I Read “Mummy Porn” Before It Was Cool

My first foray in the world of adult literature was at the young age of ten or eleven when my mother gave me a huge stack of Mills & Boons novels to read. At the time my reading and spelling abilities were below the average for my age and my mother assured me that reading filth would help.

Being young and slightly innocent, I had no knowledge of Mills & Boons but my older sister quickly informed me that they were basically pornographic fiction. Back then I knew what sex was, well the basics, but Mills & Boons open my eyes into a sub-culture of sex that I didn’t know existed.

The ever growing popularity of the international best seller 50 Shades of Grey has put filthy literature back on the map (and I use the term literature very loosely). Now this article is not another comical analysis of why 50 Shades of Grey sucks. In fact seeing as I haven’t nor do I have any immediate plans to read into the hype, I feel my critique on the new craze will be based on my bias and love of real literature and the classics.

Still I can’t help but read the humorous criticisms and laugh where appropriate. I have read some of the best/worst lines from the book and I have come to the conclusion that it is simply not my cup of tea but I can’t judge those millions who have drank from Mr Grey’s dirty cup.

As a budding writer, I hope to one day publish a novel that will receive great success and I owe my passion for this vocation to those filthy Mills & Boons novels that my mother made me read all those years ago. The first class honours degree in Creative Writing and Journalism that I recently received is proof that reading filth helped me one way or the other. No, it didn’t help me become a better writer but it stirred a fascination for the written word in me that has motivated me to write and read every single day.

When I think of Mills & Boons, literature is the last thing that comes to mind but those books educated me on the basics of language and filled me with the confidence to read more literary advance works by authors like Dickens, Wolfe, Plath and others and so for this I am eternally grateful that those filthy books exist.

It is for this reason that despite my distaste that society and mainstream media feels the need to a praise a piece of work that originated as fan fiction for a boring and poorly written novel, (I didn’t finish Twilight but seeing as I read some of it, I think it’s appropriate to comment), the eleven year old in me feels the need to somewhat defend it.

To me E.L. James and writers like her aren’t authors, they are entrepreneurs who saw a gap in the writing market and capitalised on it and for that they deserve much respect. As a writer, I still haven’t made £50 from my fiction yet James as made $50million to date. Now I do not envy James for this, I’m happy for her, after all the purpose of writing is to be read and she has certainly achieved this thing that many writers, who are probably far more talented than James have failed to do.

When I finally make a name for myself as a writer and people ask me about my literary history, for me it will start with Mills & Boons not Catcher in the rye or The Great Gatsby, it will be some filthy novel with a title that I cannot remember and I and fine with that.

Stephenie Meyer inspired James to make $50 million; I hope one day my fascination for literature which began with Mills & Boons will inspire me to also achieve some kind of greatness.

I guess what I am trying to say is that these ‘mummy porn’ novels as they have been dubbed by the media are gate-way books into literature. For an aspiring writer like myself, I couldn’t be more delighted that people have become fascinated with books again, even if their fascination begins with 50 Shades of Grey.

Theatre Review: South Pacific

South Pacific was on at the Ambassador Theatre in Woking. I went to the Thursday matinee. I was delighted by the whole show and cast.

I was most surprised by Samantha Womack, who was in Eastenders as Ronnie Mitchell, a role I didn‘t like much. Seeing her live however has completely changed my mind about her. She had a good American accent and her singing is unmatched.

I remembered some of the songs like ‘Some enchanted evening’, ‘There’s nothing like a dame’ ‘Happy Talk – if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?‘ and ‘I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair’.

There were splendid dance routines with a fantastic orchestra, all in all making it a great show.

There was another Eastender star – Alex Fearns who played the evil Trevor who terrorised Little Mo all those years ago! I didn’t recognise him however until afterwards. Then I was like – no way! Wow!

Alex Fearns and Samantha Womack

There was a different actor playing Lieutenant Cable than billed, I think it was James Austen Murray rather than Daniel Koek. I got a programme and he looked more like James. Hope I’m not wrong! Apologies if it was another actor!

His singing was very good, especially his solos and it’s always nice to see understudies being given a chance to shine.

The show itself, for those who don’t know, is based in the 1940s; during World War II. Dealing with relations between the army and civilians. How we related to natives in different countries. Love and desire are placed against ideals and tested to the maximum. Samantha played our heroine Ensign Nellie Forbush who loves the nice Emile de Becque (played by Matthew Cammelle).

Can Nellie look past the fact Emile had a Polynesian wife before? Which was a big no-no in that era. Can she put aside the prejudice she’s been taught for the man she loves?

Lieutenant Cable falls for Liat, the daughter of Bloody Mary a Vietnamese immigrant (played by the magnificent Jodi Kimura who provides some great humour with her one liners). Again a doomed love affair, complicated when Cable contracts malaria. Cable doesn’t know how he can marry Liat and take her back to the base/America.

To forget their problems for a while both men decide to take on a dangerous mission. Billis (played by Alex) creates a distraction to allow Emile and Cable to get past the Japanese defences and launch a daring strike. Will they come back? You’ll just have to go and see! (If you do know or seen the film/play before – go and see again anyway!)

The cast were impressive, the set changes were speedy and I thought well timed. The beach set was most impressive it looked like there was a sand dune at the back with a gorgeous sea background. But it was solid as the actors/actresses could run across the dune it without throwing sand up (which would’ve been messy and problematic!)

The actors who played Commander Harbison and Captain Brackett could’ve picked up the pace a bit. They seemed a little tired compared to the energy of the rest of the cast.

I liked the fact all the actors/actresses were used, even if it was just walking along in the background. No one seemed to be missed out, which is rare in the plays I have seen.

Some of the background actors/actresses did start doing other things that caused distraction though. One pair were playing catch. Two girls lit a fire in a steel drum, to sit on the beach and others were having animated conservations which detracted from what was going on at the front.

Still it didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment. It’s a pity it wasn’t on long enough! I wanted an encore! Encore! Encore!

I would definitely want to see this team again. I would fully recommend it.

Images reproduced from atgtickets.com and stagewon.co.uk

Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan may have inadvertently created the hardest job in cinema – directing the reboot to the Batman franchise. There almost certainly will be one at some point, whether it’s in a couple of years or ten years. Nolan has taken a franchise that looked dead in the water of the debacle of Batman & Robin and turned it into the greatest comic book franchise in cinema history. The Dark Knight Rises plays a very big part in that success.

It’s been eight years since the death of Harvey Dent, and Batman hasn’t been seen since taken the blame for his murder and the people he killed. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has now become a recluse, his body damaged from the pounding it’s taken since he became The Dark Knight. Batman though isn’t really needed anymore; thanks to Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) crime in Gotham is at a record low. That is until the super-strong Bane (Tom Hardy), and versatile cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) arrive in Gotham, forcing Bruce Wayne out of semi-retirement to wear the bat suit once again.

Something that has happened in nearly every Batman movie (except Batman Begins) is that the villain steals the show from the caped crusader. In The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan manages to keep things fairly balanced. Just when it looks like Bane or Selina Kyle could start to dominate proceedings, Batman is given twice as much attention. This is after all supposed to be the end of his story, at least in terms of this trilogy, and Christopher Nolan seems to be very conscious of that. Christian Bale doesn’t quite reach the heights of his performance in Batman Begins, but the role of the dark broken hero certainly suits him.

Tom Hardy certainly has a commending screen presence as Bane, but one of the most common complaints from audiences will be his voice. At times it is very difficult to hear what he is saying, but the lines you do catch generally are some of the best in the film (“When Gotham is ashes, you have my permission to die”). Anne Hathaway though is the one who gives the stand-out performance as Selina Kyle. She is a femme fatale in every sense; stylish and just as much physical prowess as Batman. She also brings to the character an understated sexiness, which Christopher Nolan at no point exploits through camerawork. He rightly assumes the audience will already have noticed how beautiful Anne Hathaway is without having to spell it out.

Michael Caine also returns as Alfred, whose role carries much more emotional weight in this final chapter. The real heart of the movie lies with Alfred, and a couple of his conversations with Bruce Wayne could well reduce audience members to tears. Gary Oldman once again gives an understated but superb performance as Commissioner Gordon, a man struggling with the guilt of being the only person knowing who Harvey Dent really was. And of course there is Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox, busily trying to keep Wayne Enterprises going in Bruce’s absence. There are also new faces through, with the young moral cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).

There are a lot of characters and a lot of storylines to get through, and around midway through you do begin to worry that it’s all about to fall off the rails. Nolan keeps things well on track though, and does the very thing most trilogies fail to do – give it a good ending. I obviously won’t spoil the ending, but it does allow the audience to take away from the film whatever it wants. It is very satisfying, and indeed gives this remarkable trilogy the send-off it deserves. Christopher Nolan is certainly a very intelligent man, who treats his audience like they have a brain, instead of being patronising like many blockbuster movies. It’s without a doubt one of the best movies of the year, and firmly cements Nolan’s Batman trilogy as one of the best in cinema history.

Image reproduced from cinemablend.com
Video reproduced from YouTube / WarnerBrosPictures

Film Review: Top Cat – The Movie

This movie has something most don’t. A plot from beginning, middle and most importantly an end. The ending doesn’t make you wonder why was I sitting here two hours for that?!

Fans of the cartoon and kids will love this movie version of the crafty cat. It stays true to most of the elements of the TV show, with good use of images to make it look like Top Cat is living the high life. Like when he appears in a limo (when in fact when the car turns, he’s sitting on the fender outside).

The story begins with TC falling for a new femme fatale cat. Antics ensue as he chases her, with the usual comic turns as he tries to catch up to her.

A visit from Officer Dibble reveals a possible escape from the alley for TC. Dibble doesn’t want TC to blow his chances of becoming chief of police. (Now that’s fast promotion from Officer to Chief, where can I join?)

Dibble tells him not to go near the theatre to bother an important VIP. Telling TC this, is a big mistake because TC plots to go to the theatre as this VIP gives rubies as tips.

TC’s charm is using tricks like the Hustle and The Real Hustle to get the things he needs. He has a code, which all the gang follow, that they only swindle those who deserve it.

TC manages to get tickets by conning a very rude man and then dresses up to get into the VIP section. However the dignitary has already given all his rubies away so gives TC a new mobile phone gadget.

A new chief of police spells trouble for TC, he favours technology and installs CCTV all over. They’ve met before so he wants TC out. The fears of technology with its power to watch over us is touched upon and with a cool robot army to weld, can our loveable rogue continue his way of life? Is there more to this chief than meets the eye? And what if TC who breaks the law might be the only one to restore justice??

His own code comes under fire, when he’s accused of crimes that go against it. Will the gang believe him or the evidence? Will Dibble believe he’s telling the truth?

All in all a great movie to switch off for a couple of hours. Good family fun with good jokes, fast storyline and clever thinking from the one and only Top Cat!

Image reproduced from containsmoderateperil.com
Trailer reproduced from YouTube / VertigoFilmsUK

Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

Cast your mind back to the beginning of 2010. Remember anything strange happening that month? Perhaps the sound of a thousand keyboards being hammered within an inch of their lives echoing around your street? That was the sound of Spider-Man fans going postal after they heard the news that Sam Raimi and Toby Maguire would not be returning to make a Spider-Man 4.

Let’s be honest – Spider-Man 3 stank. It flopped both with the critics and with the audience. Was this a big enough offence to ditch Raimi and Maguire though? Probably not. They had after all made two previous films that, while they weren’t masterpieces, were certainly well executed. The arrival now of The Amazing Spider-Man, a reboot to the franchise, does seem to have arrived too soon. If Marvel are doing what they should be doing and trying to figure out how they can emulate the success of Batman, they should realise what makes The Dark Knight so big is the fact that when a new film is released it is an event movie. The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t an event movie, but it deserves to be.

Andrew Garfield plays the new Peter Parker, a science geek who’s bullied at school and has a crush on his fellow classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). He’s also trying to figure out what happened to his parents, who disappeared when he was a child and left him with his Aunt and Uncle (Sally Field and Martin Sheen). His search eventually leads him to his father’s co-worker Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), whose scientific lab contains a radioactive spider that has Peter Parker’s name on it.

There is no doubt that this reboot, which no doubt will lead to sequels, is heading in a completely different direction from Raimi’s trilogy, and for the most part this is for the better. We get more emphasis on Peter Parker’s school life, something which for the most part rather overlooked and skin-deep in Raimi’s films. Here it provides a good backdrop and atmosphere to the story of an outcast teenager discovering he has super powers. The discovery of the powers is even handled a little slower than Raimi did. When Toby Maguire discovered he had Spider-sense, it happened in one scene. Here we have a selection of comic scenes which add a little humour to the story.

The only problem is that with so many changes, many plotlines are left twisting in the wind. It just gets a little bogged down with all the possibilities, and clocking in at around 136 minutes, it should really have been able to achieve more in that time. The mystery plot of what really happened to Peter’s parents is the most intriguing, but that is often left to the side in favour of some action set pieces which really could have been better. They are good, but they’re not breath-taking.

This is director Marc Webb’s first film since his likeable indy hit (500) Days of Summer, so this is someone who certainly has more experience with actors than with special effects. It is certainly the actors and indeed the characters that come off best in Webb’s latest. Andrew Garfield is superb as Peter Parker, making for a comparatively better Spider-Man than Toby Maguire (I look forward to your letters, Maguire fans!). Emma Stone also puts in a solid performance as Parker’s lesser known love interest Gwen Stacy. With Stone in the role, she should be able to keep Mary Jane out of things for a while. Rhys Ifans and Dennis Leary provide great support as Curt Connors and Stacy’s father, the former of which of course transforms into The Lizard. And of course there’s Martin Sheen, as always doing what he does best.

This film does bold well for the rest of the franchise, and if in the future they are able to keep the depth in characters and find a good plot to go with them then Marvel will be on to a winner. But if you’re comparing this to the yardstick set by a certain British-American director, and a certain rich guy who likes to do push-ups and dress like a bat, then Spidey still has a long way to go.

Image reproduced from iwatchstuff.com
Video reproduced from YouTube / FilmTrailerZone

Wine of the Month – July (and a Pie on the Side)

Now that Wine of the Month is into its second year, I thought it might be interesting to start mixing things up a little by adding a matching food element – and a competition.

Whilst Cambridge may still not be a great dining-out city (due in part to the large numbers of tourists we get who want only recognisably familiar, high-street chain restaurants), there has been something of a food revolution on the last half decade or so with a vast increase in the number of smart eating establishments.

At a more grass-roots level, there is foodie heaven to be found in the various delis, farm shops and the like that have opened up, too.

Amongst these is a relative new-comer, Pavitt’s Pies; founded by Carri Pavitt who gave up a career in events at CIE less than a year ago, the award-winning pies are hand-made from fresh local ingredients.

Carri suggested that I try her Label Anglais Chicken and Mushroom pie, so I asked the merchants to provide something to match.

For details of the chance to win a couple of Carri’s pies, see the bottom of this piece.

Domaine de Menard, Cuvee Marine, 2011 – £8.99, Joseph Barnes Wines

From Gascony in South West France, the name of this wine is a reference to the subsoil which is full of shellfish fossils and gives this wine a minerally, slightly smokey elegance.

Made from a blend of local varieties Ugni blanc and Gros Manseng, it is aromatic on the nose, with zesty grapefruit, orchard fruits and some white flowers.

On the palate it is crisp and fresh, zesty and slightly herbaceous with peach and pear fruit, zippy acidity and a persistent, minerally finish.

Pure and focused, it makes a great summer sipper, aperitif or a match for mozzarella with oil and basil or oily fish such as mackerel.

Gayda Figure Libra Freestyle Blanc, IGP Pays d’Oc 2010 – £13.99 Cambridge Wine Merchants

Gayda is a relatively new winery, established in just 2003 in Languedoc. This Figure Libre (meaning “freestyle”) is a curious mixture of varieties – 43% Grenache Blanc, 20% Maccabeu, 20% Marsanne, 14% Chenin Blanc, 3% Roussanne – and as a result carries merely a humble Pays d’Oc tag.

Each variety is fermented separately in oak before blending and further aging in vat – on the nose there is citrus, orchard fruit, blossom and spice. The palate is full-bodied and complex with more ripe stone fruit, buttery, vanilla-spice oak, fresh acidity, a peachy texture and a savoury, toasty leesiness that persists on the finish.

Quirky and characterful in a typically Languedoc way, this is a great food wine that would match with roast chicken or pork.

La Forge Estate Chardonnay, IGP Pays d’Oc, 2010 – £9.29, Bacchanalia

A decade or so ago, oaky Chardonnay was synonymous with “a glass of white” – then it started becoming too big, sweet and monolithic and the ABC (“Anything But Chardonnay”) backlash against oaked whites began, first with kiwi SB and then Pinot Grigio.

This oak-fermented Chardonnay is grown on limestone and gravel near Carcassone, with grapes are picked at night to retain freshness. Fermentation is in a mixture of new oak and stainless steel with extended aging on the lees. The end result of all this is a balanced, elegant wine, with good depth of flavour, gentle oaking and good acidity.

On the nose there is tropical fruit, blossom and spice, whilst the palate is full and supple, with lovely toasty, sweet, vanilla oak cut through with tropical fruit acidity and a savoury, leesy finish.

This to me is exactly what a warm-climate, nicely-oaked Chardonnay should be – elegant yet crowd-pleasing, it is a lovely, easy-drinking, food-friendly wine in a textbook style.

As with the previous wine, match with pretty much any dish based on white meats – roasted, stews, with cream and pasta. Also with cheese.

Papaioannou ‘Saint George’ Agiorgitiko 2011 – £10.49 Noel Young Wines

This organic Greek red from Noel Young wines is from the Nemea region of the Peleponnese and was spotted by Noel at the International Wine Challenge.

Made from the agiorgitiko grape, whose name translates as St George, it is pale ruby red in the glass with cherry fruit, aromatic green herbs and a touch of spice of the nose.

The palate shows cherry fruit, smokey toasty, slightly herbaceous aromas and vibrant, juicy acidity. Good depth of flavour and a balanced, poised finish.

It feels very well-made with a clean freshness that I associate with organic wines.

It has soft and velvety on the palate with an almost Pinot-esque texture – and, like Pinot, can be served slightly chilled.

Chicken and Mushroom Pie – Pavitt’s Pies, £2.50

Made from free-range Label Anglais chicken thighs and chestnut mushrooms, this is is a rather superb pie indeed. Deeply filled, with a thick sauce of butter, cream and sherry, it is one of the best pies I have ever had. There is absolutely nothing fancy about it – nothing unusual, quirky or overly fussy – just a really well-made and extremely tasty home-made pie from great ingredients.

Recommended wine and pie match

As ever, this is a great collection of wines, but the winner this month is the elegant yet crowd-pleasing Chardonnay from Bacchanalia.

The best-matching wine with the pie is either the Chardonnay or, even better, the Figure Libre.

Pavitt’s Pies are available from Urban Larder, The Larder at Burwash Manor or direct from Pavitt’s Pies via home delivery; full details here.

Competition

To win a couple of Carri’s award-winning chicken and mushroom pies, just answer the following questions:

– If you could ask Carri to make you any pie at all what would it be ?

– Why ?

– Where would you serve it, and with whom ?

To enter the competition, just leave your answer as a comment to this article. Carri will judge all the answers and pick a winner to be announced some time next month. Please make sure you leave some contact details, so we can let you know if you are the lucky winner.

Competition rules are that Carri’s decision is final and she will deliver the pies to the winner in Cambridge, otherwise you’ll need to come to this wonderfully historic university town to collect.

Links

Bacchanalia – http://www.winegod.co.uk/

Cambridge Wine Merchants – http://www.cambridgewine.co.uk/

Joseph Barnes Wines – http://www.josephbarneswines.com/

Noel Young Wines – http://www.nywines.co.uk/

 

Pavitt’s Pies – http://www.pavittspies.co.uk/

Urban Larder – http://urbanlarder.co.uk/

The Larder at Burwash Manor – http://www.burwashlarder.com/

Copyright Tom Lewis 2012

Film Review: Dark Horse

There are few directors in cinema who have such a bleak view on humanity, and indeed the world as a whole than Todd Solondz. His films are usually in your face, filled with violence and kink, and you don’t usually want to watch them or even hear the title again.

With Dark Horse however, Solondz seems to be steering a little more towards a compassionate view on human beings. Jordan Gelber plays Abe, an overweight, childish, thirty-something man-baby living with and off his parents (Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow). Abe though spots a way out of his pathetic little existence when he meets Miranda (Selma Blair), an incredibly depressed and damaged character. Abe proposes to Miranda at the very wedding at which they meet, and much to Abe’s surprise Miranda accepts. Miranda’s acceptance catches Abe off guard to such an extent that he starts to suffer crippling self-doubts that bring on various hallucinations.

What makes this so different from the rest of Solondz’s movies is that it is not as confrontational as usual, and it refrains from violence. The unbelievably tragic and often infuriating protagonist though is classic Solondz. Jordan Gelber puts in what has to be the best performance of his career as Abe, a man who throws tantrums at work when he’s asked to actually do something, and has a bedroom dripping in toys and memorabilia from The Simpsons, among other things. He is basically a spoilt brat, and there are many occasions when you want to climb into the screen and beat some sense into him, but at the same time you do feel an uncomfortable empathy for him. He is desperately trying to break away from his parents (an overbearing father and overindulgent mother) to try and live a life of his own, but when he finds that could very well become a reality he recoils back in favour of his old routine.

The always underrated Selma Blair as usual puts in a stellar performance as the damaged Miranda, appearing for the second time in a Todd Solondz movie. Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken however are for the most part surprisingly restrained. Walken though is sporting one of the most ridiculous toupees in the history of cinema. It’s never made completely clear if this is intentional or not, but considering the wry humour Solondz you have to think it is intentional.

While this isn’t something you should watch if you are looking for a lot of laughs, there are smatterings of wry pitch black humour that will please some people. Others may see this as Solondz chickening out of his usual cynical ways in favour of something with a little more heart. A very tiny bit of heart true, but it still shows. It’s doubtful that this will herald a change of direction for Solondz, but this still remains an unsettling and very effective experience, with a couple of superb performances from Gelber and Blair.

Image reproduced from towatchpile.co.uk
Video reproduced from YouTube / DarkHorseMovie

Film Review: Cosmopolis

The director David Cronenberg has long been known for making films that are about, at their heart, the human body. Many people refer to his films such as Videodrome and Naked Lunch as part of the ‘body horror’ sub-genre.  In actuality, Cronenberg is able to raise his films to a much more intellectual level than that.

With Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg marks a change of course. Instead of making a film about the body, his adaptation of the Don DeLillo novel is much more cerebral. Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a billionaire businessman in a slightly futuristic New York City. Packer decides that he needs a haircut, and decides to take a white limo across town to a barber that he and his father have used for years. Along the way he has meetings in the limo with people who work for him, such as his art consultant (Juliette Binoche), his chief advisor (Samantha Morton), and several meetings with his estranged wife (Sarah Gadon). Along the way, Packer finds out that he’s losing money at a staggering rate, while his chief of security (Kevin Durand) informs him that a former employee (Paul Giamatti) has made a threat to kill him.

Considering all this, Cosmopolis moves at a surprisingly slow pace. Characters come and go from the limo (where the majority of the film takes place), after having conversations with Packer that make up scenes that last ten minutes. The final scene in the film when Packer confronts his homicidal ex-employee lasts almost twenty minutes. This is quite a daring thing to do, and should only really be done if the script is particularly superb, which in this case it certainly is. Cronenberg for the most part keeps the awkward and bizarrely crafted dialogue used in DeLillo’s novel. The characters speak in almost Pinter-esque ways, with a strange structure that pretty much strips it of all emotion.

Similarly in a Pinter-esque way, the events that take place outside the limo are almost treated like they don’t exist. At one point when Packer is talking to his chief advisor, the limo is attacked by a crowd rioting on the streets against capitalism. The graffiti and rock the limo from side to side, all the time Packer and his guest continue their conversation like it’s not even happening. The view from Packer’s limo is quite often of a world that looks artificial and manufactured.

Even the characters themselves come across as artificial beings. Robert Pattinson gives the best performance of his career as the mega rich Eric Packer. For want of a better analogy, Pattinson turns Packer into this vamperic character, who doesn’t react to anything that happens around him. He’s completely cut off emotionally, as are the rest of the characters. But in the case of Pattinson’s performance, it is more highlighting the soullessness of people who benefit the most from capitalism.

Herein lies the main point the film tries to make; the dangers of capitalism. Cosmopolis is set in the not so distant future, and considering the riots, and banks and businesses that only benefit the rich, this is rather timely. It is a bleak but still plausible vision of what the world will look like in twenty years’ time, maybe even less than that; a world filled with social uprising while the mega rich drive in their limos completely oblivious to it all.

Many people have criticised the film for not being emotionally engaging, but on the whole it does seem the point of Cronenberg’s film. He doesn’t want you to empathise with Packer, he wants you to see what the world is like around him, and try and figure out how it all connects to his own path of self-destruction. It is a superbly slick and stylish film, with a great cast led by the superb Robert Pattinson, and a truly unique script. Cronenberg tackles the difficult questions about capitalism, and with great intelligence and originality, leaves the audience with just enough room to try and figure out what is going on for themselves. In my opinion, the best film of 2012 so far.

Image reproduced from bellasdiary.com
Video reproduced from YouTube / freetrailersfootage

I’m at a Crossroads and Not Sure Which Path to Choose?

London Life Coach & Relationship Expert Sloan Sheridan-Williams talks about choices and decision making. Follow Sloan Life Coach on Twitter @SloanSW_London and check out Sloan’s Life Coaching website www.sloansw.com

Thank you for your question. We all face choices, some harder than others but more often than not the solution is inside you. If you need extra guidance trust in those you choose to keep close to you that have always had your best interests at heart and avoid advice from those with ulterior motives that you highlight in your question.

Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote “No man, for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true”

There are moments in all our lives when we find ourselves at a crossroad, afraid, confused, and without sat nav! The choices we make in those moments can define the rest of our days. Looking at your personal crossroads, it is safe to say we all want the same thing, to look at ourselves in the mirror and find the person looking back at us is the person we want to be. Well…maybe right now you feel you still need some work, you are not alone, a lot of us do – but for every voice telling us we can’t or we won’t be that person, we need to balance that and focus on the supportive inner voices telling us how to move forward along the right path. Some of us are even lucky enough to have an inner circle of friends and family supporting us on the journey or in other cases a team of medics. It sounds from your question you have a great support network, trust in them and remember to ask for help.

There’s an old proverb that says you can’t choose your family. You take what the fates hand you. And like them or not, love them or not, understand them or not, you cope. Then there’s the school of thought that says the family you’re born into is simply a starting point. They feed you, and clothe you, and take care of you as best they can until you’re ready to go out into the world and find your tribe.

And your tribe, that inner circle, they are your soulmates, your support network, the ones you choose to love, they are also special. The ties that binds us are sometimes impossible to explain. They connect us even after it seems like the ties should be broken. Some bonds defy distance and time and logic. Because some ties are simply… meant to be… and some are not! But those ties, the ones that defy all odds, they are the most special…they are also family. It is these people who will help you at your crossroads.

More often than not, happiness doesn’t come from money or fame or power. Sometimes happiness comes from good friends,  good family (the ones you are given and the ones you choose) and the quiet nobility of leading a good exocentric life.

Whatever path you choose at your crossroads, wake up each morning and embrace your new path. Each morning choose to move forward and do not contemplate the alternative i.e to simply give up. Of course when faced with the unknown, most of us prefer to turn around and go back, but who said the unknown was scary. Perhaps this crossroads is the biggest most exciting adventure yet for you. All songs end, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the music. Perhaps the journey is also meant to be enjoyed and those you take with you the jewel in the crown.

So make that decision, take that leap, live your life and most importantly do it TODAY!

Image reproduced from www.pualifestyle.com

Film Review: Friends With Kids

Incorporating four of the five main actors from the 2010 smash-hit, Bridesmaids, new comedy blockbuster Friends With Kids holds a lot of promise with its cast’s reputatio. It seems logical to think now, after shooting up through the ranks, that anything with Kristen Wiig’s face on it is going to be golden. However, sadly, this is not the case. Taking out Wiig’s ten (maximum) lines, you are left with one hundred and six minutes of so-so humour.

Centring around the Nora Ephron concept of “men and women can never be friends”, the film seems to put three couples, all of different levels and states of happiness, together, and attempts to gain humour from the different scenarios they find themselves in after having children. Whether the couple start off incredibly oversexed, completely in sync with one another’s feelings, or completely dependable, each relationship seems to take a turn for the worse after a baby is thrown in the mix. This is, admittedly, not the best image to be thrown out there. Nor original. Nor better than any of its predecessors that have dished out the same concept. Furthermore, it doesn’t fully centre on six characters. There are only two protagonists that we fully see dealing with parenthood, as they are the two that aren’t together.

In all honesty, there is a lot more negatives to be said about this film, than there are positives. Written, produced, directed and starring Jennifer Westfeldt, who plays one of the film’s protagonists, of which there are only two – don’t get fooled by the poster – the film seemed a little too self-indulgent. It seemed, perhaps understandably, that Jennifer feels undercut at being known only as John Hamm’s partner. Maybe, in an attempt to gain a little bit more respect and not be the underdog to Kristen Wiig, and in many respects Maya Rudolph, she has decided to take the bull by the horns and make success, rather than take it. However, by simply looking at the film’s poster, you can see that Kristen is still getting the limelight, after she gets given central-point by the marketing team.

In many ways, this film could have been successful. There was nothing particularly bad about the story, just as there was nothing particularly bad about the acting. However, it just didn’t have any original merit that made other romantic-comedy greats, such as When Harry Met Sally, or Love Actually, stand out from the crowd. There was no great niche element that separated it from things that haven’t been done before – even the element of trying to date, when you should be looking after a baby, has been covered by the writers of Friends.

Perhaps if there were a greater risk factor for the protagonists, if they didn’t raise the baby correctly, this would have been funnier. Perhaps if it had a fresh-eyed director, it would have been better. However, this film really missed the mark at incorporating real-life issues and comedic elements. Therefore, as it stands, this film will go in to a long list of ho-hum comedies that will have greater merit in providing answers to a film-connection-quiz, that it will at entertaining the masses.

Image reproduced from iceposter.com
Video reproduced from YouTube / LionsgateFilmsUK

Sport Psychology – All Achievement Begins With a Thought…

London Life Coach & Sports Performance Expert Sloan Sheridan-Williams talks about achievement and sport psychology. Follow Sloan Life Coach on Twitter @SloanSW_London and check out Sloan’s Life Coaching website www.sloansw.com

I love the variety in my job and the fact that although I spend 75% of my time dealing with clinical issues and life coaching, I am also stretched to develop coaching talents in new areas. I have been working in Sports Psychology for a number of years now, triggered by my love of rowing and tennis which both tend to get a tad competitive. With the Olympics 2012 coming up, the demand for Sports Psychology has dramatically increased enabling me to work with some fabulous individuals in this arena.

A psychological approach to sport has often been dismissed because before there was evidence to the contrary many people found it hard to believe that the way a person thinks can have bearing on the performance in sport.  I am a definite advocate for mind power which is best explained by the fact that we first have to think of success before we can manifest success.

All achievement begins with a thought and being able to adapt this to our will enables us to achieve that which we did not think possible. This type of positive thinking that turns into positive doing is also referred to as success consciousness –  a state of mind in which you cannot see yourself as anything but a success. It is a way of ignoring negative thoughts and eventually not having them so you focus on what you can and will achieve.

The principles of success consciousness include:-

  • Creating I CAN awareness – i.e. anything accomplished by another can be accomplished by you
  • Creating I WILL attitude – beating procrastination and being enthusiastic about reaching one’s goal
  • Having a definite objective
  • Developing a do-it-now attitude

Many people never utilise the potential strength within their own personalities. With every physical training program one should incorporate a mind training program. This is where I and other Sports Psychologists come in.  The brain needs to be exercised as much as muscles do otherwise it too can atrophy.  As muscles respond to exercise more quickly when one is relaxed, there is now more advocacy for mental training and the fact that it should include positivity and relaxation, which is where my hypnosis and visualisation training takes effect.

The issue most psychologist focus on is that when the mind is worried or tense it slows down and retards constructive thought.  It inhibits one’s control of the mind and thereby allows you to become mentally subservient to doubts and obstacles taking you further away from your goal of success. We all know how easy it is to concentrate on failures, fears and pressures and lose sight of your goal. However too much confidence is also a trap, for example a single victory should not be seen as proof that you have totally eliminated your negative thinking. Just as one needs a coach for training, a mental sport coach can help you achieve the balance you need to get the results you desire and deserve.

I am often asked “What can mind power do for me, I am already training 24/7 physically and at the peak of my performance?”.  It is here when I explain to the client that employing the principles of mind power can accomplish the attainment of goals at levels far beyond those considered to be in their capacity. More often than not even top athletes only use a fraction of their potential if they are not engaged in mental training; mind power allows enhancement and unlocking of potential producing outstanding results in performance.

I look forward to writing more about Sport Psychology as I have been asked to produce a series of articles for this category. If you wish to pose a question about your particular sport or an aspect of it then either put a comment below, contact me directly or submit an anonymous question through our Q+A page.

Images reproduced from all-about-psychology.com and workingathomeguide.co.uk

Film Review: Lovely Molly

Lovely Molly director Eduardo Sanchez has up until this point only been known for being co-director of The Blair Witch Project. The found footage film was the first of its kind. Filmed on a shoestring budget, it is the biggest profit making film in cinema history.

Sanchez has now left the found footage sub-genre he created behind, in favour of this new horror Lovely Molly. It tells the story of Molly (Gretchen Lodge) and her new husband (Johnny Lewis) returning to live in Molly’s childhood home. She is often left alone by her neglectful husband in the house, which she soon comes to suspect is haunted after hearing some strange noises. Her husband obviously thinks she’s imagining things, so Molly decides to set up their home video camera to record the strange goings-on.

This is where Sanchez is able to work in some handheld amateur camera work. It is handled with what can only be described as tradition. It’s like watching a thriller by Hitchcock or a gangster film by Scorsese; you know you’re watching a film made by someone who made the genre what it is today. It’s all suitably disorientating, while making sure we don’t lose track of what’s going on.

While Sanchez knows what he’s doing when it comes to camerawork, his plotting at times is a little lacking. For a period the film becomes a little too messy where we are presented with a few too many plot possibilities. It’s understandable he wants to keep us thinking, but it gets hard at times to be fully invested in the story. Sanchez is however able to blend kitchen-sink melodrama with amateur filmed horror with a great sense of maturity. He’s done a good job focusing on the characters and the story rather than giving in to making a gross out horror.

Gretchen Lodge’s performance as Molly is quite simply brilliant. She comes across naturally and convincingly, which is more than enough to unnerve an audience. It is, as you’ve probably guessed from the title, all about her, and Sanchez will have needed a strong actor in the lead role. Sufficed to say it is very good casting on his part. And that’s what is so surprising about this film; even though the plot gets bogged down in places, it’s handled with a great maturity that would expect from a director with more experience. Along with Lodge’s solid central performance, this makes for an effectively creepy haunted house flick.

Image reproduced from en.paperblog.com
Video reproduced from YouTube / trailerobsessed

Joseph Barnes Wines at Cambridge Food and Wine Society

The Languedoc, according Charles Hardcastle of Joseph Barnes Wines, is a rustic, peasanty land with an ancient and bloody history – a land of impenetrable dialects, heresy and repression.

The strange, earthy character of the region is also reflected in the wines, which tend towards an expressively rustic, spicy charm.

Add to this Charles’ natural showmanship and charisma, a touch of biodynamic mysticism, some meteors and space dust and it was a highly entertaining evening at the Cambridge Food and Wine Society.

The Languedoc was historically the source of Europe’s wine lake – gallons of cheap, unpleasant plonk dumped on the market. But quality has been improving for as long as I can remember and it is now a source characterful, well-made rough-and-tumble wines that can be rather serious indeed.

Chateau Le Roc Fronton, NV £30 magnum

This natural wine is in simple terms a pink fizz; more precisely, it is a petillant blend of Negrette and Mauzac made by a single fermentation in bottle according the euphemistically-named Methode Rurale, with no added sulphur and fined only by racking.

A cloudy pink in the glass, there are pear drops and red berries on the nose. The palate shows good acidity and primary fruit aromas of apple and galia melon. Good depth of flavour, but not especially complex and just 9% alcohol.

A very popular seller at Charles’ shop, it was well-received on the evening.

Domaine des Foulards Rouges, La Soif du Mal Blanc 2011, £14

This white blend is a mix of Grenache Blanc, Muscat and Macabeu; a pale yellow in the glass, there are Muscaty aromas of honeysuckled and blossom on the nose.

The palate shows a good leesy depth, with sweet acacia blossom, rounded, lemon-and-lime acidity, more Muscaty florality and a mineral edge.

Suggested food matches were sea bass with fennel or chili and ginger.

Domaine de l’Hortus, Bergerie de l’Hortus Blanc 2011, £12.95

This white is a blend of Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Roussane.

The nose shows pear and orchard fruit, spice, stone fruit, lemon and pineapple and a leesiness. Long on the palate, there is more orchard and tropical fruits, a soft peachy texture, good leesy depth and a persistent finish.

Chateaux Ollieux Romanis, Corbieres Rose 2011, £9.25

Mainly Carignan, but with some Syrah and Grenache, and a pale salmon pink colour, this is made by carbonic maceration which gives something of a bubblegum aroma.

With a savoury, spicy nose, there is watermelon on the palate, prominent rounded acidity, a touch of mint and pepper, minerality and a toasty-yeastiness with a good, leesy finish.

Domaine du Meteore, Faugeres, Les Leonides, 2008, £9.20

A GSM + Carignan blend, this has a rustic charm, with an earthy, funky nose of barnyardy wet hay, plus some spice, coffee and a mix of red, black and sour cherries.

On the palate, there is sour cherry fruit, garrigue herbs and tarriness.

The finish is savoury and this would match well with robust meat dishes.

The name of the domaine is a reference to a crater in the vineyard caused by a meteorite, so there may just be traces of cosmic space dust in the wine.

Ch Ollieux Romanis, Alicante-Bouschet, VdP Aude, 2011, £15.99

This is made from 100 year-old vines from the obscure Alicante-Bouschet grape – the last 2 hectares in France, apparently.

In the glass, it is dark and impenetrably inky – which apparently made it popular in prohibition-era America as it could be significantly watered down and still retain some colour.

With dark berry fruit and mocha on the nose, the palate shows elderberry fruit, peppy spice and mintiness.

It is concentrated and long, with a custardy texture and a lively, juicy acidity.

The finish is grippy, savoury and meaty and it would match well with spicy meat dishes such as tagine.

Chateau de Jau, Banyuls Rimage, Les Clos de Paulilles, 2008, £11.99 (50cl)

The final wine of the night was a Banyuls – Languedoc’s answer to tawny port.

Made from 100% Grenache, but naturally sweet due to fortification up to 16.5% alcohol with grape spirit, it had aromas of raisins and garrigue herbs and a sweetness cut through with good acidity.

Utterly delicious on its own, it was a perfect match with good quality dark, bitter chocolate, and proved very popular on the evening.

Recommended Wine

If you are looking for a reason to visit an independent wine merchant, Joseph Barnes Wines is it; characterful, rounded and quirky – and that’s just Charles Hardcastle.

What struck me was the quality of all the wines – mostly organic, often biodynamic and / or natural, they feel incredibly well-made, both technically and stylistically.

They are also unashamedly crowd-pleasing with lots of personality.

Given all this, it’s hard to pick a best overall wine of the evening but the Domaine du Meteore was especially notable for being both excellent and under a tenner.

Links

Cambridge Food and Wine Society – http://www.cambridgefoodandwinesociety.org.uk/

Joseph Barnes Wines – http://josephbarnes.webdev.perceptive-office.com/home.aspx

Copyright Tom Lewis 2012

Film Review: Red Lights

It may have been a while ago, and not that many people saw it, but you may remember Rodrigo Cortes’ brilliantly terrifying debut Buried. Now for his second feature film, Cortes has left the one-man show behind him in favor of a glittering all-star cast in Red Lights. He was much better off with the man in a box.

Cillian Murphy and Sigourney Weaver play paranormal detectives, who basically travel up and down the country exposing people who are pretending to be magicians and psychics. A ‘red light’, Weaver’s character Margaret explains, is a sign that a psychic is in fact a con artist. When Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), a blind psychic, comes out of retirement after thirty years for one last series of shows, Tom and Margaret can’t help themselves but take him on. Interestingly (or probably not), Silver’s harshest critic was killed during his last performance thirty years previous. Let the thriller clichés commence!

What’s most disappointing about this is that Red Lights gets off to a great, fun, and intelligent start. Tom and Margaret expose two con artists who both have tricks so well constructed they could have been made into movie plots by themselves. It’s actually when Robert De Niro arrives on the scene that the film takes a sharp turn for the worst, resorting to basic thriller conventions. As we’ve seen with Buried, we know Cortes is better than this. Perhaps the relatively new director didn’t have as much control over the project as he thought he did.

As usual in these cases, the cast are left to carry the film. Cillian Murphy and Sigourney Weaver both do well as the psychic detectives, out trying to figure out very complicated tricks. Think of them as the US cast of Jonathan Creek, only not as funny. Robert De Niro does what he does best, diving into a role with his own unique charisma and gusto. He even manages to keep his cool when he reads one or two rather poor lines of dialogue. “Are you questioning my power?” he bellows from a stage at one point like he’s a pantomime villain. Yes Robert, I believe they are questioning your power. Welcome to the film.

While Red Lights could have saved itself with a satisfactory ending, it instead decides to go down a more horrifying route. Not to give too much away, but the ending involves a twist that requires a montage and some voice overs to recap over what we’ve just seen, The Usual Suspects style. The only problem is, this montage just reminds us of how convoluted and dreary it’s all been. And the ending twist is so unbelievably ridiculous it stinks to high heaven of desperation to try and seem interesting. The cast make this almost bearable, but this could have been so much better considering the talent involved.

Image reproduced from iverged.com
Video reproduced from YouTube / trailerobsessed

Happy Fourth of July!

City Connect wishes all our American readers a very happy Fourth of July!

Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from Great Britain. Independence Day is commonly associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, and political speeches and ceremonies, in addition to various other public and private events celebrating the history, government, and traditions of the United States. Independence Day is the national day of the United States.

Background

During the American Revolution, the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain occurred on July 2, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence that had been proposed in June by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia declaring the United States independent from Great Britain. After voting for independence, Congress turned its attention to the Declaration of Independence, a statement explaining this decision, which had been prepared by a Committee of Five, with Thomas Jefferson as its principal author. Congress debated and revised the wording of the Declaration, finally approving it on July 4. A day earlier, John Adams had written to his wife Abigail:

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

Adams’s prediction was off by two days. From the outset, Americans celebrated independence on July 4, the date shown on the much-publicized Declaration of Independence, rather than on July 2, the date the resolution of independence was approved in a closed session of Congress.

Historians have long disputed whether Congress actually signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, even though Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin all later wrote that they had signed it on that day. Most historians have concluded that the Declaration was signed nearly a month after its adoption, on August 2, 1776, and not on July 4 as is commonly believed.

In a remarkable coincidence, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the only signers of the Declaration of Independence later to serve as Presidents of the United States, died on the same day: July 4, 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration. Although not a signer of the Declaration of Independence, but another Founding Father who became a President, James Monroe, died on July 4, 1831, thus becoming the third president in a row who died on this memorable day. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President, was born on July 4, 1872, and, so far, is the only President to have been born on Independence Day.

Customs

Independence Day is a national holiday marked by patriotic displays. Similar to other summer-themed events, Independence Day celebrations often take place outdoors. Independence Day is a federal holiday, so all non-essential federal institutions (like the postal service and federal courts) are closed on that day. Many politicians make it a point on this day to appear at a public event to praise the nation’s heritage, laws, history, society, and people.

Families often celebrate Independence Day by hosting or attending a picnic or barbecue and take advantage of the day off and, in some years, long weekend to gather with relatives. Decorations (e.g., streamers, balloons, and clothing) are generally colored red, white, and blue, the colors of the American flag. Parades are often in the morning, while fireworks displays occur in the evening at such places as parks, fairgrounds, or town squares.

The night before the Fourth was once the focal point of celebrations, marked by raucous gatherings often incorporating bonfires as their centerpiece. In New England, towns competed to build towering pyramids, assembled from hogsheads and barrels and casks. They were lit at nightfall, to usher in the celebration. The highest were in Salem, Massachusetts (on Gallows Hill, the famous site of the execution of 13 women and 6 men for witchcraft in 1692 during the Salem witch trials, where the tradition of bonfires in celebration had persisted), composed of as many as forty tiers of barrels; these are the tallest bonfires ever recorded. The custom flourished in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and is still practiced in some New England towns.

Here is Beyoncé singing her patriotic power-ballad God Bless the USA at the Macy’s Fourth of July NYC celebrations in 2011. Proceeds from this charity single goes to families of 9/11 victims.

Independence Day fireworks are often accompanied by patriotic songs such as the national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner”, “God Bless America”, “America the Beautiful”, “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”, “This Land Is Your Land”, “Stars and Stripes Forever”, and, regionally, “Yankee Doodle” in northeastern states and “Dixie” in southern states. Some of the lyrics recall images of the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812.

Firework shows are held in many states, and many fireworks are sold for personal use or as an alternative to a public show. Safety concerns have led some states to ban fireworks or limit the sizes and types allowed. Illicit traffic transfers many fireworks from less restrictive states.

A salute of one gun for each state in the United States, called a “salute to the union,” is fired on Independence Day at noon by any capable military base.

The famous Macy’s fireworks display in New York City has been televised nationwide on NBC since 1976. In 2009, the fireworks display was returned to the Hudson River for the first time since 2000 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s exploration of that river. It was the largest fireworks display in the country, with over 22 tons of pyrotechnics exploded. Other major displays are in Chicago on Lake Michigan; in San Diego over Mission Bay; in Boston on the Charles River; in St. Louis on the Mississippi River; in San Francisco over the San Francisco Bay; and on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.. During the annual Windsor-Detroit International Freedom Festival, Detroit, Michigan hosts one of the world’s largest fireworks displays, over the Detroit River, to celebrate Independence Day in conjunction with Windsor, Ontario’s celebration of Canada Day.

While the official observance always falls on July 4th, participation levels may vary according to which day of the week the 4th falls on. If the holiday falls in the middle of the week, some fireworks displays and celebrations may take place during the weekend for convenience, again, varying by region.

The first week of July is typically one of the busiest American travel periods of the year, as many people utilize the holiday for extended vacation trips.

Image reproduced from epicfireworks.com
Video reproduced from YouTube / BeyonceHDplayer and YouTube / Anonymously2009
Text reproduced from Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Film Review – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Seth Grahame-Smith has been a very busy man over the past month or so. First he scripted Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, a film that was so scattershot and all over the place it was almost as if it didn’t want people to like it. Now he’s adapted his own mash-up novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter for the screen, a project that the aforementioned Burton has wanted to get off the ground for a while.

The story essentially is about the life of Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker), and how whilst serving as the 16th President of the United States, he’s approached by a mysterious British man called Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) who tells him that vampires are planning on taking over his country. Lincoln then makes it his life mission to kill them all with axes, makeshift guns, and backflips.

The novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was a big success, and rightly so. Its tongue-in-cheek humour and general craziness made it a thrilling read, almost reminiscent of the old pulp fiction stories. The main problem with the film is that it decides to ditch the humour in favour of making something altogether more serious. It could just be that Smith didn’t want to risk the film’s big budget on something that could easily backfire so decided to go mainstream, in which case it would be a massive misjudgement. With the tongue-in-cheek humour it becomes something more fresh and vibrant; and it would live up to its rather tantalising title.

The CGI action would have been more bearable too. While the fight scenes are very entertaining, with some humour they would have been more effective. Without it, the CGI just looks plain barmy, Abraham Lincoln running up walls and defying gravity on the roof of a train as though a crowd of potential voters are watching. The majority of these scenes are too dark and rather dreary, making it a rather bland visual experience.

That’s not something you expect from a director like Timur Bekmambetov, the man who famously brought us the breathtakingly crazy Wanted. He’s very good at directing action scenes, that much we knew, but he seems unable to create any tension with them. Given that Tim Burton was originally going to direct, you can’t help but think it would have been better in his hands. Personally I would have liked to have seen this helmed by Quentin Tarantino. At least he has a sense of humour.

Benjamin Walker and Rufus Sewell are really the only people to come out of this without being disappointing. Walker makes for a great lead, with his charisma and quite physical presence. He is a leading man of the future if he plays his cards right. Rufus Sewell does good as the lead vampire Adam, coming across with a genuine air of menace without seeming like a villain from a cartoon. Overall, it doesn’t meet its expectations, but you will be mindful that it could have been a whole lot worse than it is.

Image reproduced from hollywoodreporter.com
Video reproduced from YouTube / movieclipsTRAILERS

Tour de Belfort: The Challenge‏ (and an offer)

The other week, I met Muriel Lismonde who, with her family, runs Tour de Belfort, a start-up winery in Cahors.

The Background

The project started when Muriel’s father sold the his Paris-based business and used the proceeds to buy a ruin and some land in the village of Quercy.

I get the sense this must have felt like “another of Dad’s projects” for the family, but with the funds from the sale of a successful business, it turned out to be on a much grander scale than the usual tinkering in his garden shed.

And with the family roped in to help with everything from the restoration of the buildings and the creation of a brand new vineyard and winery, to the selling of the wine directly, there is something of the cult of the amateur about it all.

Part Grand Designs, part The Good Life, the project seems to have gained a life of its own, moved along by the force of Dad’s vision and drive.

Someone I met at a networking lunch the other week told me that he and his wife approached decision-making according to Harry Secombe’s philosophy – I decide all the important stuff like should be in Europe, what our exchange rate policy should be or should we go to war with Russia, whilst she sorts out the minor details like what shirt I’ll wear and what to have for dinner.

I rather fancy that Lismonde P̬re is a little like this Рdeciding on what vines to plant, designing the labels and determining whether the wine should be bio-dynamic, organic or natural and leaving minor matters, such as the actual selling of the finished product, to family members.

The Challenge

As a result of all this, Muriel spends much of her time travelling around trying to sell the wine directly at shows and exhibitions, such as the Three Wine Men, as they have found it so far impossible to break into the UK market.

Selling an unknown wine from a brand-new vineyard from a backwater region of France is no easy task under any circumstances.

However, wines from Cahors and the French south west in general have a reputation for being spicy, a bit rustic and mostly red, so to sell a mixture of reds, whites and rosés that are organic, well-made and balanced is all the more challenging.

Add in a price tag in double figures, a screw-cap closure and a distinctive but rather cheap-looking label and it is almost as if they are making life deliberately difficult for themselves.

And yet, having tried the wines, I have been very impressed; the result of completely organic approach and a strict attention to detail is an extremely well-made and balanced output with great depth of flavour. Not only is the vineyard free of pesticides and herbicides, the winery is almost clinically clean reducing the need for any additives in the wine – just some neutral, organic cultured yeasts and very limited quantities of sulphites to preserve the wine in bottle.

The wines are also low in alcohol, making them very food friendly, but have enough southern warmth to be welcoming and approachable.

As Muriel explained to me the problems in getting UK distribution, it struck me that there is something of a Catch-22 at play here; what would secure distribution is a definite interest, but there cannot be any interest if the wine is not widely available.

The family decided to sell directly via their website, but desperately need to raise their profile generally – and there are only so many hours in the day for everything.

The Offer

After meeting Muriel and hearing her story, I felt that I wanted to do more than just try the wines and write-up the usual tasting note and resolved to get involved in helping bring this wine to the broader audience I think it deserves.

Having agreed a deal with Muriel to cover my time, I negotiated a discount for readers of my blog: look on the Tour de Belfort website and you’ll see the following prices:

– Red (09), White and Rosé: £60 for 6 (delivery extra) / £120 for 12 (delivery included)

– Red 2010: £63 for 6 (delivery extra) / £126 for 12 (delivery included)

However, Muriel is prepared to sell her wines at £60 for a case of 6 (delivery included) or £110 for a case of 12 (delivery included), to anyone who contacts her directly and mentions my blog – the Cambridge Wine Blogger.

Now, I realise I have staked my reputation with two sets of people – firstly with Muriel, since no-one may actually take up this offer and secondly with anyone who does buy the wine, and could potentially be disappointed at my recommendation.

If I’m honest, my greatest fear is that no-one will take up the offer – I’m sufficiently confident in the quality of these wines to believe that people are unlikely to be disappointed by them.

I also think that they are priced more than fairly and that it would easily be possible to spend more money on something less good. (For more detailed reviews of the wines, see here for the red, white and rosé).

So the real issue then is will the thousands of people who visit my blog every week – those in the UK at least – actually do more than just read my wafflings and actually take my advice to buy this well-made, organic, almost natural wine at a tenner a bottle.

I can’t give any satisfaction guarantees or money-back promises like the big internet players do; I won’t be adding in a free bottle of something “sumptuous” that “should sell for twice the price”, or even one of those rabbit corkscrews if you order right now.

However, I am staking my reputation on this. And remember this wine is made by a family outfit with low overheads and no marketing budget, so you are essentially buying it at the producer’s direct cost plus with no middle man – and then with a discount.

And if you need more than just my recommendation, then here’s what a few other wine people have to say:

Isabelle Legeron MW@MurielLismonde is one of the loveliest people I know

Three Wine Men – We’re real fans of @MurielLismonde‘s wines

So, all that remains then is for you to try the wine and let me know what you think of it. And tell all your friends about it, too. And your family, long-lost relatives, dinner party guests, people on the bus, random strangers … what are you waiting for ?

To contact Muriel, call her on 01625 449 031 or 07881 453 100 or email her on muriel@tour-de-belfort.com – just mention CambridgeWineBlogger to get the discount.

Copyright Tom Lewis, 2012