Friday, December 28, 2007

ScotRail Strike Again!

We wanted to go into town last night to see my son's band Room 13 play a gig but when I checked the times of the trains online, I was shocked to discover that we'd been stuffed yet again by ScotRail. There was no service at all on our line on either the 27th or 28th due to track improvements and maintenance taking place between Glasgow Central and Paisley Gilmour Street.

It's the Christmas and New Year break and just when you'd prefer to use public transport rather than drive but ScotRail, as ever, have little consideration for us lowly passengers. Fair enough, there's no train service on Christmas day and Boxing Day but when that drags onto the 28th, it's too much.

What's worse is that they don't even consider this a disruption of service. At least not if you've subscribed to their JourneyCheck service, which is supposed to alert you by e-mail if there are any problems with your selected routes and times. It's useful for checking if there are going to be problems getting into work but all I got today was "There are no disruptions reported at this time affecting services between your selected stations."

Bah! Humbug!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Enchanted

EnchantedFaced with an evening in listening to our upstairs neighbour fitting a carpet, we decided to head into town for dinner and a movie. We had a nice meal in Viva Ristorante in Bothwell Street and then headed up to the Cineworld to see Enchanted an animated/live action movie from Disney.
The tale is set in the fairytale land of Andalasia where the evil Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), scheming to keep her throne for as long as she can, has kept her step-son Prince Edward (James Marsden) well away from any marriagable fair maidens.

However, when fate (and her singing) causes the prince to encounter the fair Giselle (Amy Adams) while out hunting ogres in the forest, the pair of them fall in love and plan to marry the next day. Not to be so easily thwarted, Narissa, disguised as an old hag, persuades Giselle to try the old wishing well in the castle gardens but, when the girl has her eyes closed, she pushes her in, banishing her to a world where there are no happy ever afters - New York City.

In New York, Giselle meets divorce attorney Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his 6 year old daughter and tries to come to terms with life in the real world while absolutely sure that her true love Edward will come to her rescue. Of course Narissa has plans to make sure that she never returns.


I suppose it was only a matter of time before Disney once again milked the success of movies like Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella but it works quite well here. Giselle is an amalgam of all three Disney heroines and the tale mixes in many different characters and story elements from all three movies - a damsel in distress, a handsome prince (or two), an evil witch queen and her nasty henchman, lots of friendly forest animals, a fair smattering of magic and a dragon.

The visuals are excellent. From the two dimensional, cel-animation land of Andalasia, where everything looks like those classic Disney animations of old, to the three-dimensional animations when some of the characters and effects reach through into the real world. As for the cast, Susan Sarandon is nastily good as the evil queen Narissa and Timothy Spall does a good job as her besotted servant Nathaniel. James Marsden plays the perfect fairytale prince with lots of gusto and Amy Adams is spot on as Giselle, a maiden who believes happy ever after is for real. Patrick Dempsey does the down to earth lawyer role very well even if he doesn't get any laughs.

It's all very cleverly done and, with a goodly amount of visual gags that will appeal to kids and adults, it's an ideal movie for the Christmas break and well worth catching in the cinema with the kids for the big screen experience.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Musical, Romance
My Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why Doesn't IKEA Deliver?

We've just had the kitchen done - new units, tiling, etc. so thought we'd get some stuff from IKEA to help finish it off. I had a bit of a browse on their site and spotted a circular dish drainer that would go well on our new semi-circular sink drainer. The IKEA web site's not bad, it gives the dimensions, images, etc. and you can even check if an item is in stock at your local store.

So, off we headed to IKEA the other night to find those items that the site had said were in stock. Note: Never, ever go at the weekend, especially a wet one, as the place is crammed full of hopeful and probably disappointed shoppers. Anyway, we wandered around the maze of twisty paths, ignoring the impulse buys, and hunted high and low to no avail and, not having had the foresight to remember the ridiculous names they give stuff, we couldn't really ask anyone where we could find them. We even got hold a catalogue but that only lists their main lines.

However, here's the killer. Before you can shop online with IKEA, you have to check if they deliver to your postcode area. Not unreasonable you might think but they seem to have different rules for delivieries for goods bought instore and for those bought online.

I know my local IKEA do deliveries as I've had some wardrobes and storage units delivered in the past so imagine my shock to find that I can't get a delivery from them if I order the goods online. What kind of system is that? The store is only a few miles away in Braehead so it's not like we're on the Outer Hebrides.

Now we're going to have to go back to the store and get hold of one of their very hard to find assistants and get them to tell us where the stuff we want is. Wish us luck!

It's no wonder there are a stack of blogs and sites out there listing people's gripes about IKEA. Here's a few worth reading…

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bee Movie

Bee MovieHaving had the kitchen tiled on Saturday morning, the fumes of the adhesive were still permeating the house on Sunday so we headed into town to grab some lunch, do a bit of shopping, catch a movie and grab a bite to eat in order to avoid the smell.

We had thought to go and see The Golden Compass but when we got there Bee Movie was showing sooner so that was that.
When young bee, Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld), graduates from college he's dismayed to discover that he's expected to choose a career in honey production and do that same job for the rest of his life. So, determined to break the mould he's been cast in, Barry ventures outside the hive along with a squadron of nectar gathering bees.

However, when an accident with a tennis ball separates Barry from the rest of the bees and he's in pretty dire peril, he ends up being saved by Vanessa (Renée Zellweger), a human. Barry decides that he has to break a strict bee law banning bees from talking to humans and thanks Vanessa for saving his life. She's a bit shocked to discover that bees can talk but the two soon become fast friends.

But, on a visit to a supermarket with Vanessa, Barry is horrified to discover that humans eat honey, honey they have to have stolen from hard-working bees. Determined to right this great wrong, he files a class action lawsuit against humans but the ramifications of his actions lead to serious problems for bees, humanity and the earth itself.

Bee Movie
Okay so the concepts of talking bees growing up in little family units or of male bees doing any work at all is taking some liberties with nature but this movie really isn't about bees at all. It's a bit of a mix of a coming-of-age movie, a romance, a courtroom drama and an ecological disaster movie. The bees are just there to attract the kids as a animated movie with a teenager fighting against the establishment just wouldn't work as well.

That's not to say it isn't funny. it is and very much so in places but I think the writers have tried to squeeze too much of a plot into what should have been a simple animated comedy and it misses the mark a little with the younger audience. I never got into Seinfeld when he was on TV so have very little experience of his humour but it works here, especially for adults as the one-liners kept coming at a pretty fast pace.

The animation was pretty good, especially in the flying through the hive scenes, but it wasn't anything spectacular like the kind of stuff Pixar puts out. I got the impression that all those flying scenes and dodging stuff were crafted more with a video game franchise in mind than for the benefit of the storyline.

It also attracted a lot of well-known names to do the voices. Aside from Seinfeld and Zellweger, there are roles for Matthew Broderick as Barry's friend Adam, Kathy Bates and Barry Levinson as his parents, John Goodman as humanity's lawyer, Oprah Winfrey as the judge, Chris Rock as a mosquito, Larry King as bee version of himself, Ray Liotta and Sting as themselves as well as Larry Miller, Megan Mullally and Rip Torn.

All of the above concerns regarding the plot and animation aside, it's all about the humour and there's plenty of it. I'm not sure a younger audience would appreciate it but we enjoyed it and laughed quite a lot so it has to have something going for it.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Family, Fantasy
My Rating: 7/10


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Beowulf

BeowulfWe went to see Beowulf, the CGI animated version of the old, Anglo-Saxon, epic poem, the other night. It's set during the sixth century in Denmark and is supposedly the oldest surviving piece of English literature. Here's the gist of this version of the tale…
When the hall of King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) is terrorised by a fearsome monster called Grendel (Crispin Glover), who comes in the night wreaking havoc and murder, he sends out a call for a hero to kill this foul creature and bring peace back to his court.

When the call is answered by Beowulf (Ray Winstone) and his Geats many are thankful for his fame as a hero was widely known but his boasting makes others like Unferth (John Malkovitch) sceptical and jealous.

Of course, Beowulf triumphs over the evil Grendel but Hrothgar has a secret that could lead Beowulf into deeper trouble and things go from bad to worse when Grendel's mother (Angelina Jolie) descends on Hrothgar's hall, seeking vengeance for the slaying of her only son.

I read Beowulf many years ago when still at school and it's one of those stories that has stayed with me all this time. This story doesn't exactly stick to the original text and I thought their interpretation of Grendel as a deformed and grotesque creature didn't sit well with my memory of the story. That aside, it's an entertaining enough movie.

The film is directed by Robert Zemeckis and, with a screenplay co-written by fantasy author Neil Gailman, whose mind this form of Grendel probably came from, and a decent cast of voice talent for the major roles, it turned out better than I'd expected it to. Obviously it'd been better if filmed in live action with some awesome special effects but I expect the budget wouldn't stretch that far and CGI does allow for more control over camera angles and art direction.


The biggest problem I had with it was Ray Winstone as the voice of Beowulf. The man has no talent for changing his accent and he'll always sound like a London gangster no matter what role he plays. Take his classic line "They say you have a monstah. They say your lands are cursed. I am Beowulf, and I will kill your monstah." as an example. Don't get me wrong, I like Ray Winstone as an actor and he's usually pretty entertaining but I just feel he's been miscast for this role.

I suppose the star of the show was Angelina Jolie as she got her kit off, even it was just CGI. Let's face it, if you want to see Angelina naked in a movie these days, then this is probably the best you'll ever get and she was so seductive with it. Anthony Hopkins was excellent as King Hrothgar, but then he almost always is, and John Malkovitch was good as the slimy Unferth. There are a few other reasonably well-known actors such as Brendan Gleeson and Dominic Keating doing some of the voices and they did pretty well too.


As I said above, the movie plot doesn't follow the original text. It introduces a bit more mystery and magic to it by including a curse and there's a dragon as well. There is a dragon featured in the original, just not this one. The quality of the CGI animation is getting better and better and there a re few scenes where you'd be hard pressed to spot that it isn't real. That said, it's still not quite there as far as true-to-life reality goes, even if they did use almost 300 cameras, but it's so much further along than Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and that was seen as groundbreaking in its time, even if it did bomb at the box office.

Zemeckis also directed the fully CGI movie The Polar Express, which was another poor box office performer, so it's good that he still sees the medium has having some potential as I suspect that once the technology improves even further, especially if they get the facial expressions and eyes more lifelike, we'll see even more movies done in this way. Animation fans will love Beowulf as it's a visual treat, especially once the dragon comes into play, but it's maybe a bit too violent and bawdy for a younger audience.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
My Rating: 7/10


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ironcrown Moon - by Julian May

Ironcrown MoonIroncrown Moon is the second volume in The Boreal Moon Tale by Julian May. Here's a short summary of the plot as it develops…
Conrig Wincantor has achieved his aim of uniting the island of High Blenholme under his sovereignty and he now sits on the Ironcrown throne as King. But not all of his subjects are happy about the new arrangement.

Conrig's spy Deveron is now Sir Deveron but he's still Snudge in more ways than one. Conrig's first wife Maudrayne, thought drowned when she leapt from the tower after agreeing to his divorce demand, has resurfaced in the north. Conrig fears that she could divulge his secret to the world and rob both him and his heirs of the crown.

Meanwhile the many other plots and schemes continue. Prince Beynor of Moss, banned from using moon sigils by the Beaconfolk on pain of death, is now playing several sides off to his own advantage, or at least that was the plan. Killian Blackhorse, Conrig's denounced alchemyst, has escaped and plans to recover the Trove of Darasilo and aid the exiled prince of Didion to help him gain the throne of that province and so challenge the sovereignty.

Deveron, sent North to seek out Maudrayne, is unhappy with his King and is worried that the old saying about absolute power corrupting absolutely may be starting to have its effect on him. Oh, and the Salka monsters want their island back!

Julian May continues to impress with this series. It has a wealth of characters, creatures, schemes and plots; certainly enough to keep most readers turning the pages. The plot may be fairly standard fantasy stuff but there's so much going on and all of it interlinking nicely as the tale progresses. The main players are very well developed at this stage so it's interesting to see how their own circumstances and the ramifications of the storyline lead them to change character.

Basically, Ironcrown Moon is a very acceptable sequel to Conqueror's Moon and an entertaining story in itself.

Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
ISBN:
My Rating: 7/10

Black Sun Rising - by Celia Friedman

Black Sun RisingBlack Sun Rising is the first volume in Celia Friedman's Coldfire series. It looks like the beginning of a very readable science-fiction/fantasy story so here's a brief outline of the plot…
Over 1,000 years ago, colonists from Earth settled on the far distant, seismically active but beautiful planet Erna. However, this seemingly habitable world was fraught with perils that no-one could have forseen and the colonists soon found themselves caught in a desperate struggle for their very survival.

Erna was home to the Fae, a terrifying natural force with the power to prey upon the human mind, indiscriminately bring both dreams and nightmares to life. But with nowhere else to go, the colonists learned to live with the Fae and twelve hundred years later, mankind and Fae have reached an uneasy stalemate.

Now, human sorcerors manipulate the Fae for profit but what they don't realize is that there are demonic forces on Erna that feed upon their interactions with the Fae and they are gaining in strength. Into this cauldron of power are thrown a priest, an adept, an apprentice and a sorceror and together they must find and confront an evil beyond their imagining. The very fate of humanity depends on them.

Okay, it's been done many times before now but I like the mix of science-fiction and fantasy here. It gives some background to the story and provides a set of rules by which the fantasy element can be controlled. Friedman has crafted a plausible world with a sound basis in science-fiction and populated it with a rich mix of characters for her story. Erna has three moons, which means there's always some light available and only rarely do all moon set together, bringing about true night. True night is a time to be feared by all as the Fae is at its strongest.

I suppose the story can be likened (a bit) to the movie Forbidden Planet, where monsters of the id were responsible for the extinction of the Krell race. Where Altair-4 had the vast machinery if the Krell, Erna has the Fae but the results are much the same. Imagine a world where your very thoughts, even a stray one, can become reality and you'll appreciate how living on Erna would be very difficult. It also explains the rise of the church in what should have been a scientifically oriented society.

The mix of primary characters is pretty good too with the reverand Damien Kilcannon Vryce as the leader of the party of adventurers and the mysterious Gerald Tarrant, also known as the Hunter and master of the forbidden Forest, as a sort of anti-hero. You know Tarrant is evil but even he isn't beyond redemption and there are much worse things out there.

The next installment is called When True Night Falls and it's definitely on my must read list.

Genre:Adventure, Fantasy, Science-Fiction
ISBN: 1-84149-541-7
My Rating: 8/10

Ratatouille

RatatouilleThe trailers for Disney/Pixar's Ratatouille have been doing the round for so long now and, with us going off on holiday and then me being sick. we almost missed it at the cinema.
Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a French country house rat with a super-sensitive sense of smell that can detect the ingredients in any food. His pack, led by his father Django (Brian Dennehy) don't really care about that though and just use him as the poison sniffer. Remy, on the other hand, is a food gourmet whose hero is the Parisian chef Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett).

When an accident makes the pack flee the house, Remy gets separted in the sewers and eventually finds himself in Paris where he is devastated to find out that Gusteau had recently died after a brutal review by food critic Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole). Lonely, Remy imagines talking with Gusteau's ghost, who guides and comforts him and when he finds Gusteau's restaurant, it has fallen on hard times and has been taken over by sous-chef, Skinner (Ian Holm), who's sold out Gusteau's image to sell his recipes as fast-food products.

Skinner reluctantly employs Gusteaus's old girlfriend's son Linguini (Lou Romano) as garbage-boy but, when Linguini has an accident with a pot of soup that is rectified behind-the-scenes by Remy, Skinner becomes deeply suspicious that Linguini is after the restaurant, a fact that could come true if Linguini proves to be Gusteau's son. Meanwhile Linguini and Remy become a team, with Remy controlling the hapless garbage-boy and cooking wonderful food. Skinner is now out for any means to get rid of Linguini and suspects a rat, literally and when remy's pack begins to turn up looking for free food, things get way out of hand.

Ratatouille
Ratatouille is directed by Brad Bird, who also directed The Incredibles and Iron Giant, both pretty good efforts by anyone's measure. Like most animations these day, it also has a few big names doing the voices; Ian Holm plays the nasty little chef Skinner and Peter O'Toole is the thoroughly scathing food critic Anton Ego while Brian Dennehy voices Remy's father Django.

The animation is superb, from beautiful backdrops of Paris to the dankness of the sewers. You can't fault the quality of the Pixar's animation as they always do the business; it even won the Animation Of The Year award at the 2007 Hollywood Film Festival.

Ratatouille isn't flashy or action-packed but is has the soul of a classic movie and, as an animation, is up there with the best of them. That said, it probably won't appeal as much to a younger audience as most of the humour is on the subtle side. There was a family with three young kids when we were there and they left mid way through as the film just couldn't hold the children's attention at all.

However, Ratatouille is a must-see for any animation fans!

As an added bonus, there was a Pixar short showing as well. Lifted is a humourous take on alien abductions where a young alien, Stu, is in a spaceship taking an examination in abduction. He must snatch a sleeping farmer under the watchful eye of his instructor. It was pretty funny and a simple search online let me download it in Flash format.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Family
My Rating: 8/10

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Room 13, Barfly, Glasgow

We went to see my son David's band, Room 13, performing at Barfly in Glasgow on Friday night. Barfly are known for giving new and upcoming bands a shot at being on stage and have hosted bands such Coldplay, Kaiser Chiefs, Doves, Franz Ferdinand, Feeder, Muse, The Strokes, Stereophonics and many more now well-established bands.

Room 13Room 13 at Barfly, 16/11/2007

Room 13 were on first in the upstairs bar and, like the other bands following, only had a half-hour set so it wasn't a huge gig or anything. Still, that said, we've missed a few of their earlier gigs with being off on holiday and then me getting ill so we thought we'd better turn up and see what they sounded like.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surpised and they were pretty good, even if the sound system was a bit naff/overloud for the size of the place and they were competing with the sound from the larger downstairs venue. David was excellent on guitar as usual, although he could have done with more volume during the solos, and I thought Jamie on vocals was astounding. I admit I'm biased regarding David, he's me son after all, but I'd better mention Steven on guitar, Stef on bass and Sam on drums as their roles are no less important and they rounded the whole Room 13 sound off perfectly. The band led in with a cover of Find The Real by Alter Bridge to get things going and then played five of their own compositions.

Room 13 class themselves as playing a mix of classic and modern rock music and it seems to work well if what I heard the other night was anything to go by for future performances.

They're next upcoming gigs are at…





Thursday, November 15, 2007

Frankie & Benny's, Xscape, Braehead, Renfrew

We went to the movies the other night at the new Odeon cinema in the Xscape at Braehead so it seemed like a good idea to get something to eat there as well. Xscape has a really large range of eateries but we just fancied a quick burger before the movie so we opted for Frankie & Benny's.

We'd been to the Frankie & Benny's at Springfield Quay a couple of times before and it was pretty good, a wee bit on the pricey side but no complaints about service or quality so it seemed like a good idea.

Boy were we wrong; Frankie & Benny's at Xscape is a shambles! We ordered one course as we were on a time limit. Lorna wanted a simple, plain hamburger with a caesar salad side and I fancied a Black and Blue burger; nothing complicated. It took them about 30 minutes to produce a full caesar salad as a starter, not what we'd ordered. Worse than that was the fact that they couldn't even make a simple caesar salad correctly. It had a whole beef tomato quartered into it when there are no tomatoes in any decent caesar salad recipe I've ever seen. They were just using that as filler.

So, once we'd finally got our main courses plus excuse for a side-salad, and we weren't the only ones waiting for ages, we were pretty disappointed with the food. Lorna wasn't happy about that salad and my burger was pretty awful. It was all we could do to shovel some of it down, pay the bill and head for the cinema before we missed the start of the film.

They really need to sort the kitchen staff out; the place wasn't that busy and it looked like they were backed up for ages. Needless to say they got no tip and we won't be going back in a hurry; there are plenty of other diners in Xscape to try first.

Cuisine: American/Italian
My Rating 2/10

Dark Space - by Marianne de Pierres

Dark SpaceDark Space is the first installment in the Sentients Of Orion series by Australian author Marianne de Pierres. Here's a brief summary of the plot…
While drifting in space, lost due to navigational failure, mineral scout Jo-Jo Rasterovich encounters an entity that can only be described as "God". When word gets out, academics from across the Orion sector scramble to gain favour with the entity, whom they named Sole. However, not all of the sentients of Orion hold this god in awe and some are deeply suspicious of its intentions.

Meanwhile on the planet Araldis, Baronessa Mira Fedor is being cheated out of her heriditery role as Pilot First. Her family's genetic makeup allows her to communicate with the sentient, deep-space ships capable of interplanetary travel and the Principe wants to transfer her genes to his son Trinder.

While Mira is on the run from those that would perpetrate this atrocity and doom her to insanity, Araldis is invaded by a race of what appears to be giant water spiders whose only aim appears to be to decimate the population and feed on them. Only the Orion League of Sentient Species can lend aid but someone would need to got offworld to let them know and OLOSS is somewhat preoccupied in communicating with "God".

Can Mira evade capture by her own people and prowling aliens, get to the planet's only remaining spaceship Insignia and get the news of the invasion to OLOSS and exactly how is the misogynistic Jo-Jo Rasterovich and nefarious alien Tekton involved in all of this? As for the Entity, only it knows what its priorities are and it isn't telling...yet!

I really liked this story! With one arc following Mira as she flees the Principe and his surgeons, one following Trinder as he is recruited into the local Carabinere, one following the alien Tekton as he vies with his peers for the attention of the Sole entity, one following Jo-Jo on an erotic, drunken romp and then there's Sole and whatever it's up to.

Mira and Trinder's stories get sucked into the after affects of the invasion of their world while Jo-Jo and Tekton get involved for some pretty dodgy dealing, which seems to have some involvement with Araldis. There's certainly enough going on in this tale to keep you reading avidly on. Jo-Jo and Tekton's antics are verging on the hilarious in places while Mira and Trinder, used to lives of luxury as aristocrats, are seeing things from the perspective of victims of war.

Definitely worth reading and I hope the sequel continues at this level.

Genre: Science-Fiction.
ISBN: 978-1-84149-428-9
My Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Stardust

StardustWe haven't been to the movies for ages. Mostly due to being off on holiday for a couple of weeks and then me catching a nasty stomach bug but I was feeling a bit better on Sunday so we thought we'd better start on the movie backlog with Stardust. Stardust is a film adaptation of a book by Neil Gaiman, one of our best fantasy authors of the moment. Here's a short introduction to the story…
The king of the magical realm of Stormhold (Peter O'Toole) is dying! As he departs, he drains the colour from his royal ruby amulet and casts it up into the heavens stating that only one of royal blood can restore it and whichever of his four, sorry three, surviving sons can retrieve it, then they'll inherit the crown. However, as the amulet soars higher and higher, it knocks a star out of the sky and both plummet back to earth, far from the castle walls. The scheming brothers waste no time in setting off after their destiny...but others have seen the star fall too.

In the little English village of Wall, so named for the old wall nearby that has, for eons, kept the villagers safely apart from the supernatural land that lies on the other side, a young man called Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox) promises his beloved that he'll seek out the fallen star and give it to her as a gift for her birthday. The star is also noticed by the evil witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), who knows exactly what it is and how it can restore her and her two wicked sisters to eternal youth, beauty and power.

And so begins the chase for both amulet and star for the prizes of a throne, love and even everlasting life.

StardustI haven't read the book but having read some of Gaiman's work, I'd suspect that director Matthew Vaughn and Neil Gaiman have done an excellent job of translating the story onto film. Narrated by Ian McKellen, the story unfolds beautifully as we learn of young Dunstan's adventure over the wall some 18 years before and the consequences of that visit that leads us into the main story.

The hero of the piece is young Tristan, a poor shop assistant who's infatuated with a local girl called Victoria (Sienna Miller) but she's more interested in marrying the far wealthier Humphrey (Henry Cavill). Trouble is, Tristan is blind to her disinterest in him and he pursues her relentlessly. Even when he sees the star fall to earth and vows to seek it out for her, he can't understand why she'd want to marry Humphrey at all. He's a sad case!

Gaiman's style of somewhat dark fanstasy mingled in with comic touches works excellently here and there are some gems in those occassionally amusing moments. Robert de Niro's portayal of Captain Shakespeare, the gay pirate, is classic. Add to that some good British comedy talent like Mark Williams, Ricky Gervais, David Walliams and veteran David Kelly. Even Ricky Gervais didn't seem so annoying as usual, even if he still can't play anything other than the same character, "actyelly". Mark Williams playing a goat turned human is hilarious.

StardustOn the darker side, Michelle Pfeiffer plays the wicked witch queen Lamia really well; she's just so nasty and well supported by her two sisters, Mormo and Empusa. Then there's Prince Septimus (Mark Strong), who's out to kill all of his brothers to get the throne; he has to do that as he's seventh in line. He also wants the star when he finds out that it can be used to get everlasting life and he quite fancies ruling Stormhold forever.

And in the middle there's Yvain (Claire Danes) but I'm not going to mention her role here, you'll just have to watch the movie. The cinematography is pretty good and it's not difficult to recognise the fact that they used Loch Lomond and the Quiraing on Skye for a few of the location shoots. Special effects are fairly good but not overly used and the score reminded me a bit of Howard Shore's work on The Lord Of The Rings so it was good too.

It's a fairy story romance with a few quests thrown in and an evil witch and an evil prince to thwart so it is a bit predictable in its simplicity of plot but defintely worth watching and well recommended. I might even try getting hold of the book as well.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Romance
My Rating: 8/10


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Joy Of Interior Plumbing

There was I, pleasantly sitting at the keyboard and uploading a few photos from our recent holiday onto my Flickr account when I heard Lorna shouting my name from the kitchen. It was clear enough from the pitch and volume of the call that I'd better get through there quickly too so off I went at a run.

Just when she'd been ploughing through the mound of washing that always accompanies you back from a holiday, the kitchen drain decides it's had enough and gets blocked. So we've got water pouring out the washing machine on spin, going nowhere except back up the pipes into the sink and out over the floor.

Quickly deducing that all was not well with the plumbing, I hit the power switch to kill the outflow of water and we got to mopping up so we could start investigating the problem. It was soon obvious that the sink waste drain was blocked; I mean the water wasn't going anywhere. We've got a plunger but all that did was shoot a foul mix of gunk back up the sink overflow.

The next step meant clearing out the undersink cupboard and tackling the amazing mix of twisty bits of white plastic pipework leading to the drain outlet. Oh it was horrible! We've been here for about 15 years and never thought about it before but those u-bends and turns are ideal places for gunk to build up and in all that time, an awful lot of it had done. I got the pipework dismantled and was up to my elbows in really horrid slimey glaur but it was still blocked down below where I could get to. That 15 years worth of food and grease build-up had finally clogged the main drain outlet.

We thought we'd have to call a plumber with all the unwanted expense that would involve but, since, for reasons we can't recall, we had a bottle of Mr. Muscle in the cupboard and I thought I'd give it a try and see if it would clear overnight. By morning, the water level in the drain pipe had gone down so I tentatively poured a few kettles of boiling water down and it seemed to drain away, getting quicker all the time. We've had that bottle of sink and plughole unblocker for years and I think we were pretty lucky we had it or we'd have been saddled with the expense of a plumber and the hassle of taking time off work to get it cleared.

We got back in tonight and put it all back together and got on with the holiday washing. The moral of the tale? Don't leave it for 15 years before you clean out your pipes or you'll end up having as fun an evening as we just did and the joy of having to disinfect everything in sight up to your armpits!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Still Poor But Denser Than Average

We're just back from a couple of weeks holiday in Gran Canaria to discover that we still haven't yet won the lottery so can't retire to somewhere sunny like that. Well, when I say we hadn't won the lottery, I did win a tenner but that wouldn't even get us to Helensburgh for the day.

On the upside, as I broke my elbow back in August and the fact that I'm getting old (sigh), I got an appointment to go for a bone densitometry scan today. The results were that my bones are denser than average, which is a good thing. As you age, your bone mineral density decreases and with that there's an increased chance of developing Osteopenia or Osteoporosis. These conditions are more prevalent in women but they're obviously looking to gather data from both sexes and maybe start treating them earlier.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Upcoming Movies - Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem

Aliens vs. Predator: RequiemAliens vs. Predator: Requiem is the second Alien vs. Predator movie. It kind of snuck up on me and I have to admit I didn't see anything about this until last week. The age-restricted trailer is a bit of a gore-fest so it looks like all the stuff they left out of Alien vs. Predator may have made it into this one. Here's a quick outline of the plot…
When a Predator scout ship crash lands in a small Colorado town the Aliens on board escape and kill all the Predators except one. This last remaining Predator must now destroy all the Aliens as well as the horrific Alien/Predator hybrid that was spawned in the first movie. Meanwhile, the helpless townsfolk are caught in the middle of this blood-fest with obviously gory consequences.

The first AVP movie wasn't that well received, mainly for having been cut to pieces by the studio and director and co-writer Paul W.S. Anderson in order to get it a PG-13 certificate, but this one looks like it'll go straight in at an 18 certificate. It's directed by Colin and Greg Strause. The Strause brothers are more usually involved as visual-effects designer/supervisors, having worked on 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, 300, X-Men: The Last Stand, Poseidon, Æon Flux, Syriana, The Fog and Flightplan among others, but they're fairly new as directors and this is really their first shot at directing a larger budget movie. That said, there are no no big-budget names appearing and most of the cast look to have come from US TV series roles.

It's due for a UK release on the 18th of January 2008.


Friday, October 12, 2007

The Swarm: A Novel Of The Deep - by Frank Schätzing

The Swarm: A Novel Of The DeepThe Swarm is a tale of what could happen if the Earth decides that humanity can no longer be tolerated in the face of our complacent destruction of the planet's delicate ecology. Here's a brief taster of the plot…
Something strange and terrible is occurring in our oceans and seas. Whales and orcas have started attacking boats and tourists off the coast of Canada, South American fishermen are going missing, a lot of very odd worms have turned up near an ocean-floor drilling station near Norway, huge shoals of highly toxic jellyfish are plaguing the Australian beaches and a weird lobster explodes in a French restaurant, causing a lethal epidemic to spread.

Is the marine life fighting back against decades of our polluting the seas or is it all part of a terrorist plot to destabilize the world economy? Leading scientists from all over the world are recruited to try to figure out who or what is behind all of these occurrences but when events take a catastrophic turn for the worse, they soon come to realize that we may not be the most dominant species on Earth and never have been.

The Swarm
was originally published in German and has been translated into English but I don't think it's lost anything in the translation as it's still a cracking read. At almost 900 pages, it's maybe a bit on the long side for some but Schätzing uses that to build and develop his main characters very well and, given the global scope of the storyline, there's a lot going on.

It starts off with a few small incidents coming to the attention of scientists and governments and builds in tension and speed as it heads towards the inevitably climactic conclusion. Schätzing has done his homework regarding the science behind the story pretty well, especially in the fields of marine biology, geology and geophysics, which makes it all the more plausible.

It's a change to read a novel written by a non American/non British author as Schätzing brings a definitely European perception of things into the mix. This isn't Independence Day and the Americans aren't going to get to save the world in this story or at least not without a lot of help from the rest of us.

While reading it, I was thinking it would make a good movie and lo and behold, I found out that actress and producer Uma Thurman bought the film rights to it in May 2006 and it has been subsequently announced that a film version is in the works for sometime in 2008. Unfortunately that probably means that the Americans will take all the main leads and ruin it.

Well worth reading all the way through to the end!

ISBN:978-0-340-89524-5
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Science-Fiction, Thriller
My Rating: 8/10

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Bourne UltimatumThe Bourne Ultimatum is the third and final installment in the Jason Bourne story adapted from the books by Robert Ludlum. It picks up almost straight after the events of The Bourne Supremacy.
Marie is dead and Bourne (Matt Damon) is still looking for revenge and information about his true identity. With the suicide of Ward Abbot (Brian Cox), Treadstone has been closed down and the CIA are trying to clean house and that means that they're still looking to terminate Bourne.

When journalist Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) writes about an Operation Blackbriar, to all intents and purposes Treadstone Mark II, in his newspaper column, Bourne makes contact thinking Ross may have information on his past. Of course the Blackbriar team are out to silence both of them.


While The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy were cracking spy thrillers, this really didn't hit the mark for me as well as I thought it would. Sure there was loads of fast-paced action and Matt Damon played Bourne as sharply as before but it just seemed like more of the same as was dished up in the last movie. Bourne's journey to find out his real identity while avoiding the constant stream of Blackbriar assassins, sorry assets, is all a bit too formulaic.

The female interest here is ex-Treadstone agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) and the script did allude to her having more of a relationship with Bourne than was actually stated, which led me to think that it may have been taken from the books and never fully explored. Not that the movies bear much of a resemblance to the books other than the fact that they start off with him floating in the sea.

That said, it's still a good movie and I did enjoy it for its fast pace and well shot action sequences. The chase over the rooftops is excellent. Worth seeing if you've seen the first two movies but not quite as good as either of them.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Mystery, Thriller
My Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My Aching Feet!

My feet are sore! Why are my feet sore? Well I've just spent the entire train journey from Dundee to Glasgow standing due to several factors. The main one is obvious - there were no seats available but there are several reasons as to why there were no seats available and the blame for it falls squarely at the door of ScotRail. Anyway, here's the list…
  1. ScotRail cancelled the previous train - no reason was given.
  2. Rush were kicking off their UK and European tour with a concert at the SECC.
  3. Celtic were playing A.C. Milan at Parkhead.
So, aside from the tedium of having to spend an hour more than I wanted to in Dundee, I had to stand all the way home in a train absolutely full to bursting and all simply because ScotRail don't have any consideration for their customers. Having cancelled the early afternoon train, you might think it would dawn on whatever imbecile responsible for provisioning the next train that it couldn't possibly carry the expected volume of passengers heading into Glasgow with two such large events taking place later that evening.

It obviously suited their pockets better to cram us all in like cattle, or at least those of us that could get on, and with no regard to health and safety far less our comfort. People trying to board the train at Stirling had a very difficult time of it and I'm sure there were quite a few that didn't manage it, especially a couple of dejected looking souls with bicycles.

So I had to stand in the aisle and listen to groups of forty and fifty-something blokes waffling on about how many times they'd seen Rush or how they hope they play "Closer To The Heart"...again, while constantly checking their Blackberrys and passing round the bottles of Corona and Peroni. On top of that there were the Celtic fans who were pretty well behaved, even though the bottles and cans of beer were being downed with gusto there too. And all that beer meant a constant stream of people trying to squeeze down the aisle to the toilet and back again.

There's an interesting article on overcrowding here and it's obvious from that that overcrowding on trains is seen as just one of those things we have to put up with. Until there's an accident or the train has to be evacuated and then the HSE can step in but isn't that too late?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Transformers

TransformersWe went to see Transformers a few weeks ago and, while I should probably have written this back then, it kind of got put on the back-burner due to other stuff going on. Anyway, I thought I'd better get it done before it disappears from the cinema. Here's a short summary of the plot…
Thousands of years ago there was the Allspark, a gigantic and mysterious cube roaming through space, and wherever it traveled it created life, even on Cybertron, home of the Transformers. Their society flourished, until they were betrayed by Megatron, and war erupted over the Allspark, which was eventually lost in space.

But now both factions, the Autobots and the Decepticons, know it's here on Earth and both have their own agenda for its retrieval.

Since they didn't appear until 1984, Transformer toys were something I missed as a kid. The basic story of the movie is somewhat different from the original toy line but is no less inventive. Basically, after the Allspark granted life to the mechanical and electrical objects on Cybertron, they were able to transform, rearranging their bodies into common and innocuous forms, such as vehicles, devices or animals.

However, after a period of civilized behaviour, some bad robots, under the leadership of Megatron, decided they wanted to take over Cybertron but in the ensuing war, it was destroyed and the Allspark lost. So now both sides of the surviving Transformers have discovered that the cube is on Earth. For the bad guys, the Decepticons, that means they're coming to get it at any cost. Luckily for us, the good robots, the Autobots, respect life and will do what they can to protect us while also looking for the Allspark.


So, looking at it from that angle, it seemed a reasonable plot for a large-scale special-effects feature. Throw in the human angle in the form of Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) a youngster supposedly doing a school report, but is instead hawking his grandfather's memorabilia on eBay so he can help his dad buy him a car. You can guess what kind of car he gets and from then on it's pretty much mayhem in giant robot form with a few witty one-liners thrown in for humour.

The level of on-screen violence is much higher than I'd have thought it would have been for a toy franchise spin-off and the opening scene is pretty heavy stuff, which is probably why it got a 12A certificate. The special-effects are good though and all that destruction seems very real. However, there's no blood, or at least I don't remember seeing any so it not a gore-fest.

However, all that mayhem is well balanced by the humour and once the Autobots start getting involved in the dialogue, you really can't take them seriously as they have some really cheesy lines. With LaBeouf as the central character, Megan Fox and Rachael Taylor providing the female interest and Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson providing the muscle as survivors from the opening scene out for some revenge, it all works pretty well.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Science-Fiction
My Rating: 7/10


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sign Of The Cross - by Chris Kuzneski

Sign Of The CrossSign Of Che Cross is yet another in a long line of religious thrillers in the same vein as The Da Vinci Code but it was going cheap and the blurb on the back cover made it attractive enough for a no-brainer read. Here's the basic tempter from the back…
A Vatican priest is found murdered on the shores of Denmark, nailed to a cross in the shadow of Hamlet's castle. He is the first victim in a vicious killing spree that spans the world, each horrific murder exactly mirroring the crucifixion of Christ.

Meanwhile, deep in the Roman catacombs of Orvieto, an archaeologist uncovers an ancient scroll dating back two thousand years. The scroll, he knows, holds the key to a dark and treacherous secret that will rock the very foundations of the Church. But only if he can decipher its lost meanings and only if he can live long enough to reveal them.

As expected it was a fairly easy and undemanding read with a plausible storyline to give it some credence. Kuzneski has obviously done a fair bit of research and has managed to come up with a decent plot, almost believable characters and a pace that makes you want to just read the next chapter and then the next.

It does keep you guessing for a while as to who's behind the killings and why. It's an unfortunate coincidence for the bad guys that the archaeologist was rooting around in something connected to their scheme just as they kicked off with the killing spree but I don't suppose it'd been much of a story otherwise.

The only annoying thing was the fact that, once the action hotted up, quite a lot of the chapters ended with one of those little leading statements of things to come. You know what I mean. Stuff like "Of course, that was nothing compared to the evidence that someone was about to uncover next." and "Miraculously, their prayers would be answered less than an hour later."

Nevertheless, it's not a bad read and ideal for a long plane or train ride.

Genre: Action, Mystery, Thriller
ISBN: 978-0-141-030845
My Rating: 6/10

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Upcoming Movies - Enchanted, The Last Legion, WALL•E, 10,000 B.C.

Found a few more upcoming movies that I'll probably be interested in seeing when they hit our shores…

EnchantedEnchanted

In Enchanted a classic Disney animated fairy tale meets with modern, live-action comedy. It follows the beautiful princess Giselle (Amy Adams) as she is banished by an evil queen (Susan Sarandon) from her magical, musical animated land and finds herself in the gritty reality of the streets of modern-day Manhattan. Shocked by this strange new environment that doesn't operate on a "happily ever after" basis, Giselle is now adrift in a chaotic world badly in need of enchantment. But when she begins to fall in love with a charmingly flawed divorce lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) who has come to her aid, even though she is already promised to a fairy tale prince (James Marsden) back home, she has to wonder: can a storybook view of romance survive in the real world?

It seems to be a reworking of the Snow White tale with the names changed to protect the innocent. It's got a princess, a wicked witch, a prince, a dwarf, a dragon and what could be a magic mirror but, having watched the trailer, it does seem quite funny and could work out pretty well.

Official site: http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/enchanted/
Trailers: http://www.apple.com/trailers/disney/enchanted/



The Last LegionThe Last Legion

The Last Legion is a fantasy action-adventure in the same vein of “The Sword and the Stone” but set against the fall of Rome and its last emperor. 12 year-old Romulus Augustus was the boy who would rule for a day before losing all that he loved: his family, his home, and an empire that once stood for truth and honour. While imprisoned on the island-fortress of Capri and seeking a means of escape, Romulus discovers instead “excaliburnus,” the legendary sword of Julius Caesar, and realizes that he must do all in his power to save Rome.

Aided by the clever strategies of his teacher, Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsley), and the heroic skills of his loyal legionnaire Aurelius (Colin Firth), Romulus escapes the island. Accompanied by his friends and a mysterious envoy from Constantinople, Romulus travels to Britannia in search of the last Roman Legion - the fabled Dragon Legion. There, Romulus will fight alongside his friends to make his last stand for Rome and take his first steps to becoming a man and the king who would father a legend.

It's being touted as the untold beginning of the King Arthur legend and it sounds like a lot of tosh but it could be entertaining. Not sure about a UK release but it's opening just about everwhere else in September and October so it shouldn't be too far away.

Official Site: http://www.lastlegion-movie.com/
Trailers: http://www.apple.com/trailers/weinstein/thelastlegion/


WALL-EWALL•E

This is Disney and Pixar's latest project, due for release next Summer, in the middle of july for us in the U.K. It's written and directed by Andrew Stanton who also directed Finding Nemo and A Bug's Life as well as having a hand in the screenplays for Monsters, Inc, Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo and A Bug's Life.

Being still early in production, there's not a lot more information available other a fairly thin plot description…
The year is 2700. WALL•E, a robot, spends every day doing what he was made for. But soon, he will discover what he was meant for.
Pixar have always come up with the goods as far as top-class animations go so I have good expectations for this one as well.

Official Site: http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/wall-e/
Trailers: http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/wall-e/popup/index.html



10,000 B.C.

From director Roland Emmerich comes a pre-historic tale due for a UK release in March, 2008.

It was a time when man and beast were untamed and the mighty mammoth roamed the earth. A time when ideas and beliefs were born that forever shaped mankind. 10,000 B.C. follows a young hunter (Steven Strait) on his quest to lead an army across a vast desert, battling saber-tooth tigers and prehistoric predators as he unearths a lost civilization and attempts to rescue the woman he loves (Camilla Belle) from an evil warlord determined to possess her.

Sounds a bit like Quest For Fire as far as the time/era is concerned so here's hoping it turns out as good as that one did.

Official site: http://10000bcmovie.com/
Trailers: http://www.apple.com/trailers/wb/10000bc/

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Blade Itself - by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself is the first installment in The First Law, a fantasy trilogy from new author Joe Abercrombie. Here's the gist of the story…
Logen Ninefingers, the infamous Northern barbarian, is on the run with his luck running out. He and his band have been banished from their homeland, the vile Shanka are coming down from the far North and now he's been separated from his men.

Captain Jezal dan Luthar is in training for the swordfencing Contest in Adua and that's all he cares about. Not that he'd care about anyone else but himself at any other time but he needs the glory of the win to keep his father sweet and still paying for his selfish lifestyle.

Inquisitor Glokta is a bitter man. Once the hero of the Contest and the brightest soldier in the army, he's now crippled and reduced to torturing confessions out of any unfortunate enough to come under his scrutiny. But even Glokta must watch his step as failure is not tolerated in the Inquisition.

Bayaz, First of the Magi, is again moving in the land and looking to take back the position that was once his on the inner council. This time he's looking for those who can aid him and, among others, Logen, Jezal and Glokta have stirred his interest.

For a first novel, this is an excellent tale; one of those hard to put down books that only comes around once in a while. The Blade Itself is a many-threaded tale, introducing the characters and the storyline and it does it really well. These are real people and not the standard fantasy novel characters who are usually way too good to be true. If anything, the primary characters here are anti-heroes. Logen has the blackest reputation, they don't call him The Bloody Nine for nothing, but he's just so likable; he swears, drinks, fancies a bit of the other and is ruthless when he has to be but he can be a big softie as well.

Logen's band are also a mean bunch but they have to be, living as they do as outlaws. Sand dan Glokta may be bitter but he was good once and there are glimmers in there that he may still be at heart but he's been dealt a very bad hand in life and is happy to see others suffer for a change. However, Jezal is thoroughly unlikeable but maybe he'll get more interesting in later books. Also introduced here is Ferro Maljinn and she hates just about everyone, happier to try and kill you rather than risk trusting you. On the whole, they're a pretty mixed bunch of characters but they all play off each other well.

Okay the plot so far is pretty formulaic. The middle kingdom is in trouble. Stuck between two fronts; the far North produces barbarians who are looking to come down and wage war on the weak kingdom and in the South, there's the wicked empire trying to conquer all as it expands. On top of that there's the political back-stabbing and manoeuverings of the nobility and a bit of love interest between Jezal and the sister of one of his colleagues.

Definitely worth reading this one and I'm off to get the sequel - Before They Are Hanged!

Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
ISBN: 978-57507-979-3
My Rating: 9/10

Monday, September 03, 2007

Viva Ristorante, Bothwell Street, Glasgow

Regardless of my broken elbow, we went into town on Saturday afternoon with the idea of doing a bit of shopping, getting some food and catching the new Bourne movie. The food was a concern as I can only eat one-handed so pasta seemed the easy choice.

Having spotted Viva Ristorante on Bothwell Street a few weeks ago when coming back from the Post Office at lunchtime, it seemed worth trying out. Also, being that wee bit off of the main town centre we thought it'd probably get missed by the hordes of other folk looking for food after the shops closed. If you've ever looked in TGI Fridays just after six, you'll know what I mean - packed out and with lots of noisy kids and not very conducive to having a relaxing meal.

That said, Viva was still pretty busy as it's probably well enough known by everyone working in that area; it certainly seemed busy at lunchtime. It was all reserved up but we got a table on condition we were gone before 8:15 so that wasn't going to be a problem as we weren't there for a huge meal.

They do a two-course, pre-theatre menu for just under £10, seven days a week so that seemed like an ideal way to go for us. However, it's not just a pasta and pizza place as the a la carte menu was pretty tempting and if we'd had more time, I'm sure we'd have gone for that as there were some pretty good looking choices of main course.

The pre-theatre menu was okay and we opted for the Minestrone Soup and Crostini al Funghi to start with mains of Penne Milano and Spaghetti Meatballs. A couple of glasses of the house red to see it down and we were pretty satisfied. The place itself was quite nicely laid out and decorated and the staff were friendly and attentive. I think we'll definitely go back sometime for a more serious outing.

Not everything was perfect though; the movies were full so we had to head home. Still, at least we'd been pretty well fed.

Cuisine: Italian
My Rating: 8/10

Sunday, September 02, 2007

And The Lack Of Posts Is Due To...

...my having broken my elbow last Sunday night.

It was one of those things. The back door was open and I thought I'd just nip out to the bin with some garbage and next minute I was sailing through the air and landed badly on the concrete patio slabs. That was quickly followed by a few expletives and some rolling about on the lawn, which is where Lorna found me, her having come out to see what the ruckus was about. There was a time when I'd have just rolled on contact or not even tripped over my own feet at all, but I suppose I'm getting older; sigh!

Anyway, I thought I'd just strained my right arm but next morning it was pretty obvious that all was not well so we headed off to the local hospital where it was eventually pronounced broken. Well, at least they thought it probably was but the x-ray wasn't conclusive so they stuck it in a sling and told me to come back the next day.

More x-rays are duly taken and yes, it's definitely broken! All I get then is a collar and cuff strap, told it'd heal by itself, take some pain killers and come back in three weeks. Not even a plaster cast people can sign for the trouble but I have to admit I'm happier about that. I'm typing this with my left hand or at least one finger of my left hand so posting is difficult.

It's amazing what you can't do easily with just one hand. Try pulling up your trousers, fastening a belt or pulling on a pair of socks one handed and you'll see what I mean. Tying your own shoe-laces is just out of the question. I'm right-handed as well so having to do everything left-handed just makes it even more awkward. Try spreading some jam on toast and you'll soon see how frustrating it gets, chasing the toast around the plate with a jammy knife.

I'm slowly learning to use a mouse and type left-handed and I'm just about okay to type for a wee while before the arm gets too sore so I'll maybe try and post a few articles soon. It has to be better than having to watch day-time television.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Film4+1 Dropped from Freeview!

The latest round of channel changes has left us poor Freeview viewers without the benefits of being able to watch Film4 + 1 as it has been replaced by the new Channel 4 + 1. Here's the list of channel changes as of 20/8/2007…
  • 13 Channel 4+1 (new)
  • 14 More4 (was 13)
  • 29 E4 (was 14)
  • 30 E4+1 (no change)
  • 32 Film4 (was 29)
Film4+1 is leaving Freeview, but will still be available on Sky and Virgin.

This is a total bummer as the signal strength we get with Film4 makes it unwatchable yet Film4 + 1 was perfectly okay. It's not even as if Film4 + 1 is dead as Sky and Virgin customers can still get it. Seems like a poor deal for Freeview users to me!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Surf's Up

We got them in Madagascar and Happy Feet and now another animated tale of penguins hits the big screen. Surf's Up takes us into the world of surfing and the annual Penguin World Surfing Championship.

Much of the movie is shot in a documentary film style and we get to follow a film crew as they go about the business of filming a behind-the-scenes look at the competition and the surfers. It centres around Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf), a young upcoming surfer from Shiverpool, way down Antarctica way.

Cody caught the surfing bug when legendary surfer Big Z (Jeff Bridges) visited Shiverpool 10 years earlier. Since then, Cody taught himself to surf using broken shards of ice as boards. When a talent scout for surf promoter Reggie Belafonte (James Woods) arrives at Shiverpool, he persuades them to let him join the group and enter the Big Z Memorial Surf Off at Pen Gu Island.

Cody believes that winning is everything and that it will bring him the admiration and respect he desires, but when he unexpectedly comes face-to-face with a washed-up old surfer called Geek, Cody finds out that winning isn't everything and that a true winner isn't always the one who comes in first. Along the way he meets the surf mad Chicken Joe (Jon Heder) from Sheboygan, is smitten with lifeguard Lani Aliikai (Zooey Deschanel) and faces his nemesis in the form of all-round bad penguin Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader).


We really enjoyed this one. The unusual filming style really adds to the experience. As well as the main storyline, we get archive footage of old-time penguin surfers, clips of Big Z in his heyday, interview footage with Cody's mother and big brother Glen and little gems where the crew ask a group of three kids for their thoughts on different subjects.

The script is excellent and the cast interact very well, which may be due to the fact that they were recorded as a group and not, as is usually done, in individual sound booths. It even takes a swipe at Happy Feet. When Cody is asked if he has any other talents, he answers "Heh, you mean like, singin' and dancin'? Naw, man, I just surf".

Definitely recommended for fans of animated features but aimed at an older audience than Happy Feet. Young children may not get the humour and all the little gags but anyone over 12 will probably love it.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Family, Sport
My Rating: 8/10

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Conqueror's Moon - by Julian May

Conqueror's MoonConqueror's Moon is the first volume in The Boreal Moon Tale, which is set on the island of High Blenholme, a land of four very different kingdoms. Here's the basic gist of this first installment…
Prince Conrig of Cathra has a vision to unite the four kingdoms of Cathra, Didion, Moss and Tarn on the island of High Blenholme under his own sovereignty but not all of them are in favour of submitting to his will.

While Conrig has an ally in Princess Ullanoth of Moss, a very powerful sorceress, he also has to contend with her brother Beynor, who has plans of his own for Moss and High Blenholme. Meanwhile the sealords of Tarn and a fair number of the Cathran nobility are also looking to feather their own nests as best they can out of the deal while Didion opt for war to avoid the union.

Then there's the original inhabitants of High Blenholme, ousted years before by Emperor Bazekoy. Both the monstrous Salka and the Spunkies want their land back with the humans on their menus. Overseeing all of this are the Great Lights, also known as the Coldlight Army and the Beaconfolk. They may look light pretty lights in the sky but they are far, far deadlier than that.

All of the above is fairly run-of-the-mill fantasy drama fare but the hero of the tale is a young lad, born with a wild magic talent, taken into service as a spy by Conrig, who has ambitious plans to unite the land and stave off an invasion from without. It's got magic, political manoeuvering, familial bickering, foul murder, war, nasty monsters and some right evil demons in the mix to keep things lively and interesting.

May seems to write fantasy novels just as well as she does science-fiction and Conqueror's Moon shows all the signs of The Boreal Moon Tale developing into a very decent piece of work. It mau be a wee bit predictable in places but High Blenholme is a pretty rich and varied setting for the story and the characters are nicely developed as the story progresses.

ISBN: 0-00-712320-5
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
My Rating: 7/10

Monday, August 13, 2007

Free, Printable Subway Maps

If you travel around a fair bit or just like taking city breaks, then I'm sure you'd find taking a printed map of the local underground and/or rail system with you a pretty useful and time saving thing to do.

Subway Maps
Travel site Amadeus.net has put together a useful page full of printable subway maps from all over the world. All major U.S. and European cities are covered as well as those in Africa, Asia & Middle-East and Australia. Even Glasgow's own wee Clockwork Orange is included.

If you want something even more portable and have an iPod or iPhone, then take a look at iSubwayMaps.com, which provides downloadable subway map images. Most of the maps are compatible with the iPod Photo but there are some for the iPod Video and Nano models too.

The range of city maps is smaller here though but the author is working on more detailed and PDF versions of these for the iPhone.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Upcoming Movies - National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Dynamite Warrior and Lust, Caution

More news of a few upcoming movies that, given my tastes for action, martial-arts and fantasy, I'd probably like to go and see…


National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Due for release in the UK in January 2008 is the sequel to 2004's National Treasure starring Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger and Sean Bean. Cage and Kruger are back along with Jon Voight, Helen Mirren, Harvey Keitel and Ed Harris.

When a missing page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth surfaces, Ben Gates' (Cage) great-great grandfather is suddenly implicated as a key conspirator in Abraham Lincoln’s death. Determined to prove his ancestor’s innocence, Ben follows an international chain of clues that takes him on a chase from Paris to London and ultimately back to America. This journey leads Ben and his crew not only to surprising revelations - but to the trail of the world’s most treasured secrets.

As Disney's attempt to copy The Da Vinci Code, the original National Treasure was quite watchable in a formulaic, mindless kind of way so maybe Book of Secrets will fill an hour and a half as well and prove that Disney have some original ideas of their own but after A Bug's Life coming out not long after Antz and The Wild following Madagascar, that'll take some convincing.

Dynamite Warrior

Billed as an action comedy, this is a supernatural, action packed movie with high-grade special effects and the kind of raw action scenes the world is coming to expect from the creators of the excellent Ong Bak.

Set in rural Thailand during the 1920s Dan Chupong (Born To Fight) plays Jone Bang Fai, a young man riddled with grief and bent on revenge after witnessing his parents’ murder. The only information Jone has as to the killer’s identity is the memory of a tattoo-covered man who is part of an organized group of cattle rustlers. Jone makes it his mission to stop all cattle rustlers and in the process return each head of cattle back to its rightful owner. After searching the country high and low, Jone finally believes he has found the murderer in a small rural village in the North of Thailand. To Jone’s dismay he learns that the killer is in fact a warlock of immense power, a nearly invincible mystical man who is trying to control the whole village. His one weakness? He can be harmed only by weapons that have been treated with the menstrual blood of a young virgin. Armed with this knowledge and a few hundred highly charged rockets (and a dash of menstrual blood), our intrepid hero goes up against one of the most dangerous men to have ever walked the Earth.

Lust, Caution

Lust, Caution is director Ang Lee’s latest film, following his Academy Award win for directing Brokeback Mountain. It's an espionage thriller set in WWII-era Shanghai and I'm more likely to go and see that than a gay cowboy movie. Asian cinema icons Tony Leung (Hero, Infernal Affairs) and Joan Chen (Judge Dredd, On Deadly Ground, Twin Peaks) star as Mr. Yee, a powerful political figure in 1940s Shanghai, and his wife.

Tang Wei, a rising star in mainland China, makes her feature film debut as Wang Jiazhi, a young woman who gets swept up in a dangerous game of emotional intrigue with Mr. Yee.

Due for release in the UK in January 2008.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

We finally got to see The Simpsons Movie last night after a couple of postponed attempts. We've both watched The Simpsons on TV for years and love it so the movie, however much we've had to wait for it, was a must see anyway. Both of my kids had seen the movie and said it was hilarious so that just added to the anticipation. The storyline is absurd but that's what makes it so funny…
Homer rescues a pig from a Krusty Burger advert and then falls in love with it. Lisa finally persuades Springfield to clean up its act and stop dumping their rubbish and industrial waste in Lake Springfield and, just to make sure, the mayor has a wall built around it.

When Marge asks Homer what he's doing with the pig's droppings, he shows her a huge tank of he's buried in the garden. Marge wants rid of it but, faced with a choice between free donuts and disposing of the pig crap responsibly, Homer does exactly what you'd imagine he'd do. The consequences of what Homer does leads to the town facing destruction and they and the government want Homer's blood for it.

Obviously I don't want to go into to much detail as it'd give the story away but that's the gist of it. I didn't think I could sit through almost one and half hours of Homer strangling Bart, etc. but it's really, really funny.

I really can't say much more about the plot but this is definitely a must-see for any Simpsons fan. Most of your favourite characters get a showing but this is mostly about the family so they are all pretty much minor appearances except for Flanders. The animation is still as flat and yellow as the TV version so there's been no move to try and get the series onto 3-D CGI and that's probably a good thing as I'm sure we'd see a lot less Simpsons with the expense that would add to the budget.

The jokes flow constantly and there's even a few only adults will appreciate and there's no way they'd have got away with Bart's naked ride to the Krusty Burger on TV; the animated choreography of it all is superb. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger as president is very funny.

Genre: Animation, Comedy
My Rating: 8/10


Friday, August 03, 2007

Upcoming Movies - Beowulf, Tales from Earthsea and ???

Spotted a few interesting looking upcoming movies over the last week so I might make this a regular feature here…

Beowulf


Beowulf is the retelling of the Scandinavian epic poem about a hero, a monster and the monster's mother. It's one of those tales we get taught at school and is pretty much regarded as a classic.

I'm not sure about Ray Winstone doing the voice of Beowulf but the trailer looks promising and Angelina Jolie is seriously well animated as Grendel's mother. It's directed by Robert Zemekis and written/adapted by well-known fantasy author Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, who was involved with Killing Zoe, Crying Freeman and Silent Hill.

The cast line-up is also quite good as, along with Winstone and Jolie, there's Anthony Hopkins as King Hrothgar, Crispin Glover as Grendel, Brendan Gleeson and John Malkovich.

It's due for a UK release on 3oth November.

Tales From Earthsea

This is doing the rounds now in smaller cinemas and I'm hoping it'll get up here to Glasgow. Adapted from the series of books of Ursula K. Le Guin and animated by Studio Ghibli, who also gave us Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. It also marks the directorial debut of Goro Miyazaki, son of the legendary Hayao Miyazaki.

This enchanting story takes place in a fantasy world of dragons and wizards and follwos the wizard Sparrowhawk on his quest to find the source of the evil forces that are shaking the world.

The official site is in Japanese but it's beautifully done and gives a nice sample of the quality of the artwork and sound you can expect in the movie. There are also a few trailers available.

???

There's a teaser trailer doing the rounds for an upcoming monster movie. It has no title as yet, simply being listed as an Untitled J.J. Abram's Project, but it would appear to be something along the lines of Godzilla kicks New York's ass and it's being touted for a January 2008 release.

Shot in a sort of documentary style, The trailer is definitely worth catching for the pretty excellent looking and sounding special effects. Watch it in HD and put on the headphones.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Play The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy Online

The things you find while browsing around! Anyway, I've just found a playable version of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy on the BBC Radio 4 site…


In 1984 Douglas Adams and Steve Meretzky of Infocom launched a text game version of Adams' book, which The Times described as the best adventure ever seen on computer, and it became a best seller. If you're a fan of the text adventure game style or just fancy of bit of computer gaming nostalgia, then you might like it. Billed as a "20th Century Edition", a knowledge of the original book in the Hitchhiker series will help you get started and you will encounter many familiar characters and locations, but Adams described the game as "bearing as much relationship to the books as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead does to Hamlet".

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
As a result of a competition to help fill out some missing location and item illustrations, there are even two versions available to play. The gameplay is the same but both have different illustrations to go along with the storyline. The site has pretty good instructions on how to play the game and there's even a hints section if you get stuck, and you probably will given Adams' "consistent illogic".