Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Tue, 18 Oct 2005

P.O.S.H.

At very short notice I had to fly out to Miami again for work. For a change I flew Virgin and was lucky to get upgraded to their Upper Class. This is similar to the BA business class that I have also experienced. Both have similar levels of service and quality of food, but the Virgin planes seem to be better equipped. The seat was very comfortable, but I didn't try the full bed option. It has a huge table and a great entertainment system. You have access to about 30 films and lots of TV shows as well as their radio shows and a choice of CDs. Unlike most systems you have full control so you can watch when you like and pause as necessary. I think there's a few aspects of how the menus work that could be better, but overall I was impressed. As I was stuck there for over 8 hours I watched the following films:

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 3/5

I've heard the radio show, read the books, played the games etc so I know the plot pretty well. This version diverges a bit from the others, but it's all supposed to be Douglas Adams' vision. Some scenes were identical to the old ones, but there were significant changes and additions. Martin Freeman was a more assertive Arthur and Mos Def a more panicky Ford. The others were pretty much as before. Obviously the effects are better this time, but I don't know if they need to be that fancy. It was fun, but I was slightly disappointed. Maybe I just have it too fixed in my mind how it should be.

Details on IMDB and you can buy it at Amazon or get the old TV version

Sin City 4/5

I knew this was based on a series of comic books, but I've not read them. It really captures the look and feel of a comic. It's mostly black and white with accents of colour and beautifully put together. It's basically three interlinked film noir type stories about different men fighting injustice in brutal ways. It really is very violent, but not in a totally realistic way. Some characters seem almost indestructable, especially Mickey Rourke's big hunk of muscle. On the whole the men are tough and the women are gorgeous, but also get to fight back. I was impressed.

Details on IMDB and DVD on Amazon.

Unleashed 3/5

This is a mix of violent British gangster film, martial arts extravaganza and touching human drama. Danny, Jet Li, is an incredible fighter who is treated like an attack dog by debt collector Bob Hoskins. Danny is taken in by blind piano tuner Morgan Freeman who teaches him to be human. As you would expect, his past catches up with him and there is the inevitable big fight at the end. Although I watch a fair few violent films I get sickened by those who appear to enjoy inflicting pain on others. There is a lot of that in this film, but this is balanced by the good people. Jet Li is very good at fighting, if not a great actor. He has plenty of the former to keep him busy. Part of one fight takes place in the 'smallest room' of a Glasgow flat. The film was written by Luc Besson whose films I generally enjoy. This is not his best, but good for it's genre in my limited experience.

Details on IMDB. The DVD will be out in time for Xmas.

Buying through the Amazon links will benefit my daughter's school. Alternative suppliers can be found at Buy.at.

[11:51] | [] | Comments | G

Tue, 27 Sep 2005

Film Review:A Beautiful Mind 4/5

Russell Crowe proves he's not just a hard man in this film based on the real life of mathematician John Forbes Nash.

The film is not really about his mathematical discoveries, but they are mentioned in passing. It shows him lecturing about the Riemann Zeta Function that I read about in Prime Obsession. In fact there is a recommendation from Nash on the cover of the book.

The film is mainly about his problems with schizophrenia. From what I've read these were mainly auditory hallucinations and so not as vivid as portrayed in the film, but it still made him highly paranoid and resulted in him having some fairly nasty treatments that may not have helped much.

Crowe puts in a good performance. It seems to be a cliche that playing someone with a handicap is a good way to get an Oscar, but he didn't quite get there. The rest of the cast are also good and the period detail looks right to me. John Nash was consulted for the film which may be why it does not mention things like his other marriages, but I don't think that makes it a worse film. It shows how hard it can be to deal with mental illness whilst still being an entertaining film.

Details and trivia at IMDB.

[08:24] | [] | Comments | G

Sun, 04 Sep 2005

Leonardo da Vinci by Sherwin B. Nuland 3/5

I've been wanting to learn more about Leonardo, not just because of the Da Vinci Code, but mainly as a major character in the history of science. I picked this book up in Miami.

I tells his life story in a fairly brief form with some emphasis on his anatomical studies. It talks about his art to a lesser extent. There's some exploration into the possible causes of his alledged homosexuality.

It was an interesting read, but I could have done with more detail on his inventions and more pictures. When you are reading about such a great artist it's nice to see the works.

I know there are plenty of other Leonardo books. Any recommendations?

[20:29] | [] | Comments | G

Nikita 4/5

I got into the films of Luc Besson via The Fifth Element (one of my favourites) and Leon. There's just something about his style that I like. I've been adding them to my DVD collection gradually, but some were disappointing. The Big Blue is long and slow, The Messenger is a bit messy. Nikita is one of his earlier works when he was still working in French and is about a drug addict criminal who is recruited by a government agent as an assassin. It has a similar feel to Leon and even features Jean Reno in a similar role. Anne Parillaud plays the lead very well. It's a sort of My Fair Lady with more guns and less singing.

I'm not that keen on Eric Serra's music. Part of that may be that the synthesiser sounds are very eighties. I found The Big Blue soundtrack grated similarly.

I bought the DVD ages ago, but it had been sitting on the shelf waiting for me to find the time. I started off watching with the English dub, but this was too annoying, so I switched to French dialogue plus English subtitles. My French is very limited.

The film was remade in America as Point of no Return (I think it was The Assassin in the UK), but I've not seen that.

One of these days I'll get Leon on DVD, but I fancy the US version that has extra scenes and have never seen it cheap.

[20:29] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 19 Aug 2005

Prime Obsession by John Derbyshire 3/5

I've always been quite interested in mathematics. I enjoyed it at school and took it as part of my degree. I've since forgotten most of it, but have played around with mathematical recreations like the Mandelbrot set, simple 3D graphics and other subjects on various computers. I'm also into public key encryption that involves large prime numbers.

It seems there are some theorems regarding primes that can never be solved just by calculating them on computers. One of these is the Riemann hypothesis. It's been around for nearly 150 and not been solved. This book is about the history of the man and his mathematics. It alternates chapters between the history and the theory, so you can choose to just read one or the other.

The technical stuff is fairly heavy and I don't claim to understand all of it, but it introduced me to some new areas of mathematics. The history is fairly well told, but mathematicians are not generally the most exciting of people. I'll probably read it again some time to try and absorb more. I think this one is reserved for those who are into mathematics rather than history buffs.

I'm now reading a biography of Leonardo Da Vinci.

You will notice a lot of links in this article to Wikipedia. It's a very addictive site. I'd like a plug-in for my blogging tool that could add these links automatically. Maybe I should write one.

[13:30] | [] | Comments | G

Sun, 14 Aug 2005

Film Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 3.5/5

This is one we've been waiting for. We've read the book to Tilly a couple of times and she has since read it herself too. The previous film had a certain darkness about it, but with Tim Burton at the helm this promised to be interesting. His films always have some magic about them, except perhaps for Planet of the Apes.

Burton regular Johnny Depp takes the lead, but plays the part as a neurotic recluse haunted by memories of his dentist father (Christopher Lee). This is not something from the book. The sets are amazing and the kids are pretty much as you would imagine them. The oompa loompas are all played by one actor who had to work hard for his money performing each scene hundreds of times. The trip on the boat is closer to the book and a lot less disturbing than last time.

It's a re-interpretation of the book rather than a remake of the previous film. Johnny Depp's Wonka is totally different to Gene Wilder's. The latter is closer to what I imagine from the book, but still not quite right. Neither captures the real joy of Wonka.

There are some laughs to be had in this film, with quite a few reserved for knowing adults rather than the kids, but mine enjoyed the film anyway. Tilly rates it as very, very good, but still likes the other film.

Overall this version sticks closer to the plot and images of the book. A few side stories have been added without real harm, but the changes to the ending could have repercussions to the sequel if that is going to be made this time.

There is plenty of trivia etc on IMDB and Wikipedia. The latter can keep you occupied for ages following the various links.

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

Thu, 11 Aug 2005

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon 4/5

I heard about this book ages ago and it sounded interesting. I picked up my copy in a Salvation Army shop and found time to read it on my Canadian trip.

It's a fictional, first-person account by a 15 year old autistic boy, Christopher, who finds a neighbour's dog has been killed and decides to investigate. Assuming the depiction of his condition is accurate, this gives an insight into how he thinks. He's a less extreme version of Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man who needs routine to help him deal with life. He has to make some radical breaks to that routine and uncovers some shocking facts.

Christopher is good at maths, if not a prodigy/savant, and the book includes a few little mathematical diversions, but you don't have to understand them to follow the story.

I actually have the children's edition of the book, but it's aimed at teenagers and above. There's some swearing and talk about 'adult themes'.

I found it an enjoyable and fairly quick read that made me think.

Can anyone tell me how to get a slightly larger gap between the image frame and the text. It's not too bad in IE, but Firefox renders it a bit tight for my tastes. Using the Amazon link will benefit Tilly's school.

[16:29] | [] | Comments | G

Tue, 09 Aug 2005

Film Review: Kingdom of Heaven 3/5

Ridley Scott does another epic historical film. This time a humble blacksmith (Orlando Bloom) becomes a crusader knight and goes off to Jerusalem. There's a rugged authenticity to the film, shields look battered. The battles are epic with lots of blood flying in the close-ups and some impressive siege engines.

It doesn't demonise the muslim side. Actually it's some of the christians who come of worst as they are portrayed as blood-thirsty war-mongers. Saladin comes out of it very well. They actually used arab actors rather than disguising Europeans.

There's a bit of a love story with a princess, but otherwise very little female involvement.

I saw it on a plane, so didn't get the full impact of the effects, but they looked pretty good.

I'm still not totally convinced by Orlando. He's better in this than in LotR, but still lacks the charisma of someone like Russell Crowe. I can sort of see why people say he could be James Bond one day, but he needs to grow up a bit. He's not even 30!

Details of the film on IMDB.

I will resist the urge to rant about the pointlessness of fighting for a religion. I'm tempted to read more on this period in history. Any recommendations?

[21:59] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 01 Jul 2005

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson ***** (out of 5)

Bryson is best known for his travel books, of which I have read a few, but also writes on various other subjects. His Mother Tongue about the English language is very good. The current review is on his book about science, more specifically about what we know and how we came to know it. It seems history is full of people who got it totally wrong or got it right and were ignored or derided. He also makes much of the fact that there is a lot we still don't know. The subjects range over the origins of the universe, the nature of matter, the planet we live on and the origins of life. Some of it is a little depressing when he writes about how vulnerable life on Earth is and how our species has made a mess of things, but a lot of it is inspirational. He writes a lot about the people who discovered various things. As always his style is very easy and enjoyable to read. I was continuously wanting to quote sections to others.

I learnt a lot of new things from this book and it filled in some gaps in areas I do know about. If this had been a textbook for science at school I would have enjoyed it even more.

Although the book looks thick it's a relatively easy read and there's over a hundred pages of notes, bibliography and index that most people will probably not look at.

I'm now reading Prime Obsession about an unsolved mathematical problem. It's slightly less mainstream, but I like numbers.

[16:29] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 27 Jun 2005

Film Review: Adaptation

I'm going to mirror my Multiply film reviews here for now. At some point I may move them here.

This is a hard film to categorise and review. It's by the people who brought you Being John Malkovitch, which should warn you that it's a bit weird. It's about the writer of that film Charlie Kaufman and his fictional brother Donald (who gets a writing credit and was jointly nominated for awards). Charlie is trying to write a script for a real book called The Orchid Thief, but is having some problems. Meanwhile his brother decides to be a script writer too in a more mainstream way.

Nicholas Cage plays both of the brothers and Meryl Streep is the book author. It's basically a film about writing that film and so is a bit up it's own behind. However, I enjoyed it as a comedy. It made me laugh a few times and kept my brain working. It's tempting to investigate the characters further to see how close to the truth it is or if it's all made up.

I'll give it 3/5

[08:14] | [] | Comments | G

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