Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Sun, 08 Jan 2006

Film: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe 3.5/5

I've read the book, and some of the others in the series, in my youth and more recently with my daughter. I can't remember all the details, so I'm not sure how much this film deviates from the original story. Actually we are currently rereading The Magician's Nephew, so we will be reading this one again soon.

There will be complaints that they have missed out the first book, but film making has different priorities. This film is a pretty good realisation of C.S. Lewis's imaginary world. New Zealand provides the scenery, as it did for Lord of the Rings. It's about four children who find their way into another world via the wardrobe and end up as part of a great battle between good (the lion) and evil (guess who?). The kids do a pretty good job of acting. Tilda Swinton is suitably evil as the witch. Most of the rest of the cast seems to be computer generated to at least some extent. The effects are not quite up to the standard of some other recent films, but good enough to tell the story and keep the kids happy. It gallops along at a good pace. I enjoyed it, but it didn't require too much thought.

There has been a lot of comment about this film having some sort of Christian message. Okay, so there is a sacrifice/resurection element and a few other connections, but I don't think it really matters. I don't know enough of the Bible to comment further, but surely all these mythical creatures fighting for good would not be welcome in your average church. I've just been watching some of the extras on the Two Towers and mention is made of Lewis being an atheist, but other sources say that he converted before he wrote these books.

There's an official site at Disney, but it's not too exciting.

[14:29] | [] | Comments | G

Book: The Emperor's Codes by Michael Smith 3/5

I've previously read his book Station X on Bletchley Park. This one focuses on the efforts to break the Japanese codes in the second world war. It draws on a lot of comments from people who were actually involed, which brings it to life. Smith himself does a pretty good job of detailing all the goings on. It can get a bit confusing with all the people and places involved. There is some detail about how some codes were broken, but I would have liked a bit more detail, perhaps with some examples to get a real idea of what was involved. The story has a local connection as a lot of people were taught Japanese in my home town of Bedford.

Part of the story involves the issues of cooperation, or lack of it, between the British and the Americans. There was even rivalry between the US army and navy. This may have cost many lives when information was not shared. The people were incredibly dedicated. They often knew nothing about how their results were used or what other departments were doing and could receive no public recognition of their work. It's only fairly recently that the public has been aware of it at all.

In all a good read, but be prepared to work at it to keep track of everything.

Maybe this year I will get around to visiting Bletchley Park. It's not as if it's far away.

[14:29] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 22 Dec 2005

The Curious Life of Robert Hooke by Lisa Jardine 3/5

In my quest to catch up on some history I have read biographies of Newton and Pepys. My latest read was a bout the slightly less known Robert Hooke. He was a great experimenter who did all sorts of work with microscopes, telescopes, biology and mathematics. He did a lot of demonstrations for the early Royal Society, but didn't seem to get the recognition he deserved. He was also responsible for a lot of the rebuilding of London after the great fire of 1666, which made him quite rich.He was not the happiest of people and was continuously experimenting on himself with strange medicines that probably killed him in the end.

This book is a fairly accademic affair, but gives a pretty good picture of the man. There's a twist in that last line as there are thought to be no surviving pictures of him, but the author thinks she may have found one.

As with other similar books there is a large section of notes, but I find it annoying to have to keep flicking to the back to read the details of some quote or remark and tend to give up after a while, even though there may be interesting material there. There has to be a better way to present that information.

I did actually finish this just after System of the World, but that's because I took this when travelling as it's a much lighter book to carry around.

My next read is about the cracking of Japanese codes during WWII. Expect a report here eventually.

[22:23] | [] | Comments | G

The System of the World by Neal Stephenson 4.5/5

It seems a long time since I started reading the Baroque Cycle. Through three long books I have followed the story of a set of people during the early 18th century. The main characters are fictional, but they interact with some of the greats of the time like Newton, Leibnitz and Wren. Stephenson has a very engaging writing style that really grabs me, even though I know the ending will not be the best. When you are reading for this long it has to be entertaining. It's taken me a few months to read this book, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it. The cycle has really got me interested in that period of history and inspired me to read a few history books.

I have a few related links over at del.icio.us

[22:11] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 19 Dec 2005

Foo Fighters at Earl's Court

I've been listening to the Foo Fighters for a few years and have gradually acquired all their albums. It's not the most challenging listening, but they make a great noise. There's some nice acoustic work on the latest album. At this gig they were supported by Eagles of Death Metal and The Futureheads. The former I had heard of in relation to Queens of the Stone Age, but I don't know their material. This show didn't help much on that front as the sound quality was not brilliant. Dave Grohl joined them on drums for the last song. He really hits those skins hard. The Futureheads I knew from their cover of Hounds of Love and a couple of other songs. They made a nice enough noise and the crowd seemed to like them.

The Foos came on about 8:40. The stage consisted of piles of old amplifiers behind them and some screens hanging from the roof. They hardly used the screens to show the band on stage, mostly they had some random video stuff. They did have some great green lasers that lit the place up. Their set consisted of a mix of tracks from their ten year history. Again the sound was lacking. At times Dave's vocals got lost in the mix, but then the crowd knew all the words. They only did one of the 'acoustic' trackes, Cold Day in the Sun, with drummer Taylor Hawkins and Grohl swapping places. Grohl also did a partly solo Everlong. He must be hoarse and exhousted after a show as he was shouting and running aboutthe whole time. He even made his way through the standing crowd to swap guitar licks from the sound desk.

I would rate it as a fair gig. If the sound had been better it would have been more fun.

This was our second gig at the Court after Radiohead. Last time we had a nice meal in the Pizza Express, but this time they were only serving take-aways.

Whilst we were in town we had a wander around Harrods. There are some obscenely priced items there. Anyone who can spend 3000 on a pen should find a more worthy outlet for their spending. The Egyption themed areas are fairly impressive, but the Diana and Dodi memorial is one of the tackiest things I've seen in a while. I did have a brief drool over some of the big TVs. They were showing some High Definition clips, which was my first exposure to it. It does look very nice on a big screen, but I don't see us having it at home for a few years. We don't feel the need to pay for extra TV channels and it will be a while before it's available on something like Freeview.

[13:23] | [] | Comments | G

Sat, 03 Dec 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 3.5/5

And so we reach the fourth episode of the adventures of the schoolboy wizard. This book is a lot longer than the previous ones so there is a lot to fit into the 2.5 hours. They actually dropped large sections of the story, so some characters have either little to do or are omitted entirely. This doesn't detract that much from the film, but it does help to know the book plot. There's also a few changes to the story.

Visually it's very good. The effects are almost seamless. Some of the underwater work uses obvious computer models, but things like the dragon are very effective.

There's so much going on that it seems shorter than it is. The acting is adequate. As most people seeing it will have read the book there is not much suspense about what will happen, but kids will enjoy seeing if it matches their expectations. Some sequences are likely to be a bit scary for younger kids, but Tilly got through it without trauma.

My tenuous connection with the film is that a friend knows someone who has a brief appearance in the ball scene.

[18:36] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 11 Nov 2005

Mariza at Cambridge Corn Exchange

I first became aware of Mariza when she appeared on Later some time ago. She's a Portuguese Fado singer. Not my normal listening, but I was impressed by her singing, even if I couldn't understand the words.

Friends of ours had tickets to see her, but couldn't go, so they offered them to Tanya and myself. The Corn Exchange was full. It was a slightly older crowd than most gigs I go to. This is the first time I've seen a gig there without any scenery and this worked well as the old brick arches made a great, atmospheric backdrop. The BBC were there with several cameras to film the concert as part of a documentary about Mariza and Fado. I expect it will be on BBC4 some time.

She came on at 7:45 with her band. This consisted of classical guitar, Portuguese guitar, acoustic bass, violin, viola, cello and percussion in various combinations. The sound was great and they used lighting well to set the mood. The songs varied from emotional ballads to up-tempo stuff you could have danced to and which we were encouraged to clap along with. Her voice is incredible. I thought there were hints of Jewish and Arabic music in some songs. At times she almost sounded like she was calling the Muslims to prayer. I don't understand any Portuguese, but the emotion came through clearly.

She was on stage for nearly two hours, including a long encore during which she and the guitarists did one song without amplification. This resulted in a very different sound as she was having to sing so much louder, but she had enough power to pull it off, helped by an audience who almost held their breath to keep quiet. She also did Gershwin's Summertime, but said that some people back home would kill her if they found out. She talked quite a bit about what the music meant to her and seemed to appreciate the reception she got.

The band were also encellent, although the drummer did milk his solo somewhat. The guitarists did an instrumental piece that reminded me somewhat of the Eagles' acoustic version of Hotel California.
[08:56] | [] | Comments | G

Sun, 06 Nov 2005

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit 4/5

I've been an admirer of Nick Park's work from the days of Grand Day Out and Creature Comforts. A while back they signed a five film deal with Dreamworks. Chicken Run was the first of these and this is the second. Chicken Run was more of a Hollywood type film, this is back to basics with Peter Sallis as Wallace and a few big names like Helena Bonham-Carter and Ralph Fiennes. The look is fairly similar to the last couple of W&G films. I expect more money was available this time to make it all so polished. I see from the IMDB that they used some CGI, but had to tweak it to look like plastecine.

Our heroes are running a pest control operation to protect the town's prize vegetables before the big show. Then an accident with Wallace's new mind control machine creates a monster.

I have to say it's a cracking film. Plenty of laughs and some great action scenes. You have to keep watching for all the sight gags and film references. I hope they do another W&G feature, but I'm sure their other films will be great too.

The main feature was preceeded by a short based around the penguins from Dreamworks' Madagasgar. This was very funny too. I remember when most films in the cinema had a short first, but this seemer rare these days. Pixar do some great ones.

[15:16] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 27 Oct 2005

Review: Gattaca 3/5

This is a film I had been wanting to see for a while, but just got around to recording when it was on TV recently and watched last night. It's a real style exercise. Although set in the near future, the people look like they belong in the 1930s with hints of later decades. The cars are supposed to electric, but look like old models including P6 Rovers for the police. The architecture is minimalist and smoking is back in fashion.

In this future babies are designed to have flawless genes and anyone who does not meet those standard cannot get a decent job. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is a flawed natural birth (an Invalid) who wants to go into space, but can only get work as a cleaner. He pays Jerome (Jude Law), a paraplegic Valid, to supply him with the genetic material he needs to bluff his way into a job at the Gattaca aerospace company. There are complications when a flight director is murdered and traces of Vincent are found on the scene. Uma Thurman plays the love interest Irene. She looks perfect enough, but didn't do much for me emotionally. Actually the film didn't move me that way generally apart from at the very end, but was interesting as a style piece and as a warning of what could happen. The whole film is tinted a bit green (like The Matrix) for some reason. The Michael Nyman score is good if you like minimal music.

Overall I'm glad I saw it, but don't feel the need to watch it again too soon, even though I feel I may have missed something in the plot.

Details as usual at IMDB.

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

Sat, 22 Oct 2005

Batman Begins 4/5

Watched this on the way back from Miami. Not optimal due to the usual small screen, made worse by the person in front leaning back.

This is a darker (in both senses) Batman film. It explores how Bruce Wayne came to be a crime fighter. This involves some mystical training in China and a supply of gadgets from his company's labs. Christian Bale is a cool customer and backed up by some major actors (Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Liam Neeson). The baddies are really bad and not as comic as in the other films. The action is spectacular in what I could make out in the mostly night scenes.

Some of the city scenes were shot in the enormous Cardington hangers a few miles from where I live.

Details on IMDB and DVD at Amazon.

[17:01] | [] | Comments | G

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