Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Big Family Adventure Part 2

OK, let's catch up to the present.  And let's do it by tracing today backwards from right now, as I sit in our London home at 10:40 p.m. writing this.

Just got back earlier from a trip to the market for tea and peas.  Don't ask.

We took a long bus ride back to our neighborhood after visiting the Abbey Road crossing famously portrayed on the Beatles album of the same name.  We waved to the webcam as the folks at my office back in Chatham watched and listened.

At Abbey Road.

We spent  a couple of hours at Madam Tussauds.  Somewhat underwhelming that, very flashy and crowded. And expensive.  But the boys enjoyed it.
The Boys with Charlie.

Visited Baker Street where we posed in front of 221B and popped into the Sherlock Holmes museum and store.

Had a picnic lunch in Kensington Park at the Lady Diana Children's Playground, which includes a full-size reproduction of the Peter Pan pirate ship.  Again, the boys had a fine time.

Quiet morning sleeping in, having a nice breakfast and playing catch with Lir in the tiny garden out back.

More tomorrow, perhaps!

Monday, June 09, 2014

Big Family Adventure Part 1

The hardest part about this Big Family Adventure has been getting to this blog.  At our apartment in Paris, the WiFi was broken, the first time ever, according to our landlord Bruno, so no connection, no email, nothing.  That turned out not to be such a big issue as we were on a three-and-a-half-day whirlwind and had little time for anything other than sightseeing, eating and sleeping.  When we got to our temporary home in North London, the WiFi worked, but our first two days here were again a whirlwind of sightseeing days and getting to be bed late at night.  Jenny met up with a friend and her daughter who flew in from Berlin for the weekend so we all played tourist, along with about a billion other people.

Today we had our first breather.  Leisurely morning, finished the first installment of a travel series and sent it off to the Chronicle, and we went for a walk in the nearby Hampstead Heath, where the boys swam at the lido (enclosed outdoor pool) before lunch back home and the first of what will likely be several visits to the British Museum.

How's it going so far?  Mostly good; but there have been challenges.

Mostly to do with keeping the boys from melting down without a set schedule and crazy late hours (bedtimes around midnight most nights in Paris).  We've seen some amazing sights, climbed the bell towers of Notre Dame to hear the noon bells ring, and climbed to the second level of the Eiffel Tower (only to find that we needed our tickets to get to the top, and Jenny had stayed below at level one with the tickets.  I declined to go back down and up again.  It was our first day in the city and we hadn't slept in about 24 hours.
The boys at the second level of the Eiffel Tower.

Paris seems more of a city for older kids and adults.  Lir was more interested in running along the sidewalks and giving us heart attacks by getting too close to the tracks on the Metro.  Rowan, when engaged, like at the Louvre, was happy and excited.  Same today at the British Museum, at least for a while, until fatigue set in.  Ice cream solved that problem.  He also wasn't engaged by the art at the Pompidou Center, Paris' modern art museum, because it wasn't familiar like many of the pieces at the Louvre, but both boys really loved the colorful, whimsical sculptures in the fountain out front.
Rowan snogs the big lip sculpture at the Pompidou.
We, of course, enjoyed the food, and culture, the diversity and the bustle of city life.  Staying in the Marais, we got a taste of a small Parisian neighborhood with lots of ethnicity and amazing eats around every corner.  London is similar in a way; we've had Indian food two out of our four nights here, and Rowan has enjoyed fish and chips and chips and chips.

More to come...

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Fest #10: Cockneys vs. Zombies

A fitting finale to this year's fest, and the final zombie movie off the evening. An ancient cemetery is opened up during construction of new luxury apartments, and an unspeakable evil unleashed (of course). Zombies invade the nearby old age home, which was scheduled to be demolished to make way for the new flats. Meanwhile, The grandsons on Ray, who leads the pensioners in their fight against the undead, have robbed a bank to get money to save granddad from being sent away. After a botched robbery (the second in this year's Fest) in which they nonetheless net 2.5 million pounds, they make their way to the home to rescue the pensioners. Great fun with the usual zombie elements, although creatively applied. Decent makeup and effects and the acting is spot on, although the accents can be a bit tough to follow at times (we left the subtitles on for that reason). A notch above the usual zombie comedy, although how it compares with the earlier zombie comedy "Go Goa Gone" I am not yet certain. Got to let it all perk in a bit. So that's all for Fest 22. Tune in next year for another episode! Same bat time, same bat blog!

Fest #11: The Devils

Rarely show, Ken Russell's The Devils tells the dark story of a priest in late England in the late 1600 who becomes victim of a convent of hysterical nuns. They take on the aspect of possession and, with the help of corrupt officials and priest, accuse, try and execute the priest who, though innocent of that crime, has sinned plenty himself. Another disturbing outing involving treachery, deceit and the devil - in this case totally imaginary, drummed up through the sort of mass hysteria Republicans are pretty good at creating. It is a picture off its time in its pacing, acting and production values, but all serve to push along a story that will make you think, but make you cringe even more.

Fest #10: The Loved Ones

There has to be a name for the genre of horror films in which an innocent is tortured nearly to death, and when they are just on the brink, either escape or seem to die. They don't really, and come back for even gorier revenge. An early example might be "I Spit on Your Grave." At Fest, we've seen many films like this, but the ones we've seen differ from the more mainstream torture films like the Saw movies. They all have some element that makes the situation even more extreme, but not necessarily in a blood and guts way. In the Loved Ones, a rejected prom date, with the help of her father, kidnaps her prospective date and puts on a prom of her own, although ultimately rejecting our hero and tossing him into the cellar with the other loved ones. As Australian film from 2009, The Loved Ones kept everyone's attention as many are tempted to give in to the nods.

Fest #9: Teeth

Not much I can say about this movie, except that it was quintessential Fest and very scary.

Fest #8: Eating Raoul

The first of the two Fest films that I've seen this year, "Eating Raoul" was one of those low-budget films that hit it big on the art circuit back in 1982 or so, and found an even bigger following on home video. The story of a couple (Paul Bartel, who also directs, and Mary Woronov) who want to open their own restaurant but are desperately short of cash. So desperate that they begin killing swingers by advertising in a local adult newspaper and stealing the money. Raoul sells them new locks for their apartment and then breaks in, where he discovers their scheme and muscles in on it. But the last laugh, or last serving, will be on him. The movie bears all the hallmarks of low-budget 1980s Hollywood, with cheesy production quality and exploitation elements. However, the performance of the two main leads, as well as Bartel's inspired lunatic direction and the witty script, which he co-wrote, made this one a classic, and it looks great in a new Blu-Ray version.

Fest #7: Bug

A drifter takes up with Ashley Judd who is being stalked by her ex, Harry Connick Jr. (Chatham summer resident). Michael Shannon's ex-army head case reveals that he was the victim of government experiments. Or was he? Are there really bugs in this movie? Is the tin foil linking Judd's motel room/apartment really doing its job? These are some of the philosophical questions raised in this William Freidkin film from 2006. The acting is strong; all three main characters at some point are menacing, and Judd's descent into madness is skillfully handled. What makes this a good Fest film is its ambivalent ending. We've had a couple of those this year, including the last film. Breakfast break. Bagels.

Fest #6: Symbol

A man is trapped in a room. Gradually he discovers that the many "buttons" lining the wall have different effects when pushed. He moves through different levels until the buttons start having an effect on another story line we've been following. At the end, he gets to push the biggest button of all. I confess I nodded through portions of Symbol, but what I saw was an ingenious exercise in story development and the human condition. Coolest parts: cartoon inserts and Escargotman!

Fest #5: Santa's Slay

Santa rampages around. Lots of people die, including some pretty big Hollywood stars. Bison or reindeer? You'll be wondering too. Cheesy effects, about par with the acting, a stellar combination.

Fest #4: Dead Sushi

Yes, this is a movie about killer sushi. Is there much else to say? Ironically, the sushi itself isn't dead; but plenty of others are in this 2012 about Keiko, who leaves her sushi chef father to strike out on her own, ending up working in an inn near a pharmaceutical company. Several officials from the company are staying at the inn, and their arrogance about sushi is the catalystic for the chemically induced deadly delicacies. There are also flying squid and a giant tuna who wants to get revenge on one of the company officials who was complicit in sending him to jail when an experiment went back while he was working for the firm. Maybe they should have called the film Killer Calamari. In the end, the day is saved by a lowly egg sushi named Eggy, who sacrifices itself for our heroine. The fight choreography is slightly askew, and the performances are over the top, but who cares? It's killer sushi. Just watch out for the salmon roe!

Friday, March 07, 2014

Fest #3 Las Brujas De Zugarramurdi

Witches take center stage for this Spanish thriller directed by Alex de la Iglasia. It's got everything you would expect of a robbery-gone-wrong-Basque-flying witch-earth mother-messiah rumination, with lots of blood and tangled interpersonal relationships to add depth to the characters. Child-rearing philosophy takes center stage as Jose, posing as Jesus, takes young Sergie along to knock over a pawn shop in Madrid. It was Jose's turn with the boy, and he makes it a very special day, along with his fellow unemployed sidekick and a taxi driver who goes along for the ride. Jose falls for Luna -- not too much pressure there -- and together they attempt to escape from a ceremonial ritual that's something to see. Fast-paced, with lots of flying witches that take the film in unexpected directions. The ending leaves you wanting more finger food to carry you through to the sequel that seems promised at the conclusion. AKA Witching and Bitching, the film has both, as well as a frenetic style that kept most of us awake past midnight. Snack table remains pretty full.

Fest #2: Go Goa Gone

Mike's wearing a t-shirt that says "More Brains." Mine says, "In case of zombie uprising, rembember to severe the head." There are several zombie films on tap tonight, the first of which was "Go Goa Gone." In India, they do gods and ghosts, but zombies are something new, the result of globalization. Or so we're told by the hapless trio who spend most of the movie fleeing from the undead. They're away at Goa for a reason that doesn't really make much of difference; it gets them an invitation to a rave on a remote island (where else?) where a new drug brought in by the Russian mafia turns most of the attendees into zombies. Our trio, a girl and Russian mobster named Boris who is actually Indian, seek a way off the island, and much carnage and hilarity ensue. In many ways this is a run-of-the-mill zombie movie, albeit with a high body count and fairly convincing effects. A Harold and Kumar vibe gives a new twist to the zombie comedy sub-genre that keeps this one step ahead of expectations, with many clever situations. The body count is about the same as the short we saw earlier, "Fist of Jesus." The Savior cuts a wide swatch through a sea of zombies, parting them with the help of a chainsaw-like spinal bone. Groovy.

The sack table

Fest Post #1: Pumaman

Fest is underway, and while the rest of the Fest-ers are feasting on Mike's lasagna, here's a brief review of our first film of the evening. Pumaman draws his powers from an alien which designates one person whose descendants inherit the abilities, which include "flying," done through a kind of "pouncing" motion, and super strength. He must locate the Aztec Golden mask, which the villain of the piece, played by Donald Pleasance, is using to control the minds of the world's leaders. Along with his sidekick Vadinho, he defeats the bad guy and wins the girl. Walter George Alton plays Pumaman with all the pizzazz of a wooden plank. At one point in the film, a character asks another, "Can you tell me what's going on? None of this makes any sense!" Amen, we say, to this worthy Fest opener, made in 1980 and directed with panache Alberto De Martino. Next, lasagna for me and a surprise short. See you in a few hours.

Thursday, March 06, 2014


Part 3 of 3

Beginning tomorrow (Friday, March 7), I’ll be blogging live from Boston (Brighton, actually), providing updates roughly every two hours from the 22nd Annual 24 Hour Film Fest.  The posts will consist of short reviews of the 12 movies that will be shown, most -- probably all -- of which most of you have never seen.  If you’ve read the past two blog posts you know that have a particular passion for unusual and interesting films, and I have only seen two of the ones being shown this weekend.

Fest, as we stalwarts like to refer to it, happens in the apartment of my friend Mike.  It’s curated by Mike and another friend, Lynn, and they’ve been doing it for 22 years now.  How they manage to keep coming up with so many obscure, strange, bizarre and wonderful films I will never know, but thank god they do.

I’ve attended at least 17 Fests, maybe more.  I can’t remember if I was at the first one, and I know I missed several in the mid-90s due to such inconveniences as illness and having kids.  Other than Lynn and Mike, there are only a handful of folks who have attended more Fests than I, so I consider myself one of the long-standing veterans with more than a little perspective on this unusual annual ritual.

Fest’s goal, it seems to me (from my perspective, without having consulted the organizers) has always been to find the most interesting, strange, unusual but most of all entertaining films possible and show them to a room full of people jacked up on junk food (the snack table is venerated almost to the point of idol worship).  There’s no way I would ever be able to see many of the films shown at Fest any other way; I’d never even hear about them.  Lynn’s specialty is Asian and other foreign cinema; it was through Fest that I first saw a Jackie Chan movie and was exposed to all the wonder that Honk Kong and Korean cinema had to offer.  Not to mention some wacky and bizarre Japanese films, way outside the mainstream.

Mike finds the horror, science fiction and other genre chestnuts, sometimes reaching back as far as the silent era or sometimes as recent as a few months ago. Some choice examples include “The Penalty,” a 1920 Lon Chaney movie; “Slither,” “Giant Claw” and “Midnight Meat Train.”  And who could forget “Sonny Boy?”  Nobody who’s seen it, that’s for sure.

We’ve also watched “Bride of Frankenstein,” “Bedlam” “Evil Dead 2” (and 1), “American Movie” and “Descent,” mainstream and near-mainstream films that have that certain Fest-ness to them.   

There’s a rhythm to Fest.  It ramps up from the 6 p.m. starting time, and is usually best-attended after the dinner break through the late-night to early-morning hours.  If you get through the 2 to 6 a.m. part OK, you’re doing great.  Morning usually brings a second wind.  Only the most stout of heart can brave the afternoon into the home stretch.  The miasma of snacks helps, as does lots of caffeine.  Enduring that many movies and junk food creates an atmosphere of camaraderie among Fest-goers which is hard to understand; just ask Mike’s wife.

I won’t be able to vouch for my posts at certain times.  Coherence may be sacrificed.  But those may also be the most entertaining.  Coupled with the roster of films slated to spool out through the 24-hour period, we may be talking some breakthrough moments here.  No spoilers; you’re going to have to wait to find out what the films are as they play.

And maybe we’ll post a photo or two of the snack table, just to make you jealous.

Watch for the first post Friday evening around 8 p.m.  And please, forgive the typos.