Category: Media


Irish Hotel Signs

I’m reluctant to play into that Irish stereotype but as an Irishman, hard-hitting journalist and fan of incompetence, I thought I’d post this baffling piece of signage spotted in a Donegal hotel.

My sister sent these on to me following a short stay in An Chúirt in Gweedore.

Her room number was 225 and this was the first sign she encountered, which way would you go?

hotel2

The surprising answer is LEFT.

She encountered a similar problem shortly afterwards, bear in mind she’s still looking for 225!

hotel1

The answer is RIGHT.

Don’t worry, my sister found her room eventually and was only mildly inconvenienced. She probably had a lovely stay, I didn’t ask about that.

Was this worth posting? You decide!

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HMVdog

HMV dog has been affected by the global downturn.

Misread on The Guardian

The Guardian homepage is often confusing. Drop your guard for even a moment and you can end up associating a photo with the wrong headline.

Once you start doing this on purpose, you have a new puerile hobby!

Guardian

 

Below are a few I’ve collected so far:

 

katemoss

3dpasta
malepill

mandela

mars

nationalists

nymphoto

oldtraff

shianews

Lauren

Scottish

Are you interested in a new way to waste your time?

Catch the latest misread articles on Twitter @floptajoe  #MisreadOnGuardian

Mixed Photos

Spacewalk in the park.

Spacewalk in the park.

G R A V I T Y

★★★★☆

Released: June 2013
Certificate: 12A
Director: Alfonso Cuarón

[THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS]

We’ve finally reached the point where CG looks real. Peter Jackson’s studio claimed we had reached that level 12 years ago during production of the  Lord of the Rings trilogy, but technology has moved on significantly and the odd cartoonish bit we all pretend not to see would not now be forgiven.

Gravity could not have been produced on the same scale until now, and the effect is genuinely awesome to behold. Spiraling and spinning, moving sickeningly from every conceivable angle over alarming distances, the viewer becomes immersed in space.

Every now and then it would shift – in manic computer game style – to the astronaut’s perspective which added to the feeling of sheer terror.

The effects take centre stage, and that’s just as well.

The story is secondary but simple –  Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) goes on her first mission into space to fix a radio (or something), the shuttle is hit by debris and she must make it back to earth alone.

George Clooney plays the experienced brave, doomed, smart-alecky mission Lieutenant Matt Kowalski and most of the dialogue is between these two characters.

Their relationship and the script are rather disappointingly obvious. The by-the-numbers writing comes close to ruining the experience in that it’s neither boring enough to be the speech of dull space people nor interesting enough to engage us. Every anecdote or comment is called back later on almost by rote to remind us we’re watching someone’s composition.

“Hope I get to break Anatoly Solovyev’s spacewalk record.”

“Looks like I’ll have to break Anatoly Solovyev’s spacewalk record another time.”

“At appears as though I’ll break Anatoly Solovyev’s spacewalk record after all.”

As is often the case, the use of mega-famous actors  means that the viewer may end up empathizing less than they could have with unknowns. Much of this reviewer’s time was spent thinking ‘SANDRA-BULLOCK-IN-SPACE-SANDRA-BULLOCK-IN-SPACE-SANDRA-BULLOCK-IN-SPACE’ which meant I couldn’t really take her seriously.

But that’s my own bias.

Gravity is an extraordinary film despite it’s shortcomings and definitely worth the price of admission for the effects alone. However, like space, there’s very little weight to anything here.

Read more film reviews – HERE


Supe2

Man of Steel

Released: June 2013
Certificate: 12A
Director: Zack Snyder

[THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS]

The origin story everyone knows has just been retold. This wasn’t done in the tender fulfilling way the trailer suggested it would be, instead, we’re assaulted by incomprehensible action from the very beginning.

It appears as though the creators were concerned about recreating the dire Superman Returns and attempted to make this film as exciting as possible. There are no peaks and troughs, this venture begins with the destruction of a planet and takes it from there.

General Zod (Michael Shannon) suffers from a similar problem with his temper. He begins the film (on Krypton) boiling with an incandescent rage, travels several light-years presumably quietly discussing his plans with his comrades, then arrives at earth more furious than ever. It’s a wonder his minions show him such devotion as he’s surely quite difficult to live with.

Since almost everyone has superpowers, no one can take a punch. Each blow launches the punchee hundreds of feet into something destructible from which they later emerge unharmed. At no stage do the characters realise this and punching continues to be the attack method of choice throughout.

I was surprised to learn that one can get bored of seeing someone thrown into a building which then either explodes or slowly collapses. It’s never been tested before, but my limit appears to be eight.

Nor do characters develop as you might hope. Zod is angry, Clark is boring, Lois is inquisitive but keeps Clark’s secret for some reason, Clark’s mum is sad, Clark’s dad is cautious/heroic/dead. The Daily Planet staff work hard and forget to evacuate.

Possibly the most tortured and interesting character is in fact Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) who continuously warns his son against doing things which could reveal his powers – even if it means innocent people have to die. This dynamic looks to have potential until the poor man is killed while rescuing a dog from a tornado.

Martha must feel pretty guilty about sending him back for that dog…every time she looks into it’s little face…

Remarkably, with all the money thrown at this film there only seem to be a handful of people around when anything happens. Did the writers think we’d be confused by any more than that?

Examples: The FBI/army guy is in the arctic, then in Kansas driving a truck having a knife-fight, then flying a plane in Metropolis having a knife-fight.  Lois (Amy Adams) is summoned to Zod’s ship with Superman for no discernible reason, (unless it’s for the crime of wearing high-heels in a desert!) later she races faster-than-a-speeding-bullet to see Superman defeat Zod despite the duo covering hundreds of miles and destroying countless skyscrapers in their epic showdown. This is a battle only the main staff at The Daily Planet emerge to witness – in a city of millions.

The single most important role in humanity’s defence of earth is that of Token Scientist played by Richard Schiff. He immediately understands all of the alien technology as soon as he sees it. He is also omnipresent.

It would be easy to say ‘Henry Cavill is more a Man of Wood, than The Man of Steel‘ but in truth he wasn’t given anything to say. It’s astonishing that Christopher Nolan produced and contributed to the story as this could not be further from his Batman trilogy and I can’t see how they could combine the two characters for a future Justice League film without changes being made.

These are all minor details, but the single greatest insult to the viewing public – and yes I will take it as an insult – is the continuous, emotive music played from beginning to end. Imagine if the frazzled, discerning blockbuster audience were left to figure out how sympathetic they should be feeling or how excited they were supposed to be? It would end in disaster. The theme (good though it is) is played through every conversation, explosion and building collapse creating a fourth wall of noise which distracts and alienates the viewer. It’s papering over irreparable emotional cracks.

Snyder hasn’t learned anything from the new generation of superhero films. It’s got to be dark or funny at the very least, but this is all a bland, cacophonous haze with no hint of humour or depth. You cannot describe these as throwaway action films anymore, the ones that stand out will always be those where the effects are incidental and writing is key.

Once again, the problem with superhero franchises is that you know there will be a Man Of Steel II out in two years time. He’s not going to die in this one, nor will Lois Lane, so where’s the tension? They needed to create a compelling character and make it about them, keep Superman as far away from the plot as possible.

 

 

Click HERE to go to Floptajoe’s Top 10 Superhero Films

Iron Man 3 Review

More suits, more action, moronic.

 Stark reality sets in.

Iron Man 3

Released: May 2013
Certificate: 12A
Director: Shane Black

 

[THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS]

 

Shane Black takes the reins of this third installment of the Iron Man franchise (and indeed the seventh film of producer Kevin Feige’s marvellous vision) to deliver action and quips in equal measure.

The Avengers was a hard act to follow and this being the flagship series in the super franchise, it needs to tread carefully.

Robert Downey Jr plays tormented superhero Tony Stark as he battles the mysterious figure of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley).  Struggling to reconcile himself with the horror of the New York invasion (in The Avengers) and his own brush with mortality, he suffers panic attacks and struggles to communicate with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

It’s an interesting development as Iron Man is unique among the current group of Marvel heroes in that he has no combat training or experience (apart from The Hulk who needs none). In The Avengers, Captain America asks if this was the first time he’d lost a soldier, to which he emotionally replies, ‘We are NOT soldiers.’

For a time we see beyond the bravado, but sensitive moments are few and far between once the action sequences begin.

You’d think a multitude of fight scenes interspersed with moments of witty dialogue would be pretty effective, but in the same film they quickly become tired. You gradually lose any concern for the protagonists safety when you can safely assume a super-suit will appear from nowhere just when they need it.

Many will be pleased that Pepper Potts got to play a more significant role, but it was no more than a token effort and she was still reduced to the damsel in distress when it suited.

Shane Black’s last directed film was the wonderfully unorthodox Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which perhaps shows that structure isn’t a priority for him. This film resembles the product of a committee meeting where they’ve picked out five amazing fights, nine jokes and a plot twist before shoehorning them into 130 mins without working out how they can work together. There’s a lot of travel to places where stuff can happen, lots of casual introductions of gadgets which may be useful later and an abundance of CGI bloody robots.

The film begins with irritatingly unnecessary narration and ends with an irritatingly necessary one, not generally a good sign. It was as if they ran out of time and had to tie up the loose ends as the public filed into the cinema – ‘By the way, Pepper had an operation and is no longer composed of fire…oh and that bodyguard from the start of the film is fine too!’.

Having said that, Downey Jr is likeable, Kingsley is funny and Guy Pierce is pleasingly nefarious. The film was enjoyable overall but never reached it’s potential and will not be considered one of the Top 10 Superhero Films. There are enough clever pieces here to make up a good film, it just needed a more ruthless director.

The original Iron Man was simple, a bit small-time and genuinely charming. Dare I say it: A bit stark? The more you blow the audience away, the further they get from you. Before long, they’ve stepped too far back and have begun to see how ludicrous the whole concept is.

 

 

 

The Trilogy to begin all Trilogies.

The Trilogy to begin all Trilogies.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Released: December 2012
Certificate: 12A
Director: Peter Jackson

 

The Hobbit trilogy has been a long time coming. Numerous delays in production meant we’ve had to wait 9 years since Return of the King, yet strangely it still feels too early to launch back into Tolkien’s world.

The film itself is almost exactly what you might expect. It contains more humour than it’s (future?) predecessors and Martin Freeman is an excellent, likeable Bilbo Baggins. The Dwarves are a welcome addition to the screen as their race had only one representative in LOTR but the rest of the film is basically a light-hearted remake of The Fellowship of the Ring.

The Howard Shore score is the same, the CG is the same, the characters are largely the same, and the story (for this part at least) is identical. Suddenly, as our heroes stop to have an interminable chat with the elves, I feel the need to escape. Having devoted almost 9 hours to the original trilogy, it dawns on me that we’re all going to be trapped in this unsatisfying 3 year cycle of films and probably will again when someone buys the rights to The Silmarillion.

One issue with the original trilogy was Jackson’s propensity to linger on certain (often elvish) parts of the story and gloss over more compelling parts of the books. The Hobbit travels at a more brisk pace and appears to take itself less seriously. It would be churlish to complain about similarities as there are bound to be some. It’s up to the viewer to decide whether they are prepared to retread old ground in order to rejoin this world.

The Hobbit is more of a childrens book as is reflected in the cartoonishness of the action, yet there are surprisingly graphic scenes midst the capers which seem out of place and are actually more resonant as a result. As is usually the case with prequels, some of the tension is deflated by our knowing the fate of our heroes but it doesn’t interfere with what is a hugely enjoyable journey. Jackson brings the story to life in a faultless, assured manner and leaves the audience wanting more. Shame we must wait a year to get it.

It makes financial sense to release the films over 3 years, but it’s awfully frustrating for the viewer. There is something to be said for waiting until 2014 and watching them all at once.

Can someone remind me to do that next time?

 

 

 

James Byrne

“The first album was bought by 100,000 people, if the same people buy the second it will be a success. If half of them buy it, it will still be a success. ”

I speak with Villagers drummer James Byrne about their new album, running a record label during a recession and how he realised music was the career for him.

He began early.

“I had one dream when I was in school; to be goalkeeper for Manchester United. I realised at 12/13 years old that I wasn’t growing quickly enough and decided to be a musician instead.”

At 15, James received his first drum kit from his parents and set up a band a matter of months later. Before long he was going to punk gigs in the Dublin area absorbing all he could about the industry.

“Seeing those bands performing and putting out their own music, realizing that you could set up your own label and find bands yourself. DIY labels like Rough Trade/ Dischord showed that it wasn’t about selling a million records. ”

“I began following record labels rather than bands.”

James resisted the idea of going to college, intent on touring with his band Life After Modelling but reluctantly enrolled in Music Industry Studies in Ballyfermot.

This turned out to be ideal.

“I met new, like-minded people and we (Life After Modelling) were rehearsing 3-4 times a week and playing loads of gigs – determined to be a success.”

In the meantime, a college project captured his imagination. The class were tasked with putting out a compilation. Soon, James had taken over the project. He contacted 16 bands he loved, sweet-talked them into letting him use their songs, organised the artwork and successfully released it.

“I realised I can actually do this, it’s not that hard if you are prepared to put the work in.”

The next year he opted not to do the third year degree and toured with the band for the next 2 years.

“At the time we were waiting on a big record deal when really we should have done it ourselves. Before long the band began disintegrating and we didn’t have that impetus to make that next step.”

When the band split, James took it badly and almost gave up.

“I got really ill after we stopped being busy and I thought, “This is killing me”. I thought, ‘Fuck, I’ve spent all this time doing this, look at all the stuff I’ve missed out on.’ I never got to travel, it’s cost me three relationships…I’ve totally fallen out of love with music…”

Suddenly, in his mid-twenties, James is cast adrift, working part-time in an off-licence and unsure where to turn. I ask him what brought him out of this slump? He tells me he kept playing, and gradually realised that you need to be in music for the process, not the result.

“It needs to be worth it every day, that needs to be enough. Writing, rehearsing and touring…you have to enjoy every minute of it.”

In 2008, he came across a band who sparked something in him, New Amusement. He met with them and proposed they collaborate.

“I thought they were brilliant and I had a little bit of money from an SSIA I had so I convinced them that we could do something together.”

This became the first release on his label Any Other City Records.

James begins investing himself in this new enterprise, focusing on finding talent and nurturing it.

Out of the blue, Conor O’Brien calls to tell him that his own band, The Immediates, has just broken up. He tells James he still wants to play music and asks if he’s like to be involved.

The invitation is accepted without a moment’s hesitation. Conor invites three others to join and Villagers begin to rehearse and play gigs as quickly as possible.

“Conor just knew who would work. When we started I knew Tommy a bit and Conor quite well, but I didn’t know the other two [Cormac and Danny] at all, we knew the bands we’d all been in, and I didn’t really like some of their bands and I don’t think they liked ours either so we had to earn each other’s respect.”

Soon, Villagers are performing regular gigs and getting noticed. James signs them to Any Other CityVillagers grow in popularity more quickly than any other group he’s been involved with.

In 2009, Domino Records come in and sign them up.

I ask how he felt about handing the reins over to a larger label.

“I was relieved. Although, Villagers didn’t take much work – they always took care of themselves in terms of growth and gigs – this meant I could get back to actually enjoying being a member of a band again. Focusing on being the best drummer I could be. Villagers felt like a second chance.”

In 2010, the group’s debut album Becoming a Jackal was nominated for the Mercury Prize.

I noted that Conor had performed solo at the event itself despite generally playing gigs with the full band. I wondered who’s decision that had been and whether there were any tense moments ahead of the biggest night of their career up to that point.

He hesitates: “The BBC producer for that night made that decision, he’d seen us perform as a group before but maybe hadn’t felt it that much. Conor was as unhappy as any of us and of course we wanted to be out there as we felt we’d earned it, but we  in the end it wasn’t worth burning bridges over.”

Conor’s performance is a hit on the night and the album is a success. Villagers go on to tour with Elbow amongst others in the UK and Europe.

James is quick to add that Conor is the exceptional member of the band. This brings him to talking about their new album Awayland and the creative process.

“Creatively, it comes from Conor.  When’s he’s writing a song, he’ll go off by himself to Malahide for some peace to work at it and because he can play all the instruments, he’ll think of the whole song and come back with a fully-formed demo.  And he can do that. He’ll have already figured out what the best drums to suit this bass line are and it’s brilliant!”

“The others then learn the song and fiddle with it, he’s a genius and will know if something works or not pretty much instantly. We don’t play rigidly and the other members will have their own style to bring to it. Say, I might play drums more robustly or the other members might have an earthier style – the  songs will change as we practice more – but 95% of that will still be that original recording.”

“The first album was bought by 100,000 people, if the same people buy the second it will be a success. If half of them buy it, it will still be a success. If the reaction is good, we’ll then start touring with the album.”

The band spent three weeks in the USA last year and I ask about touring with his band mates.

“We’re not kids, I’m 30, Conor’s 28, the others are 31-32 so we’re not kids on the road in America going crazy, getting sick and messing up gigs. We’re adults with rent issues at home and missing our girlfriends. The most important thing is the gig, everything else is secondary.”

James has been with Wendy, his girlfriend, for 5 years now.

“Wendy has never been around musicians before, so it’s all a bit new for her. We can be gone for months at a time and it is hard, it’s hard for everyone. There are guys on the tour leaving behind wives and kids. But we’ve got to help each other out and be understanding. We’re lucky our partners aren’t like ‘this is ridiculous, you’re not a kid anymore, get a real job!’ ”

I ask James what he does when nothing is happening. What does he do when the tour is over and the band is between albums?

“Well, I walk the dog a lot! Do the washing up. Nothing glamorous really. I try to see every member of my family at least once a week, that’s become really important to me recently. And of course I’m always thinking about the label. That’s always in the back of my head.”

Would he say the label is a success?

“Sure, I have boxes of unsold albums at home for a band on hiatus, but no one died or got sick.It’s a labour of love, not a sensible business. I’ve made twelve releases, most labels fold after one. To me that is a success.”

Villagers’ continuing popularity means that James can afford to pursue that dream.

“Every hour of every sweaty practice when I was 19-20 when all my friends were on J1’s – songs I don’t even remember now – it all led to where I am now.”

Villagers’ second album Awayland is due for release on the 14th of January 2013 with Domino Records.

 

Country music seems to get a pretty bad rap these days, with many dismissing it out of hand without giving it half a chance.

To remedy this I’ve put together a short list of my favourite country / country influenced tracks from in and around 1970.

http://www.mixcloud.com/RagtimeWilly/country-music-isnt-shit/

 

The Byrds – I am a Pilgrim (1968)

You can’t really mention country without talking about Gram Parsons. He came to prominence when he was drafted into the Byrds to play piano on Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Himself and Chris Hillman left soon after it was released which pretty much spelled the end of The Byrds (Roger McGuinn being the only founding member left).

Further listening: Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968)

The Flying Burrito Brothers – Christine’s Tune (1969)

Formed in the wake of Sweetheart of the Rodeo by Gram Parsons & Chris Hillman, The Flying Burrito Brothers veered slightly more towards country rock than their previous output. The group released a couple of great albums before Parsons left and the quality went downhill.

Further listening: The Gilded Palace of Sin (1969), Burrito Deluxe (1970)

Guy Clark – Desperados Waiting for a Train (1975)

One of Clarke’s finest songs. If you’re anything like me you’re a sucker for songs about cowboys, and this is one of the best – a heartbreaking country ballad about a man’s recollection of an unspecified father figure.

Further listening: Old No. 1 (1975)

Grateful Dead – Friend of the Devil (1970)

One of my all-time favourite tracks, off one of my all-time favourite albums. A folksy/bluegrassy/country tune about an outlaw on the run, supported the whole way through by David Grisman’s excellent mandolin playing.

Further listening: American Beauty (1970), Workingman’s Dead (1970)

New Riders of the Purple Sage – Henry (1971)

The New Riders of the Purple Sage were a group formed by Jack Dawson & David Nelson that enjoyed a close relationship with Jerry Garcia/The Grateful Dead. Their first album is a classic mix of country, bluegrass & psychedelia and features some of Jerry Garcia’s finest steel pedal guitar playing.

Further listening: New Riders of the Purple Sage (1971)

Hoyt Axton – Gypsy Moth (1976)

Not his most country song, but Axton’s voice gives it an undeniable country tinge. If you’re annoyed that it doesn’t quite fit the bill just pretend I picked Boney Fingers and fuck off.

Further listening: The A&M Years (1973-1976)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bad Moon Rising (1969)

Although Creedence were primarily a rock band, John Fogerty was brought up on country music and I suppose it couldn’t help coming out now and again. Take yer pick between Bad Moon and Lodi for your favourite Creedence country song.

Further listening: Green River (1969), Willy & the Poor Boys (1969), The Blue Ridge Rangers: Rides Again (2009)

James Luther Dickinson – Wild Bill Jones (1972)

I don’t think this album ever really got much recognition and I don’t know too much about the man himself, but it’s an excellent piece of work and well worth checking out.

Further listening: Dixie Fried (1972)

Neil Young – Old Man (1972)

May not be the most obvious country pick as the track is dominated by Young’s superb guitar work. But it’s got banjos and slide guitar, so it’s fucking country music, alright? The same can be said for the majority of Harvest (with the exception of Main Needs a Maid & There’s a World)

Further Listening: Harvest (1972), A Treasure (2011)

John Hartford – Steam Powered Aereo Plane (1971)

Hard to pick a favourite from Hartford’s work, but I think this captures the essence of his music quite well – both the instrumentation and the melancholic quirkiness that typifies his song writing. If you’re not familiar with the rest of work I urge you to check it out above anything else in this list.

Also, he played banjo on Sweetheart of the Rodeo which brings us nicely back to the start of the list.

Further Listening: Housing Project (1968), Aereo-Plain (1971)

Hopefully I’ve left out enough people’s favourites to get some feedback and a wee discussion going.

Trek3000

Two novice hikers trekking 3000kms for the Irish Heart Foundation. Follow us and our ups & downs, as we get used to long distance hiking on New Zealands, Te Araroa.

SIMPLE OBSERVATIONS OF EVERYDAY LIFE

Humorous Observations of Animals, People, Places, Things, and Popular Culture

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Regular updates of sarcastic and irreverent nonsense.

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Monsters, Jokes, Analogies

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Mood swings ahead.

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The good, the bad, the ugly and the downright ridiculous

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