Sept Mois à Paris

Perhaps the most beautiful thing about Paris is the fact that it never changes. Over the last seven months, I’ve had the pleasure of capturing the perennial nature of this magnificent city.

14 Juillet 2012, Bastille Day

14 Juillet 2012, Bastille Day

 

Tour de France 2012

Tour de France 2012

 

Hôtel de VIlle

Hôtel de Ville

 

Paris Plages

Paris Plages

 

Rock En Seine

Rock En Seine

 

Green Day

Green Day

 

Warm Summer Evening on the Champs de Mars

Warm Summer Evening on the Champs de Mars

 

Jardin du Luxembourg

Jardin du Luxembourg

 

Nuit Blanche

Nuit Blanche

 

Late October Sky

Late October Sky

 

A Quiet Impasse

A Quiet Impasse

 

A View From Rue des Orchidées

A View From Rue des Orchidées

 

My favourite photo ever - freestyle footballer performing at Montmartre

My favourite photo ever – freestyle footballer performing at Montmartre

 

Crowd Pleaser

Crowd Pleaser

 

Skill and Beauty

Skill and Beauty

 

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

 

Tour d'Eiffel

Tour d’Eiffel

 

Au revoir, Paris

Au revoir, Paris

 

Quentin Tarantino: Not An Historian, Just A Story-Teller

“Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.” – Lloyd Alexander.

Nobody appreciates and revels in the ability to create, to elaborate and to get lost in a fantasy world like Quentin Tarantino. Even with a historical premise as sensitive as the Nazis’ anti-Semitic scouring of occupied France or the racist Deep South of the United States prior to the abolition of slavery, Tarantino’s writing oozes a flamboyant, playful and exploratory nature that is quite unique in the film industry.

Django Unchained showcases the gripping style that the creator of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds has pioneered and perfected throughout his career, with the superb casting conducive to the production of one of the most intriguing representations of 19th century American racist tensions in cinema history.

The reason that all of his films are quite so spectacular is not simply because of the fine cinematography, the frankly miraculous assembly of his cast or even the wince-inducing, yet side-splitting trademark of relentless bloodshed that are all elements in each of his creations. The fundamental aspect of Quentin Tarantino’s work is his story-telling and herein he remains unprecedented and thus far unmatched.

Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino tells stories that don’t necessarily need to be told, of characters that don’t truly exist or sometimes don’t even matter. Yet his written dialogue and his persistently fantastical flattery of the audience’s humour and emotion is so powerful through words or heavily charged actions alone – like the Therman and Travolta dance scene in Pulp Fiction –that there is no choice but to be engaged.

Even with his use of foreign languages, Tarantino conjures a poetic element to his films, which maintains the captivation of the audience impressively. Christoph Waltz is the main protagonist of the linguistic showmanship that is present in both Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, and his performances are worthy of Academy Awards without question. This daring and tentative writing style is quite brilliant, as the eloquence of each language, no matter how seemingly mundane or indeed sinister the topic of conversation, never ceases to entice. Tarantino’s use of language and dialect has created some of the most compelling dialogue scenes in recent memory, with the German underground bar in Inglourious Basterds as a particular highlight for this author.

There has been a lot of quizzical literature written about Tarantino’s loyalty to factual events, given the subjects he tackles. The historical accuracy, or lack thereof, in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained is frankly of little significance because Tarantino knows that the audience knows, in his words, that “this is a fantasy world”. He plays with history, and loosely twists it in his own fashion, adapting to his own fascinations. Tarantino is more intrigued by the story of the characters and the repercussions of those happenings at large rather than factual chronology. This undoubtedly serves to accentuate the fictitious connotations of his films and the mélange of that with utter brutality somewhat blurs the gap between the real and the fantastical. What is created stands alone – another genre, a Tarantino creation.

Django Unchained

Django Unchained

The fantasy world is a strong notion, particularly for Tarantino, who is rarely as explicit in interviews as his films are with their violence, but he is the master of using this heavy-handed veneer to interrogate the elements of human nature and human history that he sees fit to do. He has no time for deception, or for dwelling on one idea. Physical violence is a single element that he employs and explores in all of his films, but it does not define his style, for the pseudo-realism and seamless flow of the interaction between his characters lingers far longer in the mind than the bullets and the blood.

His characters are often anecdotalists, and their tales become anecdotes in themselves. This is most true of his latest foray into fantastical representation of history. Django’s saviour, partner and friend, Dr. King Schultz, played by the magnificent Christoph Waltz, delivers wit and personifies the careless intelligence of Tarantino, a man who is intent on capturing the cultural importance of violence and humour; who celebrates the ad lib nature of human conversation and the naturally opportunistic desire to tell a story.

Tarantino is an opportunist, crafting characters and stories through loose extrapolation of history. Taking offence or issue with the historical imprecision with which the director operates is entirely futile, and indeed a misinterpretation of Tarantino’s way. That is not to say Tarantino disregards the past. Instead, he uses it to develop an understanding and essentially, to entertain.

Inherently, just like Dr. King Schultz with his tale of Brünhilde, Quentin Tarantino is not an historian, but quite simply, he is a story-teller.

Django Unchained is superb and I give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars. I intend to go and see it for a second time very soon.

James Bond: A Foreign Film in France

It’s hard not to get whisked away in the hurricane that blows across every form of media whenever a new James Bond film is released, particularly for those of us who admit to being from the apparently “Great” British Isles. That said, with a worldwide box-office gross of just over one billion US dollars, it would seem that there are quite a few countries throughout quite a few continents where people have felt compelled to see Skyfall.

Skyfall-JamesBond_2377965b

The far-reaching, ineluctable nature of Ian Fleming’s hero has coaxed the world into watching Bond once again and has seen a plethora of opinion about the latest instalment, directed by Sam Mendes, spilled all over the internet. Indeed, it has been revealed that the 2013 Oscars, in which the film has five nominations, shall include something of a celebration of James Bond’s fifty-year contribution to cinema; such is the level of importance attached to the character, the stories and the films.

All of this sounds impressive, undoubtedly, but it is the view of James Bond from abroad that I really want to discuss. Surely there must be a more clinical explanation than the British charm of this all-action nationalistic cliché?

In fact, I too made up one fraction of the millions in foreign lands across the vast seas, oceans and channels (I was in France) who were attracted by the tectonic pull of the most exportable of all British characters. Here is an account of my trip to see Skyfall, from the perspective of a foreigner watching a foreign film in a foreign country, relatively speaking.

From Paris, Without Love

Experiencing Bond on the big screen in France – specifically, Paris – is like an old coin: an unpolished experience, but with two sides nonetheless. After that dreadful analogy, I’ll start with the negatives.

Being able to book your tickets, but unable to reserve specific seats is the well-organised-but-late-to-everything person’s nightmare, and this is exactly the system in Parisian cinemas, and exactly the type of person I claim to be. As my brother and I sauntered into the grand Gaumont lobby at Montparnasse and handed our tickets to the usher who was keen to check our age identification, two things crossed my mind.

First, cinemas in France are rather strict and employ a surprising level of vigilance, given that it’s easier to buy a beer than to watch a mildly violent film. Secondly, I thought about how pointless it is coming to the cinema with somebody else with this system in place, given that if you leave it too late in arriving, you will end up sitting either so far back that you might as well be outside sipping on a continental lager bought by an underage drinker, or alternatively, you’ll be separated from one another, which would somewhat ruin the idea of going together in the first place. In reality, you’re likely to be both separated and a considerable distance from the screen. Parfait.

As we entered screen number four, it appeared more a battle ground than a venue for public entertainment, with people pushing past, shouldering you out of the way so that they could secure seats for them and their companions. It was every man for himself or every group, at least. A strange, animalistic atmosphere had descended upon the huge, dimly-lit salon. We waded through the aggressive Frenchmen who were all willing to risk their lives for a seat. I yearned for a license to kill. At the back, after a number of rejections from seat-savers, we found two together. We sat, and realised that despite being approximately five miles from the screen, this was the best we would get. Next time, we’d come earlier and queue, as only the British do best.

With that in mind, and the inevitable pre-movie bladder weakness playing havoc with my sanity, I became a little irritated by all of the French voices around me. A most uncharacteristic sense of imperialism had instilled itself in throat, as I felt outraged that I, a British man, was forced to sit at the back of a film that was essentially my country’s finest export in the visual arts, simply because the French were rubbish at organising their cinemas correctly. Something along the lines of “bloody useless bureaucratic bastards” was on the tip of my tongue, but I refrained, conscious that this was not the time for nonsensical quips that were tantamount to an offensive generalisation of the population surrounding me.

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I could barely hear the adverts attempting to brain-wash and sell even more poorly seated cinematic experiences to me. They had seen my driving license before the film for identification reasons, so they knew my nationality. Hailing from the same land as the great James Bond whose legacy perpetually fills these rooms of eager film-fans, I felt that I should have been given priority seating – a tragic reflection of my sense of self-importance, particularly at an internationally celebrated film event. I wouldn’t even claim, either, that this was due to some sort of deep-rooted British superiority complex. It’s a fairly human reaction to try and use any benefit at your disposal to improve your position, be it cinema seating or otherwise. Embarrassed, I kept quiet and awaited the beginning.

As the film started, some French chaps behind began giggling like school girls and scrabbling around for their popcorn as if it had been announced that all snacks must be consumed within the first ten minutes of the spectacle. With the finest French attitude and accent I could muster, I said something condescending under my breath, and continued being the passive Brit I had been a mere fifteen minutes before, when the idea of going to see the new James Bond film had seemed pleasant, if not exciting.

At this juncture, I should just clarify that I am in love with France and its language. There’s not a higher level of praise I can give this country other than to say I wish to spend a lot of time here, as I have already. So despite all of this French-bashing, please take it with a heavy pinch of salt and a consideration that my tongue is firmly placed in cheek.

That brings me nicely to the positive aspects of being in France to watch the great spy in his anti-sweat suits as he traverses train tops with the strength of the Hulk and the skill of the artful dodger, and indeed to the crux of this piece: the question of how Bond is viewed overseas and why the films are so popular elsewhere.

Bond’s Foreign Appeal

The French, as highlighted by the aforementioned bumbling buffoons behind, don’t buy into the whole “British is best” bullshit and it is an entirely refreshing realisation. James Bond is one of ours, no doubt, but even the most wide-eyed, gentle-natured, patriotic British dreamer must see the ridicule that is pointed at them like an MI6 standard-issue pistol every time they delve into the world of 007.

Of course, there is a clear distinction between the Bond who appears on the screen and the one who sleeks coldly through the pages of Ian Fleming’s original works. For now, I will concentrate on Bond for the cinema.

Foreigners have a real attachment to James Bond, but it’s a different feeling to the one we have for the character and the films. In the UK, Bond is partly the undying symbol of military superiority we wish we still had, and the polite imperialism that still exists to some extent in modern attitudes. He is British strength and intelligence, mixed with a loveable, yet chauvinistic charm that we turn a blind eye to, despite the growing emphasis on political correctness. James Bond is British humour, and bridges an indefinite gap between all eras in which he has been contemporary. Bond is therefore a timeless British idea as well as a timeless fictitious character.

Outside of the UK, there is not a character from the same mould. Bond is a unique slice of British pride, and somehow, this has become exportable all over the world. He’s a slice of history, and a reflection of modern British views all in one, which is as captivating for foreign audiences looking in as it is for us, as we celebrate this extension of British representation on top of the 2012 Olympics, the Royal Family and the Pound Sterling. For foreign viewers, Bond is a humorous depiction of what is British and indeed of British foreign policy. In the UK, we take it a little more seriously because he is ours, and he always will be.

Fortunately, we all appreciate the great, if sometimes ridiculous entertainment that the numerous adaptations of Fleming’s character and his stories have given us over the last fifty years.

Bienvenue

I’ve always thought that the first night of anything is an important tone-setter for whatever lies ahead. So the first one of my year abroad, eventually spent in my spacious, yet bizarre French-cum-Venezuelan designed new apartment in the floral 13th arrondissement of Paris, is where I begin this journey.

I say journey because it seems fitting for a year that will take me to at least two foreign countries, or perhaps I’ve just read far too many ramblings from overly elaborate students who think that crossing the channel is equivalent to travelling the globe. Maybe that’s a tad harsh on the average blogger, but I should forewarn that this is most likely going to be an account of a year abroad riddled with chronic cynicism. I just can’t help it, so strap in.

The journey itself – the one taken to arrive in Paris, not the metaphorical nonsense just discussed – was one that put me in an appropriately Parisian mood. Basically, bloody miserable. Dad, who often travels to Paris for business purposes, had kindly offered to give me a lift, so after cramming almost every possession I’ve ever owned into the car boot – just in case I needed that fourth tie or indeed started using that futile Filofax, which collects dust year after year, to put my very student-like life in order – we headed towards the channel tunnel.

After making our way into France, happily avoiding any problems with traffic, and a reliably inefficient international train system, we stopped at a service station to charge up with fuel and coffee; the world’s two most traded commodities consumed in the space of five minutes. Unfortunately, there was no time to stop and marvel at the perpetual importance of the two dark liquids that run life as we know it, for there were some British folk being embarrassingly, well, British.

Opening of the Channel Tunnel – Missing: British Pride

When I come over to France, or any foreign land for that matter, I wish there was a button that I could press, which would cause the evaporation of any British people and their ignorant, unnecessarily loud manners from the country’s surface. A large group of people that I would do best to never audibly call my compatriots walked around seemingly determined to gain the attention of every soul in the service station. The orders for ‘twah coffees’ could be heard over the rest of the babbling buffoons, so we swiftly polished off the coffee through gritted teeth, and scarpered.

Once you’ve left home to go to university or elsewhere, one ironic tendency is that the time you spend at home when you return to visit is often the time when you least get to properly talk to your parents. Certainly this is the case for me, as I find that once the novelty of being back around the house has worn off, you go back to just living there again. The bottom line is that while someone is always around, you never make the most of them, and you regret it when they’re not around so much. Therefore, the best time to really enjoy with your parents is when travelling (if you’re not too cool to travel with your parents), using the break from the everyday life that we always manage to overcomplicate to just relax and talk. With that in mind, when we arrived early evening, it was nice to go out and have a drink and a meal with Dad and Bill, my brother, neither of whom I have been very good at keeping in touch with during my two years of university.

In fact, I haven’t been very good at keeping in touch with anyone. I’ve not really been very conscientious with a lot of things while at uni, getting too caught up in a life of tight-knit groups of friends, drinking cider and watching daytime TV. Not a bad life, in the eyes of some, but things would be different this year. This year I was going to grow up and learn to live properly. Time to employ the Filofax, perhaps.

What better place to spend six months than residing in the beautiful city of Paris? I pondered this as we sat on the terrace of a little bistro beside the Panthéon, near the Luxembourg gardens, tucking into steak frites and some long, ice-cold continental lagers. Life would have felt good, had I not clumsily smashed a glass ashtray a mere thirty seconds after taking a seat at the restaurant, disturbing some rather pretty French girls who moodily blew cigarette smoke in our direction to signal their disapproval. Smooth as ever, Ollie.

The Pantheon without the cigarette smoke obstruction

I had also pissed off the waiter it would seem, or maybe I had made his night. I couldn’t really tell as he persistently made the same semi-serious comment that I was going to have to pay for the ashtray, before cracking a yellow toothy grin and swaggering off to irritate some other customers.

The enigmatic, or maybe just idiotic, waiter provoked conversation about distinctive senses of humour between countries and cultures. We rather promptly settled on the conclusion that the French had a strange sense of humour, slapstick and repetitive, the garçon serving as definitive proof. Rarely does anyone in my family speak fondly, or even remotely positively of the British – a nationality that is marked on each of our passports – but tonight, we reluctantly agreed that British wit outweighs the rest. This seismic admittance was swiftly followed by Bill describing explicitly that the British have almost everything else wrong, so we need to be able to joke about it. Quite.

Before heading back to the apartment to restlessly sleep off the first day of the next six months, we headed to another bar along Rue Descartes, right in the depths of the Quartier Latin – probably my favourite area of Paris because of its student vibe. I’m a student. It makes sense. The bar we chose was rather dim and cramped, but the beer was refreshing and the music was loud enough to make it seem like there was a good ambiance. There was a guy sat to my right who was armed with a pen and a notepad, watching the whole bar, and presumably writing about the people within. Not the most exciting premise for a work of art, but he seemed content waiting for a drunken brawl or just a moment of inspiration. I wondered what it would be like to be unwittingly cast as the main character of a story written by somebody that you’ve never met, but who saw you sipping beer in a bar, taking note of your habits or your topic of conversation. I guess nobody will ever know, and with that rather pointless notion, I went back to talking sport with the guys.

Paris Quartier Latin: Bustling

It’s exciting to stop and think that there is a whole six-month period to be spent here, exploring, learning, and meeting new people. One thing I will certainly begin to find out in the coming weeks and months is just what it is like to live in the heart of Paris, and whether it will be just as romantic and enlightening as this year abroad is supposed to be.

On that note, it would seem that I have scrawled enough bullshit for one night. From now on I’ll be writing every week or so as I’m quite sure that neither you nor I could stomach my intense, boredom-inducing perceptions and observations on a daily basis. What’s more, I’ve probably managed to alienate both the British and French readership, if one even exists, so my most insincere apologies for that. I have a feeling the differences I see between the two nations and populations will be one of the most intriguing aspects of the six months, so I’ll try to be nicer in future.

I’ve always thought that the first night of anything is an important tone-setter for whatever lies ahead. It’s been a gentle, but interesting one by and large, with a side of embarrassment, and of course an appreciation of being in such a great city. Will it continue in the same vein? Probably not – no doubt the pace will pick up when I really get into it.

The famous year abroad has begun.

Bienvenue.

Take Your Pic II

Have you ever taken a photo, had a quick glance at it, thought it was rubbish and never looked at it again?

Here is a collection of photos I’ve taken that fall into that category, but that on second viewing, I think are rather cool:

A Parisian Fountain.
Tuileries with Eiffel Tower backdrop.
La Défense from above.
Avenue de la Princesse by night.

Life goes by very quickly, so look carefully or you might miss a beautiful moment.

Take Your Pic

I’ve recently developed a great interest in photography, partly because it’s easier to document a lot of things with a quick snap of a camera than to write about what you’ve seen but mainly because images can be incredibly powerful tools of expression.

Here are a few photos I took recently. They’re not the most interesting shots in the world – in fact I’d go as far as saying they depict some of the most photographed objects on Earth – but they are quite funky nonetheless.

These photos were all taken during my recent trip to Paris with my iPhone 4S and edited with the wondrous Instagram app.

Night shot of the Nôtre Dame cathedral with a hint of blossom.
A small bistro in the Quartier Latin of Paris surrounded by wisteria.
Shot of La Seine as it flows through Paris.
A side shot of Nôtre Dame.
La Gloire de Nôtre Dame.
The buzz of a little square in the Quartier Latin.
La Tour d’Eiffel to a glorious blue sky.
Sun setting behind La Défense.

Et voilà.

Boo!

One of the funny things about life is that you can almost never know what to expect. You think you can read what’s going to happen, or what someone’s going to do, or indeed what a film is going to be about based on the title. This is a little story, and a little review, to show you that sometimes you just can’t, and often the surprises are the best part of anything.

As I arrived at the cinema last night, I fully intended to see the epic Avengers Assemble film, which has had rave reviews from anyone who’s been bothered enough to tell me about it. All showings were sold out. Not a problem, instead I’d just join the hoard of excited students clamouring to see the new American Pie film. Or maybe not. The crowd had defeated me again, as I learned that all tickets for the cult teen movie had also gone.

Anyone would have thought a new Harry Potter film had been released with added scenes of Hermione getting raunchy what with all the teens doused in cheap aftershave stronger than a Hollister cave, donning spiked-up hairstyles. Sadly, this bustling lobby of people had taken the best tickets, and even more tragically, Emma Watson’s talents weren’t on show at any cinema.

My options were now slim in terms of film titles that weren’t sold out, but I’d made the strenuous, largely down-hill, ten-minute walk to the cinema and I was determined to sit in one of those peculiar, coca-cola stained blue seats and be absorbed by huge images and over-the-top sound effects of some sort. The big-screen experience was beckoning, or maybe it was the fact I’d already bought popcorn in preparation and I’d look like a tit walking home with it in hand.

The adverts for Orange Wednesdays really should highlight that the cinema will be busier than the black hole of Calcutta if there are popular films on. Students will do anything for a discount and I can’t really complain because I wasn’t one of those embarrassingly well-organised souls who made the trip to the cinema at the crack of dawn to pre-purchase their golden (or orange) tickets. Hats off to their dedication.

Fortunately, my friends and I found the perfect solution: a late-night horror film, after a two-hour wait in the pub beforehand. It seemed like an inspired decision, because not only were there plenty of tickets, but we would probably enjoy the film a lot more after a couple of beers anyway. On the other hand, the title of the film we were going to watch somewhat lacked inspiration and imagination. Frankly, I felt I didn’t even need to go and see a film called “The Cabin In The Woods” to know what it was all about. Frankly, I was wrong.

Armed with popcorn and a weak bladder, I took my seat, treading on a number of feet as I made my way towards it. Good start.

The film began fairly promptly, with just one soppy rom-com commercial gracing the screen before the lights went down. I didn’t really know what to expect from this film, except I thought I did, judging by the number of dangerously predictable horror films I’ve seen involving six students and a cabin in the woods. Strangely, it occurred to me that these films never make much effort to identify exactly which woodland area the film is based in. I quickly brushed that thought aside, in an attempt to become as brain-dead as possible in order to enjoy this film where knowledge of geography or any form of education whatsoever would not be required.

All of this cynical anticipation was rather unfair, it would seem, because although all you really needed to appreciate this film was a sense of humour and the basic human ability to be frightened, it was actually quite good.

After a customary beginning where the unfortunate, and outrageously stereotypical, victims of whatever happens in the woods are introduced, you realise there is a deeper element to the film than just their story.

The film also follows the work of two men in an office somewhere, who appear to have control over the cabin in which the victims find themselves, at first making it appear like a reality TV show à la Hunger Games.

Flashes of comedy throughout the film are most welcome, and it serves to relieve some of the typical tension that would otherwise be there if it were a bog-standard horror centring only on the kids in the cabin.

Eventually zombies arise from the ground and begin killing off the characters one by one, starting with the gorgeous blonde girl and moving on to the tough-guy athlete and the academic. The deaths are pretty gruesome, as expected and there is no holding back on the make-up and animation of the evil beasts, which makes the horror aspect rather impressive.

Two remain after the onslaught of the zombies and this is where the film veers off and really engrosses you in a story that you could not have expected.

The drug-addict and the innocent virgin girl somehow escape from the cabin, taking an elevator out of the arena that has been set by the gentlemen in the office, after ending up in the coffin from whence the zombies rose.

Now with the understanding that they have been placed in this game on purpose, they are fighting to discover more. After dealing with an exceptionally feeble guard who attempts to get the game back on track by killing off the drug-addict guy first, they discover that they are in a world where elevators full of nightmare monsters are waiting to be sent up to the arena. They encounter a werewolf, and a little girl with some sort of lethal mouth with a million sharp teeth that covers her face, among others. They chose the way they were to die when they did or read certain things in the cellar of the cabin that they found near the beginning. A twisted concept that you could pick holes in, but it’s more fun to just watch.

Ridiculously, the two find a room that has the overriding controls to all the elevators, completely unguarded. The only way to escape being chased by an army of gunmen who have been instructed to kill them is to release all of the elevators and allow the nightmare monsters to reek havoc.

The next bit is cool, as you see all of these computer generated beasts destroy everything in their path in a number of intricate and disgusting ways.

The two protagonists escape, but the whole building, including the office of the two men in control of it all, gets overrun by Hell. The humour persists throughout, which is a nice touch because with all of the issues in the storyline, you almost need a humorous helping hand to guide you away from looking too meticulously at it.

In the final room, the two remaining cabin-survivors meet the Director, played by none other than sci-fi horror heroine, Sigourney Weaver, and she is the one who provides the strangest twist of all. She shows them that the Gods who once ruled the world are below them, waiting to destroy mankind if the sacrifice of all the cabin-crew, with the virgin last, is not fulfilled. Mr. Drug-Addict refuses to die, and so after a dramatic rough-and-tumble during which old Sigourney kicks the bucket, the virgin and the druggy, or innocence and temptation (far more poetic), sit side by side and wait for the remaining moments to tick away. The film ends with a shot of a furious, fiery hand of God rising up to end the world.

There was an audible explosion of gasping, giggling and furious conversation as soon as the credits began to roll, people in clear disbelief at what they had just witnessed. For me, it was one of the most interesting horror films I’d ever seen, and I almost wanted to see it again right after just to make sure I had not somehow fainted and had a weird dream, or nightmare. It was a culmination of many ideas, and a unique one in its own right.

Ironically, had I gone to see The Avengers or American Pie, I’m sure I’d have enjoyed them a lot but I’m not sure I’d have been so intrigued by them as I was by The Cabin In The Woods.

It would be even more ironic for me to now tell you to go and see the film, being as this review has ruined the very reason I was taken by it: the surprise element. No matter, allow me to leave you with this:

Often those things we don’t expect to, turn out to be the best. There is always more than just a cabin in the woods.

So don’t judge a book by its cover, or a film by its title, keep an open mind, try new things and just take pleasure in being surprised.

And yes, I got all that from just a horror film. Just a horror film…

Haircuts

Getting your hair cut constitutes a chore, and I need to rant about it.

Has anyone ever had a haircut and been genuinely happy – or even satisfied – with the result? This is impossible, surely.

I mean by nature humans don’t much like change, so when that very change occurs around your most precious features, and transforms you into someone you hardly recognize when you gaze begrudgingly at the mirror, there is bound to be considerable disheartenment.

For me, haircuts always come at the wrong time. Why is it that I always I always need a haircut just as I’m about to arrive upon a week of university presentations, during which I want to be comfortable with my appearance, not least my hair, which will look short, scary and frankly strange following a cut.

Maybe the issue is that the hairdresser just never listens, and therefore always gets it wrong. Indeed, their lack of communication skills may well be the very reason they became hairdressers in the first place. That can’t be right. Hairdressers are more or less in the business of meaningless communication as they awkwardly attempt to develop some sort of forged friendly conversation and show an incredibly fake interest in your life in order to pass the fifteen or twenty minutes of hacking away at your self-consciousness.They certainly aren’t the best actors, those hairdressers.

Perhaps it’s just the hairdressers I foolishly allow to cut my hair that don’t ever get the message when I say ‘not too short’. Or maybe they just choose to ignore me because they believe, as a hairdresser, that they know what the best look for my hair is. They don’t. The best look for my hair is the look you get between two and three weeks after the haircut. Why can’t they ever cut it to be like that? I suppose that length wouldn’t last that long, particularly for me, who has hair that grows thicker and faster than the British population (and yes, that is a fat joke).

Directly linked but entirely irrelevant is the fact that my finger nails grow equally as quickly, thus creating another irritating situation whereby I have to take a much-unwanted five minute divergence from the busy road that is my life to cut the little pieces of keratin to a socially acceptable length. This is always problematic because they’re always too short, on account of the fact that I’ve tried to compensate for how quickly they grow. And then I’m sat there with a haircut I hate and finger nails that cause me pain whenever I try and do anything that requires their usage (and in truth, anything that’s worth doing requires finger usage).

I can’t be sure but I think I’m off topic. Where was I? Of course. Hair. It’s a precious thing in this modern world where we must look our best or suffer ridicule of the follicle type. In truth, I actually take pride in my hair when it is the length I feel comfortable with and become infuriated with anyone who has no sense of style when it comes to the bush on their head. My Dad went bald pretty early on, so maybe I should be grateful that I still have a full head of the stuff thus far. My suggestion to end all hair-related issues would be the invention of a device or genetic modification that could enable me to maintain my two-to-three-week-later hairstyle.

Being as I haven’t the slightest clue how such genius would be plucked from God’s Great Earth, I guess I’ll just have to tolerate the phenomenal actors and actresses that disregard my hair cutting preferences as mere suggestions every month or so. Maybe from now on, post-haircut, I’ll just hide myself away until I hit that golden period of time elapsed.

I’ve got an appointment in half an hour. Wish me luck.

Keeping Up

Oh Sunday.

A mixture of feeling hungover and a clichéd dose of self-questioning as a result of a complete void in the motivational region of my brain has led me to spend a whole day (or what remained of it when I finally emerged from the sack at 2pm) watching one of the best television shows I’ve seen in a long time – Californication.

I’d like to say that an unproductive Sunday is a departure from the norm but I’d be lying. On top of that, I don’t consider today to be unproductive. In fact, I’ve recently developed a new mentality that everything you do, particularly when you consider yourself a budding writer, is time spent well as long as it inspires new thoughts and ideas. In theory this is a nice idea as I’m sure you’ll agree, and it means I can set myself the unrealistic target of reading a book a week. In reality, it just makes me feel better about the way I spend much of my time – like watching an entire season and a half of a TV show in a day.

Though Californication is the main production I want to mull over, I’ll chuck in a quick analysis of a few other things I’ve watched and read recently as well.

Perhaps it is the aforementioned hangover that has swelled a number of self-reflective emotions but Californication has really struck a chord, for a number of reasons, the self-loathing nature of the protagonist being one of them.

Californication tells the story of an author, Hank Moody, who is also the coolest man alive, and the people in his whimsical, vice-filled life, which like the rest of us, both inspires and hinders his work.

From the opening scene where Hank is dreaming of getting a blow job from a nun in a Church, the man oozes cool (no advocation of sexual activity in the house of God intended), and you get the impression that the themes of the show will be somewhat risqué and more profound than just sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. You’d be right, although you can be a surface spectator if you choose, skimming over the deeper sentiments. I wouldn’t suggest this, however, because the ideas go further than just to consider the sub-conscious of a writer living in Los Angeles, and are the core of my love for this show.

Interest is engaged immediately and sustained well with a steady flow of beautiful women in a number of sexual situations, some superb, intelligent, and amusing dialogue that is almost as zany and hectic as Hank’s non-stop lifestyle and very well-developed characters. Basically, the writers deserve huge credit.

The characters are all great, and not just because they are believable and create one of the most intriguing and frankly fucked up relationship networks on television, but mainly because they are all people that you would like to know and indeed want to be like due to their incredibly relaxed and ‘get busy living’ attitude.

For me, to watch a show that explores so meticulously and so successfully the life of a troubled writer is exceptionally interesting, and the way people respond to him and his work is not only entertaining, but eye-opening all the same.

Hank is one of the best characters I have encountered for a while, largely because of his profession and fascination for life’s finer things – thinking, writing, language, hot women and partying. Specifically, Hank is a brilliant character because his carefree, yet smooth and personable qualities counterbalance his realistically bad habits and character faults, which, as is the case with every great person, are what make him so interesting. In short, he is effortlessly cool, with a powerful depth of personality.

There is a dark side to the show, with some serious and quite tragic messages arising as Hank does his best to tame the unpredictable intricacies of his feelings, thoughts, relationships and characteristics. The relationships between him and his daughter and the mother of his daughter, Karen, who is the only woman he truly loves, in spite of his sexual adventures throughout, are the most potent of the relationships that have their light and dark sides.

Every character is fragile in their own way but they all come together to show that life is a mad ride, and you will make mistakes and there will be tough periods, but that however you live it is however you live it, and whoever you meet and wherever you go…all of these things make up the exciting and frightful roller-coaster that is life. In many respects, Hank personifies the phrase that only the French could have coined: “c’est la vie”.

Californication is one of those productions that makes you feel that although most of the world is fucked up, life is still wonderful, funny, full of surprises and great characters. I think Hank’s writing block comes from the same place that most drawbacks originate – in a desire yet inability to perfectly understand and express all of this diversity that surrounds us. Then again, maybe it comes from the fact he’s just lazy, and that life just gets in his way. That’s my excuse for not having released a notable piece of literature yet anyway.

I’m mid-way through season two (or series, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re from), and enjoying every minute of it. It is undoubtedly one of the most well-written shows around. Highly recommended. Five stars.

You’ll be well aware that James Cameron is making more headlines, and I’m not talking about his journey to the deepest depth of the great deep, though that is rather impressive and I am rather envious of the fact he is richer than the Earth and can spend it on such exploratory, sea-diving toys.

No, I mean the re-release of Titanic in 3D at cinemas. Long story short, I went to see it a few weeks ago.

It’s a classic film, and fittingly, the special effects are titanic. I hadn’t seen it for about a decade, but the film remains a fantastic one with very believable characters and a universal story that incorporates action, adventure, history and a big dose of romance. Notably, there is also a considerable amount of humour in the film that I had not quite appreciated when I first watched it some ten or so years ago.

Nevertheless, the main question with its release in 3D has to surely be: is it worth paying to go and see it in 3D?

In a word, no. I wouldn’t say that the 3D remastering adds a great deal to the experience in truth, and if you were to go for just that reason, don’t. Cameron’s 3D masterpiece came with Avatar, and it really was special because of the effects as opposed to the story. Titanic is more or less paradoxical in this sense.

This is Titanic. You won’t be going to see it just for the 3D, you’ll be going because it is an excellent, powerful film and it is made all the better when it’s on the big screen. The performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are incredible. So just go, you won’t be disappointed. For someone like my little sister who had never seen it before, it’s quite mesmerising. Four stars.

Another film I saw at the cinema recently was The Hunger Games, the blockbuster based on the Suzanne Collins book, written as the first part of a trilogy. This movie broke records on the US Box Office and for good reason, it’s a cracking film.

The idea is that in a future world following some form of war, 24 youngsters from 12 ravaged, external districts are chosen to fight to the death as part of a television programme. The protagonist volunteers to fight after her little sister is chosen and she must leave her family in a dangerous world with little food and fight for her own life in an arena under the eye of a huge television audience.

It’s an intriguing storyline, and the relationships developed are also. I won’t spoil the plot any more than that, but it is an impressive film, with plenty of action and some prevailing messages about peace, unity and friendship over aggression, violence and social struggles.

The film is done with a stylish touch and reeks of cool. A children book though it may be, the themes are quite adult, and I now want to read the books. Give this one a watch. Four stars.

On the subject of books, I’m currently reading The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom. It’s an excellent book, with extremely important points and ideas made about life, death and the meaning of both. In spite of the idea behind the title, where an old war veteran dies and goes to heaven and learns the reason for his time on Earth from five people who had an impact on his life, it is not religious per say. It’s just a fantastic, touching story that really emphasises those things that are most important in life, and encourages the reader to appreciate them. Read it. Five stars.

And so, with all of these inspirations swimming around in my creative mind, I just need to work out how to create characters as cool and profound as Hank, with a story as exciting as The Hunger Games and as epic and universal as the Titanic, with a message as beautiful as The Five People You Meet In Heaven.

It was a cracking party last night, by the way.

The Specific Ocean

Deciding a name for a blog is hard, particularly when you have absolutely no idea what you’re going to blog about.

Specifically, this section of Tigre de Papier is going to be about nothing specific. There is such an ocean of specific subject matters upon which I could write, expressing an unlimited array of thoughts and ideas. While even my attempts at topic specificity would be ill-judged and misinformed, it would at least pander to a particular interest. (More about pandering, or Pandas, later).

But no. I don’t want to be specific, for specific is boring. There is only so much you can talk about with one subject. I want this blog to be entirely unspecific and for the very reason that I will be writing about my own thoughts and ideas, as and when they come to me, and they could be about anything. Absolutely anything. I don’t want to say that this part of the blog will be about this or that, because it won’t. I want somewhere to write bits and pieces about whatever comes into my mind, whenever it does. And this is it.

There is an ocean out there, and that ocean is the internet. (Thanks to Alan Partridge who inspired the wording of that most profound philosophical sentiment.) It’s an ocean that is being constantly rained upon, by every single human-shaped cloud who has an internet-capable device. The ocean is now so vast that it is simply impossible to keep up with. Seriously, don’t try, you’ll waste your life.

My little sister used to make the quite common error of calling the Earth’s largest water mass ‘the specific ocean’, but I find it quite a poignant description when applied to the titanic online web of communication, ideas, thoughts and people that looks set to rule the world for the next billion years…or however long we have left until we blow each other up anyway.

There is a world of blogs out there that DO specify. This section WON’T. All in all, this is an unspecific, probably rather insignificant, stream in the grand internet scheme, of my thoughts about the world in which we live. Everybody is thinking all the time…we can’t help it. So why not have one place where I can talk about all of those thoughts, no matter what, when, who, why or how? Well, once again, this is that place. This is Ponder Mill.

In spite of the overly aforementioned lack of a specific topic, I did actually have a lot of ideas about what I could call this section of the blog and would like to discuss how I came to settle on Ponder Mill. Humour me. Here are a few titles I considered:

Just A Thought, Ponder Lake, Thoughts of a Thinker, Ponder Lane, Just Think, Incessant Ponder, Switched On

Can you see a pattern? Yes, they’re all about thinking and pondering and whatever other synonyms you have for the specifically human activity that is quite as necessary and involuntary as breathing. Quite one dimensional thinking for the title of a blog that claims it will have no focus, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Nevertheless, I did have one other idea.

I recently went on a ski trip in the French Alpes  with my Dad and we hired a Fiat Panda, which has now become the standard ‘joke car’ in my family’s eyes due to its disgusting body shape and complete lack of power, or class (though the leg room is superb). Perhaps predictably, I thought about calling this blog the Fiat Ponder. Brilliant, I know, but this idea was scrapped for three fundamental reasons:

1. Inside jokes are never funny, unless you’re on the inside. If you’re reading this, I doubt you’ve even cracked a smile since I’ve started talking about the Panda. Unless you have this type of car, in which case you’re probably only smiling weakly due to embarrassment. Otherwise, you’re on the outside. The whole title of my blog would be my family’s inside joke. Hilarious.

2. I don’t really want my blog to forever be associated with one of the worst, most boring and most powerless pieces of design and engineering ever created. I’m probably exaggerating a touch, but I can imagine a three-legged actual panda bear would give it’s auto-mobile namesake a good race around a track. Unless it was an uphill track, then the bear would definitely win.

3. Northern Irish people or people with a similar accent, undoubtedly my main target audience, just wouldn’t understand the title. (If you don’t get this point then you’ve either never heard a Northern Irish person say ‘panda’ before – FYI they say it exactly the same way that they say ‘ponder’.) The Northern Irish accent is in fact one of my favourites due to the comical twang but also the fact that so many words sound the same. ‘Hour-long power shower’ is perhaps the greatest phrase of all time in that dialect.

Anyway, in the end I settled on Ponder Mill because I like the word ‘ponder’, and I think any place with the word ‘mill’ in paints a pretty picture. Simples. On top of that, I could summarise the title in a short, sweet and exceptionally pretentious little phrase:

Ponder Mill where thoughts and ideas go round and round, to eventually be churned into (more or less) legible rambling.

Cringe-worthy? I know.

Even so, this is the birth of Ponder Mill, the non-specific section of olliescrim.com, and filled with thoughts that most people will never read.

What a thought.