Adventures In Movie Magic - The Karel Zeman Museum

   As Karel Zeman dropped a splash of red paint into a fish tank full of water, children across Czechoslovakia dreamed to fly.

   His camera whirred and clicked, capturing, at a rate of twenty four pictures per second, abstract forms which came into being as the two liquids weaved, swayed and palpitated into one another. A weightless tango, caught forever on celluloid was delicately spliced by Zeman into his latest film and projected onto screens in Prague and across the Republic - as the dance of colour and shapes became replicated as electric shadown in theatres throughout the land, young imaginations looked on in awe as their hearts filled with fantastic substance.

   The communist government may have decreed that no man, woman or child may escape the nation's rigid borders but, for those who ought solace, poetry and adventure at the movies, Zeman was able to provide fleeting, if immutable, access to new universes within and without. His Jules Verne-inspired adventures showed us new worlds on the big screen and, of equal importance, introduced us to new ones in our souls and minds.

   Located in the heart of a post-communist Prague now stands an institution - the Karel Zeman Museum - dedicated to the film director who provided flights of fancy and whimsical escapism for many and, crucially too, inspiration for movie icons across the world. From Tim Burton to Terry Gilliam, Wes Anderson to Michel Gondry, Zeman's hand crafted and ingenious special effects provided inspirations for generations and generations of cinephiles and auteurs.

   I had, it should be noted, previously worked in a museum which was bequeathed the entirety of the Ray Harryhausen collection on long-term loan. A lack of imagination and a political clash over how to best display these iconic works of art, however, meant that I have first hand experience at just how wrong an exhibition relating to such an extraordinary and singular pioneer could go. Thankfully, then, my heart filled with glee upon entry to the Zeman Museum - this was a place crafted out of love and awe rather than perfunctory bureaucracy.

   Over the course of my trip, I was taking on a journey spanning Zeman's career - storyboards and costumes from his groundbreaking movies were presented alongside clips and demonstrations.

   The aforementioned drops of paint, I learnt, were super imposed over live action adventure footage to represent billowing clouds of red smoke enveloping our heroes. I saw, too, how stop motion model work was utilised in a similar manner to Harryhausen's own experiments in the field - display boards and videos showed, in depth, how Zeman brought a gargantuan mammoth to life on the big screen through pain-staking model work and double-exposed choreography. I often felt like a magician was revealing his greatest tricks to me but in a way which added to, rather than subtracted from, the remarkable achievements on screen.

   Wonderfully, too, this was a museum which encouraged us to film and video as we explored - we're invited to board a flying, cycle-like contraption and post in replicated film sets. Like his awe-inspiring adventures, Zeman is still inspiring those who engaged with his work to tap into our creativity and become photographers and film-makers or, ultimately, whatever vocation may take our fancy. An astronomer or a deep-sea diver perhaps? Whilst there I felt like each of these, so immersed was I into the wonder here.

   Decades after his death, Zeman is still giving us the gift of dreams, of wonder and of soaring imagination. This may well now be my personal favourite museum I have ever attended and, as I lay half-awake at night thinking about cycling to the stars, I don't think I'll ever truly leave regardless of the borders in my life which keep me grounded.

The Personal Barber Subscription Box

Be sure to keep reading to the end of the post for a special, limited time discount code!

   The trend may be dying off now but I think I've only just cottoned on as to the real reason why many of us men-folk took to growing lumberjack beards in recent times.

   It wasn't because of a sudden upsurge in the UK's logging industry nor was it, for the most part, a sign of empathetic kinship with our Ethiopian nose-flute loving hipster brethren across the pond. The truth, I wholeheartedly suspect, stems from a much more banal place - shaving can simply be something of an unenjoyable chore. Every minute spent grooming each day, of monotonously dragging a razor across our faces, is a minute not spent playing Football Manager or re-watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

   Yet, it doesn't have to be that way.

   Whilst the temptation may be to simply try and get through a shave as quickly as possible, to use a disposable Bic, the effect is often counter-intuitive. Rather than feel refreshed and clean, a bad or rushed shave can leave our skin red and inflamed. Instead of receiving the confidence boost a decent treatment can gift us, our mood matches the irritation seen clearly on our faces. We should, then, aim to savour the time we spend shaving and consider it a pleasant indulgence - indeed, this is quite easy when approaching our grooming sessions with this state of mind and with the right tools in hand.

   Having previously written of my fondness for professionally administered cut-throat experiences, I noted my fear of attempting such a shave at home by myself. I barely trust myself to successfully pick a Fantasy Football team, let along wield a sharp implement dangerously close my trachea. As such, I was delighted to receive an email from The Personal Barber who noted of their double-edge safety razor which "provides the close and comfortable shave of a cut-throat but with a safety bar to prevent it from being scary."  This sounded too good to be true but I was keen to try.

   The company are a male grooming subscription service "focusing on the traditional razor and brush style of shaving" - the antithesis to my teen years "hack and go" approach which consistently left my face sporting a multitude of tiny cuts. This is a subscription box, then, for the true, old school gent who aims to savor his shaving experience (available at £24.95 per month on 3, 6 and 12 month packages).

   The first box, the one which will be the subject of today's review, contains all the essentials needed for a luxury shave. Alongside the aforementioned double-edge safety razor, an implement which oozes of class, the initial delivery also contains a shaving brush, soap/cream, blades, face wash and moisturiser. As a starter pack, this is pretty substantive, but each subsequent month, The Personal Barber will send out new items to enhance and complement your grooming collection - pre and post shave balms, colognes, alums, oils and related miscellany will each be included.
   So, to return to the box I received - outside of my initial impressions of the items each boasting a rather sophisticated aesthetic, could The Personal Barber really fulfill their goal of making shaving a pleasant, even enjoyable, experience? Does the double-edge safety razor really deliver on its promise of the closeness of a cut throat?

   As any grooming connoisseur should know, a successful routine begins not with the razor itself but with a pre-shave ritual to cleanse the skin, So, whilst I'll return to the question of the razor itself later in the article (spoiler: it's brilliant), it would be remiss of me to not talk through each of the stages in turn to highlight just how spot on The Personal Barber has got their box for every step of the stage.

   To prepare one's skin, the company have provided a canister of Morgan's Invigorating & Refreshing Face Wash.

   The brand's own website lists this 100ml bottle as retailing at £9.50 and, as such, really brings into context the value one gets when subscribing to The Personal Barber. The combined cost of the two Morgan's products (the second of which, a moisturiser, I'll return to at the end of the post) would add up to almost the entire cost of the subscription by themselves.

   Whilst the face wash itself was rather grand, the bottle itself represented the only complaint I am going to make during this post - its a rather trivial one, too, I must confess. Whilst attempting to remove the cap, the nozzle would come out at the same time as if they were connected. This meant that squirting the face-wash out through the nozzle became impossible but, like an adult, I was able to improvise a solution.

   The wash itself offers a deep and thorough vitalising cleanse. I'd also take this time to note that it provides an understated aroma too which aids one's feeling of freshness long after the shave has been completed.

   The Dandy Gent are the folk behind the Shaving Cream in this month's box - a look at the design and branding and it's clear where this traditional-look product fits into the collection. It's the type of item that wouldn't look out of place at an apothecary (which, in no uncertain terms, is meant as a top compliment).

   The 50ml is ultra-concentrate - I'd expect this to last a rather long-time. The scent is complimentary to the face-wash (and, as such, is a credit to the curatory skills on display here), and boasts an always pleasing lemon-esque aroma.

   The brush, used to apply the cream of course, is a soft as one could imagine - perfect for spreading the cream evenly across one's face. The ease of consistent application was notable and this is a suitably handsome addition to the box.

   This month's box features two packs of razor blades - Lord and Polsilver. So far, I've only utilised the former and (as I will attest below), I was suitably impressed by its effects. I can't ever imagine going back to a disposable razor ever again as the efficacy of these blades is remarkable - they're essentials I didn't even know I needed until I tried them.

   For my first shave with the subscription box I used one of these old school Lord razors. Doing so could not be more straightforward - The Personal Barber's double edge safety razor unscrewed with ease, allowing for the insertion of the blade.

   To me, this was the clear highlight of the entire box - the high claims that the razor would allow for a shave akin to that of a cut-throat (but without the fear of death) were entirely accurate. Ergonomically designed with a curved top so as to encourage the user to apply the blade at an angle (rather than to simply hack downwards and run the risk of cuts), I found myself paying more attention to my shave than I have in the past and was rewarding with a quality experience and, essentially, finish. The reason the company the company has chosen their name as The Personal Barber becomes apparent: Outside of professional treatments, I can't remember ever having such smooth skin at the end of a shave.

   I would go as far as to suggest, entirely hyperbole free, that the razor contained within this box is the best I have ever owned (and by some distance too).

   The final item in the package comes in the form of a post-shave moisturiser. As mentioned earlier, this is the second item sourced from Morgan's.

   My face has felt smoother than I've ever previously achieved at home - thanks to the use of the single blade razor. As such, this post-shave moisturiser, with the aim of conditioning and further improving my skin, is a welcome addition. Unlike the Morgan's face-wash, the cap and nozzle issues were non-existent here. What I did find, though, was a soothing balm which (under the first couple of uses) has acted as a fine combatant to the dry skin I often find accrues on my forehead and around my nose.

   The mouisturiser marks the final step of a shaving process which has helped me feel revitalised and re-energised. Rather than feel I've wasted my time when I could be doing something better (i.e. watching classic Yeboah goals on Youtube), I've enjoyed each occasion so far when I've taken the time to indulge in a classic shave. It feels like pampering instead of a chore.

   TL: DR?

   The box represents fantastic quality overall, its a wonderfully curated collection of shaving essentials, and the double edge safety razor is the best I have ever owned. A real joy.

Exclusive Discount Code

   If you've been inspired by this post (and I hope you have), I'm delighted to let you know The Personal Barber have offered readers of this site an exclusive discount code - TOTALITY20

   This gives 20% off your first purchase which is the equivalent of almost £5 off your first box if you sign up to the month to month subscription or a 20% off every box in your subscription if you sign up for a longer plan (3,6 or 12 months) - your total savings could come to an incredible £59.88!

   Check out their website for gift ideas (for yourself and, with Christmas just around the corner, for others), and for details on their latest boxes here:

   The code will expire at midnight on Friday: 21/10/2016.

Selling Isobel - An Interview with Frida Farrell

   Human trafficking is big business – one of the world’s fastest growing industries for those who operate in the black market or, for that matter, anywhere else. The stereotypes suggest that it is only under the cover of darkness, a seedy underworld in the shadows, where women and children are sold into slavery and controlled by organised criminals away from the mainstream. This may be a comforting thought for some – those of us who imagine that such business could only exist in a world far removed from their own; an abstract plane almost.

   The truth, however, is that trafficking is a more common crime than you could imagine – in 2015, for example, the industry dwarfed Burger King’s annual net sales of $1.1bn by a multiple of thirty. People are being bought and sold, traded and bartered for, with a greater frequency than which we consume fast food. Frida Farrell, actress and survivor, speaks of her own experience: “People don't know that it happens in London, right now, right here, all the time, every day.”

   My conversation with Farrell takes place the day after I have seen her latest feature Selling Isobel – a harrowing movie which details her real life abduction and time in captivity with unflinching brutality and visceral intensity. I’m still emotionally bruised almost 24 hours later as our call takes place.

   The first question asked, somewhat open-endedly, is to enquire as to what the actress hopes people will take from the film and the story she shares. “I just want them [the audience] to realise that it can happen to absolutely anyone,” Farrell states, “and just to be really aware of what is going on so we can stop it before it happens. It can happen to young English girls, it doesn't have to be people who don't speak the language.”

  The actress remembers being approached after the recent screening of the movie at Raindance Film Festival, where it won the Indie Award, by a number of people stunned by what they had witnessed. “We did a quick Q and A and people were so thankful we did because they had a few questions of just, like, shocked disbelief. They almost needed to have a conversation about it afterwards.” The feedback, she states, was amazing. “We got loads of compliments like: ‘Oh my God that was shocking’; ‘That was so good’; ‘I'm so glad I saw it, I'm going to tell my children’. There was an eighteen year old girl who came up to me and she was like in shock: ‘I've been so na├»ve’.”

   Farrell’s own experiences took place fourteen years ago as a young drama student looking for work in London. A well-dressed English-man invited her to a casting session at a small apartment near Oxford Circus - the photoshoot quickly turned sinister.

   In scenes which are recreated in Selling Isobel, the previously charming man held Farrell captive at knifepoint before drugging her and then forcing her into work with men who visited the apartment. The feature repeats these violent and traumatic events with unwavering and unremitting force – the attacks are graphic and the physical and spiritual toll they take on Isobel are portrayed with distressing verisimilitude. The role would be exceptionally gruelling for any performer but, given the circumstances involved, I wonder how much more difficult appearing in the movie would have been? How must it have felt to relive these sequences once more?

   “I wasn't actually… when we started doing it… I wasn't sure if I could.” Farrell remembers. “I was like – ‘hmmm this is going to be hard’. I thought about hiring another actress to do it and then we got closer to the time and I got more used to the script and I felt maybe I can actually separate myself from the character a little bit and do it that way so it's not like I'm thinking ‘oh it's me, it's me, it's me’. It's the character. It's kind of how I did it.” In part, this explains both why the movie’s location and protagonist’s name do not reflect their real life equivalents.

   As we discuss characters, I’m reminded of the antagonist in Selling Isobel – if good writing is, as I believe, steeped somewhat in empathy, how could it be at all possible to even begin to understand the motivations of the trafficker Peter and, by extension, his real life counterpart? Farrell’s answer ultimately floors me.

   The film, she explains, was written with Glynn Turner – “he's so good. [And] we're also very, very close friends so I felt comfortable sitting with him, recording stories and details. I gave him some creative freedom to take all the things I've given him and actually make it into a story that works onscreen.”

   It was through this collaborative process in which the character of Peter was formed: “I didn't know anything about the guy so I couldn't add anything to Glynn as in ‘this is who he was’. I can only mention a few things he said and that he didn't speak much but to make it into a film we had to have something.” With this in mind, the pair began work on sculpting motivations for the character as he appears in the movie. “You never like the baddie but you need to understand why he's doing it. That was important for us from a storytelling point of view.”

   As we read reports on people trafficking in tabloids, it becomes easy to distance ourselves from these events by pretending they happen in a dark criminal underworld which never overlaps with our own existence. Equally, it is true, we will often look at the perpetrators of these crimes as physical incarnations of pure evil, as grotesque animals possessed by wickedness – we imagine these monsters as “other”.

   Farrell, however, in discussing Peter helps to elucidate something rather worrying. “He is a human being,” she states, “but he's not a very good human being.” In this one sentence, it is clear that Farrell has considered her abductor's humanity more than he ever considered hers and alerted us, too, to the fact that evil can take many forms including, as in the instance of a charming casting agent, seemingly benign ones.

   I ask if our understanding of trafficking and the modern slavery industry has begun to grow in recent years and, whilst the answer is a positive one, the reasons for this are rather disturbing: “I think part of it, unfortunately, is that it happens more and more and more.”

   The police, I’m informed, didn’t deal with Farrell’s way in the most professional or compassionate of manners but have begun to catch up to what is going on within the industry as it expands. “I don't know if it was more rare at the time or more difficult to deal with - I don't know the reason why they weren't so sympathetic but I have since spoken to a policewoman who deals with these cases. She says it has changed a lot in the last ten, fifteen years. They're a lot more aware when young girls come in and report something and how vulnerable they are and how scared and almost how much they blame themselves, how much help they really need. I was hoping for that answer actually.”

   To try and understand the industry a little bit more, I ask a question which I think the answer to already. Why, I enquire, is trafficking becoming increasingly more popular year-on-year?

   “It's the money isn't it?” Farrell tells me. “People are attracted to the money you can make. So I guess someone who is really down and out and they don't have a choice and they need to make money for their family or... I don't know. I don't know how they'd think about getting into the business. They must be in a very bad place, a very low place. And they think ‘I can make more money if I sell a couple of girls than if I go and work for two months’ or work for whoever for six months. So, yeah, its money I think. It's greed, money.”

   Whilst this article opened with a declaration of the enormous figures brought in by organised crime, Selling Isobel helps us to understand this by shrinking the number down to one. This is but one tale of the millions who are caught up in slavery, who are kidnapped, and who are subjected to abuse every day, often in plain sight. This is one of the many stories we need to listen to, to understand and to share. Selling Isobel is a powerful and important movie - one I suggest you try your best to seek out.

Thank you

   A huge thanks to Frida Farrell for taking the time for this interview. You can find out more information about her at her website

   Farrell is hoping to screen Selling Isobel at more festivals before trying for a theatrical then VOD release. Keep your eyes open for this!

The Lovers and the Despot Review

   The Lovers and the Despot is a documentary based on real life events so unbelievable they may strike the ear as nothing more than fantastical flights of fancy. Yet, sadly, this film continues the recent trend of non-fiction cinema in applying the most rote of frameworks to render even the most exciting of subjects rather dull.

   The tale, as brought to life with verve and kinetic energy in Paul Fischer's fantastic book A Kim Jong-Il Production, focuses on the events which saw the kidnapping of one of South Korea's most legendary film directors and his estranged wife by the North Korean government.

   The project, apparently overseen by the future leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea himself, was to re-energise the communist nation's film industry with the newly repatriated Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee at the helm. Along the way, the trio would be involved in some remarkable pieces of cinema and, in Pulgasari, one of the most appalling derivations of Godzilla imaginable.

   Whilst the story of star-crossed lovers, reacquainted with one another in the most unimaginable of ways, and an eccentric demagogue obsessed with cinema makes for the potential of a classic movie, the reality here is rather underwhelming. The Lovers and the Despot manages to add nothing new to Fischer's in-depth book whilst the film itself unfolds with a lack of intensity and agency.

   The romance, the action, the horror, the excitement are all enveloped within a formulaic talking heads set-up which suffocates any sense of real energy or innovation. For fans of Korean cinema history, The Lovers and the Despot acts as a stilted companion piece to already available literature, whilst for strangers to the scene, its hard to imagine that this film will truly excite or inspire. Little is done to really show how Shin was both a commercial and critical darling in South Korea - how there's a case to be made for him being one of the most overlooked film-makers in Asian movie history.

   The strength of the doc, however, come in the form of Choi Eun-hee's testimony - one of the stars of Korea's Golden Age, she can still be depended upon as a performer. She recalls Shin's infidelity and their time apart as she delivers the line of the movie: "He was my husband once. I missed him and I hated him". This viewer wishes their was this level of raw passion to be found elsewhere in The Lovers and the Despot.

Louis Theroux: Savile - Review

   Human beings have an extraordinary and wicked capacity for lying. It’s not, however, the deceit we share with one another that can harm us the most but, rather, the untruths we convince ourselves are certainties.

   Louis Theroux: Savile may take its name from the two subjects who dominate this feature but, in a greater sense, this is a film which is about you and I. This is a televisual movie about the delusions we each create for ourselves, the sophisms under which we live, and the fantasies we fill our brains with each day to make our lives easier, our existence tolerable.

   This documentary, filmed fifteen years after When Louis Met Jimmy, acts as something of a mea maxima culpa for Theroux as he looks back on his relationship with a man who, in no uncertain terms, was nothing short of a beast. As the severe nature of Savile’s crimes began to emerge after his death, the details of his child abuse, molestation and necrophilia, those around him are forced to ask themselves – how did they not know? Does their failure to notice his crimes make them guilty, complicit even?

  Over the course of seventy five minutes Louis introduces us to an array of characters embroiled in the Savile story as each tries to makes sense of the evil the celebrity summoned into the world.

   We hear the anguished recollections of Sam as she details the abuse suffered at the hands of Savile in church, during services. Sam is unable to detach the misery she experienced from the happier moments of the childhood; she chooses to not look back too often. To survive in the present, Sam’s mind seals off and partitions the painful past like the border of a foreign country – this is her coping mechanism. To survive daily torment, her brain does all it can to create a world in which her torment is manageable.

  We too hear from Sylvia. A discreet photo of Savile adorns her dresser; she speaks of the good times she knew with the man who helped fund the Stoke Mandeville hospital she worked at. In many ways, Sylvia could be a mirror image of Sam. Whilst both try and hide from the depravity Savile inflicted upon scores of women and children, their reasons for doing so wildly differ. Sam wants to forever forget this bestial man whilst Sylvia wants to forget this man was bestial. To do so would tarnish the fond memories of the work she undertook at the spinal centre. Her brain has created a world in which all the darkness has been removed – this is the story she must tell herself to not be consumed with guilt or sorrow.

   With Theroux, however, the documentarian tries his absolute best, in contrast to the two women noted above, to remember his encounters with Savile in a futile attempt at gleaning warning signs. Tapes are forensically studied - was there something he should have spotted? During the initial filming from 2001, it is shown that Savile’s mask slipped multiple times and, in a number of moments, his derogatory remarks and putrid reactions to women around him raise a flag when viewed with the benefit of hindsight. It’s easy, Theroux summarises later on, to get the answers right if you know them.

   At this point, we realise, the documentary subtly points a finger at us too.

   There was innuendo whilst Savile was alive - (stand-ups, for example would speculate on the DJ's life behind closed doors for unsavoury comedic material) - but not a single charge was brought against him. Posthumously, we each tell ourselves that we all knew for certain something was up and that we could, even should, have figured it out decades ago. It was a different time then and such a thing could never, ever happen again. Not now. Not in this day and age. Might this just be a fantasy too?

   Is this just another story, another myth, we tell ourselves to make life more comfortable for us? The human brain has an extraordinary capacity to tell lies to itself – something which this remarkable documentary reminds us over and over.

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