Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Take A Google At The Movies

I know this may be old news to some but I've just noticed that Google has a new feature enabling us UK users to quickly find film showtimes in our local area, access film information such as critics' reviews, and search for films by plot, genre and more.

Including the words [films] or [showtimes] in the web search query will allow you to see information about showtimes and film reviews displayed above the Google web search results. If you're only interested in film information, then specifically type [film:] in the query. Go to Google Film to get it to remember where you're based.

They've also added a new SMS feature that enables UK users to get film showtimes and cinema listings on their mobile phone/handheld device via text messaging. Just send a text message, for example [serenity g52] to 64664. See Google SMS for more details.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Forge Of God - by Greg Bear

The Forge Of God by Greg Bear is quite an old science-fiction book, written in 1987 and set in 1996. It tells a very convincing and plausible story of how, after decades pouring radio emissions into space, actively searching for extraterrestrial intelligence, we could just as easily attract the attention of those who seek us harm rather than the hoped-for, beneficent bringers of new technology.

Here's the short description from the back cover, just to set the scene...

1996. Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, suddenly disappears; it is as though it never existed.

Shortly after, a mysterious mound, evidently a disguised spaceship, is found in the California desert. Beside it lies a dying alien creature, which when approached says very clearly, "I am sorry, but there is bad news."

But Australia doesn't think so, for another spaceship has landed there, carrying friendly robots who promise a new era of peace and plenty.

Is all this linked? Arthur Gordon, recently science advisor to the President, cannot escape the feeling that something very terrible indeed is about to happen...

This is a very well crafted story that you won't want to put down. Indeed, you have to resist the urge to turn to the back and see how it turns out. I really want to tell you what happens but it'd ruin it for anyone that wants to read it. Suffice to say that nothing is as straightforward as it seems and the story develops at a fairly steady pace. The physics and science involved seem genuinely feasible enough and it includes a very good mix of politics and well-detailed characters, each dealing in their own way with the growing realisation that the end of the world may very well be in sight.

There's a sequel called Anvil Of Stars and a potential movie deal for a three parter, comprising The Forge Of God, Anvil Of Stars and one still to be written book, in the pipeline with Warner Brothers. That movie deal was negotiated back in 2002 with no obvious progress to date and frankly, I don't think the studios would ever want to make it without some radical changes - this is no Independence Day. However I'm definitely going to try and get hold of Anvil Of Stars to see what happens next.

Genre: Science Fiction
ISBN: 0-09-961870-2
My Rating: 7/10

Monday, October 17, 2005


The second movie of this weekend was Serenity, the movie spin-off from the failed Joss Whedon science-fiction series, Firefly. Whedon's reputation, with the likes of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel, precedes him and this is in no way going to diminish that or his fan base - this is one excellent science-fiction movie...

Serenity is the name of a privateer spaceship, plying its sometimes illegal trade on the fringes of Alliance controlled space. The crew, led by Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), are mostly outcasts or on the run so make the best living they can while keeping a low profile.

The latest additions to the crew are doctor Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his sister River (Summer Glau). River is telepathic but also a bit disturbed and when she goes berserk and single-handedly beats up an entire bar full of roughnecks, it becomes obvious to Reynolds that she's much more than she seems.

When the incident is noticed, the Serenity is suddenly high on the wanted list so with a ruthless Alliance hunter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) on their trail, they go looking for someone called Miranda to find the secret to River's suddenly revealed talents. The only thing is, it looks like they're going to have to go deep into Reaver territory to do it.

Whedon's script is truly excellent, it'll have you laughing, crying and whooping along with the action, which is plentiful. Fans of Buffy and Angel will be familiar with the style of dialogue but it works so well here and the cast pull it off to a tee.

I haven't seen Firefly so it was all new to me and I have to admit to having had some worries about the "Western" aspects of the stories. For example, Captain Reynolds favours a six-shooter as the weapon of choice and, while that may seem strange, it works among the rough and ready edges of civilized space.

It'd be nice to see Firefly resurrected by the studios but I can't see it happening, those guys only see things in dollar bills and it was very expensive to produce. My daughter has Firefly on DVD so I'm definitely going to borrow that and get more into it.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction.
My Rating 8/10

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor)

Just back from seeing Night Watch, a dark fantasy about the battle between Light and Dark. This is the first in a trilogy of movies and is set in modern day Moscow. Here's what it's all about...

There are those among us called Others, humans with special gifts that make them part of the war and they must choose their own path, light or dark. It is said that a perfect Other will come and, choosing one side or the other, will either raise the Earth to the light or plunge it into darkness. Both sides are evenly matched and a truce is in effect, has been for centuries. It is policed by the Night Watch for the side of Light and the Day Watch for the Dark and punishment for any transgression is harsh but neither side is allowed to take the life of the other.

The plot centres around Anton Gorodetsky, a seer with the Night Watch. While trying to protect a young boy from the call of a vampire, he accidentally bumps into a young woman and has a premonition of doom centering around her. He then goes on to save the boy but inadvertently kills the vampire and so becomes a target for the Day Watch. It is believed that the woman is cursed and her coming will herald the end of the truce, the coming of the perfect Other and the final battle to decide the fate of the world.

One thing to mention is that this is a Russian film with a Russian cast and, although there is some English narrative used to good effect, the dialogue is in Russian with English subtitles. However, these are extremely well used to enhance the story. They come and go, dissolving, wafting away, sliding behind objects, etc. and it gives it almost the feel of a comic-book.

This is definately different from the usual fantasy movie and I quite enjoyed it even though it's a wee bit hard to grab hold of at first. There are two definite sub-plots on the go, which don't actually merge as you'd normally expect, and a definite twist or two two as well. Can't say more than that, other than I expect the sequels will pick up and run with the main storyline as well as dealing with a few of the loose ends.

Genre: Action, Fantasy, Horror
My Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

My Life: Puddles, Hudgies and Frogs

I grew up in Maryhill, living there for about 13 years up till 1968. Glasgow was coming out of it's "No Mean City" era and while we still lived in what would be called a tenement block, it was far from being a slum. The photo here is of Queen's Cross at the junction of Maryhill and Garscube Roads. Looking down the road, we lived in the first street on the left.

Life as an under ten was pretty idyllic as I'd no worries or cares as long as I was warm, fed and clothed. All we had to concern ourselves about was school and playing. We mostly played as a group of friends in and around the local tenement blocks. There were a few playgrounds with roundabouts and swings, etc. but they were a bit of a walk away so going there was a special occasion and we usually had to make up our own entertainment...

War Games

All we needed was a ball for a kick around on the street or round the back and if we felt like being organised it was war games in the form of two teams pretending to be anything from cowboys and indians to WWII soldiers and usually involved popping up every now and then, making "ack-ack-ack" machine gun noises and then diving back down out of sight again.


One street game we played was "stankie" with marbles or, if you were one of the lucky ones, with steelies, which were basically steel ball bearings. Play consisted of rolling your bools up the stank covers in the pavement, which were always at a slight angle, and trying to get them to stop in the little holes while your opponent tried to use his to knock yours out. You could either play for fun or keepsies depending on how many marbles you had and how confident you were.

There was an engineering works a few streets away and it was always good for a rummage around outside looking for steelies that had been dropped or discarded. Needless to say that marbles were a common drain on everyone's pocket money.


If it rained, then there'd be puddles and, once the deluge stopped, a rush to get the wellies on and get out for a splash around. Puddles are great things for a small boy - you could float bits of wood in them and pretend they were boats or you could even use toy boats if you had them. I remember my mum buying me a nice blue boat after being brave and not crying while getting one of the standard "jags" (innoculations) kids had to get back then, but back to the puddles!

Obviously, splashing was mandatory as was bombing any pretend boats but god help you if you got covered in the muddy water or worse, wading in too deep and filling your wellies with it. The street gutters were also good for racing old ice-lolly sticks down when the rainwater was flowing but you had to catch them before they disappeared down the drain.

Running Around Madly

These games were the traditional fall back for something to do round the backs. You'd probably know it as Tag but we called it Tig, same thing though with all it's variations. Basically if you were "het", then you got to chase the others around until you touched one and then they were "het" and so on until everyone fell about exhausted.

Hide and Seek required a bit more cunning and, if you were "it", the ability to count as fast as possible, which always got everyone tongue-tied. Of course if the really cunning ones managed to hide themselves well enough, everyone gave up searching for them and went off on another tack.

The new urban sport of Free-running was being practised by almost every kid in Glasgow when I was a boy. We'd be running, jumping, climbing and dreeping over walls, wash-houses, middens, etc. in a kind of "follow-my-leader" chain to see who could get over the trickiest bits.

Saturday Matinees

The Blythswood CinemaAlmost every Saturday morning we went to one of the local cinemas, either the Blytheswood or Seamore in Maryhill Road, to see the latest children's movie. It was usually a comedy or a cartoon, which passed the morning, and if you'd been lucky enough to collect a few empty lemonade bottles during the week, then that paid for the ticket. Of course if you didn't have enough for a ticket or were just feeling adventurous, then it was common practise to wait outside at the side door until some helpful friend nipped down and opened it once the lights had gone down and you could sneak in. Unless the manager caught you coming in, he didn't really stand a chance of trying to catch a group of small boys running wildly around in a cinema full of noisy kids in the dark and once you'd found a seat, you were pretty safe.

The Blythswood was a pretty plain looking place but I remember the Seamore as having a big illuminated windmill, or more likely a lighthouse, above the doors but it closed in 1963 and got burned down about five years after that.

Dinkys, Corgis and Matchboxes

I'd play with them for hours on end if I was stuck in on a rainy day or for a wee while before bedtime. What are they? Why die cast model cars, buses, lorries and tractors, etc. I wish I'd kept them now as they're worth a lot off money these days. Just do a search on the net for them and you'll see just how much they can go for and to think we used to actually touch them and play with them like they were of little value. Of course we always chucked the boxes away and the lot were kept willy-nilly in an old shoe box (I can just hear the serious collectors shuddering with horror).

Better off kids (or their dads) had train sets of the Triang/Hornby variety or slot car racing games like Scalectrix but we made do with our little metal cars.


A hudgie was the art of jumping onto the back of passing carts, lorries, trucks or vans for a short ride along the street. Obviously no one ever attempted it if the vehicle was moving fast and the best candidate was usually a coal lorry as it made frequent stops along the street to sell sacks of coal or briquettes. We'd get chased by the driver if he saw us but was part of the fun of the game.

There was no green-cross code when I was a boy and growing up playing in the streets was a good way to learn to be traffic-wise as you always had to keep an eye out for anything coming. We also soon learned to be adept at crossing the roads among moving traffic and the thought of dashing across the busy Maryhill Road never phased us at all. There was a Zebra Crossing, with its trademark yellow Belisha Beacons, just up the road a bit but that'd have been too easy.


Adventure is in a boy's soul and we were boys. Three of us, aged about five or six, caused an uproar by wandering off after school to see Santa's house, which I suspect now was probably a park-keeper's cottage in either Ruchill or Kelvingrove Park. Needless to say we got in terrible trouble when we strolled in later that afternoon, blissfully unaware that quite a lot of people were out there looking for us.

Other standard adventures were trekking off to one of the local public parks for the day. we had a choice of Ruchill, which was closest, Kelvingrove and Dawsholm Parks or the Botanic Gardens. Ruchill Park was fairly ordinary but had a good wide hill for sledging in the winter, My uncle Hugh, an engineer, made me a sledge one year and, being solidly made, I think it's still kicking around in the family somewhere, having been passed on by me a long time ago. The park also had an excellent little conical hill with a flagpole on top from where you could get a great view over the city. That hill was apparently artificial, having been constructed from the rubble of a demolished hospital and was nicknamed Ben Whitton after the Parks Superintendant of the time.

Kelvingrove Park is a vast place, straddling both sides of the river Kelvin and stretching from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum practically all the way to Charing Cross. Dawsholm Park is also quite large but further north and we used to venture up there to feed the grey squirrels that were always keen to eat peanuts right out of our hands.

Botanic Gardens Station, Photo by Duncan Cumming, some rights reserved.When we were a bit older we found the tunnel entrance to the unused railway station in the Botanic Gardens. It required a walk of faith, feeling our way along the pitch black tunnel, until there was a break above that let in some light. Then it was on again for a bit in the dark until we got to the station platforms themselves, which were open to the sky above but access from the street was blocked off. What did we go through all that for? Why frogs of course! The wee blighters bred in the puddles and water filled holes in the trackbed and if it was the right time of year, then you could be sure we'd catch a few.

Photo of Botanic Gardens Station by Duncan Cumming, some rights reserved.

Seasonal Fun

Guisin' was the art of dressing up at Halloween and going round the neighbourhood in groups of two or three chapping on doors. We'd sometimes have a hollowed out turnip lantern and I was almost always dressed as a pirate with eye-patch, cape and sword and one of my mum's scarfs tied jauntily around my head. If the inhabitants were welcoming, you'd recite a wee poem or sing a song and get rewarded with a selection of fruit, nuts or sweets or sometimes even a few pennies. If you were really lucky, you'd be invited in to dook for apples, which involved perching on a chair with a fork in your mouth above a basin of floating apples and if you could drop the fork into an apple, it was yours. You might even get the chance to try to eat a scone covered in treacle hanging on a piece of string. A far cry from the Americanized "Trick or Treat" nonsense we have to endure these days.

Bonfire Night (Guy Fawkes Night) was a major event in the calendar. Fuel for the bonfire had to be gathered from near and far in preparation for the big night and it had to be guarded too. Almost every tenement block had its own bonfire and it was quite common for your stockpile to be raided by nearby gangs. Not that we'd ever have done that ourselves (sound of low whistling can be heard here). Our wood was usually stored in one of the old wash-houses in the Doncaster Street back and consisted of everything flammable we could get hold of - old doors, furniture, pallets, settees and chairs, the more the merrier. Mum would usually buy me a box of fireworks to set off myself - things like bangers, jumping jacks, Catherine wheels, rockets and maybe even a Roman Candle or two. The bigger your bonfire, the more people would come and let off their fireworks too. Too big though and the Fire Brigade might just turn up as well and put a real dampener on things.

Next time, I'll deal with school and my education, such as it was...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

DiMaggio's, Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow

Got dragged to the Debenham's sale after work last night so, thinking we might as well grab a bite in town, we ended up in DiMaggio's in Royal Exchange Square (map). For Italian food, we'd normally have gone to Sannino Pizzaria or Dino's but the service in both gets surlier every time we go in so we've written them off. I should also mention that we also sometimes go to the excellent Amalfi Pizzeria but we hadn't tried this particular DiMaggio's restaurant so thought it worth a try.

DiMaggio's is almost a Glasgow mainstay for Italian food (with an American influence) as they've been around for over 20 years and have several restaurants around the city and surrounding towns. The West End restaurant is just beside our work and we've been there many a time with no complaints.

As usual, we weren't disappointed here either as the menu has a pretty comprehensive range of pizzas, pastas, salads, seafoods, meats, burgers and sandwiches. I had Papperdelle Rustica and Lorna had Tagliatelle DiMaggio and we scoffed the lot with a side of chunky garlic bread. Not exactly a huge meal but then I ain't getting any thinner and I had to drive home as well so no wine either.

They set out outside seating in the square when the weather is good as well so you can dine continental style and it's always pretty busy.

Cuisine: Italian/American
My Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Orcs - The Omnibus Edition - by Stan Nicholls

The Omnibus Edition of Orcs by Stan Nicholls comprises the trilogy of Bodyguard of Lightning, Legion of Thunder and Warriors of the Tempest plus a short prequel story called The Taking.

Basically this is a story told from the Orcs point of view and we get to follow Stryke and his warband the Wolverines on a mission to recover a group of ancient artefacts and to hopefully restore the land from the destruction being caused by the influx of humans.

While it does amount to over 700 pages long, it'll never rank alongside The Lord Of The Rings trilogy but it is an amusing and fairly light read that gives a different view of what we normally expect of Orcs and their kind. The mission stretches over all three books and is fairly well interspersed with humour and lots of blow by blow fight scenes (a wee bit too detailed and long-winded I thought).

The arch baddy, Queen Jenesta, gets her jollies and magical powers by ripping out and eating the hearts of her victims while on the point of orgasm but, while the opening chapter got a bit steamy, the sexuality sort of fizzes out after that (pity). Besides Orcs aren't into sex, they like to fight and it's what they were bred to do.

Not bad if you fancy a light fantasy read but I found the overlong fight scenes starting to wear a bit.

Genre: Fantasy
ISBN: 0-575-07487-6
My Rating: 5/10

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Old Bridge Inn, Bridge of Allan

Went over to see Lorna's dad Jim in Menstrie today. We usually take him out for dinner and that usually means nipping along to the Cross Keys in Alva but it's been getting pretty dire of late and we'd stopped going.

We decided to go to Bridge of Allan again but this time try the Old Bridge Inn and it was well worth it. Okay it's a bit pricier than the usual pub grub offerings but it was also of a much better quality. Don't go by the menu on their web site as I think that must be the lunch menu. We got the supper menu, which was priced about £8-13 per main course but it was worth the extra for the better food and excellent service. We jumped straight in with a main course - I had Steak Venison & Guinness Pie, Lorna had Liver, Bacon & Onion Casserole and Jim had Smoked Haddock Cakes with Nippy Chilli Jam. All of these were served with appropriate freshly cooked veg and, having missed the starter, we had room for a pud. Jim and I had Pineapple Upside Down Sponge in Custard and Lorna had Cider Jellies and Cider Cream with Frosted Grapes.

Definately somewhere to go back to.

Cuisine: Varied
My Rating: 8/10