Monday, February 25, 2008

That's what I'm talking about!

I'll admit it's a little more challenging when he's Frank Quinlan in A Touch of Evil. Oh well, nobody's perfect.

Film reviews: Joan Fontaine x 2

Yesterday it was Rebecca; this evening Jane Eyre. Two wonderful Gothic films, with Joan Fontaine as the lead, long shots through archways, dark secrets, and dodgy first wives. Rebecca is the classic, taking the Oscar for Best Picture in 1940 thanks to Hitchcock's direction. Jane Eyre is more of a standard studio pic from 1944; you can tell it's studio-bound and cheaper, the photography is grainier, less lush, and there are gaps in the narrative. And yet, Jane Eyre wins every time for me. Why? Because in the battle between Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter and Orson Welles as Edward Rochester, it's simply no contest. Orson Welles every time. I've had the hugest thing for him ever since watching the bewildering Lady from Shanghai at the age of 12. Then of course, came Citizen Kane, his narration in The Magnificent Ambersons, and (most wonderfully) his Harry Lime in The Third Man. That scene where you first see his face, with the kitten at his feet? Swoon! Not for me the bland appeal of George Michael or Simon le Bon. No wonder I didn't have any friends at school ... so out of step with my era.

Best of all, this is course work! It certainly beats my undergraduate life of reading articles in the Journal of Roman Studies. Right, time to order Carrie and La Belle et Bete from LoveFilm.

Now that's customer service

Off to the new house yesterday morning to take measurements, make sure we still it like it -- after all, it has been three months since we saw it, and it's always good to check that you're plunging into debt with good reason. Get into the car, turn the ignition, and ... nothing. Some pathetic sputters, but no signs of life. Which was odd, given that we've never had a problem before and it had worked just fine earlier in the week. So, I called the VW assistance line, and they had an RAC van to us within 20 minutes. On a Sunday. A lovely man checked everything, explained it was the battery -- apparently modern batteries work and work and work and then die abruptly -- drained the battery, and replaced it. An hour and 10 minutes after we first got in the car, we were on our way. Unbelievably good service that guarantees we'll sign up again in May when our free year runs out.

And yes, we did still like the house.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Norwich 1: Barnsley 0

Apparently, we've only lost once in the past 15 games -- a remarkable streak, given our poor form at the start of the year. Glenn Roeder is clearly doing something right, and let's hope it continues. We're now top half of the table (just) and, fingers crossed, should be safe from relegation. Hurrah!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bye bye arteries

I have discovered the salty-sweet delight of President butter. If pushed, I will eat slivers of it on its own. Yes, it's THAT good!

Devilishly bad

Last month, in a momentary fit of HMV-induced europhoria, we splashed out on The Ultimate Hammer Collection -- 21 of Hammer's best-loved films, but none of the good ones. I mean, no Twins of Evil, but you do get The Plague of the Zombies and The Viking Queen. PJ braved Straight On Till Morning, featuring James Bolam and Rita Tushingham as swingers in 1960s London, in which the most horrifying things were the trousers and sideburns. I decided to opt for The Devil Rides Out and To The Devil A Daughter, a somewhat masochistic exercise.

The Devil Rides Out was fine: Christopher Lee was on good form as the Duc de Richleau, despite looking at one point more like a maitre d' preparing crepes suzette than a witch-hunter casting "good" spells; Paul Eddington played an early variant of his befuddled and bemused good egg who's much happier with a stiff drink in his hand; and none of the characters were offensively dim. The effects were rather good for the time, it barrelled along nicely, and it retained the quaint 1920s settings and upper-classness of the book (pure house porn, by the way).

Encouraged, I then persuaded PJ to watch the (loosely-related) follow-up with me. Oh dear. Oh deary, deary me. Disaster! Set firmly in the 1970s and positioned as the UK's answer to The Exorcist, it features a grumpy Richard Widmark running around London trying to protect a clearly bonkers and frequently naked Nastassja Kinski. You also get to see Christopher Lee's bottom, Honor Blackman offed with a comb, and the weakest ending of any film ever. [Spoiler alert: the evil Satanist is killed by being hit by a small rock.] Our "hero" not only clearly doesn't want to be in the film and shows little remorse at seeing his two innocent friends slaughtered to protect our ungrateful/stupid heroine, but he's wearing the most offensive brown slip-on loafers! The film was, of course, a commercial success in the UK. The best part of the evening was watching the accompanying documentary, in which Christopher Lee called the ending of the movie obscene (albeit not for the rock-throwing) and said that Dennis Wheatley hated it and refused to let Hammer film any of his other movies.

Thank God!


Yes, we finally exchanged. Last week, as it happens -- it only took FOUR working days -- but we've been in such a whirl of activity since then that I've hardly had time to post. A birthday party in London, followed by the longest train ride back to Winchester (via Feltham and Virginia Water!), evenings watching Tex Avery's Red Hot Riding Hood -- a highlight of the Film Studies MA -- and an evening out with friends in Winchester. That's right, we finally have friends here. It's taken 10 months, but was well worth it.

What else? Oh yes, the tedium that is trying to find furniture that we both like. We need a new sofa and a bed now, having agreed to buy our vendor's oven. We know what we don't like and we know what we're not prepared to pay, but it's much harder to find something that we positively like. After all, it took us 3 years to buy a sofa for our Amsterdam apartment. However, it looks like M&S are going to come to the rescue. Next week, they're launching a collection of environmentally friendly furniture, made from organic cotton, plastic bottles, and handcrafted by well-paid pixies in magically clean and light workshops, somewhere in the UK. We can therefore opt for "smugness" over "style" -- much the best course of action.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Film reviews

So, we've been catching up on our LoveFilm flicks in the past week. First up, Tell No One, a taut French thriller that was enjoyably twisty and turny. While fairly grim, it had some light-hearted moments set on and around various Parisian housing estates. Equally grim but considerably more bloody was A History of Violence. This was an excellent companion piece to Eastern Promises, which we saw last year: In AHOV, Viggo Mortensen plays [spoiler alert] a bad man gone good, while in EP he was [spoiler alert] a good man who's possibly gone bad. Of course, Cronenberg delights in making the audience complicit in the violence; it's impossible not to (silently) cheer when the son in AHOV beats the bullying jock to a pulp in a hallway brawl, while being impressed at Viggo's throat-stomping antics in Philadelphia. And Viggo was just great in both, making the most of underwritten roles.

Last night I got to watch The Company of Wolves as part of the film course. Despite being a child of the 80s, I'd not seen this before. All I knew about it going in was that it was based on Angela Carter's stories and featured a naked Danielle Dax. While a little long-winded in parts, I enjoyed the fairy-tale pastiche design and the class conflicts outlined within; the wedding story with the rapacious aristos turning into wolves was probably the best in the whole film. And the special effects were pretty good for a 23-year-old film. I can safely say it will probably be more enjoyable than The Curse of Frankenstein, which is also on the agenda for later in the term.

Yet to see: No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Neither look like they contain many laughs, though.

Brickbats and a bouquet

48 hours on, and we still haven't exchanged. I now officially hate solicitors and estate agents. Not our solicitor, who is just as frustrated as we are, but our vendors' inept solicitors -- who apparently failed to send on the drainage survey for many weeks, thus resulting in us having to commission our own (at our own expense, of course) -- and most especially the estate agent. This parasite spent the first month hassling me on a near-daily basis to ensure that we could complete quickly, then spent the next two months sending the occasional update, assuring me that everything was on track. Yesterday, she emailed to tell me that she thought my mobile was unreliable -- I'd turned it off during a meeting -- and that I should contact my solicitor to make sure that everything was going through smoothly. Which, of course, it wasn't and through no fault of ours. I swear, if she calls me again, I am totally going to cut off my nose to spite her face by pulling out of the deal -- just to take a great deal of pleasure in watching her lose the commission on two deals. Thank goodness we're not paying her a penny in all of this.

However, Domino's pizza rocks! We ordered online Sunday evening and it arrived, steaming hot and crispy, at our doorstep less than 20 minutes later. Brilliant! I got so used to 45-minute/1 hour delivery times in the Netherlands; I'd forgotten that fast food could be just that. And it was good pizza: a light base, great toppings, and the leftovers reheated perfectly the next day. Two very happy thumbs up.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

St Catherine's Hill

Nine months after we moved to Winchester, we finally made it to the top of St Catherine's Hill. In our defence, it's not easy to find the entrance, the weather last year was miserable, and PJ doesn't get out of bed before 1 on a Sunday, so our opportunities have been somewhat limited. However, no such excuses today. It was a beautiful crisp day and we set off up a surprisingly muddy hill. The resulting mud-clogged boots were worth it though; stunning views across Winchester, the shimmering M3, and St Cross Hospital.

There's also a "mismaze" at the top, along with lots of people walking dogs and enjoying the sunshine.

We made our way down the easier, less muddy set of steps on the other side of the hill and meandered home, calling in at The Queen Inn for a (late) lunchtime pint. Lovely.

There's many a slip ...

Of course I shouldn't have said that we'd exchanged. In retrospect, I was jinxing the entire affair. Shortly after my post, PJ told me that our solicitor had rung him and said that the exchange was temporarily on hold -- while our vendors' vendor asked to see their current buildings insurance policy. Of course it did! I mean, what could be more relevant to buying a different property than an existing insurance policy -- and three months into the process to boot!!! Apparently, it should all be resolved on Monday. Or Tuesday.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Keep your fingers crossed

Three months later than planned, we appear to be exchanging contracts on our house. Be prepared for the global economy to plunge into recession in the next six weeks, just as it did last time we bought.

Pessimistic, moi?

Once upon a time ...

Back to school this week; a new semester has started after an insanely long (SIX WEEKS!) Crimbo break. The topic? Fairy Tale and Gothic Horror! This is more like it. Sessions on "mad women in the attic" and "cannibalism, wolves, werewolves", films like A Company of Wolves, The Curse of Frankenstein, and Rebecca, and articles entitled "From Nags to Witches: Stepmothers and Other Ogres." Midway, we have another insanely long break -- this time FOUR WEEKS off for Easter -- and then I have to give a presentation on Functions and Ideologies: Subversive Texts of Civilizing Missions? Fun! Plus, more people in the seminar class. Last term, I was one of only two who turned up on a regular basis, but we're starting off with seven people this time round, so hopefully I won't have to do all the talking. Even I need to skive off from time to time.