Estonian Artist Spotlight – Ewert and the Two Dragons

January 19, 2012

I try not to blog about music, but here goes. The reason why I find it hard to write about music is because I can never really put my finger on why I like an artist/band/singer/whatever. My favourite kind of songs are the ones that haunt me for a long time – in a good way. Stuff like NYC by Interpol, Thistle & Weeds by Mumford & Sons, Easy/Lucky/Free by Bright Eyes, We Are the People by Empire of the Sun, October Swimmer by JJ72 and Atmosphere by Joy Division.

If you asked me why I liked any of the above songs, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. That’s pretty much why I don’t write about music – it’s so bloody hard. I’ve decided to change that because I want to tell everyone about Ewert and the Two Dragons. They are a rather good band hailing from my adopted country of Estonia.

Rather than try and tell you why I think they’re great, I should let you listen to one of their songs first, so here goes:

I think the first thing that struck me about them is that they have a similar sort of style to Mumford & Sons. Sorry, I really like Mumford & Sons, but I do feel that I’ve had the benefit of not living in England and having to bear the publicity machine whirring through everyone’s souls.

My favourite track by them is probably Panda. The chorus reminds me a lot of Letting the Cables Sleep by Bush, another favourite of mine. I think they also sound a bit like Doves but I can’t really stand Doves… they seem quite boring to me. I also forgot to mention that one of their tracks (Falling) reminds me a LOT of Graham Coxon (of Blur, and I mean his solo stuff).

So anyway, here’s Panda, too, if you fancy it:

Their whole album is available on Spotify and iTunes so if you fancy it, why not contribute a little to Estonia’s tiny music industry? It’s quite a varied album, give it a chance, you might find something you love.


Movie Links #4 – Last Summer (1969)

January 18, 2012

I’ve recently taken up the challenge (again) to watch a new movie every now and then (free time allowing) that I’ve not seen before and then blog about it. One extra part of the challenge is to link each film to the next via a shared cast or crew member.

Continuing my movie links adventure I watched another film starring John-Boy from the Waltons. I picked Last Summer which stars Richard Thomas (my link), Bruce Davison (you may know him as the senator guy in X-Men) and Barbara Hershey as three friends who become very close and form a “sort of threesome” as IMDB puts it. Eventually their friendship is put to the test when an outsider called Rhoda arrives, played brilliantly by the practically unknown Catherine Burns.

The film is no longer available. It was released on video but hasn’t as yet seen a DVD release. It’s quite a peculiar film. The quality of the version I watched wasn’t altogether great and sometimes it’s hard to listen to some of the conversations. Also a lot of the scenes on the beach look like they’ve been re-dubbed in post processing because there is a massive lack of lip syncing at some points.

The subject matter of the film is also rather awkward. These are three teens that obviously aren’t sexually active but they know enough about it to want to be. This was in a pre-internet age where sex was far more of a taboo and the film seems to feel quite safe and innocent for the most part but can still shock you occasionally.

Last Summer is rated X, which leaves you wondering throughout most of the film why it has got itself such a restrictive certificate. There is barely any swearing, violence or nudity throughout the whole film. This lack of any examples of why it deserves an X rating makes the ending far more shocking.

Please look away now if you don’t want spoilers. In the final act of the film, the trio end up raping Rhoda. I think what makes this most shocking is that I don’t really feel it was signposted very much in the film. Richard Thomas’ character Peter had started to grow great affection for Rhoda by the end of the film. During their time alone together she confesses to loving him and also mentions how much nicer he is when he’s alone with her. Also throughout the film Peter’s friend Dan (Bruce Davison) keeps mentioning how they should try and “lay” Sandy (Barbara Hershey). That is pretty much all the signposting there is. Finally when Peter and Dan get Sandy alone in the woods near the beach Dan (the more brash of the pair) is clearly ready to try to “lay” Sandy until they are interrupted by Rhoda. Needless to say, I expected better from John-Boy. In case you are worried about his reputation, it was actually Dan that raped Rhoda, but John-Boy did help hold her down.

Ok, it’s probably safe to look again. On reflection, I think the lack of signposting actually helps push the awkwardness and unpredictability of being a teen and the dangers of peer pressure.

Catherine Burns was excellent in this, and she was in fact nominated for an Oscar for her role. Her monologue about the circumstances surrounding her mother’s death is brilliantly acted. I would really recommend you watch the clip, it doesn’t really spoil the film if you are waiting to see it. Sadly she hasn’t really been in much since then. Throughout the 70s and early 80s she was in a handful of TV shows (single episodes) and had small roles in other films. I think that’s a massive shame as she was so good in this. I wanted to watch a film from her as my next choice but unfortunately I have been unable to track any down.

Verdict: 4/5

It’s a very good film. The actors do an excellent job of keeping you watching, despite nothing much happening for the majority of the film. If anything I think it ends a little too abruptly. I would rather see what happens after the final event. I would recommend watching it just for a unique view into what is for me a different time. It is far more than your run of the mill coming of age summer holiday nostalgia movie.


Movie Links #3 – Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

January 14, 2012

I’ve recently taken up the challenge (again) to watch a new movie every now and then (free time allowing) that I’ve not seen before and then blog about it. One extra part of the challenge is to link each film to the next via a shared cast or crew member.

You may remember, the last film I watched in my “movie links” challenge was Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I really liked George Peppard in this, he gave a really good performance and it’s always good to see him in a more “normal” role than as the exuberant Hannibal, leader of the A Team.

Having enjoyed seeing Hannibal in Breakfast at Tiffany’s I decided to see another of his films because I had only ever seen (and loved) him before in the A Team. It only took me a quick glance at IMDB to decide on my next film – Battle Beyond the Stars.

Battle Beyond the Stars, for anyone who hasn’t seen it, is probably best (and lazily) described as Star Wars Light. Which is fairly accurate. There are a lot of stars and it is indeed light. Not sure about wars though. I guess another equally lazy way to describe this film is as The Magnificent Seven in space.

This is the story of a young man called Shad, played by the Waltons’ superstar Richard Thomas (the original, and ONLY John-Boy) embarking on a journey into space to track down a team of mercenaries to help defend his planet against a big bully with a starship. It wasn’t completely clear to me what Sador (the big bully) wanted to do with the planet. He has what is called a “stellar manipulator” (no, not the Hand of Omega) which can turn planets into suns or somesuch. He threatens to use it on the people of planet Akir (a nice nod to Seven Samurai director Akira Kurosawa) if they don’t submit to him when he comes back in three days.

Not a lot of this really makes sense. If he’s going to take the planet then just do it now. Don’t say “I’ll be back in 3 days, which should give you enough time to prepare a defence.” So already I don’t feel too invested in the film because John-Boy’s people are quite boring, and Sador has no real interesting motivation.

It’s really hard to not draw comparisons with Star Wars. Within the first 10 minutes it all feels very New Hopey with Shad (John-Boy)/Luke Skywalker volunteering to leave the planet to go seek some wise old android maker called Doctor Hephaestu. The dialogue ”Who will find them?” Luke/Shad: “I will” Some fuddy-duddy: “You? You’re a boy!” did seem very Luke Skywalker farm boy to me. One of the funniest scenes of the film involved Doctor Hephaestu issuing orders to one of his androids, who keeps turning to leave, only for Hephaestu to continue with his boring tales. After bizarrely trying to get Shad to stay on Hephaestu’s space station to mate with his daughter, Shad escapes, with the guys daughter following closely behind.

So Shad (quite often sounded like people were calling him Shag) rather randomly manages to round up a group of mercenaries. I wasn’t really keeping track but I assume there are 7 of them. We had a space cowboy (no, not Milo Clancey), a weird group of aliens sharing one mind called the Nestor, an assassin who can’t show his face anywhere due to having had such a successful career,  a woman from the race of Wardrobe Malfunctions and a reptile humanoid slave trader. So that’s the Magnificent Six. Seven if you include John-Boy himself, I guess.

Obviously you all want me to talk about George Peppard. He’s the space cowboy. Giving pretty much what you would expect from his performance. He is a space cowboy from Earth, no less. As far as I could tell he was the only person from Earth in the film and grounds the film in our universe/galaxy/whatever. Unlike Star Wars, which was in a galaxy far, far away, this one can’t be too far from Earth. It’s hard not to enjoy Peppard’s character here. He even has a whiskey dispenser on his belt! It makes Batman’s utility belt pretty obsolete in my books.

The other characters were all quite fun and charming in their own ways. I really liked the idea of the Nestor though it’s probably quite a cliché to have a hive-mind like race. It just seemed nice to have some people joining the fight simply because they are bored of their current existence. The costume department did a very good job of keeping Sybil Danning (as Saint-Exmin) in her outfit, I think that’s sci-fi at its best. Robert Vaughn was also cool, although to see him seeking to work for the Akira’s because all they could offer him was a meal and somewhere to sleep kind of helps underline how absurd Sador’s desire to take over their planet is.

The most disappointing part of the film were the space battles. It actually seems unfair to compare Battle Beyond the Stars to Star Wars considering that Star Wars had an $11,000,000 budget and this only $2,000,000 (and apparently most of that went on employing the services of Robert Vaughn and George Peppard). This feels far closer to the likes of Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers than to Star Wars. Sadly the space battles were very dull. In Star Wars you had all the pilots constantly communicating with each other which helped portray the feeling of the immediacy of the danger. In Battle Beyond the Stars however there were whole sequences that were practically silent and it became very hard to work out what was going on. It’s a shame really, considering that my main criticism of is something that could easily be solved without an increase in the effects budget. Also I could never really tell which ship belonged to whom. Except of course John-Boy’s ship “Nell” – the ship with boobs that spoke like a sassy black lady.

Verdict: 2.5/5

I think I enjoyed the film. Maybe my time reflecting on it for this review has made me like it a little more. It was quite frankly poor, though. Fun, but poor too. The Doctor Who fan boy in me makes me wonder if there is an extended universe, which is slightly worrying. The best thing about Battle Beyond the Stars was the definitely the cast – very enjoyable from that respect. Seeing John-Boy in space was a pleasure.

For my next film I’d like to go for another Richard Thomas film, because I loved him in The Waltons when I was a kid, it would be nice to see him in something else. I’m also considering going for Robert Vaughn in The Magnificent Seven but I’m really not a fan of westerns.


Movie Links #X – The Catch Up

January 10, 2012

A lot has happened since my last blog post in September 2010. Not long after my moan about extortionate bank charges I managed to get myself a job. Ok, so maybe not a lot happened at all, but at the time it seemed enough to stop me from blogging.

Anyone who has stumbled across my blog more than once might recall my film watching mission. I set myself the task of watching films linked by cast or crew and then recording my views here for any unlucky person who might happen to be googling “valeria galino” at the time. Her name is still the number one traffic source to my blog.

To get you all up to speed, the first film I watched was Tropic Thunder, which featured a very entertaining performance from Tom Cruise. I tend to like him most in films where he’s not playing himself – well, how he perceives himself at least.

I picked Tom Cruise as the link to my next film which was Rain Man. It featured a solid performance from a young Tom Cruise as Dustin Hoffman’s brother. I won’t go into too much detail (as always!) but I was very pleasantly surprised by Cruise’s performance – especially when he is so overshadowed by Hoffman’s autistic Raymond.

After pondering for quite some time whether I should pick a film featuring the delightful Valeria Golino I opted against it and picked to see one starring Dustin Hoffman instead. The next film was The Graduate, which I haven’t blogged about.

The Graduate was excellent. While it’s themes may seem quite out of date these days – university graduate gets seduced by older woman – the film doesn’t feel dated to me at all. My favourite part of the film is the soundtrack. Simon and Garfunkel did a wonderful job here and the soundtrack ends up far more memorable to me than the film itself.

For my next film, I chose to see something featuring Katharine Ross, who played Dustin Hoffman’s girlfriend who I will forever remember as Mrs Bouvier. According to Wikipedia, Katharine Ross is best known for this role, and secondly for her role as Etta Place in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

I must confess, I don’t particularly like westerns. I’m not sure what it is about them. I love Sergio Leone’s westerns – the dollars trilogy and Once Upon a Time in the West. I had been “reliably” informed that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid isn’t really that much of a western, that it’s far more about the characters than the settings. That may be, but I really didn’t take to it. Newman and Redford were excellent. The film is definitely worth seeing for those two chaps. That’s pretty much all I can say, because I will probably alienate my two readers otherwise.

To my shame, before watching Butch Cassidy, I had never seen Paul Newman in any film. So it became quite apparent to me that I should see what I’ve been missing from this great actor. Next up then, Cool Hand Luke.

Cool Hand Luke. Now that’s more like it! Paul Newman is so good in this, as are the rest of the cast. It’s incredibly hard to describe this film – or Newman himself – without using the word cool. He oozes cool from every pore. Equally excellent in this film is George Kennedy as Dragline the top dog in the prison camp. He plays such a powerful and obsessive character, I find it hard to see him as the guy from the Naked Gun films. He is the actor that I picked to lead me into my next film – Charade.

Charade is a rather old fashioned farce/thriller starring Carey Grant opposite the lovely Audrey Hepburn. This film does a wonderful job of not taking itself too seriously and is a lot of fun. It is quite dated but I’d say that’s half of the charm. George Kennedy isn’t really in it very much, but the scenes he is in are quite well stolen. Carey Grant is one of my favourite actors, thanks mainly to North By Northwest. He’s as charming as ever in this film, as is Hepburn. I had never seen Hepburn before, despite her being such a well loved film star. For that reason I picked the “iconic” Breakfast at Tiffany’s as my next film.

I think I greatly missed the point with Breakfast at Tiffany’s because I really didn’t like it. Yes, Audrey Hepburn is incredibly charming as Holly Golightly but the film just didn’t work for me. It seems very dated, especially so when you consider Mickey Rooney as Mr Yunioshi. Maybe this film suffers from the “Seinfeld is unfunny” trope, I just didn’t get it.

So… if you’ve made it this far, you’ll be desperate to know what the next film is. Well, frankly I don’t know. I’m thinking of going with something from George Peppard because he was the highlight for me in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.


Paying In a Cheque, which country is stuck in the past?

September 22, 2010

I recently set up a bank account with SEB here in Estonia. The lady behind the counter was incredibly helpful and I really like our local bank here in the Elva supermarket.

The reason why I set up the account is because I recently received a cheque from HM Revenue and Customs in England for a return of overpaid taxes, for quite a considerable sum of just over £400. I figured this would be the easiest way to get that money, rather than sending the cheque back to England for my parents to pay it into my English account on my behalf.

Like I said, the lady at the bank was very helpful, and despite her minor embarrassment of spelling my middle name “Johan” instead of “John” the setting up of the account went very smoothly and I even got a free USB ID Card reader to sweeten the deal.

It all turned quite sour though when we mentioned that I also have a cheque to pay in. I rather naively assumed it would be a simple process. Yes they would probably have to send the cheque back to England to get the funds, but I’m happy to wait. It turns out, however, that they wanted a processing fee of 500 Estonian kroons if I were to pay it into my bank account.

I couldn’t quite believe it. In England it’s free to pay in a cheque, always has been. Not only that but French banks have been fined recently for fixing prices for paying in cheques, and that was 4.3 Euro cents a cheque, nothing compared to the Estonian equivalent fee of 3200 Euro cents.

So my cheque was “only” worth £400, so should I pay £27 of that to get it put into my account? Apparently the fee applies to all cheques, not just ones from Johannes Foreigner.

So my question to you, my illustrious reader(s), should the UK start adopting a stricter rule policy for dealing with cheques to get rid of them from society, like Estonia is doing? Or is it wrong for Estonia to charge so much to process a cheque?

I can understand why Estonian banks are so reluctant to take cheques, because Estonia have never been a cheque using society, but come on… £27? It used to be 100 kroons until recently, but even £5.50 sounds like a lot to me.


I Really Like Raadio Elmar

March 27, 2010

I’m just writing a quick post to declare my love of Raadio Elmar. As an Englishman living in Estonia, who barely knows how to speak the language, I find it really useful and enjoyable to listen to Raadio Elmar. As far as radio stations in Estonia go, Raadio Elmar is minu lemmik (my favourite).

Raadio Elmar’s main niche is that all of the songs are in Estonian unless they have a valid excuse to play something non-Estonian (usually when established Estonian artists release a song in English.) The main draw for me though is their “Soovide aeg” – roughly translated as “Request Time” – which is their phone in show. I really like listening to the short telephone conversations because I know most of the basic words, and it is really good for me to listen to how real Estonian’s talk, rather than textbook Estonian.

I used to listen to Vikeraadio but despite being very clearly spoken most of the time, the topics are usually far too advanced for me to understand. I much prefer a quick “Hello, this is Raadio Elmar” followed by a few pleasantries and then a song request. Far more up my alley!

They have a good mix of music on there, and I’m starting to really like a few Estonian songs, most notably (a guitly pleasure of mine, as I don’t like much of his other output) is Ott Lepland’s “Süte peal sulanud jää (“Ice that melted on embers”.) It’s quite alarming how many songs there are that have the same tune as English/American songs with the lyrics changed to Estonian, but that’s a blog post for another day!

I just wanted to publicly declare my love for Raadio Elmar, maybe one day I’ll pluck up the courage to phone in myself. You can take a listen for yourself on their website – Raadio Elmar.


The Estonian Springwatch

March 26, 2010

I recently found a rather lovely website with live feeds of Estonian wildlife. The site is run by Looduskalender who are non-profit organisation raising awareness of the beautiful and varied wildlife of Estonia.

Looduskalender is translated as Nature Calendar, and by only viewing the site for a few minutes every couple of days I have already spotted a deer and wild boar. The link to their website is and I really would urge you to go and take a look.

The live video feeds consists of two “Forest camera” streams which if you’re lucky you can see wild boar and deer on, a white-tailed eagle nest camera and a coastal grey seal camera.

The menu on the left lists the various cameras they have on offer, and clicking on the “direct stream” link will open up into your media player of choice, I have mine opening in VLC. If you don’t see anything on the Forest camera 1 or 2, don’t worry, just check back in an hour or two and there might be some activity.

They also have a gallery in case you’ve missed any of the interesting wildlife. The site is lovely for highlighting how beautiful the nature in Estonia is. It has almost inspired me to put my own webcam in my garden!


Movie Links #2 – Rain Man (1988)

January 16, 2010

I’ve recently taken up the challenge to watch a new movie every now and then (free time allowing) that I’ve not seen before and then blog about it. One extra part of the challenge is to link each film to the next via a shared cast or crew member.

Previous Movie: Tropic Thunder
Movie Link: Tom Cruise

Rain Man Soundtrack Cropped

Following on from a wonderfully fun performance from Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder, I’ve opted for Tom Cruise again, this time in a far more serious role as Charlie Babbitt in Rain Man.

As for every film on this list, I had never seen Rain Man before but always felt it was one of those films that I really should have already seen. I’m not surprised to have really enjoyed Rain Man, although the film presents some challenging themes, it never really over steps into uncomfortable territory.

Tom Cruise plays the exact character you’d expect him to play here, I certainly get the impression that a lot of himself went into this role.

The star of this film is of course Dustin Hoffman as Charlie Babbitt’s autistic savant brother Raymond, who Charlie didn’t know about. It’s interesting to note that while watching this film it’s hard to forget about Robert Downey Jr’s monologue about going “full retard” from my last film, Tropic Thunder.

Dustin Hoffman is brilliant in the role of Raymond Babbitt and there was never a point where I felt I was seeing the real Dustin Hoffman return to the surface.

I get the feeling that Hoffman and Cruise had an excellent rapport together, as they had some excellent scenes together. Especially of note is the scene where Charlie finally realises who Rain Man is.

Valeria Golino is delightful as Charlie’s girlfriend Susanna. She is the moral grounding for Charlie Babbitt and it’s no surprise when she returns near to the end of the film to help reign in Charlie. I have only ever seen Valeria Golino before in the Hot Shots movies, I really enjoyed her performance here. It’s a real shame that I haven’t seen her in more movies, but after a quick glance at her CV on IMDB it looks like there’s plenty for me out there to watch.

Verdict: 4/5

Rain Man is an excellent movie, that I would recommend everyone watches. It certainly has a very “Hollywood” feel about it though, as despite some low points from Charlie, the movie isn’t anywhere near as emotionally challenging as it could have been.

Check back soon to see which star or crew member will be in the next film I watch.


Movies Links #1: Tropic Thunder (2008)

January 13, 2010

I’ve recently taken up the challenge to watch a new movie every now and then (free time allowing) that I’ve not seen before and then blog about it. One extra part of the challenge is to link each film to the next via a shared cast or crew member.

Tropic Thunder Movie Poster

To kick things off, I watched Tropic Thunder. I’d not seen it before, and while reading Total Film’s review of the decade, realised that there was a lot of comedy in it that I’ve been missing out on.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Ben Stiller, nor am I a fan of the sort of comedies he is in, at least that is what I thought.

Tropic Thunder opens well with a massive set piece involving a few familiar faces in a film that doesn’t look too dissimilar to Platoon, only it’s funnier. I get the impression that Ben Stiller (the star and director) could quite easily direct a big Michael Bay style blockbuster, fortunately he chose to make an hilarious movie for us to enjoy. It is soon revealed that all this is a film, and we’re watching them film it, or at least, attempt to film it.

Without a doubt, the stand out star of the film is Robert Downey Jr starring as Kirk Lazarus, the method actor who had controversial surgery to “black up” for a leading role in the film. He turns what could easily be an awful (and racist) sounding concept into one of the funniest characters in recent cinema.

Another surprise comedy turn came from Tom Cruise. He plays the over the top movie producer Len Grossman brilliantly. I heard Cruise had a cameo in Tropic Thunder, but I’d hardly consider this a cameo as he was in it a lot. Certainly the second most memorable character in the film. Recently I have started to really rate Tom Cruise, it’s a massive shame that he is a Scientologist as I consider it to be an abhorrent “religion” but I’m sure I should save my feelings on that for another blog entry.

Tom Cruise has picked some excellent roles in the past decade, most notably as Vincent in Collateral and as David Aames in Vanilla Sky. In both of those films he is truly excellent, far more interesting than some of his more blockbuster driven roles.

It is very obvious that Tom Cruise had a great time playing the movie producer Len Grossman – as evidenced in any scene he’s in. I bet he has had quite a few movie producers like that in the past, so really relished this performance.

Verdict: 4/5

All in all, Tropic Thunder is a great film, a very entertaining comedy. Ben Stiller has done a fine job with his acting/writing/directing roles, bringing together an excellent cast.

Check back soon to see which star or crew member will be in the next film I watch.