Saturday, March 29, 2008

10,000 B.C.

I Am LegendWe went to see Roland Emmerich's prehistoric adventure, 10,000 B.C., the other night. The plot is fairly simple so here a short summary…
D'Leh (Steven Strait) is a young Mammoth hunter trying to earn his place in the tribe after the disappearance of his father. To secure the White Spear and a bride, he must show unwavering courage and bring down a Mammoth to help feed and clothe the tribe. This he does but more by accident than by design and he is troubled by it.

When the tribe is attacked and his bride-to-be Evolet (Camilla Belle) is taken captive along with many others, he vows to rescue them. So, along with Tic'Tic (Cliff Curtis) and the youngster Baku (Nathanael Baring), he sets off after the marauders and what they discover is far beyond his understanding.

I'm not sure where director/writer Roland Emmerich got the idea for this movie from but it misses the mark by a long way. First we get involved in D'Leh's right of passage with the Mammoth and then the bad guys come, kill a few people and steal some more. After that it turns into a plodding filler scene after filler scene affair until it gets to the ridiculous homeland of the invaders with its Stargate-like god character.

Unlike similar prehistoric movies like Quest For Fire and 1,000,000 Years B.C., these people can talk, well at least the good guys can, so there is some dialogue here to help move the story along but the script is pretty basic. The bad guys are all seriously ugly dudes and can only talk in low and menacing, subtitled tones. Okay, it's more accurate to the era as there are no dinosaurs and no one is wandering around in fur bikinis but at least Raquel Welsh added some much-needed glamour. This post ice age land is harsh and cold so lots of furs are needed to keep warm and for wildlife we get Mammoths, some giant carnivorous birds and a Sabertooth Tiger. Of course that's all done by CGI and it could have been better given the budget of over $100,000,000.

10,000 B.C.
What's also weird is the fact that the slavers (for want of a better word) have travelled huge distances overland in very bleak country into what was probably central or eastern Europe from the Middle East when they had the whole of Africa and Asia to raid but then I suppose the heroes wouldn't have been white folks then would they.

Frankly, if you've seen the trailers, then you've pretty much seen most of the action in the movie. I'm just surprised we didn't see any Death Gliders and a platoon of Jaffa warriors in the final scene just to round off how ridiculous it all was. I've no idea what they spent all that money on with a such an unknown cast and average CGI work. I certainly couldn't recommend anyone spending any more by going to see it.

Genre: Adventure
My Rating: 5/10

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The High Lord - by Trudi Canavan

The High LordThe High Lord is the final volume in The Black Magician trilogy, which also contains The Magician's Guild and The Novice. Here's a short taster of the story without giving too much away…
Sonea has learned much at the Magician's Guild in Imardin and the other novices now treat her with a grudging respect. Apprenticed now to High Lord Akkarin himself, she cannot forget what happened in his underground chamber or his warning that the Sachakans, their realm's ancient enemy, are growing in power once more and are getting ready to attack.

However, can she trust him, knowing what she does about him? Is Akkarin trying to trick her into assisting him in some dark and evil scheme or is he telling the truth and they really are in enormous danger from the Sachakans.

Having been somewhat dissatisfied with the forerunners to this book, the story takes a darker turn here and really starts to hot up a bit. It's obvious that the thread around Akkarin and black magic that started back in the first book has finally solidified into a tangible story here.

The dialogue is still somewhat stilted and the plot a bit predictable but it's a great improvement on the first book and obviously Ms. Canavan's writing skills have developed a great deal since beginning this tale.

Now that we've finally got going with what was the main plot of the series, it runs along at a decent pace with plenty of action, magic and even a bit of romance. The High Lord brings the trilogy to a fairly satisfying conclusion and, on the whole, the The Black Magician is reasonably entertaining and worth reading is you like fantasy tales.

Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
ISBN: 1-84149-315-5
My Rating: 7/10

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Bank Job

I Am LegendWith a dearth of sci-fi or action blockbusters and animated features in the cinema at the moment, we were lured in to see The Bank Job, a movie of what is reputed to be a true story of a bank heist gone wrong. Here's the gist of the tale…
Set in 1971, the film tells of a British Secret Service operation, led by Miles Urquhart (Peter Bowles), to retrieve some compromising pictures of a certain royal princess from the safety deposit box of black revolutionary activist Michael X (Peter De Jersey). Michael had been using the photographs as insurance against any interference in his drug-dealing and prostitution rackets by the law so no-one could touch him and if they were made public, the scandal would affect the royal family.

Certain security details of the bank were leaked by a member of MI6 through his lover Martine (Saffron Burrows) to a shady gang of small-time crooks led by Terry Leather (Jason Statham). The plan being to get the crooks to rob the bank for them and if anything goes wrong, it can't be traced back to H.M. Government. Of course, if the heist is successful, then all they need to do is waylay the thieves, relieve them of the goods and then clean up any loose ends.

Written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, a pair more known for their TV comedy scripts, you might think that this would be a bit of a laugh. Well, it isn't! There are a few humourous moments in there but there are also some pretty violent bits as well. The basis of the story is that, in September 1971, thieves tunneled into the vault of a bank in London's Baker Street and looted safe deposit boxes of cash and jewelry worth over three million pounds. Nothing was ever recovered and no-one was ever arrested. The robbery made the news headlines for a few days and then suddenly disappeared from notice, the result of a government 'D' Notice.

That story is nicely developed up for the movie. Leather, a second-hand car lot owner, owes money to an underworld boss so he's under pressure to pay up or else. He's had a bit of a shady past and he and his mates have done a few small jobs now and then to get some extra cash but this is well out of their usual league. On top of that, Michael X was recommended that particular bank by Lew Vogel (David Suchet), a particularly nasty pornographer, who's kept a journal of all the pay-offs he's made to the local bent coppers and guess where he keeps it.

The film brings all these characters and their parts in the story together very well - the Secret Service, Michael X, Lew Vogel, Martine and Terry and his gang and, while it may not be an absolutely accurate re-telling of events, it's pretty entertaining. Jason Statham doesn't break into martial-arts mayhem at any point but proves that he can be a decent jobbing actor. Peter Bowles plays the upper-crust Whitehall slimebag Urquhart to a tee and David Suchet is excellent as crime boss Vogel. Peter De Jersey plays a suitably menacing Michael X and Saffron Burrows gives a decent performance as Martine, although neither have a lot of screen time.

Everything gels together well and the whole thing is played like a British movie from the seventies, including the slightly gritty film processing effect and limited colour palette. On the whole it's a decent gangster movie, which plods a bit at the start but, once the heist gets underway, it really gets going at a good pace. Well worth going to see!

Genre: Crime, Thriller.
My Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Castle Semple Country Park

It was the first decent day's weather we've had on a Sunday for ages so we fancied a stroll. Nothing too strenuous but some fresh air was definitely required. Castle Semple Country Park is one of those places we've passed so often, we thought we'd better go in and see what it had to offer.

Castle Semple LochCastle Semple Loch

It lies near Lochwinnoch in Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park so it's not that far from Glasgow by car. Well, it would have been if the main route into Lochwinnoch wasn't being dug up and blocked off. We had to divert back through Howwood and then cross the A737 and work our way round the back route to Lochwinnoch.

Anyway, the trials of travelling on Scottish roads on a Sunday over, we parked in the Castle Semple car park and then strolled West along the banks of the loch towards the end of the path at Black Ditch Bay. From there we turned up towards the old railway, now a cycle path, and across into Parkhill Wood. The wood is a mazy place of paths and trails and there an old 18th century grotto beside a pond in the centre. We followed the path up to the top of Park Hill for some good views out over Castle Semple Loch and Barr Loch with the sun shining very brightly on the water.

Castle Semple Collegiate ChurchCastle Semple Collegiate Church

Following the paths in the wood took us out towards the West end of the loch and the gothic Castle Semple Collegiate Church, built in 1504 to house the Castle's clergy. The castle itself, or the ruins of it, are nearby but all we could see looked to have built around by farm buildings. Wandering back up through the wood, there's a very muddy Rhododendron maze to navigate through to a viewpoint over the loch, where we could see some boats sailing on the sunlit water and managed to spot the old octagonal folly on top of Kenmuir Hill. From there it was back down to the wood and down to the loch shore path again and back to the park centre. We could have wandered back along the cycle path but it's fairly featureless and, being a high sided railway cutting, the views are non-existent.

Mute SwanMute Swan

The park centre has a tearoom and gift shop so we bought a couple of cups of tea and buns and, since it wasn't raining for a change, went out and sat down by the loch side to watch the windsurfers and wildlife. There were a large number of ducks and swans at the water's edge looking for some food off the tourists and they seemed to do pretty well at it. Then there were the Terns, a whole flock of them, squawking and buzzing around and trying to grab a snack any way they could. The ducks were mostly mallards but we spotted a lone Shelduck and a wee Goldeneye in the mix as well. We spent the rest of the afternoon just sitting by the water and enjoying the to-ing and fro-ing of the birds before heading back home.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

National Treasure: Book Of Secrets

National Treasure: Book Of SecretsIt was a toss-up between going to see National Treasure: Book Of Secrets or Cloverfield and the over-hyped monster movie lost. Book Of Secrets is the second National Treasure movie so here's a brief description of the plot…
When a missing page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth comes to light, Ben Gates' (Nicolas Cage) great-great grandfather Thomas is implicated in the plot to assassinate of Abraham Lincoln. Determined to prove his family's innocence, Ben reunites with Abigail (Diane Kruger) and Riley (Justin Bartha) and they follow a trail of clues that take him to Paris then London and eventually back to the United States.

All the while, he's being pursued by Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) and his crew of mercenaries. Wilkinson is a man determined to make his mark on history as knows that the clues could lead him to the greatest horde of treasure the world has ever seen, a lost city of gold.

This sequel picks up a while after the events in National Treasure. Ben is hailed as one of the world's greatest treasure hunters but his relationship with Abigail has faltered and the pair have split up. The treasure trail takes them to Paris, Buckingham Palace, the White House and Mount Rushmore in a somewhat impossible sequence of events but it's part of the magic of Hollywood.

With National Treasure being Disney's attempt to cash in on the hype around Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, they did not a bad of job of it and it did reasonably well at the box office. Okay, everything was just too implausible to happen in reality but Book Of Secrets follows the same formula and will appeal to the same masses of movie-goers that went to the first movie.

Nicolas Cage plays Ben in his usual slow and methodical manner but it works and helps ground some of the comedy elements thrown in via his sidekick Justin Bartha as Riley the tech wizard. Diane Kruger provides the love interest as Ben's ex and co-hunter and she does it quite well. Jon Voight returns as Ben's father Patrick and Helen Mirren appears as his mother Emily. They've been estranged for about 25 years but both are integral to the plot of the movie and, as well as solid performances from both, there's the added bonus of the the will they, won't they get back together element.

Ed Harris is the bad guy here and gives his usual excellent performance. Also putting in appearances are Harvey Keitel as FBI agent Sadusky, who appeared in National Treasure, and Bruce Greenwood as the US president.

If you fancy a roller coaster ride of an action movie with a ridiculous plot, some well known actors and a bit of comedy thrown in, then you'll probably like this movie. Both Cage and Voight have been nominated for Razzies for their performances here but I can't the justification for it; it's a family film and everyone in it was hamming it up a bit to go along with the corny plot. Don't take it too seriously, it's an entertaining movie.

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

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Night Walk Along The Clyde

Glasgow Science CentreHad another outing with The Glasgow Flickr Meetup Group last week for an evening stroll along the River Clyde. We started off with a bit of socializing at Beanscene on Dumbarton Road and we almost thought we'd have to call the walk off as the rain didn't look like it'd stop. However, after about an hour and some coffee, it cleared and about nine of us wandered down to the Clyde, following the course of the River Kelvin down to Yorkhill Quay.

I tried to get some skyline shots looking downriver towards some big cranes and blocks of flats but there's a lot of building going on and safety fences hampered the shots. Anyway we got some decent shots of the old nineteenth century pump-house at Yorkhill Quay beside the Tall Ship and the Waverley was tied up on the other side of the river under the Glasgow Tower at the Science Centre.

We wandered upriver from there to the Millennium Bridge and crossed that to the new BBC building and then strolled down to Bell's Bridge, where we crossed back over to the North side of the river. The Squinty Bridge (Glasgow Arc) is beautifully lit up at night and, along with the iconic Finnieston Crane, it provided a fairly good shot to end the night off with.

The Squinty BridgeThe Squinty Bridge By Night

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Seagull Drovers - by Steve Cockayne

The Seagull DroversThe Seagull Drovers is the last installment in Steve Cockayne's Legends Of The Land trilogy. It's a complex tale but here's a taster of the story line…
Nothing is right in the Land. King Matthew is indisposed and the city is controlled by the wicked Fang and his Royal Wolf Boys. Leonardo Pegasus, inventor of the Multiple Empathy Engine and ex-Royal Magician, has retired to the country where he searches the murky depths of the Signal Network for a malevolent entity that lurks there and preys on the weak.City girl Ashleigh Brown needs a change from her urban life in Tower Mansions and has set her sights on the gaudy wagon of Wanderer Liam Blackwood while Charles Bannister has made his fortune from his Power-Driven Carriage and nows searches the Islands for fuel to run them on. Imp Fever is rife on the Network and roaming bands of Seagull Drovers seek to guide lost gulls back to the sea and when they pass, the children are vanishing.

The Legends Of The Land is a trilogy in three fairly separate parts, spanning about twenty years. Each book tells a different story and in The Seagull Drovers, some of these story threads and characters come together. I'm not sure if I'd call it a climax but some things get tied up at the end.

I suppose the character of Leonardo Pegasus is the most prevalent in the stories but it is all very loosely tied together and you'd easily get lost wondering what some characters play in it at all. That said, it's a pretty easily read and mildly entertaining story. The characters are well developed and easily empathized with but on the whole it's just a little unsatisfying and a bit slow in getting where it's going.

Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction
ISBN: 1-84149-304-X
My Rating: 6/10