audience and then whips up energy on stage to make the lehrstucke vivid and immediate, explaining the world as it is. Now imagine The Two Penny Opera, The Tiger Lillies album, and a ‘cheaper’ version. Three figures on the stage: a bass player who also plays the saw, a drummer with a constantly moving kit which includes a hanging chicken and a baby doll, and an accordion player who sings in a bowler hat and grotesque make up. The Tiger Lillies are not only visually distinctive, but visually unforgettable. But it is their sound which amazes and takes the breath away.

I have seen them perform live several times. Once I saw them in a huge auditorium in Manchester. They were spectacular and the audience heckled them good-naturedly for two hours while they played encore after encore as requests.

I saw them in a dive in Bristol where they were superb and I sat on the front row in a huge coat (it was freezing) while Martin Jacques, the ‘criminal castrati,’ sang Maria at the piano and made half the audience weep. It has to be one of the most beautiful, sad and awful songs ever.

I saw them play in a little community centre in Berkshire and most of the audience left before the interval, they were so disgusted. The Tiger Lillies were sensational!

The Tiger Lillies are iconoclasts whose music often pushes boundaries in the way humour so often can. With song titles such as Bastard, Kick a Baby, Banging in the Nails and Piss on your Grave, not to mention She’s My Sheep and Vagina, the band are not for the easily offended. Sometimes, they are even uncomfortable for the thick-skinned, or those with the most outrageous sense of humour, and they are certainly not for those whose strong religious sensibilities can’t handle a ribaldrous bashing.

Their songs hold nothing – and I mean nothing – back in terms of irreverence, in terms of stretching the audience’s moral limits and expectations. Even I have bottled out and skipped the odd track – especially when kids are in the car and I don’t want them to listen to CancerRapist, or Car Crash (which is about Princess Diana). But these three dudes are nothing if not geniuses.

Staple favourites such as Bully Boys and Crack of Doom are great ways to acclimatise oneself to their idiosyncratic and anarchic opera and their peculiarly dark brand of cabaret. This is postmodern vaudeville, entertaining and ironic, with a twist of mischief, covering all aspects of the nefarious side of modern life.

They do covers, too. Check out their renditions of My Funny Valentine, Send in the Clowns, or – for something more upbeat – YMCA.

The Tiger Lillies play around 300 gigs a year and they have released some 35 albums, from Hamlet, Shockheaded Peter, Farmyard Filth, The Brothel to the Cemetery, Bad Blood and Blasphemy and the haunting, beautiful Urine Palace, complete with The Symphony Orchestra of Norrlandsoperan, so it isn’t too difficult to access their work or catch a live gig.

They are not everyone’s taste, as the emptying hall space will suggest if you go and see them. But if you like their brand of deep sadness and cruel humour and you stay until the end, you’ll be guaranteed a chat with the band afterwards as they sign CDs and memorabilia and mix with their audience. What great guys they are too!

Be prepared for surprises: the raw emotional charge of Martin Jacques’ voice can change in a flash to mischief and mayhem. The music is a joy ride which can quickly become swerving savagery. But The Tiger Lillies are a phenomenon to be enjoyed or avoided, and who ever wanted half measures?

They make me smile. They make me sad and deliriously happy. But above all they are entertaining, a joy, a tonic and a corrosively delicious experience not to be missed. Check them out when they are next in the neighbourhood.

He’s gigging in the UK. Who Roy?

U Roy  is playing dates in London and Falmouth this year and I have tickets.

Live gigs are a thing of beauty: I love mosh pits and dancing until dawn, but a reggae gig is a thing apart. I have been to so many, so often: Misty in Roots, Steel Pulse, John Brown’s Body, UB40, Easy Star All Stars, the wonderful Burning Spear, the Wailers and more. But I have never seen U Roy.

When I told friends I had tickets, the usual replies came: ‘Never heard of them? Who are U Roy?’

He is Ewart Beckford, 73 years old, vocalist, toaster pioneer: he has a melodic voice and a heightened sense of rhythm and tone.

I bought his album when I was a kid and was struck at first by the misogyny of his lyrics in Runaway Girl: even though he protests true love, he urges her to remember that she’s ‘just another girl’. However, I managed to move beyond a few macho lines and embrace the whole performance. But I was thrilled by his vocal tone, his laid back style which, while nonchalant, has its own high energy. He has a persistence, a sense of mischief and then there is the toasting and the rhythm. Listen to Chalice in the Palace and you’ll maybe understand why his vocals are so irresistible.

I love live gigs but there is something about the reggae gig which is special. It is not just the atmosphere of benevolence, peace and love. It so not just that huge kicking bass, which bumps with unbelievable rhythm and regularity and hits you in the chest on every note. It is not even the ethereal atmosphere of happiness.It is the all- encompassing acceptance of live reggae music and the sharing and joy which goes with it. I was at a Misty gig in Brighton not too long ago and there was a woman on her own at the back; she must have been ninety: her body was bent over and her spine was twisted but she was giving it everything, twirling and dancing with a smile on her face like half a melon. That’s a role model for me!

U Roy is playing this Easter and this summer and tickets are less than £20. How much fun can you have for twenty quid? U Roy will be a big pile of pleasure: whether you go to London or Cornwall to see him, you can make a weekend of it, and the gig will be the cherry on the Bakewell! U Roy is totally uplifting: hear his cover of Natty Soul Rebel. You’ll totally get the voice and the toasting. I love the fact that these guys – U Roy, Burning Spear, are still gigging into their seventies and offering audiences rock and rhythm and reggae until the early hours, and still enjoying it and believing in the healing and embracing qualities of their music.

If I haven’t persuaded you yet, then it isn’t for you. But if you’re in any doubt, catch U Roy this time round in London or Falmouth. Totally good for the mind and the body. I’ll be there, dancing down the front with my arms in the air and singing along. Infectious stuff!

Kwai-Chang Caine and the daily life of a writer…

In the winter, I have a fairly organised regime to write every week day. I am at my desk by nine o’clock; I have a break for exercise at eleven and I run or cycle and do a few weights, a bit of yoga or meditation, and then I work through until about three, when I take an hour off.

Lunch is the usual stir fried vegetables or a smoothie or soup and, so far this year, I have taken it in front of the television, with the intention of checking on the football transfer window. Of course, with not much action happening transfer-wise, I have switched to the movie channel, finding a daily opportunity to watch the re-runs of the Kung Fu series on the Movie channel, which I watch with interest before I return, inspired, to write for a few more hours.

Kung Fu was an incredibly popular action-adventure martial arts western drama which ran in the early 1970s. It was a big cult serial in its time, revolving around the character of Kwai-Chang Caine, played by David Carradine as the adult (remember him as Bill in ‘Kill Bill’?), and Keith Carradine as the teenage version.

The story is that Caine is wandering through the old American west, looking for his half-brother. He has been trained as a Shaolin monk and he brings his peaceful philosophy and his martial arts training to every adventure which confronts him.

Flashbacks to his past are an integral and important part of the programme, showing his younger self, ‘Grasshopper,’ and demonstrating the spiritual and physical training he receives from his two teachers, Master Kan and the blind Master Po. These flashbacks show an example of Caine’s learning about life and the rigours and importance of self knowledge: these episodes correlate directly with the situations the adult Caine finds himself embroiled in and they explain his choice of action.

There are many references to the Tao Te Ching, the book of ancient Taoist philosophy, and the popularity of the series was largely due to the behaviour of Caine and his deeply rooted philosophy of nonviolence and selfless action. Here is an excerpt from an early flashback, showing why the teachers called the young Caine ‘Grasshopper’:

Master Po: Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Caine: No.
Po: Do you hear the grasshopper which is at your feet?
Caine: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

My fascination in the serialised Kung Fu is not really based on the skills of the actor, David Carradine, who died tragically  in 2009 after a life filled with troubles, although Carradine does a great job of creating a laudable and credible Caine.

My enjoyment is not really based on the formulaic story line. Caine is peaceful and tries to avoid attention but, wherever he goes, he is forced by his philosophy and training to become the centre of attention for an immoral community or person and to fight for the underdog.

I do not particularly revel in the fight sequences where Caine is forced to retaliate, not for personal victory, but from a sense of fairness. Carradine relied on his acting and dance training for these sequences and the guidance of martial artist David Chow.

I know that the series is deeply rooted in the 1970s and therefore I forgive the terrible stereotypes of the secondary characters: women who are either floozies, hard boiled old women or victims; Irish men who drink like fish and talk to God; Rednecks who hate Caine because he is of mixed race and perpetually insult him; twisted Sheriffs who break laws for their personal gain. Caine is regularly abused, imprisoned, put to hard labour, accused, beaten, even given the death penalty and eventually he heroically fights back, using his Shaolin training, and justice is restored before he is hailed for his selfless behaviour and he moves on in his quest to find his half brother, Danny Caine.

What I really like about the series is its intention to demonstrate a way of life which is selfless and considers others. Caine never tries to impress anyone: he is modest, he never seeks approval or thanks and he never chases material gain. He dresses simply, eats healthy basic food, embraces nature without damaging it and his interaction with the rest of the world is entirely to do with being helpful and supportive. Caine’s voice is hesitant and understated: ‘I am Caine’ is never an assertion but an apology, his ego is not high on his agenda. Kwai-Chang Caine is, inevitably, compared favourably with the other people in each series, people who display greed, aggression, folly, weakness or despair, and Caine always comes up trumps, restores order and moves on in a way which is silent, respectful and expects nothing in return.

I am not advocating that we all become Shaolin monks, but there is something of Caine in us all. As I go through my daily life, I want to put some of Caine’s justice and support of the underdogs in my own characters when I write. I want to apply some of his humility, kindness and consideration, not to mention courage and the ability to exist in the moment, to my own life and how I support and interact with others.

Of course, ‘Kung Fu’ is only a television series, and it’s of its time. It is set in the old West and the Shaolin training Caine uses is ancient. His philosophies are entrenched in past teachings and probably few people nowadays would consider them as valid for our modern world. I know Kwai Chang Caine is not real, like Santa Claus, God and the Tooth Fairy. Perhaps that is why I want to believe in him.

 

 

High rate for the H8ful Eight

I need to review my habit of going to the cinema and buying tickets in Row A. I choose to sit at the front, partly because I am a bit myopic and partly because if I don’t sit there, someone with a big head will come and sit directly in front of me. However, Row A and the pre-film warning about bloody violence should be enough to persuade me to move back to Row D.

But it never does. I still spend the gory moments peeking between my fingers. And ‘The Hateful Eight’ doesn’t disappoint with its gory moments.

A Tarantino film is always a big deal to go and see, because his other films have been so ground-breakingly creative and quirky. Expectations are always high. ‘The Hateful Eight’ takes place inside a stagecoach during a snowstorm in Wyoming, and then most of the film is set inside Millie’s Haberdashery, which is a stagecoach lodge. It is some time after the American Civil War, maybe in the 1880s or 1890s.

The premise is that a bounty hunter, John Ruth, is bringing in a murderer, Daisy Domergue, to be hanged in the next town. The drama comes from the fusion and interaction of the characters in the lodge and the constant undercurrent of tension that Daisy will be aided by one of the other characters to make an escape.

The film is divided into six chapters and the action revolves around the enigmatic character of Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren and the rapport, stuffed with farcical dishonesty and machinations, between a strong cast which includes Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mark Madsen and Bruce Dern. Walter Goggins as Sherrif Chris does a plausible impression of Jim Carrey throughout the whole film and it is good to see Channing Tatum featuring in a slightly more demanding role as bad boy, Jody.

The action is bloody beyond all expectations and, as you know, I will never offer spoilers, but there are scenes where other directors may have offered a murder with a pint of blood and Tarantino will give you a truck load, complete with recognizable bits of brain. It is definitely the hyperbole of violence which makes those moments horrifically and hysterically funny.

Tarantino has always been the master of using music as a quirky semiotic in his film and there is a great moment where Bob the Mexican plays Silent Night on the piano during a scene of mischief. Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack is cheekily used to make moments impactful, too.

For me, two things make this film great. Firstly, Tarantino’s ability to mix shock and the unexpected with credible twists and turns. I spent little time wondering what would happen next or trying to predict outcomes, as I was so involved in the moment of the storyline.

Secondly, the action is so fast-paced and when the story does slow down, the skilful acting makes each moment a morsel of brilliance. For example, Samuel L Jackson has a monologue about killing a white man: I won’t spoil the excitement and tell you who it is or when, but just take a moment to listen to the arrogance, the hubris, the lethargy and the resentment in his voice. Superb!

It is part of Jackson’s repertoire of  moody moments throughout the film which make his character effortlessly brilliant. The same is true for the other actors. Roth is a genius: you dislike and distrust him before you know what he is. Madsen and Jason Leigh are multifaceted and interesting and Demian Bichir as Mexican Bob is hilarious.

Add to the superb acting Tarantino’s gift for keeping an audience in suspense then throwing the unpredicted into the mix, and you have a great film. There are moments of sheer brilliance: the rough rapport between Russell and Jason Leigh, filled with almost unnoticeable seconds of tenderness; the symbolism of Major Warren’s letter from Lincoln, the snowstorm outside and the crackling heat inside the lodge. The flashback to ‘what happened before’ is as exhilarating as it is elucidating and moments such as the coffee, the  ‘huevos’ and the final ending will stay with you for a long time.

You will know Tarantino’s style  by his previous films. This one does not disappoint. It surprises, it shocks, it provokes thought: it is at times a bit uncomfortable and at times it makes you laugh perhaps when you shouldn’t but, above all, it goes way beyond the visual spectacle of white snow and red blood and it offers some stunning performances from some well cast and superbly directed actors. It has venom and intelligence, wit and mischief. It is a drama which takes place in a single room, but this isn’t Chekhov’s ‘Cherry Orchard’!

Go and see it. Get row A!

Kazuo Ishiguro: The Buried Giant

I recall the excitement last year amongst readers, when people found out Ishiguro had a new book out, his first in ten years. I must admit, I admire his muscled, perfect prose and his ability to lead the reader through a story, revealing just the right amount of information to spur the plot and the intrigue forward. However, I didn’t much like ‘Remains of the Day’: however good it was, it didn’t resonate because I couldn’t connect with the desires and behaviours of the refined, stoical characters.

‘Never Let Me Go’ was clever, political and shocking: a dystopian, science- fiction theme with plausible and engaging central protagonists is always impressive. Ishiguro’s characterisation  of Kathy is poignant and the love triangle involving her, Ruth and Tommy is at once funny and fragile against the backdrop of an  orphanage of cloned children bred for transplant organs.

‘The Buried Giant’ is something else. It is a book I would buy for my friends. I finished reading it in days. It is ‘Siddhartha’ meets fantasy fiction. It is about ogres and dragons and arthurian knights. It is set in seventh century Britain. The protagonists are an old Briton couple, Axl and Beatrice, who set off on a journey to their son’s village. They are not allowed a candle to light their dark and humble home because they are old, and their world is enveloped in a mist, both figurative and literal, which makes them forget the past. Killing Querig, the she-dragon, will rid the world of this mist but do they really want to remember the past?

Axl and his ‘princess’, Beatrice, remind me of Nell and Nagg in Samuel Beckett’s ‘Endgame’, the couple who live in dustbins. They are restricted, wholly symbiotic and we fear for their safety. Having a past you don’t remember can only result in trouble and Beatrice’s recurrent pains in her side make her vulnerable, so we cannot as readers invest in their future .

There are some great action scenes in ‘The Buried Dragon’: being attacked by pixies in a boat, fighting ogres in a burning castle. There are some exciting characters: Wistan, the warrior, the enigmatic Edwin with his dragon’s bite and the archaic Sir Gawain. The book bursts with imagination and it is a great story for lovers of fantasy fiction. It would make a great film, and the animation and CGI would thrill viewers of all ages.

It works well on the level of symbolic or allegorical meaning: the omnipresent mist hints at a world where it is better to forget the Britons’ betrayal and slaughter of the Saxons and to live in a present where memory is unimportant; to recall the past would be to evoke prejudice and bitterness. Of course, the denying of knowledge  forces the characters to live in a state  of uninformed naiveté, and there is a childlike quality to Axl and Beatrice’s relationship which keeps them both harmonious and superficial.

It is a brave novel for Ishiguro to have written. A new author wouldn’t dare to offer such a book for adults, and I know there are many people who are disappointed in ‘The Buried Giant’, being fans of his earlier, cooler prose and his use of language which represses meaning and demands subtextual analysis. The sales for the Juvenile market of Fantasy Fiction in 2014 was 45.5 million, and I wonder whether Ishiguro may lose some adult readers but gain a new wave of younger ones? Certainly, at times there is a sense of parody in the action and the language is often contrived and heavily stylised. But this is Ishiguro, after all. He can write what he likes.

Yet, I love this book. I think it is fresh, thoughtful, bold and innovative. Yes, the story and the characters may be simplistic, but it is a story which is at all times well shaped and well told, and the simplicity evokes an old world where the characters are kept in the dark and shapes of unimaginable creatures lurk beyond the fog.

The past is shrouded a mist and the future is dark and unknown  The story is tender, troubled and it tells of a couple whose lives are a blissful ignorance and asks about the importance and danger of the acquisition of knowledge.

It is a novel for our times.