Wednesday, November 28, 2007


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
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


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 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


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