Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Sun, 13 Dec 2009

A Christmas Carol

There have been many versions of this Charles Dickens story and I've seen a fair few of them. I may well try to catch the Muppet version over Xmas. Today I saw the new version starring Jim Carey. Director Robert Zemeckis uses the same motion capture techniques as in Polar Express to create a very realistic computer animation. At times you almost forgot that it was not real people on screen, but there's still the 'uncanny valley' to cross before it can be totally convincing. There were plenty of shots that would be impossible in the realistic world. It was very obviously made to be seen in 3D with lots of things rushing towards the 'camera' and wild journeys over the London rooftops, but we saw it in 2D. As far as the story goes I understand it stays very close to what Dickens wrote, but I have never read it. The dialogue certainly seemed authentic. The acting is perfectly adequate. I'm not a fan of Carey when he acts zany, but he was very good in The Truman show and he also plays this fairly straight. I see he did a lot of voices apart from Scrooge.

I saw the film at the Sunday morning Kids' Club at the Letchworth Broadway in the company of a load of kids between 8 and 11. The story isn't really aimed at kids and the film is very wordy. I think they enjoyed the action sequences, but some of them found parts scary.

I think it stands up as a telling of a well known story and shows off the state of the art in animation. It's worth seeing, but not really for kids, even if it is from Disney.

[21:50] | [] | Comments | G

Sun, 01 Nov 2009

Up - 3D

The posters for this film seem to have been around all year, but today we actually saw it. This is the first 3D film I've seen at the cinema. I remember seeing some 3D western on TV as a kid and my daughter has a Barbie DVD with a 3D version. Both used coloured filters as these are the only way to do it with a conventional TV without extra hardware. The current crop of 3D films in cinemas use polarised glasses that do not affect the colours. Sky are experimenting with 3D TV, but that will require a new TV. We still have a CRT (very nice Toshiba), but may consider a flat panel when we can get HD Freeview. I'm not considering 3D at home for now.

After the usual boring adverts we were instructed to don our glasses and had a couple of trailers for other animated films (Christmas Carol and Battle for Terra). Both had lots of 3D content such as spaceships or snowflakes. The effect is startling at times with objects appearing to come out of the screen. At other times they just give more depth to the image, but there is sometimes more of an impression of layers.

Before up we had the usual Pixar short. This one was called Partly Cloudy, a cute, wordless story about storks delivering babies that they get from living clouds.

Up itself is a poignant tale of an old man who feels he has not had the adventures that he and his late wife had planned. The sequence that shows them meeting and growing old together is quite touching. Events inspire him to take an adventurous trip to South America by attaching balloons to his house. He accidentally takes a boy scout along with him and they have lots of adventures that I won't spoil. There are plenty of laughs and thrills along the way. The animation is amazing as always. It doesn't aim for total realism, but some shots look very natural. The 3D is fairly subtle with not too much thrusting of objects towards the 'camera'. Pixar always seem to come up with the goods. Original stories, quality animation and a lack of slushy sentimentality. You should see this film.

Going to the cinema at peak times is getting very expensive. It was £36 for the four of us, but I think there is a premium for the 3D films. There was some confusion over whether we were to keep the glasses. Apparently we can use them again and get a discount, but some ended up in their recycling bin. If you buy food there it soon adds up, but I expect that they hope 3D will attract more people. It certainly seemed fairly busy there this afternoon.

[21:30] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 27 Apr 2007

Code Guardian

Several years ago I found a great bit of computer animation by Marco Spitoni called The Hunt. The dialogue was a bit ropey, but the models and animation were excellent, making for a very cinematic experience. Now, after six years, he's come up with a new one called Code Guardian. This is a second world war epic featuring a giant Nazi robot attacking the US. He seems to like big machines, but this also features some pretty good human models, all in a vast set. Again the dialogue is ropey, but that's probably because English is not his native language. They even mispronounce the title. But it's still very entertaining. I'm not quite sure what is going on in the last sequence. You can download it from his site, but it took me a few hours to get the 160MB file.

[21:40] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 26 Apr 2007

Porcupine Tree, The Junction, Cambridge 20070425

As previously mentioned I went to see this band last night. My friend Simon was kind enough to take me there in his Lotus Elise. That made for a fun ride down the country lanes. I reckon it's about 15 years since I last went to The Junction when I first saw Living Colour. The area has changed a lot since then. We had to wait a few minutes for Mark who had got us the tickets. He used to be in a band with Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree.

The audience seemed to tend towards men in their fourties, or older in some cases. In any case it was packed in there. We missed the support, but didn't have to wait long for the main act. They played for about two hours including all of their new album that entered the charts at number 31 this week. They seemed pleased with that. I didn't know their material apart from what I had found on-line. It's what I'd call 'serious rock'. Very technically competent without being too showy. There was lots of use of projected video, largely of dysfunctional kids. I can't say I picked up too much of the lyrics, but I gathered that it was not the happiest stuff. Possibly similar stuff to Radiohead, but then I don't know what Thom is on about much of the time. I go for the overall sound and in this case it was pretty good. There were some odd time signatures, 6/8 for one song and something I couldn't work out in a fun instrumental in the encore.

So I enjoyed it. I may look at giving their work a better listen some time.

[12:46] | [] | Comments | G

Tue, 19 Dec 2006

A Pair of Giants

A couple of culture giants have died recently. Today I heard that Joe Barbera left us. Apparently H&B produced over 3000 episodes of 300 cartoon series. I probably saw a fair few of them in my youth. Most of them were not that great. The Flintstones was just a cartoon sitcom. They pioneered the use of standard body parts to make for rapid production, but it made it less interesting to watch. I guess the same sort of thing is happening now with computer animation. Once they generate the characters they can churn out hundreds of episodes for not much money. The greater legacy is in things like Tom and Jerry, one of my all-time favourites. The combination of animation and music has rarely been matched. The nearest equivalent would be the excellent Animaniacs. I enjoyed an Xmas edition of Pinky and the Brain with my kids just yesterday.

The other recent loss was Ahmet Urtegun whose Atlantic Records brought us so much great music, including the mighty Led Zep (nice Xmas card there).

At least both those men lived long enough to achieve their full potential. Nobody gets to live forever, but some leave a legacy that endures.

[13:12] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 11 Dec 2006

Compassionate Monks

I'm not at all religious, and not particularly 'spiritual', but I have an interest in other cultures. I found out that some buddhist monks would be performing some of their ceremonies at a local school and thought it was worth a look. I took my daughter along for the experience. It was more like being in church than a musical event. The monks came out to the sound of some huge horns that really shook the hall, carrying pictures of the Dalai Lama and of their own spiritial leader, a young boy who is in the 'care' of the Chinese authorities. Some of the monks from the Tibetan monastry escaped to India and founded a new one there.

They performed various ceremonies. Some were just chanting and meditation, others had dancing in incredible costumes with some great masks. The 'music' consisted of the big horns, some smaller versions, cymbals, drums and bells. Not a great deal of melodic variation and not the sort of thing I would want to listen to in isolation, but atmospheric. A British woman gave an introduction to each rite to give us some idea of what was going on.

The audience of maybe 150(?) looked to consist of many people who looked as you might expect a British buddhist to look, with an average age of older than me. I enjoyed it as a novelty and a cultural experience that I might only otherwise see on a TV documentary. I could appreciate the dedication needed to memorise the routines.

The day before I indulged in some more familiar musical exploration in a housewarming come jam session at Malc's new place, an isolated bungalow in the depths of Bedfordshire. I had a good drum and played my guitar (too) loudly. I was quite pleased with the sound my Gordon Smith+Peavey were making. I don't often get the chance to crank it up. I also took part in a 'play a song on the acoustic' session, but was frustrated by not being able to play any whole songs, let alone sing along. I need to play more at home to learn some new tunes. I have my heart set on getting an acoustic to encourage me to just pick it up and play.

As I was doing a fair bit of driving around I recorded some more traces for OSM to fill in some gaps in the rural roads.

[12:57] | [] | Comments | G

Tue, 18 Jul 2006

I got Rhythms

Had a great time at Rhythms of the World in Hitchin at the weekend. I've not had a proper look before. The problem was that there was too much choice. The main acts we saw were acoustic singer Beck Goldsmith, funky Horace X and cello singer Laura Hewison as well as bits of various others. The opera singers in the church were very moving. I hope to be back next year.

We also attended the Great Offley Bike Show. I've not been involved in the biking scene for a while, but it was nice to have a look. I'm always amazed at the work people put into their bike, both old and new. Everything there from a 1920's Levis to a nitrous Fireblade and some big trikes.

Wildlife highlight of the weekend was seeing our first frog in our new pond. I knew there were frogs in the garden before, despite the lack of open water, so it was just a matter of time. I'm hoping it will eat some of the mosquito larvae before they take flight.

[09:17] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 05 Apr 2006

Green Wing and other TV

Our favourite sitcom is back for a second series on Channel 4. If you haven't seen it I would describe it as a combination of sketch show and slightly surreal sitcom. It's set in a hospital, but it's all about the antics of the staff, rather than what they do to patients. It may be hard to follow if you didn't catch the first series, but the site has an episode guide that may help.

I've not been watching much else on TV lately apart from the excellent Mark Steel Lectures and the awesome Planet Earth.

It's Not Easy Being Green on BBC2 is an interesting view of someone trying to establish a more sustainable lifestyle, but so far most of what they are doing is not very applicable to the average household. How many of us have a handy stream to run a waterwheel? We try to do our bit by recycling and reducing energy usage, but things like having to have two cars to get us to work are not so good.

[13:14] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 27 Mar 2006

Rock and Roll

I don't get to as many gigs as I would like to, but last night I went to Club 85 in Hitchin. This was primarily to see my friend Simon play bass with Kandida. Unfortunately the gig was not very well attended. The venue is pretty good with a big stage and quality equipment, but does not seem to attract many people for some original music on a Sunday night.

First up was a solo singer playing some very nice acoustic guitar and singing some humorous songs about the quirks of life. I managed to miss his name.

Next were Kandida. They played a very good set of pop/rock. Some elements of country and folk mixed in there somewhere. Very tight and some nice vocal harmonies. I expect I'll be seeing them again some time. I had a good chat with them beforehand and got roped in to take some pictures of the gig. So I can now add 'rock photographer' to my CV. I hope they turn out well. It's quite hard to get atmospheric shots as flash makes it too bright and turning it off makes it hard to get sharp shots.

Finally we had Simon Scardanelli. He played a pretty earnest set. Good voice and really attacks his guitar. He had to put up with some abuse from a few people for being so serious, but didn't seem too phased.

[09:02] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 03 Feb 2006

TV: The IT Crowd

Channel 4's new sit-com is set in the IT department of a large company. The geeks are a bunch of social mis-fits down in the basement surrounded by toys, posters and piles of assorted computer equipment. They get a new female boss who knows nothing about computers and hilarity ensues.

Well that's the theory. It shares a writer with Father Ted and has a similar style. There are quite a few good jokes, but they do try to force some of the humour a bit.

The office is an extreme version of some places I've worked. I've even been an IT support person a few times, but I like to think I'm better adjusted, well I am these days anyway. There's quite a few touches for the geeks to spot. Various old computers and posters of things like the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

We got 2 episodes tonight. I think I'll stick with it for now.

We were excited to see multiple trailers during the show for the new series of Green Wing. There's something to look forward to.

[22:21] | [] | Comments | G

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