Sunday, 20 February 2011

Nothing But The Best..............

Anyone that knows me at all, knows that I love Sinatra.

 The smoothness of his voice, the way he nails every note in every song, the way his voice lingers a beat after the music..... His style, his personality, his winning attitude, and his command of utter respect from his peers, and the fact that he was voted "Voice of the Millennium" are all things that fascinate me.

I'm happy to say that even after many years of being a massive fan, and extensively trawling the Internet, listening to his rare recordings, I still find new Sinatra songs all the time, due to the sheer volume of his material.

But for me this also causes a problem, namely; that the very best of Sinatra, still remains hidden to the average listener.....

So forget, My Way, Strangers in the Night, and the other frankly (if you'll pardon the pun) cheesy Sinatra standards that get any old karaoke drunk up and Crooning, and take a few minutes to listen to some of these beautifully sung, beautifully arranged Sinatra songs, which for some reason seem to be forgotten.
I Wish I Were In Love Again:

Arranged and conducted by the great Nelson Riddle, this song demonstrates all that is good about a Sinatra recording, starting low and slow, the song builds to an epic finale, both musically and vocally. Funnily enough the Sinatra standard "Lady is a Tramp" was supposed to be included on the same album as this (1957's "a swinging affair" but was dropped in favour of a song called "no one ever tells you"... also worth a look.

The Song Is You:

This song stands out because it was arranged by Billy May. May has a lot to live up to as Nelson Riddle, Count Basie, and Quincy Jones are just a few of the awesomely talented musicians that got to work with Frank, yet for me, he stands slightly taller than the others. His characteristic use of brass is a brillant complement to Sinatra's pitch perfect voice.

Ring a Ding Ding:

A favourite saying among the crooners of the Rat Pack on a night out. "there's a fine broad!" "Ring a ding ding!"...... This song was written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Huesen specifically for Frank. The title song of an album which was intended not to include any ballads, It acts as a prime example of Sinatra swinging at his best.

I Believe:

I cannot fathom how this song is not a massive Christmas standard. It deserves to be. It's just as good as when Sinatra belts out "let it snow" or "winter wonderland".... in fact it's better.

Nothing But The Best:

As much an anthem about the man and his life as My Way, or That's Life, Nothing but the Best sums up everything that I love about Frank Sinatra.


So the next time you feel like playing a bit of Franky, look a bit further than just the same old "Fly my to the Moon" stuff...... there's a whole wealth of Sinatra out there that you're probably missing out on.

Much love ..............................

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Top 10 Favourite Films of All Time - Part 2

Number 5. - Chinatown

There's something in the whole tone of this neo-noir that I found captivating the first time I saw it. Chinatown's narrative is expertly constructed around a series of sub plots that trust the intelligence of the viewer, and although Jack Nicholson's superbly portrayed "J.J Gittes" is always 2 steps ahead of the audience, the result is an intriguing though sadly rare cinema experience. And Chinatown is just that......... an experience. It's a film which captures the era in which it is set so beautifully, that it could just as well have been made in the 1940's, and yet it does this without looking nostalgic or camp, as so many films of this genre do. This film deserves to be seen by everyone, and the plot twists which take Gittes along on a ride are genius. 10 out of 10.

Number 4. - Where Eagles Dare

Like my dad always says: "Son...... you can't beat a good war film", and sadly, many of them aren't very good. But one which truly stands out for me, is the 1968 Where Eagles Dare. It's the ultimate boys movie, full of what a friend of mine would describe as "all the things mark likes: Guns, Bombs, Chases and Cool Shit". The "cool shit" is provided by the oozing suaveness of the brilliant Richard Burton, and his co-star, my old hero, Clint Eastwood. It might not be an Oscar winner, nor may it be as beneficial to those interested in world war 2 as say, the longest day, or downfall, but it's a film which stays true to the original story by Alistair Maclean, and as a result is a real gem of an action film, full of nazis, plot twists, spys, cable-cars and castles.
The stair case duel wielding scene is a particular highlight!

Number 3. - Back To The Future

"No Mcfly ever amounted to anything in the history of hill valley!" Is the call to arms uttered by Mr Strickland at the start of this timeless family film. Michael J Fox is Marty Mcfly, a hapless teen who must, after becoming trapped in 1955, enlist the help of his future friend Doctor Emmett Brown in order to send him back to the future!......... I adore this film, and one of the things that leads me to believe how awesome it is, is just how everyone has seen it, and nobody doesn't like it. Also Its funny, fast paced, imaginative, and another sign of a film everyone loves; its really quotable.
As much as I look for a fault in this film, I am unable to find one, It is brilliantly, scripted and the casting is perfect. It's a slyly smart, funny family comedy which deserves to credited among the best films which Hollywood has ever produced.

"You mean to tell me...... That you built a time machine..... out of a Delorean?!?!"

Number 2. - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Perhaps the wrong reason to inspire someone into a career... yet it worked for me. Indiana Jones has been one of my favourite film series for as long as I can remember, and to be honest, apart from number 4, which was crap, I could have chosen any of them to appear on this list. Now I'm aware that Raiders is perhaps the most critically acclaimed, and that the Last crusade is most people's favourite because of Sean Connery's exquisite performance as Indi's dad, yet still for me, Temple of Doom by far outshines the others. It's strength lies in the fact that instead of following the success of Raiders with another comic book style, globe hopping adventure, Lucas and Spielberg decided, and bravely so, to go much, much darker. And if you can stomach the child slavery, monkey brain dinners, bad bug infestations and careless open heart surgery, and as a child.... I could............. just about.... then this film is one hell of an entertaining ride.
My favourite scene is without a doubt the brilliantly done "spikey death room" scene.... in which the suspense is made even more exhilarating by the brilliant score conducted by John Williams. A scene which for me, far outshines any sequence that was included in raiders, or last crusade.

Number 1. - Big Trouble in Little China

Before I begin to explain this film...... It might be best if you all take a look at this:

Critically this film was panned.... and it's easy to see why. Bad points include:

The script is corny in its best parts
Most of the action revolves around people flying in and out on wires
The love interest is played by Kim Cattrall (that slag from sex and the city)
Kurt Russell plays the main character as some kind of John Wayne pastiche
His friends know all kinds of awesome kung-fu, even though they work in a restaurant.
The film assumes the audience will readily believe ancient Chinese wizards run around L.A blowing things up and building huge fortresses without anyone knowing.

Yet, these are the things which make this film great. Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is perhaps one of the best action heroes I've ever seen in any movie. He's likeable, able, and funny.... and some of the dialogue he utters is so corny that it's brilliant. People running up and down walls is awesome. A young Kim Cattrall is hot. Emulating John Wayne allows for some excellent character development for Burton. and who doesn't like wizards? everyone loves Harry Potter after all (apart from me).

Here is a film which sits back and says to its audience: "Hey, this is by no means an Oscar winner..... but if you just sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride, what you'll get is a movie to remember"

When I first saw it, my old man had recorded it off the TV for me as it was on past my bed time (aww). I think I watched so many times that the tape ate itself.... anyway.... Big trouble in Little China was for me no more.... years later, I was in HMV.... and there it was.... in a bargain bin for £2:99. And you know..... of all the DVD's I have in my ever growing collection, this one truely is my all time favourite..... I think I might put it on right now.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Top 10 Favourite Films of All Time - Part 1

If there's one thing I love, its cinema.
So I thought i'd share my top 10 favourite films, i'm not suggesting that they are the "greatest films" ever made (that's for another time), however, these are my personal favourites, the kind I can go back and watch again and again.

Number 10. - Get Carter

Get Carter is a gem of a British gangster film. Michael Caine produces a gritty and cold performance as the antagonist, who's on a mission to find his brother's killer. Violent, dark and  yet sexy, this movie shows 1970's Newcastle as a scary and helpless place, which is a real refection of the attitudes of the time. I like this film because of the shear coolness of Carter, and the array of cult art that the film spawned. Also a small and yet memorable part for the gorgeous Britt Ekland is a must see.

Number 9. - Vertigo

Alfred Hitchcock is undoubtedly the king of suspense, and as thrillers go, this is the cream of the crop. James Stewart portrays John "Scottie" Ferguson, a detective who suffers from severe vertigo, and Kim Novak plays the femme fatale, (if she's hot enough for Sinatra who am I to argue?). Hitchcock leads viewers through a roller-coaster of a plot which has so many twists and turns I still find it exciting, even though I've seen it about 15 times :)

Number 8. - For a Few Dollars More (Per Qualche Dollaro in Piu)

Sergio Leone's "Dollars Trilogy" remains a cinema milestone. Epic, beautiful, captivating, and refreshingly violent for it's time, it was filmed in Italy (hence spaghetti western) and even it its day was a fairly cheap affair in comparison to pictures made in Hollywood. Clint Eastwood was uncertain whether to take on the role when the script for "A Fistful of Dollars" arrived on his desk, not wanting to go to Italy or work with Leone..... and yet, I myself am so thankful that he did, the film made both of them and they went on to have illustrious careers and a productive cinema partnership.
Anyway, of the three films starring Eastwood as "the man with no name" this one (the second) is by far my favourite. Anyone who knows me will tell you I think Eastwood is cinema gold, but its his on screen partnership with Lee Van Cleef that really makes this a brilliant film. Van Cleef gives the performance of his career in this brilliant western which was described brilliantly by film critic Roger Ebert as "Gloriously greasy, sweaty, hairy, bloody and violent". On top of this, the musical score by Ennio Morricone is utterly superb, and when coupled with the long drawn out shootouts which make this series so iconic, this film really becomes a must see.

Number 7. - The Shining

Although a lot of people really like the film, Stephen King who authored the book, detested what director Stanley Kubrick had done with it. Now in the spirit of fairness, I have both seen the film, and read the book, and if anything I found the book to be the less impressive. The use of stedycam, strange symmetrical set pieces and a chilling music score, set the scene for this brilliant horror, which becomes less about the fact that hotel is haunted and more about the mental deterioration of Jack Torrance which is captured beautifully by Jack Nicholson's masterful performance. 

Number 6. - Goodfellas

For me, Martin Scorsese is by far my favourite director, the blast of style that he injects into his films is something that I love, and as a result whenever he makes a new film, I make sure I'm first in line to see it. Goodfellas is his best film. Furthermore, the Godfather is always ranked the best gangster film of all time, and I can see why, it is very good....... but for me, Goodfellas is better. It's based on the real life mob exploits oh Henry Hill, played here by Ray Liotta. Liotta's performance is very good, but it's Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci's performances as his mob friends that really raise the bar. In a way, it could be argued that Scorsese's depiction of life in the Mafia somewhat glamorises its brutality and criminal aspects...... yet it's so damn cool!
The fact that this film lost out on the best picture and best director awards at the 1990 Oscars ceremony ( to dances with wolves) is one of the all time great Oscars travesties. Plus Dean Martin features several times on the soundtrack...... doesn't get any cooler than this!

PART 2 TO INCLUDE  5 - 1 :)

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Post Number One

Starting a blog and keeping up with it can be very hard, something which I know only too well, as I started one less than 6 months ago and only posted once. However, this time I plan to stick at it, and to help me, i've decided to widen the scope of the whole thing...... I will literally talk about anything that interests me :)

So, i'm going to dive straight in.....

Last night BBC 4 showed a documentary detailing the events of a lengthy anthropological survey carried out during the 1960's and 70's. The subjects of this research were the Yanomami Indians of the Amazon Basin, a people who up until that time, had received no contact with the outside world.

Now being an archaeology student, anthropology is closely tied with my subject and I naturally find it interesting, but I also studied anthropology at college and in particular I looked at the work of Claude Levi-Strauss, perhaps one of the world's most famous anthropologists and undoubtedly the father of modern anthropology (he's got nothing to do with jeans though!)

Anyway, At the time the research with the Yanumami was hailed as ground breaking, and it catapulted the various anthropologists involved to a degree of academic fame and success, namely; Napoleon Chagnon, and Jacques Lizot. Lizot was a kind of protégée to Levi-Strauss, and as a result was backed by a fairly strong academic contingent, as well as the French government.

Perhaps this is what allowed the members of the anthropological team to take such shocking liberties with the Yanomami such as...

1) introducing measles to the population, and then spreading it around carelessly between villages.

2) giving the locals steel axes to replace their stone axes, as well as other tools / foreign influences.

3) One anthropologist married one of the Yanomami girls who was just 13, and took her back to America, justifying it with "she was old enough within the constrains of her own society"

4) Lizot himself, a closet homosexual, introduced anal sex to the Yanomami, often practising it with young boys, in exchange for western luxuries. Before the team of anthropologists arrived, the indians had no word for anal sex at all.

5) Chagnon, soon began working with a geneticist called James Neel, a man who had made a career in observing the adverse affects of a nuclear explosion on an exposed population..... to say some of their practices in the jungle were unethical doesn't quite cover the lack of care they showed towards the Yanomami.

These shocking revelations were revealed to the word in the year 2000 when a book was published by investigative journalist Patrick Tierney published "Darkness in El Dorado" the documentary which is well worth a watch, is based upon these findings.

The question which really struck me amidst the wave of bad practice and paedophilia which surrounds the whole survey, is how could a group of experts could so clearly and whole heartedly abandon their academic principles in a way which was not only shockingly debauched but would completely destroy the untouched society which they had been sent to study?

For me this is the equivalent of someone in my area of study walking into the British museum and smashing the artefacts to pieces, unthinkable.......

A violation of the Prime Directive indeed.