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Archive for January, 2009

Vampires have been on my mind lately. Last week I gave myself the unparalleled luxury of taking in an early-evening screening of Twilight, the teen vamp movie based on Stephenie Mayer’s best-selling novel. The movie had all the elements of a great teen movie – major love interest and then major obstacle to that love (turns out Edward is a vampire and Bella is an irresistible-smelling human).

Broody broody

Broody broody

 

I love teen movies – the high school setting, the high drama of piffling problems, the general open warfare. But aside from this being a really good teen movie, it reminded me of how much I love vampire stories and how long it’s been since I’ve seen a really good vampire film.

As a child, I read Salem’s Lot, a bit too young if I’m honest, and I think it did lasting damage to my psyche. I know I did lasting damage to my bed (stop that!), having to take an enormous long jump from the light switch by my bedroom door to my bed most nights so no lurking vamps could drag me under the bed once I had hit the lights.  

I still love The Lost Boys to this day and regularly say ‘you’re eating WORMS, Michael’ to people who don’t seem to have the same set of pop culture reference points as me. Hmm. I even bought  it on DVD recently to go in my ever-expanding ‘to-watch-on-rainy-solo-Saturday afternoons’ pile .

 

Sookie and Bill do some more intense staring into each others' eyes

Sookie and Bill do some more intense staring into each others' eyes

Having had my vampire interest piqued by Twilight, I was delighted to stumble across True Blood, a new television series by Six Feet Under writer and director Alan Ball, which also takes vampires as its subject. I’ve been watching this ever since and think it is just fantastic, or should I say fang-tastic (mwahwahhaha!).

 

In the show, vampires have come out of the closet and are now living in the open, some trying to integrate with mainstream society, others keeping their own company at vampire-only bars like ‘Fang-tasia.’ Anna Paquin stars as Sookie, the telepathic waitress and she just took home the golden globe the other night for best actress in a television series. It’s true, she’s great in it. What do you expect from the girl who won an oscar as a child? Anyway, there’s a nice ‘will they-won’t they-or-even-can they?’ love story going on between Paquin’s character and local vamp, Bill Compton. It’s pretty steamy. 

 

 

 

Why are vampire love stories so H-O-T?

Or is that just me again?

There are a few steamy ‘love-that-can-never-be’ moments in Twilight too. ‘You’re impossibly fast…and strong,’ says Bella. Be still my heart!

 

 

Just remember though: ‘Vampires think about one thing, one thing only…drinking blood.’

p.s. As for questions regarding the recent whereabouts of Leigh and I, all I can say is we fell facedown into a Youtube feeding frenzy of Summer Heights High and True Blood. We’re sorry.

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6a00d09e516075be2b00e398a779850004-500piQuestion: how to you react when you hear everyone banging on about a new and much-hyped TV programme? The type of shows, say, that turn people into heinous YouTube bores at house parties? If you’re anything like me, you’ll run straight in the opposite direction of it all. Given that every cat, dog and divil is so breathlessly waxing rhapsodical about The Wire for example, I’ve elected to give it a wide berth. Ditto Mad Men, The Inbetweeners and How Not To Live Your Life.  This is not a decision based on the potential merits or otherwise of the shows; it’s more to do with the fact that watching them now under a monstrous cloud of expectation could only end in disappointment. Ach, I will catch up with them eventually, but right now the idea of getting stuck into another TV show reads dangerously like pissing several hours of the only live I’ll ever have up a wall.

All of this means, if course, that I’m shamefully, embarrassingly late to the Summer Heights High party. A friend had been raving about the show – foaming mouth and all – for months, and I filed his rants under ‘telly addict horseshite’. Fast forward to a colder-than-a-prison-guard’s-tit evening in December; drunkenly flipping through the channels, I unearthed a bit of a gem through the snowdrift. Within minutes, I’d run the gamut from hearty belly laughs to actual tears slipping down my face.

The brainchild of 34-year-old Australian Chris Lilley, SHH is shot in that very reliable, well-worn mockumentary style and follows three main characters through a single school term. We have Mr G, a megalomaniac drama teacher who is peddling his own fame-seeking agenda; Ja’mie King, a 16-year-old, pain-in-the-hole of a girl transplanted from a private school on an exchange programme; and Jonah Takalua, a remedial Tongan student who is one verbal warning away from spending the rest of his life on the naughty step.

Hardly a reinvention of the wheel by any means, but Lilley’s execution of these three characters is nothing short of staggering. Playing all three characters, he flits seamlessly between the vile, self-obsessed Ja’mie and Mr. G, a classic study in self-aggrandisement.  After researching his three characters for over a year, he affects the quirks, ticks and affectations of all three so that the viewer experiences a complete and utter suspension of belief.  It’s ridiculously enjoyable to watch him get under the skin of each type.

Perhaps the most disarming thing about Summer Heights High is that it is entirely improvised, the scenes living in Lilley’s head until he arrives on set. Sometimes Lilley’s supporting cast flounder, unsure as to where he is taking the scenes. No doubt they figure that some of Lilley’s more outlandish ramblings will eventually end up on the cutting room floor. However, the teenage girls that make up Ja’mie’s coven keep their cool as (s)he affects valley girl chic:

Another classic that I will no doubt start calling up on YouTube at various parties to annoy everyone:

 

The bottom line is that – irony of ironies – I am now so hooked on this show, I can’t stop harping on about it in polite society. I have developed a mammoth, crippling crush on the one-man creative cauldron that is Chris Lilley, who looks like this in real life:

 

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Speaking of TV crushes, my ovaries start to positively twitch whenever I see critic Charlie Brooker call someone a Bumbox or Celebritwunt on-screen. Like a sort of Holy Moly mailout made flesh, Brooker – via his BBC show Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe – harpoons various TV shows and trends with the ruthless glee of a right cantankerous bastard. Be still my trousers…

Here he is providing an inspired summation of the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross bunfight:

Again, I have arrived rather late to the Screenwipe party, but I am rather glad I did…try watching it without tears of laughter springing to your eyes, I dare you.

One party I wish I’d missed altogether, however, is RTE’s newest attempt at a comedy show, This Is Nightlive. In a parallel universe, this half-hour of drivel is called ‘This Is What Thirteen Stone of Smegma Looks Like’. For a start, John Ryan straddles too fine a line between art and life, playing a smarmy, heinous newscaster with frightful conviction. What is ostensibly meant to be a sideswipe at various broadcasters and media quarters has alas been whitewashed and pummelled to such an extent that it’s now a sort f Lidl version of The Day Today. The three jokes that were vaguely funny in the first episode (shown last week) had been disappointingly wheeled back out for last night’s follow-up. Adding insult to injury, the show’s fictional news team remain frightfully two-dimensional and predictable, from the Naas-boutique-plugging showbiz reporter to the ambitious, raven-haired Gaeilgeoir. No prizes, by the way, for guessing their real-life counterparts.

Granted, there are flashes of humour – ‘U2 album gets leaked to Adam’ rolls across on the screen at one point – but these moments are sadly few and far between. At one point Ryan over-eggs a ‘camel-toe’ joke to the point that you want to kick in your own face. No doubt he is aiming for that Gervaisian brand of ‘uncomfortable’ comedy…instead, he sounds like the worst kind of gonkleton.

Of course, it’s our default reaction as a nation to automatically regard any RTE comedy as a great steaming pile of dogwank. Sad to say that in this case, the shoe fits.

 

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Cute Overload

Need something to cheer you up on this manky Monday morning? Check out my current favourite website in the world, the wondrous Fuck You, Penguin, in which someone who rightly fears the power of overwhelmingly cute animals “tells [the aforementioned adorable creatures] what’s what”. I think this one might be my all-time favourite, if only for the lines “I mean, seriously, Anteater, what’s with the pose? Are you in a sports montage? Or are you mid-clap in an (undoubtedly lame) rendition of “Hey Jude”?”, but the entire site is freaking hilarious. You know the way a lot of the time swearing is gratuitous and obnoxious, but other times a well-chosen swear word makes something a million times funnier? This site knows how to swear properly. Enjoy….

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Deflower Power

I will not rest until I get my own copy of this incredibly awesome book, which someone at Found Objects has kindly scanned in its entirety. Published in 1965, The Recently Deflowered Girl is a parody of etiquette guides, and offers advice on how to handle a wide variety of virginity-losing situations. Whether you first slept with a marimba player, a bell-boy, or the ghost of Rudolph Valentino, Hyacinthe Phypps will tell you what to say. Why is this book so wonderful? Well, it’s obviously kind of hilarious, and I love the fact that all these ladies deal with their “deflowering” with such nonchalance, but I particularly adore it because it was illustrated by the legendary Edward Gorey, whose distinctive style has been shamelessly ripped off by a myriad modern illustrators. I have loved Gorey since I discovered a copy of Amphigorey in Drumcondra library in about 1992 (what an American book by a then-little-known-here illustrator was doing in Drumcondra library, I have no idea), but I was totally unaware that this book existed. Hurrah for the internet!
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Link via Jezebel.

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Bridal Show

As you might recall, I’m not exactly a fan of the wedding industry and the whole “every single woman is a crazy bridezilla waiting to happen!” thing. bridewarsposterWhich is why (a) I will not be going to see the awful looking Bride Wars and (b) I loved Dodai on Jezebel’s post (based on this piece in the Washington Post about the dreadful way brides are portrayed on film).

These movies are never about love, or how a man and a woman have decided to spend the rest of their lives together, and long to celebrate this decision with their closest friends and family. These flicks are always about how the female brain goes haywire when she gets a “big day” to be the center of attention.

So true. Which is why this weekend I’ll be curled up on the couch rewatching His Girl Friday and wondering why there were better roles for women in 1940 than in 2009.

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Cool as Folk

Something strange has been happening in the music world over the last couple of years. Music has been getting a little bit…pastoral. Artistes like Devendra Bernhardt, Joanna Newsom and the all-conquering Fleet Foxes have been attracting both popular and critical acclaim. And on this side of the Atlantic, the wonderful Rachel Unthank and the Winterset and Lisa Knapp having been keeping the folky flame alive, the former sounding at times like a cross between Satie and Steeleye Span.

Yes, folk – proper, weird, eccentric folk – is back, and I’m glad. In fact, I have been secretly waiting for this day for a long time. For I am a not-so-secret fan of mad English folk-rock, the child of parents who went to see the Incredible String Band on one of their first dates, a woman who grew up listening to Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention and singing along to ‘The Hedgehog Song’ (don’t ask). So the more strange bearded people playing sackbuts and singing songs about north country coal mining and pixies the better, as far as I’m concerned.

But it wasn’t always thus. Despite loving this stuff as a kid, for years I scorned such hay-nonny-nonny-ishness. In a way, it’s bizarre that I kept this aversion to folk up until my mid-twenties. My teenage years were punctuated by my regular “discoveries” of stuff from my dad’s vast record collection – I would suddenly realise that stuff I had absorbed as a small child and disdained as a twelve year old was actually really, really good. When I was 15 or so I started listening properly to Nick Drake and was entranced; to this day his melancholy voice can still remind me of lying out on the grass in the back garden on a blissfully sunny June afternoon studying for my Inter. This went on for years – I would suddenly find, say, a Francoise Hardy album with a cool cover, put it on and fall in love.

But while I eagerly rediscovered and then devoured everyone from the Byrds to Tim Buckley to Neil Young, I had no interest in stealing my dad’s Fairport and June Tabor albums. American folk rock was one thing, but the demented English stuff about press gangs and hedgehogs and painting boxes and geordies that reminded me of being 7? Not so much. The only English folkies I loved were Nick Drake and Al Stewart, whose fey bedsit balladeering provided the soundtrack to my early college years (Al Stewart produced terrible AOR muck from the ’70s in, but his late ’60s stuff is fantastic, in a twee way). But in general, the English lot weren’t cool enough for me. Especially as they tended to sing actual folk songs. Which were a little too close to….trad. Which was definitely too much for me.

And then, in the early ’00s, a few years after I left college, my now husband Mr Costigan and I were visiting a dear friend in Cornwall who is really into English folk. I was looking through her record collection and getting all nostalgic at the sight of the soundtrack to my infancy, and as the night went on and the wine flowed, the two of us ended up singing ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’ by Fairport Convention and I realised that I still loved the music of my childhood after all.

I haven’t looked back since. These days I have quite the library of English folk-rock and have long realised I need to delve into the cooler corners of Irish trad. Those old traditional English songs and are incredibly satisfying to sing, and there’s a wild earthiness about them that really appeals to me. And even the more magicky original compositions by those bands are strangely convincing. I think this is why I don’t have any time for a lot of the American folky stuff like Joanna Newsom – it seems very self-conscious and affected, like the more unbearable Incredible String Band stuff. Whereas Rachel Unthank and her sisters sound like they’re having a sort of avant-garde sing-song (who is playing in Dublin in February – hurrah!). The English folkie ladies can be all wafty, but they can sound gloriously tough too – witness the awesome Maddy Prior and June Tabor collaboration Silly Sisters, in which they sang a surprisingly frank old ditty about living with a sexually inadequate partner…

And although I arrogantly thought I knew it all, that world can still surprise me. I’d never heard Vashti Bunyan until that night in Cornwall. And until my dad bought their re-released albums a few years ago, I had never (consciously) heard of Trees, although I must have heard them in the background as a kid as my dad apparently had both of their albums at some stage. Now I love them. Alas I can’t find my favourite Trees songs online, but these two are pretty great (despite the awful visuals that accompany all of these songs on Youtube):

Trees: Road

Trees: Nothing Special

And for those in the mood for something a bit jazzier (God help us all), it’s Pentangle. Seriously, this song is fucking amazing, like a sort of folk Stereolab. You’ll probably know it when you hear it.

But you can’t beat good old oft-mocked Steeleye Span. They’re deadly. And this gorgeous song is why. Fleet Foxes, eat your heart out…

Ahhhhh, lovely.

I couldn’t live on an all-folk diet. There are times when I need something harder, some angular indie rock or an epic wall of noise. Sometimes I need to dance around to Northern Soul or hip hop or electropop. Sometimes I just need to, as that folk Judas Dylan growled, “play fucking loud”. But sometimes only the exhilarating, strangely soothing pastoral oddness of English folk-rock will do. And then, as the Span would say “I don’t give a single pin, me boys, for what the world thinks of me”.

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Pundits the length and breadth of the land have only just finished brainwashing us with their favourite books, films, TV shows and bands 0f 2008 before they get all Mystic Meg on us about 2009. While being told what to watch/read/listen to by a cabbala of hacks can be annoying, it can also be terribly useful for the time-poor among us. So having poured over oodles of lists and listened to gossipy music hearsay, it’s clear that 2009 is very much about the ladies. So here are five gals you should listen to, even if it’s just to waffle on about them knowingly like you’ve got your finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist.

Florence & the Machine – ‘Dog Days Are Over’

Although there’s a touch of the Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl about Florence, she’s been picking up more comparisons to Kate Bush than you can shake a shimmery chiffon scarf at, but she reminds me of folkier singers like 10,000 Maniacs’ Natalie Merchant.

Florence and the Machine on myspace

VV Brown – ‘Crying Blood’

Foxy and feisty, VV does her own makeover version of 60s girl pop like no one else – and that includes the over-exposed and under-talented Duffy.

VV Brown on myspace

La Roux – ‘Quicksand’

Maybe it’s just me but the verses in this remind me a lot of ‘When Doves Cry’ by Prince, no? No bad thing perhaps, but it gets a bit annoying after three listens.

La Roux on myspace

Lady GaGa – ‘Poker Face’

In the opening scene there are dogs, masks and leather so you’d be forgiven for thinking that this ex-schoolmate of Paris Hilton was “doing a Goldfrapp”, but she’s nothing like her.  Stefani Joanne Germanotta has written tracks for Britney and The Pussycat Dolls (ick), has been nominated for a Grammy… and she’s only 22.

Lady GaGa on myspace

And possibly coolest of them all is Little Boots who plays a weird little instrument called a tenorian and uploads her own homemade jamming videos from her bedroom to Youtube.

Here she is on Later with Jools Holland playing not only that dinky tenorion, but a stylophone (hi Rolf!) and piano.

Little Boots on myspace

Anyone got any recommendations for 2009, female or otherwise? Any Irish women we should be talking about?

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