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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

This Week's Films: 3

Well we managed to watch three films this week and only bought two so have gained something back on the DVD mountain!


633 Squadron (1964)




The story

An RAF squadron is tasked with knocking out a German rocket fuel plant at the end of a heavily defended fjord in Norway assisted by a Norwegian officer whose sister then arrives at the RAF base.

Seen it before...?

Only in black and white on TV years ago.  Until it started we hadn't realised it was shot in colour!
Any good?

Like many aviation adventures, a bit stodgy on the ground and only, er, takes off in the very fine aerial sequences. Features just about every De Havilland Mosquito still flying at the time.  Even less than twenty years after the end of the war there were only half a dozen left out of 7,781 built.  Not a single airworthy aircraft exists today.  So the short answer is that the film is OK but we don't care because its got real Mosquitos in it and they were the finest aircraft of World War 2 and every time one is on screen Triple P is happy!


Aero-porn



 Notable for...

Ron Goodwin's fantastic theme music.  "The best horn fanfare since Richard Strauss" according to Gramophone magazine.  Lead actor Cliff Robertson was a keen pilot and wanted to buy one of the Mosquitos, as he was so impressed with them, but they wouldn't let him.  He later bought a Mark IX Spitfire instead.  The screen play was by James (Shogun) Clavell.




Any good girlies?
Austrian actress Maria Perschy is the rather uneccessary love interest but who cares what girlies are in it when you can watch De Havilland Mosquitos flying in formation?


Now on to a Hammer double bill...

The Vampire Lovers (1970)


The story

A lady leaves her daughter Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt; mesmerising) in the care of a general (Peter Cushing, excellent as ever) and his family.  His daughter gets weaker and dies having suffered nightmares that she is being attacked. Marcilla disappears and then turns up at another man's house where she seduces his daughter (the gorgeous Madeleine Smith) and she starts to look pale as well...

Seen it before...?

When this first appeared on TV when Triple P was at school it was much appreciated due to the topless appearance of Madeleine Smith, widely considered by our classmates as the most beautiful and desirable woman alive.

Any good...?

The first of Hammer Film's trilogy of lesbian vampire films featuring the Karnstein family. We have already looked at the final film Vampire Circus.  This is much the best of the three with a wonderfully sinister performance by the late Ingrid Pitt. 
 
Notable for...

Some quite naughty for the time lesbian scenes and the fact that the female vampire doesn't bite her female victims' necks but goes for much bigger targets.  Very much bigger in Madeleine Smith's case.


Ingrid Pitt and Madeleine Smith: four good reasons to watch The Vampire Lovers
 
Any good girlies?

You can't fault Hammer here: Ingrid Pitt, Madeleine Smith, Pippa Steele and Kate O'Mara all go in for considerable bosom heaving.

 
Lust for a Vampire (1971)


Yutte Stensgaard in one of the most iconic images of seventies British horror films


The story

The Karnstein family raise Carmilla from her grave.  Changing her name to Mircalla she arrives at a finishing school full of nubile young ladies and two rather dreary male teachers.  A target rich environment for the ravenous succubus.
Seen it before...?

Once on TV about twenty years ago.

 
Suzanna Leigh in gratuitous Greek dancing scene


Any good...?

The second film in the Karnstein trilogy is not as good as The Vampire Lovers largely because Yutte Stensgaard isn't as good an actress as Ingrid Pitt.  The idea of having a lesbian vampire let loose in a girls' finishing school makes up for this, however.

Notable for...

The scene where a barely dressed, blood-soaked Stensgaard rises from her coffin.  The notoriously dreadful and hopelessly inappropriate song "Strange love" that plays through her seduction of one of the male characters.

 
Pippa Steel and Yutte Stensgaard

 
Any good girlies?

Stuffed with toothsome young ladies Pippa Steele (from The Vampire Lovers) gets a bigger role but Triple P's vote goes to posh teacher Janet Playfair played by Suzanna Leigh


More films next week!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Olympic tickets


Why is beach volleyball such a popular Olympic event?

Today was the last day for applying for Olympic 2012 tickets.  Now given we have the four road cycling events going past the end of our road we probably have enough live events to see but we have also applied for some other tickets today as well.  The key event, of course, for Triple P, is the womens beach volleyball in Horseguards Parade.  We have applied for tickets but it is a lottery and these will be the hottest tickets of the entire games so our chances are pretty low.  We will find out in June!


It's a mystery!

Lunch Out: the Rex Whistler Restaurant at the Tate Gallery


The Tate Gallery Millbank.  Triple P's meeting was, handily, in the building in the background


Agent Triple P had a meeting on Millbank the other day and ran into an old friend, the luscious M, in all of her Mediterranean glory, coming out of the same building afterwards.  Having just both finished somewhat tedious all-morning meetings, and given it was a nice sunny day (it's been our hottest April since records began with 26 degrees Centigrade or 79 Fahrenheit), we decided to repair to the nearby Tate Gallery restaurant for lunch.  Now, the Tate (or Tate Britain, as it is now annoyingly called; to distinguish it from the Tate Modern) was one of Triple P's favourite galleries and used to be Triple P's favourite in London, but more on that later.
First let us go into the Rex Whistler restaurant.  The restaurant is named after the artist Rex Whistler (1905-1944), who painted the murals adorning the walls.  Having been thrown out of the Royal Acadamy, Whistler went on to study at the Slade Art School.  Whistler became famous for his murals and trompe l'oeil works and painted the mural in the Tate Gallery restaurant in 1927 when he was only 22.


The original bright young things:  left to right: Zita Jungman, William Walton, Cecil Beaton, Stephen Tennant, Georgia Sitwell, Teresa Jungman, and Rex Whistler. Photographed by Cecil Beaton


Whistler was one of the original "bright young things" and is believed to have been the model for Charles Ryder in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited; required reading for a certain type of young lady when Triple P was at Oxford.  The great love of his life was Lady Caroline Paget, daughter of the 6th Earl of Angelsey. It seems that his love was unrequited but he did numerous drawings and paintings of her including one nude, whether from life or imagination is not known but she did have something of a racy reputation.


Lady Caroline Paget by Rex Whistler


It was at her family home, Plas Newydd, in Angelsea that Whistler painted his greatest work, a 58' by 12' painting which is the largest canvas painting in Britain.  Like the Tate mural the picture is of an Arcadian fantasy landscape. 


Whistler's immense canvas at Plas Newydd


Whistler was paid £5 a day for the eighteen months it took him to complete the Tate mural.  The subject of the mural was devised with the novelist Edith Olivier (1872–1948), a friend of his.  It was at Edith Oliver's house that Whistler first met lady Caroline Paget.  The story of the mural relates an expedition by seven people who leave the Duchy of Epicurania in search of exotic meat, to relieve the diet of their own people who subsist solely on dry biscuits. 


The Tate Gallery in January 1928.  Sandbags attempt to keep the flood waters at bay


The mural survived the Thames flood on January 7th 1928, when the Thames, swollen by melted snow, burst its banks at Hammersmith.  Despite being under two feet of water, Whistler's mural was robust enough to be largely undamaged.



Self-portrait of Rex Whistler (1940) in his Welsh Guards uniform,  This picture is now in the National Army Museum in Chelsea, just a couple of miles from the Tate

 

Whistler joined the Welsh Guards at the outbreak of World War 2.  Commanding a Cromwell tank he became the Guards Armoured Division's first casualty in Operation Overlord when his tank's track became entangled with wire.  As the crew tried to free the track they came under heavy machine gun fire. 
 
 
 
 
Whistler sprinted 60 yards to another tank to call in supporting fire but was killed by the concussion from a mortar, after completing his task.  There was not a mark on his body but his neck had been broken.  He was buried in Normandy and his brother, the famous glass engraver Laurence, designed a wonderful memorial prism to him which is in Salisbury Cathedral.


The Whistler memorial prism in Salisbury Cathedral


Anyway, on to lunch.  Triple P hasn't eaten in the Tate Gallery restaurant (the appellation "Rex Whistler"is comparatively recent) for some time.  In fact it could be over twenty-five years!  It was really famous, not so much for it's food but for its wine list.  It was, as it still is, unusual in that it maintains its own cellar rather than buying wine in as its needed, like most restaurants.  This meant that it was able to buy fine clarets en primeur and cellar them; meaning that they could sell them in the restaurant at a good profit but keep the prices far below other restaurants who would have to pay market price. 


Rex Whistler Restaurant


Triple P thinks he has been thee times before, back in the eighties.  Firstly with HMS and Agent DVD, secondly with his former work colleague and on-off girlfriend SA and finally with Stinky C, the paratroopers daughter.  Stinky C worked as a graduate trainee at one of Triple P's previous organisations.  She was very posh and had gamine short, brown hair which reminded Triple P of Leslie Caron (who Triple P once saw shopping in Guildford, whilst she was performing in a play at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre).  Several of her fellow trainees complained that she stank and Triple P was nominated to break this news to her.  Deciding that it was best done over dinner we were not prepared for the fact, that evening, that she had changed out of her smelly work clothes and presented herself in a tiny, very low cut little black dress which displayed her quite awesome bust to distracting effect.  Taking her to the Archduke winebar she promptly hammered her way through several bottles of claret and half a bottle of port, displaying, along with her cleavage, a thorough knowledge of Bordeaux wines.  Much impressed, Triple P and C embarked upon a quite inappropriate relationship for someone who was supposed to be mentoring her and her fellow graduates (we have a horrible feeling that it actually started that very night).  Anyway, a Saturday lunch followed where we sampled the Tate's extensive wine list during a very happy afternoon (it tends to be one of those restaurants that you linger in).




Anyway, back to the other day, rather uninterestingly, we both had the same lunch.  The restaurant does a good value set lunch or you can go a la carte.  With the set lunch each possible choice is accompanied by an optional  recommended wine.  Two courses is £16.50 and three is £20.50.  Wine is £3.75 for one glass, £7.25 for two or £10.50 for three.  We started with a potato and watercress soup.  This was excellent and not as heavy as we might have imagined.  It was a substantial bowlfull, however, and given that on the set lunch you can pay for two or three courses  you could easily have had just this with some cheese for a light lunch.  A good excuse to access the wine list!  With the soup the recommended wine was Quinta de la Rosa Branco 2009 from the Douro.  Made  from the same grapes that go into white port (60% viosinho) it balanced the thickness of the soup well and had an unusual English-style, grapefruit finish with the viosinho giving it a floral smell.


To be fair we had already eaten one of the slices of beef before we remebered to photograph it.  Still...


The main course was rare roast beef with devill sauce, fat chips and carrots.  This was, we have to say, not a full-sized course but after the soup that was less critical. If you had opted for a main course and a dessert you might feel a bit short changed, however.  The beef, however, was meltingly good and the sauce was only mildly hot and quite subtle.




To accompany this, we decided against the recommended wine, Château Bernadotte 2007, and went for the rather more splendid Château Prieuré-Lichine 1995, at a very reasonable £52 a bottle (given that we were charged £40 for a bottle of Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc in a wine bar last week).  A this sells over the counter in the UK (if you can get it) for around £40 a bottle we didn't think that this was an unreasonable mark-up. 

Even though the days of Chateau Lafite for £11.00 a bottle are long gone at the Tate (at least now they take credit cards, for a long time it was cash only) there are still some bargains to be had in the fifty page wine list and we need to arrange some further visits.  The selection of Bordeaux is still impressive with an average of four to six châteaux per Bordeaux region (the list is very French heavy).   For example they have six wines from Margaux, from Château Labégorce, a cru bourgeois at £21.50 for a half bottle, up to a Château Margaux itself for £370 for a 1989 vintage.  The key thing about the restaurant's cellaring policy is it means that you get access to older wine than you usually can find in restaurants. The list also contains a very wide selection of wines by the half bottle.

The restaurant decants wine properly which, with one like the Prieuré-Lichine really is necessary.  In fact, it probably could have benefited from another hour in the decanter.  Although a nice deep garnet colour still it is probably at the end of its life and wouldn't be worth keeping much longer.  However, it was still a very nicely balanced claret which was still very fruity and even slightly herbal. 




We finished the wine with a rather paltry, but delicious, serving of mature cheddar cheese.  We ordered a another serving to split between us.


All that's left of the permanent collection on display


All in all it was an excellent lunch in a very pleasant restaurant and, in fact, the only slight negative about the afternoon was the gallery itself.  This used, as we said earlier, to be our favourite gallery in London but now, other than the Turner wing, most of the permanent collection has been removed to be replaced by trendy one off exhibitions of inferior art or schools' areas, leaving the glories of the Tate largely confined to one room.  Save us from trendy curators!
.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Martini of the Week 8: Woobar, W Hotel Taipei


Triple P's companion had already drunk most of it before we took our picture!


The W in Taipei is one of those self-consciously "cool" hotels run by some of the major companies (in this case Starwood) in an effort to be seen as hip and trendy.  This means that things like the labels in the lift need some deciphering.  For example, during my short stay, we decided that "wet" written by a floor button meant the bar.  Indeed it was the right floor but it actually meant the pool.  You get the idea.  Horrendous.




When Triple P was there it had only be open a few weeks and, like most newly opened hotels some things weren't right.  The main problem Triple P had was trying to get anyone in the bar to understand what a Vodka Martini was.  The waitress didn't even understand the word "Martini" on its own.  She had to go and get a colleague to help.  Not really good enough for a five star hotel that is touting itself as the best in the city.


The view from the bar

 
The bar itself overlooked the pool and was rather too high ceilinged to be intimate.  It also blended in to a shop and a lobby so it was a bit like sitting in a corridor and the nasty plastic tables made it feel like a sixties company canteen.  Cosy it wasn't.



 
When Triple P's Martini came it was in a chilled (but not cold) glass with no less than four olives.  Given it was a rather small glass to start with putting in four olives definitely made a small drink appear much bigger than it actually was.  It was made with Stolichnaya but tasted rather weak to Triple P.  Not brilliant so we can only give it 5/10


Indonesian Police women



Agent Triple P has only been to Indonesia once, and then only for two nights, but does remember that the girls were very attractive there.  We were intrigued by these photographs of Indonesian Police women, as we like a lady in uniform.  They make you want to confess just so you can be arrested and searched!


Sunday, April 17, 2011

This Week's Films: 2

As suggested by the lovely CJ, we have decided to note down which films we have watched every week as we desperately try to reduce our unwatched pile of DVDs.  Sadly, this week we have bought another seven films and one TV series (Farscape season 1) so we are not really progressing, as we only watched two films!


White Mischief (1987)



The story

Elderly millionaire (Joss Ackland) takes his new young wife (Greta Scacchi) to Kenya in the early nineteen forties.  She has an affair with a young aristocrat (Charles Dance) but then her husband is found shot dead.  Did the aristocrat do it? 

Seen it before...?

We first saw this when it came out with our girlfriend at the time SA.

Any good?

Beautifully photographed on location in Africa by Roger Deakins the film is almost more about atmosphere than anything else.  We always thought Joss Ackland slightly sleepwalked through this but otherwise there is a great cast of British character actors.  Triple P enjoyed seeing it again.  Surprisingly not available on DVD in either the US or Britain at present so Triple P had to get his from Germany.

Notable for...

Being based on a true story where the truth of what really happened may never be known.  Also one of Trevor Howard's last films and a rare big screen outing for Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan in BBC SF series Blake's Seven where she played one of TV's great villainesses). 


Greta in the famous and completely gratuitous spying through a hole in the bathroom wall scene


Any good girlies?

Good grief!  It stars Greta Scacchi, an actress always prepared to take her clothes off at any opportunity. Greta Scacchi naked in the bath. Greta Scacchi naked in the sea.  Greta Scacchi naked in bed.  Greta Scacchi in nineteen forties fashion.  Never has she looked so edible as in this film which she totally dominates with her smouldering, mesmerising sensuality.  We saw her on stage in Australia once and she was just as mesmerising there.  One of Triple P's top five (maybe top 3) favourite actresses.


Gentlemen's Relish (2001)




The story

Artist Kingdom Swann (Billy Connolly) finds his neo-classical pictures are out of fashion at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Given a camera by his fathfull housekeeper (Sarah Lancashire) he starts to take society portraits instead before being approached by two young ladies to photograph themselves nude for their lady friends.  His wily assistant (Primeval's Douglas Henshall)  starts selling Swann's classically inspired images of naked women to a publisher of "gentlemen's relish" naughty postcards. 

Seen it before...?

We first saw this when it was shown on the BBC on New Year's Day 2001 but haven't seen it since.

Any good...?

Set mainly in 1910, a story about a Lord Leighton type painter who gets involved in photographing nudes is a story just made for Triple P!  A script that references Leighton's favourite model, Dorothy Dene, has obviously been written by someone (David Nobbs, creator of the Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin) who knows what he is talking about. Based on a book by Miles Gibson it is a gently amusing period piece with an excellent cast firing on all cylinders.  Highly recommended.  Available in the US on region 1 disc but not in the UK.  However the region 1 disc does play on a UK Playstation 3 so must, in fact, be multi  region coded.

Notable for...

Another good early acting role for stand-up comedian Billy Connolly.  Douglas Henshall's amusing imitation of early Michael Caine.



Any good girlies?

Quite a lot of ladies tastefully remove their clothes for the photographer's set pieces.  It's nice to see that at least some of them have authentic looking figures for the period rather than all being the modern skinny type.  Of the lead actresses Triple P was taken with Katie Blake as the photographer's secretary (who briefly flaunts some period accurate underarm hair) and Emily Hillier as a gamine fallen woman come model.
More films next week...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fifty years since the first human in space...


Yuri Gagarin on board Vostok 1 April 12th 1961


Agent Triple P was very much a child of the Space Race: the first piece of music we remember was Telstar by the Tornados from 1962 (incidentally the first single by a UK group to make it to number one in America) which celebrated the first AT&T communications satellite of the same name. Even though we were too young to remember it we can’t let this week pass by without noting the achievement of Yuri Gagarin in becoming the first person in space on April 12th 1961.


Gagarin during flight training in 1955


Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was born on 9th March 1934 in Klushino, west of Moscow. The village was occupied by the Germans during World War 2 and one of his brothers and his sister were taken to Germany and forced to work as slave labourers by the SS, although they both returned home after the war. In 1950 after working as an apprentice at the Lyubertsy Steel Plant in Moscow he was transferred to a technical college in the Volga river port city of Saratov. He joined the local air cadet force and learned to fly, being recommended for the Military Pilot’s School at Orenburg in 1955. He made his first jet flight in 1957 in a MiG-15. Posted to the grim Luostari airbase in Murmansk, nearly 200 miles inside the Arctic circle, when mysterious recruiting teams arrived from Moscow looking for volunteers to fly a new secret craft he and his new wife Valya, who had just given birth to a baby daughter, thought that anything had to be better than Luostari.


The Vostok 1 spacecraft just before the historic flight

 
He found that he had joined the new cosmonaut squad and underwent intensive training. His diminutive size (he was 5’2”) helped in his selection, given the tiny capsule being developed. Eventually the choice as to who would become the first human in space came down to two out of the twenty trainees: Gagarin and Gherman Titov. The authorities thought that Titov was too middle class and as Gagarin’s parents both worked on a collective farm (although they were far from the peasants that the Soviets made out) he got the nod.


Vostok 1 on the launch pad in Kazakhstan

 
On April 12th at 7.10 am Gagarin climbed aboard the tiny spherical Vostok 1 capsule on top of Sergei Korolev’s R-7 launcher. Gagarin’s bravery cannot be in doubt as the launcher had failed on 25 of its 60 preceding flights; not exactly a sure thing!  He literally was going where no man had gone before!


Let's go!

 
After an hour’s delay to re-fit the capsule’s hatch everything proceeded normally, with the cool as a cucumber Gagarin’s heart rate being measured at just 64 beats per minute. Koralev, on the other hand, had to take heart medication as he was having chest pains.


Vostok 1 launch


At 9.07 the engines were ignited and, with a cry of “poyekhali!” (let’s go!) from Gagarin, Vostok 1 was blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome’s Site No 1. Ten minutes later Gagarin became the first human in orbit. In the next hour Gagarin circled the earth moving from East to West and crossing Siberia, the Pacific, the tip of South America, then over Central Africa, Egypt and Turkey.



 
The landing procedure did not go so well and after the rockets fired to begin the descent, over Angola, the service module which was supposed to separate from the capsule remained attached by wires. This affected the stability of the craft and it was only once Vostok 1 was over Egypt that the wires connecting the two parts of the spacecraft burnt through so that the service module was jettisoned and the correct landing pattern was achieved.

 
The capsule after landing

 
As was planned. Gagarin was ejected from the capsule at 7km above the ground and made a separate parachute drop from the capsule. They both came down to earth in the Saratov region, ironically not very far from where he had made his first flight. Gagarin was met by a terrified farmer and his daughter and had to explain that although he had indeed, as they feared, come from outer space he was a Russian like them!


The track made by the Vostok capsule on landing

The authorities soon flew in by helicopter to collect him where he was greeted with a deserved hero's welcome.

Gagarin, still in his flight suit, is greeted by Soviet soldiers


He spent the next few years touring the world as the Soviets felt that he was too valuable a propaganda instrument to risk on another space flight, much to Gagarin’s disgust.  Although he was a popular ambassador, memorably once refusing to sit under an umbrella in an open-top drive in Manchester despite torrential rain so that people could see him, the years on the road took their toll on him. 


Gagarin meets Gina Lollobrigida at the Moscow Film Festival


He turned to alcohol and women to get himself through the long tours away from home and his frustration at being unable to fly again.


Gagarin his wife and Khrushchev read the newspaper accouts of his flight


It was only when Nikita Khrushchev was replaced as premier by Leonid Brezhnev in 1964 that Gagarin was allowed to go back to work; helping out on the new Soyuz spacecraft. Gagarin found a huge number of technical problems in the craft but the KGB wouldn’t let these be reported in case it interfered with the planned launch of Soyuz 1 which was designed to occur on May Day 1967, to celebrate 50 years since the Russian Revolution. Soyuz 1 took off as scheduled but the parachute system on the capsule failed on re-entry resulting in the death of Gagarin’s friend, cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov.


MiG-15UTI

 
Gagarin was determined to get back into space although Komarov’s death meant that the authorities had essentially banned any possibility of this. In order to improve his flight reflexes, however, Gagarin started training flights again. It was on one of these, in badly deteriorating weather, on 27th March 1968 that he and his instructor Vladimir Seryogin flying a two seater MiG-15UTI had a fatal crash. The exact causes are still unknown but an official enquiry, whose documents were only declassified in 2003, believed Gagarin had made a rapid movement in the plane; possibly to avoid a weather balloon.


Celebrations at the monument marking the landing point of Vostok 1 on April 12th 2011


Yuri Gagarin was only thirty-four years old when he died but his achievement will live on forever.


Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968) First Human in Space: April 12th 1968