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Rising Monkey 2012 Part 4: Nago, Okinawa

Buscema Observatory, near the back there somewhere[previously: May 18-21, May 21-28, May 28-June 1]

June 1-4

[Yes, that's right, it's the last part of a travel piece about a holiday that we came back from nearly ten months ago. Deal with it.]

It’s quite late in the holiday when we realise how our hotels are conforming to an arithmetic progression. Dai-Ichi, Tokyo: 20,000 yen a night for a high-rise Western style room with a city view. Sawanoya, Tokyo: 10,000 yen a night for a comfortable Japanese style room. Lohas Villa, Naha: 5,000 yen a night for a bed and a giant telly, with everything else counted as an optional extra. By that reckoning, our final destination – Nago, a couple of hours north from Naha by bus – should cost us 2,500 a night and consist of a sheet of cardboard with a radio next to it.

Happily, this is not the case. Hotel Yugaf is a perfectly fine, if somewhat anonymous, Western-style place. After our four nights in Lohas, we’re completely overwhelmed by features that just a few days earlier we’d considered to be standard. Aircon! Bath! Tea! Running water! Privacy! Okay, so our bathroom has a giant beetle in it that keeps scurrying under the bath when you put the light on. But still! Bath!

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MOSTLY FILM: A Tale Of Two Maniacs

Can you tell what it is yet?I've written another piece for Europe's Best Website: this one is a little different, though, as it came together much more quickly than usual. Last weekend, a call went out from the editor for articles to fill a gap in the schedule. I had a look at what was currently showing in London cinemas - as Time Out continues its nosedive into utter uselessness, I'm finding LondonNet to be the best site for that sort of information - and noticed that one of the new releases that weekend was Maniac, starring Elijah Wood. It's a remake of an old horror movie from the video nasty era: I remembered that I'd picked up an uncut US DVD of the original during a shameful period in the late 90s, where my film importing choices were driven largely by whether they'd been banned in the UK or not. And a plan started to emerge.

Sunday evening, I watched the 1980 version of Maniac on my laptop while The Belated Birthday Girl was doing other stuff around the house. (At one point she needed my input on something, and I'm pretty sure I used the phrase "let me just get to the end of this stabbing and I'll be right with you.") Monday afternoon, I took advantage of a week off work to pop along to the Prince Charles cinema to watch the 2012 version, and marvel at how they'd managed to recreate the atmosphere of a New York 80s grindhouse by paying a fat smelly man with breathing problems to park himself and his carrier bags in the seat next to mine in a half-full auditorium. On Tuesday, I wrote it all up. On Wednesday, it appeared online under the title A Tale Of Two Maniacs, which allowed me to promote it with a quick topical gag on Twitter.

And now it's Thursday, and time for the usual bonus material I put on here to lure you into visiting Mostly Film. It's another wee collection of videos - trailers, clips, and some related tunes. Be warned, some of the images may be unsuitable for the sensitive or the employed amongst you.

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MOSTLY FILM: Beyond Moviedrome

Alex Cox. Une de mes favourites.If you assemble a bunch of British film buffs of a certain age in one place and wait for a while, eventually they'll start talking about Moviedrome. Between 1988 and 2000, it was BBC 2's Sunday night slot for the presentation of cult movies, complete with a handy to-camera introduction to put them into context. Between 1994 and 2000, those introductions were presented in the uncertainly-pitched voice of Mark Cousins (though these days, technology has provided a solution to that). But for the first six years of Moviedrome's life, it was Alex Cox's baby, and he's the host that people remember most fondly.

Mostly Film, by its very nature, is a bunch of British film buffs of a certain age assembled in one place. We started talking about Moviedrome on our first day: the comments section of my opening review of Alex Cox's Repo diptych quickly turned into an affectionate discussion of how the show introduced us to films we may not have seen otherwise. Nearly two years later, we've made that discussion an article in its own right. Mad Cox: Beyond Moviedrome features six of the Mostly Film regulars - including me - talking about the impact that a particular Moviedrome presentation had on our cinematic taste.

My contribution to the piece is fairly small, so let's keep this backup material nice and simple: trailers for the six films discussed.

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Post-Apollonian, Pre-Dionysian: Pick Of The Year 1983

Still not *entirely* convinced by chrome tape at this stage.Good news! My first Pick Of The Year collection, made in 1982, was split into two halves - one C60 cassette of favourite singles, and another one of favourite album tracks. This led to some awkward duplication over the pair of tapes, with two songs apiece from ABC, Elvis Costello and (gulp) Dire Straits. When I chose to repeat the exercise a year later - more precisely, on February 4th 1984 - I decided against the single/album dichotomy, sticking to a rule of one track per artist no matter what format it came on. (And then breaking that rule completely at the end of side four, as you'll see.)

Bad news! At the same time, I decided that since there had been so much great music released in 1983, it needed two complete C90s to do it justice. So from this point up until 1989, my Pick Of The Year compilations would be gargantuan three-hour affairs. Looking back at them now, they could easily be trimmed down to something more manageable: but that's not my role here. No, my role is to give you an unedited view of what my taste in music was like thirty years ago, pausing occasionally to point and laugh at the twenty-year-old me and his ridiculous hair. Come and join me.

(And no, you're not getting a picture of the hair.)

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MOSTLY FILM: The Guldbagge Variations

If this had been a Gatwick Express platform, I would have been less optimistic about the possibility of a train coming.It’s a regular thing here for travel pieces to appear on the site ages after the excursion in question. Yes, a good example of that would be the final part of Rising Monkey 2012, which (when The BBG and I have finished writing it) will describe what we were doing in Okinawa in late May 2012, some nine months ago. And here comes another one.

Yesterday on Mostly Film, they published The Guldbagge Variations. It's the latest piece in my Monoglot Movie Club series, in which I write about my experiences of seeing unsubtitled films in foreign countries. This one comes out of a trip I made for work back in late January, when I went to Stockholm for the first time. As ever, this accompanying Red Button piece will focus on travel hints and tips rather than on the movies, so let me get out my notes from six weeks ago and see what I can find for you.

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Simian Substitute Site For March 2013: The Monkey March


Internet: Back in November, I mentioned that I'd signed up with Netflix for a one-month free trial, specifically to watch the fifth season of Breaking Bad. I could have ditched them at the end of that month, but they kept me hooked with the prospect of a future attraction: a US remake of House Of Cards, with Kevin Spacey and director David Fincher as the key personnel involved. Was it worth the extra six quid a month? On the evidence of the first two episodes, I'd say yes. Netflix have produced the series themselves, taking the British original (also available for side-by-side comparison), transplanting it to Washington, and ramping up the sex, violence and drugs to the level of your average US cable drama. Showrunner Beau Willimon is best known for writing the play that became the film The Ides Of March, and there are a lot of similarities in its approach to depicting the death of idealism in politics. Spacey is having just the right amount of fun in the lead role - his experience playing Richard III a couple of years ago has seriously paid off - but Robin Wright Penn is almost as wicked, and she doesn't even get to justify her monstrosity directly to camera. You can even watch the first episode without signing up to Netflix, if you're now curious about it. 

Music: If it was possible to play YouTube videos without displaying their titles, this is what I'd do. I'd show you this video, and you'd say "oh, that's nice, good to hear Dido back on form again," and I'd say "no, it's not Dido, it's Petula Clark," and you'd say "that's a weird idea, naming a dance act after that woman who sang Downtown," and I'd say "no, it actually is that woman who sang Downtown," and you'd say "how old is she now," and I'd say "she was eighty last November," and then we'd both watch the video again with our jaws slightly dropping. But you can't do that with YouTube videos, so that's not going to happen. It has to be admitted that Clark's new album Lost In You, currently streaming on the Guardian website, peaks with that opening track: but there's an enjoyable mix of new songs and unexpected covers to be found if you stick with it.

Theatre: If you're reading this on the day it's published, then you have just two opportunities left to see Playing Cards 1: Spades, the new play by Robert Lepage at the Roundhouse in London (it closes on March 2nd). The last appearance of Lepage on this site was when I reviewed his nine-hour epic Lipsynch four years ago, and Playing Cards is shaping up to be a similarly gargantuan undertaking: a cycle of four plays, each one using a suit from a deck of cards as its main motif, all exploiting the dramatic possibilities of performing in the round. The technique is as dazzling as ever, and the cast multitask to an almost diabolical degree: I defy you to watch this and guess exactly how many performers are involved before the final curtain call. But although the multiple narrative threads - centred around a Las Vegas hotel in 2003 around the start of the Gulf War - are all entertaining enough as you watch them, they never really come together into anything meaningful by the end. It's telling that the climax is an astonishingly beautiful visual image generated by shedloads of stage machinery, rather than something more recognisably human. Then again, it may all work better in the context of the other three plays, which Lepage hopes to complete some time this decade...

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