Why the Hell is this Taking so Long?

It has now been exactly one month to the day that I experienced my ‘life changing’ day of pain and two (count em, two!) surgeries. One which  is often referred to as the ‘lunch hour op’ and the second which was emergency surgery and pretty damned serious.

*Although to be honest, the seriousness of the second surgery still has not really kicked in. I still keep looking around to see who the doctor is talking about when they get to the serious part. In my mind if it was that serious, I’d still be bed-ridden and hooked up to about a trillion tubes.*

I do have to keep reminding myself that is has been just one month since my ‘new life’ started. The parting words of my cardiologist were, “Get ready for your new life.” I still cannot figure out if she was being facetious or not. But new it most certainly is.

2012 has been a year of recovery for me. An accident in February caused so much nerve damage to my lower back that I still had not returned to work full-time when the heart attack decided to ‘kick me while I was already down.’  Of course the recovery for a heart attack and two surgeries is a lot different from recovering from lower back nerve damage.

As frustrating and painful as the nerve damage was, it was never going to kill me. Oh it might aggravate the living hell out of me but it definitely would not put my life directly in danger.

*Unless of course, my back decided to freeze while I was crossing a busy motorway. In that case I think all bets would be off.*

The other parting words from the cardiologist was that, “You need to completely rethink your life style and your attitude.” I was a little insulted. While in the hospital, I was so grateful to everyone who had made the galvanizing pain disappear that I had a permanent grin pasted on my face. Of course they may have misconstrued that as a grimace which, in all fairness, does look an awful lot like a grin.

But I got her point. I am by very nature, a little grumpy (A little grumpy?? I hear some of my colleagues say. That’s like saying Hitler is a little dead! I maintain, in my defense, that applies only to work. Not all the time.) and very impatient. Living in England I have always been able to pass this off as a less than attractive American trait. But to be completely honest, I am so impatient that even my fellow Americans disown me.

Mr Fredrickson from Pixar’s Up…Even he’s not as grumpy as I am.

I know that I have to slow down, chill out and be more cheerful. Unfortunately, knowing that I have to do this does not make it happen spontaneously. I still get impatient at the amount of time everything takes.

For example: I will walk to the post box, which is about 100 yards from my back door. I take my time and still have to stop halfway there. Not because I am winded or tired. No the reason I stop is because of my damned back! This pain in the buttocks ailment that I have been recovering from since February this year! It seizes up and I have to stop and stretch and rest it for ten minutes before I can resume my slow snail-like crawl to the post box.

Then, because of the seizure, I have to stop several times on the way back. Embarrassingly, the first stop is after I have posted what I needed posted and I limp slowly  to the fence right by the post box. I always wear a floppy hat and sunglasses in case someone I know is driving by.

I know that I am getting better though. Yesterday I cut the grass in my back garden. Now before you get too excited, I need to explain that my back garden is not that big and my mower is not that heavy. I also really took my time and besides dragging my right leg a bit, finished pretty much pain-free. I am having to wait to cut the grass in my front garden, which is considerably smaller than the back garden. I’m waiting because I don’t want to over do it.

I have gotten used to my right calf looking like an over-ripe banana and finding the odd bruise in places that don’t make sense. *The oddest one is right in the middle of my right foot’s instep.* I am also learning to walk that very fine line between hypochondriac and really knowing when something isn’t right.

I have learned not to panic when I get pains in my hands or forearms (both of which hurt beyond belief during the heart attack) and I’ve learned to stop worrying about getting fit for work, although that one is a bit harder.

We run a fitness test for my job. It is called a ‘bleep test‘ and it was obviously invented by a sadist. I have never really had too much of a problem passing it in the past. Not too shabby for a smoker of too many years to count. But now? I’ve quit the nasty weed and I am on the mend, but, the idea of running that test makes me feel nauseous.

Invented by the Marquis De Sade
Buzz Lightyear and Meg. My two guardians.

But the one thing I have learned from my recent ‘life changing’ experience is this: While I sit here and roll my eyes to the heavens and shout, “Why the hell is this taking so long!” I am, mentally at least, accepting that this is going to take a while and that I’m pretty damn lucky to still be here and if I ever forget this fact, my daughter will remind me.

Urban Exploration and Industrial Estates: The New Ghost Towns?

All painted up and no where to go.

My daughter has had a fascination with old dilapidated buildings since college. I remember taking her out on photo shoots of the many Industrial Estates around the area that had lost a lot of business to a continuing economic downturn.

Considering that I used to patrol a lot of these estates when I worked in Security, it felt strange to pass these same buildings that only a few years previously had been bustling businesses.

Only the weeds are growing.

A lot of these places I’d delivered office supplies to in a previous job. At no time during my office supply days did any of these thriving places seem close to financial ruin. I remember smiling faces at the reception desk and helpful hands taking the supplies from the back of my van. A cup of tea or coffee would be offered and if I had time, I’d accept. Coffee, biscuits and gossip then on my way.

No cars, no security.

My daughter would always ask what building housed what business. When was the last time I’d been there. Did I know anyone who still had access to the buildings so we could take pictures inside. The answers varied, but, in each case I knew of no-one who could let us inside. It seemed a shame then and does now. I would have liked to have seen if they all resembled the deserted place I’d been in before.

Not down yet.

I remember when my daughter (Meg) finished her last year at University, we collected all her things from her shared house and put them in the handy HomeStore Self Storage warehouse in Ipswich. It sat at the end of Ransomes Europark and we had to drive past a lot of ‘dead’ businesses to get there. Because of the ease involved with entering and leaving the place we went there a lot.

We passed the old business where I had collected old office furniture years before. The one that was so disquieting and surrealistic. Each time we drove past I wondered who, if anyone, ever went into the building now.

Still empty after all these years.

As times continue to force more and more businesses under the hammer. Industrial Estates are becoming the new ghost towns of this millennium. All that’s missing are the rolling tumbleweeds and the lonely blowing wind.

Tumbling tumbleweed.

Silent House (2011): All the Subtilty of a Brick

              *HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. IF YOU DON’T WANT ANY REVEALS, WATCH THE FILM FIRST*

I only just watched the original version of this film the other day. A Spanish Uruguayan film shot on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, it had the distinction of being the first horror film to be filmed on a professional photographic camera. It was also touted as being a ‘continuous’ take film for the 88 minute duration of the movie. It has been pointed out that this is not possible as the camera has a 15 minute limit on filming.

Despite these claims and counterclaims on the continuity of the filming process, the original La Casa Muda was a brilliant little low-budget film that delivered more than adequately. Unfortunately despite an increased budget and a ‘name’ star (Elizabeth Olsen) the remake has lost a great deal in translation. The original has a subtile style while the remake is as subtile as getting hit in the face by a brick.

Directed by Chris KentisLaura Lau from a screenplay adapted from watching the original film, versus reading the screenplay, by Laura Lau this adaptation of the superior original has lost all the subtle nuances and the surprise ending of the first film.

The plots start off virtually the same. A young girl and her father are asked by her uncle to help clean the family summer home for re-sale. That is the only part of the film that stays the same. From the moment they step into the house, new elements are included in the film.

A sort of toxic (?) mold is found in the kitchen and it is assumed by the uncle and the father that it has spread throughout the house. Daddy tells Sarah (Olsen) to stay well back so that she does not breathe in any of the spores. I don’t know whether this was an attempt to introduce another plot device into the story. It did have the feel of a possible explanation of what happens next.

It was a complete waste of time.

While dad and uncle are searching for mold in the rest of the house, Sarah hears a knocking on the front door. She opens it and sees a girl of her own age on the porch. The girl is Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross) and she rushes to hug Sarah and tells her how much she has missed her. After Sarah reveals that she doesn’t really remember Sophia that well, Sophia makes a ‘date’ to come over later and reminisce.

Sarah’s uncle goes into town for more tools leaving her and dad to start cleaning the house. Sarah hears a noise upstairs and dad volunteers to investigate. Sarah joins him and they go through the first floor together. In one room there are a few Polaroid instant photographs that dad hurriedly stuffs into his pockets. When Sarah asks about them he says they are of the mold damage.

Almost from the first frame, the directors have chosen to play the child abuse and incest card. Even before the scenes where Sarah has ‘flashbacks’ to events from her childhood, they have signposts the way.

The fact that the two male figures bring in the Polaroid Instamatic instead of it being found (as in the original film) combined with all the   Polaroid photo’s lying around and that both the men can’t hide them quick enough when they have been found just screams ‘naughty’ pictures.

When we finally get to the part where Sarah starts remembering what happened to her in the house at the hands of her dad and uncle  it is absolutely no surprise. It’s been signposted way too well. In the original film it was one hell of a shock. Well, to me anyway. I did not see it coming until the character found it out herself at the end of the film.

Another major complaint with the re-make is the quality of the film. It was publicized that the re-made version was using the exact same filming equipment that was used on the original. Kudos points for them for experimenting with the digital medium. But, the new film has nowhere near the crisp quality of the original.

The film is blurry and feels so out of focus that I began to wish for glasses one third of the way in. Sure it helped to make the movie a bit more disturbing, but honestly, an elephant could have been stalking Olsen around the house and you would not have been able to see it. And I was watching a Blu-ray copy.

For all the speed that went into getting the re-make done and distributed, I really expected a better film. It was, in my honest opinion, a true waste of Elizabeth Olsen’s talent and almost an insult to the original, more superior film.

I would highly recommend seeing the original The Silent House and bypassing the remake. Unless of course you are a huge Olsen fan and you can’t bear to miss a film she’s in.

I can only despair over the amount of HD film cards that had to give their lives for this project.

English: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, with Can...
English: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, with Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens (fitted with a B+W 010 UV-Haze 58mm filter). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Atrocious (2010): A Horror Film by any Other Name…

Written and directed by Fernando Barreda Luna, Atrocious opened to mixed reviews most notably from Rotten Tomatoes. I will admit to having passed over this particular film several times on LOVEFILM. The thumbnail combined with the films short description did nothing to peak my interest. The film’s title also did nothing to help sell the film. I am still at a bit of a loss to understand why it was titled Atrocious.

Finally curiosity forced me to give the film a try and I’m not sorry I did. The film was edited very well and the guerilla style of film-making helped to bring the events to life. I was afraid that the film was going to be another ‘Blair Witch‘ or ‘Paranormal’ or even ‘Cloverfield‘ and that it just would not be worth the time it took to watch the film.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. The film may have borrowed a little from each of the three mentioned titles, but they borrowed so little that it wasn’t readily noticeable.

The film’s plot is quite straight forward. The Quintanilla are going to their summer home for a holiday. Once there the two older children, Cristian and his sister July, continue to work on a video they started making before they arrived at the summer home.

Intrigued by an urban myth about the forest surrounding their summer home, they decide to focus their video on the woods and the myth itself. The myth says that if you are lost in the woods the spirit of a girl called Melinda will guide you or show you the right way out of the woods.

Cristian and July decided to explore the forest and see if they can get to the heart of the myth. In the meantime their younger brother Jose must keep himself entertained and mother keeps busy doing things around the house. Their father has been called away on business.

When mother finds out that they have been filming in the woods, she freaks out and forbids them from entering the forest. They pretty much ignore this new rule and when the family dog goes missing, the first place the kids go to look is the forest.

Despite the fact that this is Luna’s first feature length film, he proves that he is more than capable of using suspense in the best way possible to make some of the scenes excruciating to watch. As the suspense mounts up, it takes very little for your imagination to take over and send you into a child-like state of fear.

Luna has also opted to use the absolute minimum of music in the soundtrack. The absence of ‘mood’ music helps to build the unease that we feel watching and puts the audience into an almost ‘fly-on-the-wall’ position.  When the final twist is exposed to the kids and us, we are shocked, confused and left slightly breathless. I certainly did not see the twist and it took me completely by surprise.

The film opens stating that what we are watching has been compiled from a police evidence tape. The entire family was found murdered and this the only footage of what happened. So even though you fully expect the family to die, when it happens, you are still surprised.

I  kept expecting the victims to get killed off much earlier. So that there was a ‘building’ body count. Luna decided not to take that route and chose instead to shock us all at once.

The scenes in the forest at night were extremely well done and even had the odd bit of comedy thrown in which helped to make the footage seem more real. The young actors playing Cristian and July (Cristian ValenciaClara Moraleda) really felt like a brother and sister with the way they interacted with one another.

Overall this film was a lovely little surprise that, despite the somewhat confusing title, really delivered as a horror film. I can say that Atrocious is one of the better horror films I’ve seen this year.

If you go into the woods today…

The Loved Ones (2009): Oddness in the Outback

Every once in a great while you bump into a film that shows not only the underbelly of its protagonists but does it so well that the film becomes unforgettable. Written and directed by Sean Byrne, The Loved Ones is his first feature length film. Considering that this is his first time at bat, he has hit a home run that equals the performance of the legendary Babe Ruth.

Starring Xavier SamuelRobin McLeavy and John Brumpton the film shows three dysfunctional families and their problems. Firstly, we have Brent (Samuel) who is driving home with his dad after just getting his license. As he and his dad exchange banter, Brent takes his eyes off the road and when he looks back up he sees a bloody man standing in front of their car. Swerving he crashes into a tree.

Six months later we learn that Brent’s dad died in the crash and that Brent is planning on attending his high school prom with his long-term girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine). We also learn that Brent’s mother is still trying to cope with her husbands death. At school while Brent is getting things out of his locker a girl named Lola (Robin McLeavy) asks him to the prom. Replying that he will be going with Holly, but “thanks for asking,” he then goes out to meet with Holly in the car park.

It turns out that Brent is having a hard time dealing with his father’s death. He wears a razor blade  around his neck for self harming and he likes to feel close to death. It is while he is rock climbing that someone comes up behind him and knocks him out. The same person breaks his mobile phone and tries to kill his dog.

When Brent regains conciousness he is tied to a chair and Lola, who is now called Princess by her father, is having her own private prom at home and Brent is her unwilling date. After injecting him with bleach to freeze his vocal cords, she and her doting father begin a long night of torture.

In the meantime, Brent’s friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) is taking ‘goth chick’ Mia (Jessica McNamee) to the Prom. Mia’s dad is the local police constable and she is uncommunicative and seems to exist to only take drugs, drink alcohol, and have sex. Jamie is about as socially inept as they come and the two provide a lot of the movies lighter moments.

This film has some of the most cringe worthy moments I have ever seen in a film. It also has about the best cast possible. Princess’s father manages to repulse you and then make you feel pity for his character. Princess, aka Lola, just oozes insanity that has been brought about from her father not being able to say no to any request she makes.

Brent manages to make the damage that Bruce Campbell as Ashe goes through in the Evil Dead trilogy look like a walk in the park. The fact that he makes his suffering look all too real really helps to sell the film.

Special kudos to John Brumpton as Lola’s Daddy. This man manages to almost steal the show with his performance.

John Brumpton as Daddy.

By the end of the film Byrne manages to tie all the families together as we the audience realise that Princess’s madness has touched them all.

I rate just how good a film is by how I feel after I’ve just watched it. The Loved Ones fell into the category of ‘I need to see this one again!’ Australia has a brilliant knack of making horror films that stick with you. The cast lists are small and intimate and the characters so richly developed that you bond with them and really care about what happens to them.

I cannot wait to see what Sean Byrne has planned for us next.

Director Sean Byrne.

Glimpses of Childhood: Tornado Drills, A-Bomb Drills and Bat Guano

Being born in the latter days of the 50’s. I was the very essence of a 60’s child. I was too young to ‘tune out and turn on’ and I missed the ‘free love’ thing altogether.

Still growing up in the 60’s was an interesting journey to say the least. It was the era of the Cold War and the images of atomic bombs and the devastation that they entailed were scary. The ‘child friendly’ film above was still being shown in schools and was intended to help us youngsters know how to react when the bad guys dropped the big one on us.

Oddly enough, if you were in school and a tornado hit, the drill was almost exactly the same as in the film. As this 2010 news clip shows, the drill has not changed much from the one that we practised when I was in grade school:

In the 1960’s the bad guy was Russia and the threat of them dropping a bomb on us was a daily threat. We were urged to have a ‘fallout’ shelter. If you were a frugal family, you used your tornado shelter (aka storm cellar) as both a place to hide when the twisters came to flatten your home and the place to hide from the after effects of the nuclear explosions.

A bit fancy, this one could have been for the Rockefeller family.

If my family ran and hid from either the bomb or a twister, our shelter was a bit more ‘down-to-earth’ and we shared our ‘safe space’ with the canned preserves and spiders and other creepy crawlies that loved the dark dank shelter.

“Just pass some canned tomatoes while we’re waiting, will you?”

Of course growing up in the rural south as a child we never really bought into the whole ‘Ivan-the-Terrible‘ Russian is going to drop a big, bad bomb on our heads. We did, though, believe whole-heartedly in the chances of being blown away by a tornado.

The schools did show us many films on the dangers of the atomic bomb. I remember vividly the film that they used to show prior to the Duck and Cover film. This was a very short film and it had been made at one of the Nevada test sites. It showed cinderblock buildings being turned to dust and cars being thrown about like Tonka toys.

It was terrifying to a 7-year-old. But it was still just a movie. We only had to look out our school windows to see the damage that the last  tornado did to Old Man Jones’s barn. I’m sure he would have come in and told us about it but, unfortunately for him, Old Man Jones went the same way as his barn.

The visceral reality of the tornadoes damage which could be witnessed personally far outweighed the terror of the ‘filmed’ atomic destruction.

As I write this I am reminded of a school I attended in Springdale, Arkansas. It was in the 60’s and it was huge. The school boasted three floors (one of which was under ground level) and if you were on the top floor you had to go down a circular slide as part of the schools fire drill.

Now a historical building and it’s been re-designated as a High School.

I was in the school when I was in the fourth grade. The time I spent there was marked by two events. One was the day I went to school in the morning and it was drizzling rain. By noon the rain turned to sleet and then snow. By two o’clock in the afternoon the snow was so deep that the basement windows were covered and school let out early. That marked the beginning of one of the worst snow/ice storms in Arkansas history.

The second event was the initial trial run of the fire escape. On the back of the school was a tower that housed a circular slide. It had sat unused throughout the summer months and it was decided to give the tower a ‘trial run’ when school started up. Unknown to the school authority’s, a family of bats had made the tower their new home.

The first person who went down the slide was a teacher (presumably showing how safe it was) whose backside was immediately covered in bat guano. The fire escape was closed for a long time while the school got rid of the bats. Not to mention the guano.

So growing up in the 1960’s was pretty cool, if not a bit scary. You just needed to know what to do when the A-bomb hit or when a tornado was barreling down on your town. Oh and the necessity of avoiding bat guano.

Okay, who forgot the toilet paper.

Gangnam Style: South Korean Music and Humour is a Winning Combo

I pretty much follow a routine with my blog. Before I even think of writing anything I read the blogs I follow (well skip read if truth be told, I follow a lot of blogs) and I always read the latest entries in the Freshly Pressed arena.

I will admit a certain puzzlement as to why some of the blogs that are ‘pressed’ have received the honour of being singled out (this includes my own blog which was freshly pressed not so long ago). But to be very brutally honest, I don’t really care. It is nice just to read other folks blogs and learn new things or learn old things presented in a different light.

I read the Freshly Pressed today and right at the top of the list was I Grew up Gangnam Style. Because of the thumbnail I realized that I had seen this chap before. In fact the most recent image of this fellow and his natty outfit was a Lego rendition of his music video.

Now the blog post that had been Freshly Pressed did not go into the music video or the chap who made it (PSY if you’re interested). It did give a brilliant parallel reveal of what life in South Korea was like living in the province where the video was shot. It’s a good read, if you didn’t follow the link before, have a look now. It’s in the first paragraph.

But on to the video. I had seen the odd reference to Gangnam Style here and there and it did not arouse enough curiosity for me to look it up. Then the article today appeared and I just had to look this phenomena up. I’m glad I did. It is brilliantly funny and vastly entertaining. Don’t believe me? Just have a look:

Until now, the only other musical artist from Korea who delivered so much humour with his videos was M C MONG. In case you’ve never heard of him, here’s a sample of his music video humour:

M C MONG – CIRCUS

Not to your taste? Then have a look at the Korean film The Fox Family. Made in 2006, this supernatural fantasy musical (that’s right, I said musical) is funny, and the musical numbers are brilliant. Just look at the ‘Money’ song:

Money – The Fox Family

So you can see that Korea has been blending music and humour for a while now. It took PSY and his music video to make the fact known world-wide. At over 290 million views the video now holds the record for viral videos. It is interesting to read the blog  post and the authors assertion that South Korea has just discovered irony. That may well be true, but, I think that South Korea has always had a sense of humour.

If you watch their TV shows, it appears that all the participants (especially those in the entertainment business) love to laugh and make fun of themselves. Not everyone of course, but a huge amount do appear to enjoy not taking themselves too seriously.

I review Asian horror films on YouTube and I’ve had a few people tell me that they don’t get ‘Korean humour’ citing it as being too slapstick in origination and ‘over the top.’ I did not then and still do not understand that statement. South Korean Humour is more than ‘3 stooges slapstick’ it can be sly, surprisingly subtle and in the case of the PSY video, funny and ironic.

The message of the PSY video is that South Korean’s are incredibly concious of how they look when they intermingle with one another in a social setting. Clothing, hairstyle, fashion sense, body weight and plastic surgery are all important facets of Korean social life. I’ve watched a huge amount of YouTube videos (mostly Eat Your Kimchi – Simon and Martina Rule!) that explain what living in South Korea is like.

These informative videos made the Gangnam Style music video all the more humorous. The word on the street is that South Korean’s are well aware of their cultural foibles and this self awareness is what has made the video both ironic and just downright funny.

My daughter has been a fan of KPOP for years and has shown me just about every boy and girl band manufactured over the last ten years in Korea. I have also discovered, through my daughters influence, M C Mong and other solo artists. PSY I discovered via Freshly Pressed and Quartz’s fine post about growing up in that area of Seoul.

Humour is a world wide common meeting ground. Sure some places in the world practise a different sort of humour. A sort of ‘home-grown’ or topical humour that doesn’t always translate well into other countries or languages. But laughter and the ability to laugh at ones self crosses all language or topical restrictions.

It is amazing to think that a music video can become the worlds most viral video until you factor in that is was a funny music video. It’s a shame that the whole world and it’s leaders cannot learn a lesson from these humorous videos. Like the old saying goes, “Laugh and the world laughs with you.”

What a nice thought.