Top Ten things to say to trick-or-treaters

This is what it's all about
I'm just saying I know where's he coming from.

I hate Halloween.  It was a great excuse for burning stuff and drinking flagons of cider when I was 14 but I have no use for it now.  I’m currently sitting in the back room of my deliberately pitch-dark house in the hope of keeping the usual array of greedy children and their imposing parents away from my door.

But in the event that a group of little brats wearing pointy hats and wrapped in shower curtains start ringing the doorbell, I’ve got a few lines ready that will ensure they don’t call in next year.


10. “Hey, don’t stand out there in the cold.  I’ve just downloaded the new Michael Jackson movie.  Come on in!”

9. “Hey, baby. You look good.”

8. “Personally I don’t think you should have any treats. You don’t want to end up a fat ass like your dad here, do you?”

7. “I heard that there are demons in the area that are going to hide under your beds and hack you to death during the night.  Did you guys hear that?”

6. “Sorry but due to the weak sterling exchange rate I have to charge this year.  That’ll be  €11 please.”

5. “Great timing kids.  I’m just back from the supermarket and they had a special offer on purple seeded grapes. ”

4. “Get off my property!  You’re trespassing!”

3. “It’s mad to think that statistically 4 of you will experience your parents divorcing.”

2. “It’s mad to think that statistically 2 of you are gay.”

1. “What are you supposed to be?  Because you look shit.”


The right time for a-ha to say goodbye

Morten and PaulDepending on which re-written press release you read today you’ll learn that a-ha were formed anywhere from 25 to 27 years ago, split up in the nineties for anywhere from five to seven years and got back together in 1998 – or is that 1999?  No, it was 2000 apparently.

What you will unanimously learn and can safely take as fact is that the Norwegians have decided to retire as a band in 2010, marking the 25th anniversary of the release of their first album “Hunting High and Low”.

There are a significant number of people raising their eyebrows pondering how it is that the day they find out a-ha are still together is the day they find out that they’re splitting up.

But for many who stuck with a-ha through the last 25 years this announcement will have come as a shock.  Didn’t they always reason that the band would split when they stopped selling records and people stopped coming to see them?  Why would a band who have just claimed their highest charting UK album in over two decades, a succession of #1 albums in Europe and a stream of long-overdue critical acclaim from the media and – more importantly – their peers, pack it in?

Well those achievements are exactly why this is the right time to say goodbye.

In the brilliant rockumentary, “The Making of Pump“, Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford says of the recording process: “You can record with 48 tracks, 96 tracks, you can start tying tape machines together.  You got to know when to stop.”

The music industry is full of acts that didn’t know when to stop.  A-ha made that mistake before, rendered irrelevant by the grunge explosion of the early nineties just at the same time they were growing their hair and growing up.  They endured dwindling sales, smaller live venues and bruised egos, and went one album too far with 1993’s (admittedly excellent) “Memorial Beach” before splitting to work on solo projects.

Their 2000 return was a huge success in mainland Europe and they scored their first UK top ten hit single for 18 years in 2005 with “Analogue“.  Yes, they recorded a big hit album this year but that accomplishment almost seems incidental compared to the reaction they received.

Looking at their positive demeanour in interviews and on stage it seems that the genuine warmth they’ve experienced from the media, the public and the many acts of today who have publicly heralded their influence, has completed the circle for the band.

What else is there to achieve?  Where else can they go?  If respect and appreciation was measured in record sales then a-ha have just had their biggest hit in 25 years.  And shouldn’t everyone quit when they’re on top?

Personal addendum

I opened the Google News email alert for “a-ha” that arrived in my inbox and kind of squinted at it.

a-ha to split

It didn’t make any sense to me initially.  And even after I clicked on it my mind was calculating that somehow I had received some old news story from the mid 90s.  Although I’ve no time for overt obsession with something as relatively meaningless as a musical act, I felt my chest tighten as the news started to sink in.

I grew up with a-ha; the soundtrack of my formative years.  I’ve probably mentioned it somewhere on the site – and I’m sure there are hundreds of similar stories out there somewhere – but when you’re 12 and unsure of yourself, songs like “Here I Stand and Face the Rain” articulate what you’re feeling when you are too young to understand.

The Blue Sky“, from their debut record, resonated with this insecurity: “I find it hard to breathe as life just eats away…The lady at my table doesn’t want me here/I just want to talk to her/But would she laugh at my accent and make fun of me?…Though i’m older than my looks and older than my years/I’m too young to take on my deepest fears“.

So here we are almost 25 years later and I’m not sure that I would have the level of understanding and self-awareness that I do if it wasn’t for a-ha’s influence (alongside John Hughes movies and Nirvana).  I’m trying to avoid being mawkish in closing but the fact that their music has endured with such meaning for so many people, means that Morten, Magne and Paul can stand in the doorway of the darkened studio for the final time, look around, smile and say “our work is done here”.

Edit: Please see Karen’s blog on the same subject.  Some very personal memories from their mid 80s touring.

[Movie Review] The Happening

The HappeningStarring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo

Director: M Night Shyamalan

Genre: Sci-Fi

Cert: 15

Released: 2008

My only ambition for “The Happening”, having failed to sit through director M Night Shyamalan’s previous outings “The Village” and “Lady in the Water”, was to see the closing credits roll .  The decreasing level of entertainment derived from Shyamalan’s work (which started so well with “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable”) has been utterly alarming.  But with a strong cast on board for “The Happening” and a mysterious premise (as is typical) my hopes were a little higher than in recent years.

Science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is teaching his classroom about “unexplained acts of nature” when news breaks that people in New York’s Central Park have started committing suicide in broad daylight.  As the unexplained phenomenon starts spreading across the city, Elliot, his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), fellow-teacher Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), board a train to Philadelphia only for it to stop permanently in the tiny town of Filbert because the conductor has lost contact with “everyone”.

The train passengers learn that the phenomenon has continued to spread across the north-east so everybody starts to flee.  Julian decides to get a lift to Princeton where his wife has headed so he leaves Jess with Elliot and Alma.  They meet a colourful couple (Frank Collison and Victoria Clark) who suspect that it is the plants, trees and bushes that are attacking man because they have the ability to do so (apparently).  It soon becomes clear that they are running out of places to go and after meeting several more groups of refugees they start a trek across the countryside on foot in an effort to escape this “act of nature”.

To offer any more plot synopsis would really be stretching my own patience.  The basic premise of this movie is that something unexplained is happening and the onus seems to be on the constantly-confused looking Mark Wahlberg to use his grounding in science to figure it out (it’s a good thing the main protagonist wasn’t a gym teacher or deli counter salesperson or else we’d have gotten nowhere).

I admire Shyamalan as a director but his writing has left a lot to be desired recently.  Just because he writes science-fiction doesn’t mean the film has to be devoid of logic and fact.  Mark Wahlberg is done over twice by being badly miscast and being given some absolutely ludicrous dialogue that is more about pushing the writer’s spiritual agenda than making a believable movie.  How many science teachers talk about the different “energy” colours that can be recorded by camera or “acts of nature” that we’ll never fully understand?   This flies completely in the face of what science is all about.

Then there’s the neuroticism of Alma, distant from Elliot and distracted by constant phone calls from someone called Joey.  The ensuing focus on her relationship with Elliot predictably becomes the tool that Shyamalan uses to drive home the central message.  It’s all very poorly acted and full of improbable scenes.

By the end (which somehow feels empty in spite of being well-crafted) your complete indifference for the central characters only amplify what a poor, unfocused mess this movie is.  Shyamalan made two cracking films (plus a slight nod of the cap to “Signs”) before strangling his visual ideas with ludicrously boring scripts.

How good was it to see Alan Ruck though?


[Movie Review] Kill Switch

Kill SwitchStarring: Steven Seagal, Isaac Hayes, Holly Elissa Dignard, Chris Thomas King, Michael Filipowich, Mark Collie

Director: Jeff King

Genre: Action

Cert: 18

Released: 2008

Bearing in mind that Steven Seagal is 57 years old I should probably cut the guy a bit of slack.  But one look at Bruce Willis (54), Dolph Lundgren (51) and even Sly Stallone (63) shows that you can keep yourself in great shape later in life if you try.  The star of “Nico”, “Hard to Kill” and “Under Siege” is a shadow of the man he used to be.  Well, actually in terms of shadow, he’s a far bigger one.  But when it comes to kicking ass it has just become a sham.  Let me explain.

“Kill Switch” starts with Memphis cop Jacob King (Seagal) dishing out brutal justice to sadistic murderer Billy Joel Hill (Mark Collie).  Although he apprehends Hill, the murderer is later released on a technicality as King is adjudged to have used unreasonable force during the arrest.

Meanwhile his attention turns to a serial killer whose calling card sees him leave an astronomical sign on the body of each victim.  As he searches for leads in the violent Memphis underworld, King’s efforts are being undermined by FBI agent Frankie Miller (Holly Elissa Dignard) who is critical of his strong-arm tactics.

Can King keep the FBI off his back, track down the serial killer and manage to re-apprehend the out-for-revenge Hill before Hill finds him?

Steven Seagal probably stopped being any good in the mid 90s.  I got a good kick out of “Under Siege 2” (probably because Eric Bogosian was so much fun in it) but whenever I’ve dipped in to his outings since (“The Glimmer Man”, “Ticker”) it has been a complete waste of time.  “Ticker” is actually possibly the worst film I’ve ever seen…and believe me, this one is crap.

A bloated Seagal
A bloated Seagal

Anyway I’m messing around with my usual review structure but I’ll make this succinct.  I said the movie opened with King kicking layers off the bad guy.  It doesn’t.  It actually opens with what turns out to be King’s character, as a child, witnessing his brother being killed in front of him by a man with a knife.  I’m not actually sure why that scene is there because it seems to have absolutely no relevance to the rest of the plot.

Then we see King having a somewhat cold relationship with Celine (Karyn Michelle Baltzer) who appears to live in his house and who I assume is his girlfriend or wife or something.  They share a few scenes together but never say anything of consequence.  It’s just…weird.

Then, finally, the fight scenes.  Whatever about the nonsensical script, Seagal’s movies were always about the great fight scenes.  The guy is a 7th-dan black belt in aikido and his massacring of bad guys was the reason to watch his films.  Sadly when you watch “Kill Switch” you aren’t watching him and that becomes painfully obvious.  The camera will do a close up of some tense facial expressions as he faces off a foe before pulling back to show him from behind putting down his enemy – or at least showing his body double (complete with bad wig) doing so.

I’m not sure what the reason for this is.  He’s definitely overweight but he’s been that way for years and is clearly unmotivated to get back in shape.  He’s not so overweight that he couldn’t do hand-to-hand combat scenes but his body double seems to do all but one of them.  It’s a real shame because in his pomp he was incredible.

“Kill Switch” is a washout.  It makes no sense, is utterly boring, poorly acted and – as made clear – is not even redeemed by the fight scenes.  And sadly, what appears to be yet another film featuring an imperious and flawless Steven Seagal character, was actually written by…Mr Steven Seagal.  Does every film for him have to be a vanity project?


My first acupuncturism

After over a year struggling with this bloody Achilles injury and having chalked sports massage, physiotherapy and reiki off the list of possible solutions, I decided to drop in to the herb and acupuncture store* – for yes, we have such a thing – at my local shopping centre.

I’ve never once walked by it in the company of someone who didn’t pass remark “how does that place stay open?”  But having researched online, there was a reasonable percentage of people saying that acupuncture was in fact helpful for tendonitis.

So a pleasant Chinese woman (presumably – the Chinese bit I mean, not the presumption that she was a woman) told me that I could get a free consultation and told me to “take a seat” before adding “not literally!” and laughing hysterically.  No, no – she didn’t say the last bit.

A minute later this young, earnest guy directs a middle-aged, confused looking Chinese man to a curtained-off cubicle next to me and then ushers me in afterwards.  He explains that the other man was the doctor and that he was going to translate for him.  Now the translator bit always throws me.  Ultimately I’m communicating with the person who doesn’t speak my language but I’m directing my information through the conduit of a second human being who gets all my attention during my speaking bit.

So I’m making eye contact with the translator who is then passing on the information to the doctor.  I look to the doctor with a rather gormless pursed-lip grin that I’m sure he could do without and then I’m going back to the translator with raised eyebrows, wondering if in fact the nature of my ailment had been properly communicated.

It’s a tense, critical moment.  Of course, my phone rings.  If it wasn’t bad enough for the wise healer to hear this he then had to endure this as the cancelled-caller left a voicemail.

Thankfully we overcame this hurdle and the doctor said he could improve my condition with some acupuncture and medical massage.  The numbers sounded a bit scary but I figured I’d poured so much money in to other forms of therapy and massage without relief that I’d give it a shot.

I lay on my back and the doctor jabbed a half dozen or so pins in to various parts of my body.  Just over my head was a sketched poster of a naked man that identified the “Acupoints” (a completely made-up word I’m sure) on our bodies.  Sure enough the points highlighted around my ankle/heel were the various points where I felt a little prick (speaking of which, on the poster, because they wanted to highlight acupoints on the inner thigh, they only semi-obscured his organ – and it still looked massive).

Meanwhile, the doctor is looking at me for a reaction as he prods my Achilles and occasionally utters something that sounds like “meh?” but I took to be him asking if there was any pain.  It wasn’t like he was saying the Chinese word for “pain”, I think he was just lacking conviction on the whole English language thing.

The Phrase BookHe sods off for 20 minutes and it was quite a relaxing experience I have to say.  He comes back to me, whips out the pins, says “ok?” and then brings in a barrel of what looks like warm sewage.  He gestures at a chair as if to say “sit on this chair and submerge your foot in to this barrel of ancient Chinese medicine”, looks at me and says “ten minutes”.  I guess they have some sort of phrase book to get them through the day.

This barrel of sewage, or whatever, was bloody lovely.  Oh, sure, there was what felt like a half-eaten Mars Duo at the bottom but that’s ok.  I mean…I’m sure it was just a Mars Duo.

So he comes back in, dries off my foot (after gesturing to me to sit on the edge of the bed again but I have to say it was a bit ambiguous) and then followed up with another gesture to lie down on my back again.  I do so and he gets working on my foot, massaging like a mad man.  It was a bit sore but I suppose that’s the point.

Then – get this – he stands up and says “face down, please”.  Now, hold on a second!  I’m buying in to this whole ancient, mystical Chinese thing because you can’t speak any bloody English!  And here you are practically asking me what I do for a living and if I’ve any plans for the weekend.  What a letdown!  I can only imagine that once I left he kicked his shoes off and put on “The Wire” boxset.

My image of this all-knowing doctor only being a step away from the this guy has been blown out of the water.  But at the same time it was quite an interesting experience so I’ve booked in for a second round.  Plus they gave me some anti-inflammatories and this Chinese massage oil that is so strong it actually rips your skin off and melts your bone.  I’m all about that.

* Mind you, I’m a bit concerned about this.