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May 23, 2006



Am I allowed to review a film that I've only seen about half of. I guess so, as long as I make it clear it's not a proper review. I started watching this last night at 10pm, thinking it would finish in about 90 minutes. Unfortunately I then discovered that it wouldn't finish until a quarter past midnight, and maybe I'm getting old, but with a 6.15am start I decided to quit at 11pm. There was a time that I would stay till the bitter end once I'd started watching any film. I've been up till the small hours watching Jean-Claud Van Damme so that will let you judge my standards. Maybe I'm just getting sensible. Maybe I wasn't quite enjoying this enough. Maybe it's not as good as 'Timecop'.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are angels exiled to earth. They find a loophole in god's law which means that if they get to a certain church and walk through the door they can return to heaven. So they start travelling across America to this church, randomly judging sinners on the way and blowing them away with a big gun. I think this is supposed to be funny - but Matt Damon in particular doesn't pull it off.

Linda Fiorentino is a woman who gets visited by god's messenger and told to go to the church and stop the angels entering it. She keeps saying "Why me?", and I'm sure there must be a reason, but of course, I didn't make it to the end to find out. So she also starts on a road trip, after meeting sex starved Jay and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith, the writer/director again plays Silent Bob, a recurring character through many of his films). Jay never stops talking, and is quite amusing in the beginning, but his constant whining and requests for sex, and his swearing get a bit wearing after a while.

On the way they meet Chris Rock, who seems to be a reincarnated black 13th apostle. Oh, and Jason Lee plays the devil, and he sends three demon hockey players to try and stop Fiorentino. And Salma Hayek was dancing in a strip club for some reason.

And that's pretty much where I left it.

The movie seems to be a bit too jumbled to really work properly. If it's a normal comedy, then why have all the random violence. If it's a black comedy, why have the goofy stuff with Jay and Silent Bob. If it's a serious dig at the dogma of organised religion, why have so much swearing and violence that the target audience will never watch it.

I may watch the rest sometime, maybe it all comes together in the end. But it really hasn't grabbed me that much, so I'm not going to make any special effort.

Posted by se71 at 10:21 AM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2006

Magician - Raymond E. Feist

Another of the BBC Big Read Top 100 books, and one I have wanted to read for about twenty years anyway, so picking it up at last wasn't a chore. What was a chore however was wading through the almost 700 pages of battles and magic in the worlds of Kelawan and Midkemia in which the characters live. I did enjoy the story, it is a typical sword and scorcery adventure in the "Lord of the Rings" vein. The action scenes are well executed, the mysteries are revealed as slowly but surely the heroes fulfil their unlikely destinies.

The problem I did have however was the immense amount of politics and the seemingly neverending descriptions of the colours of peoples robes. Some of this is of course required to give the story substance, and to add human details to scenes to help us to picture them in our mind's eye. I think perhaps the edition I have read, which is a tenth year anniversary of first publication and contains 15,000 more words than the original, may be the reason for the verbosity. It is always tempting to include scenes you've written I'm sure, but sometimes the editor who cut them out is right. Slowing down the forward narrative to spend time on background details in an adventure yarn should be handled with great care.

It's the tale of a orphan boy called Pug who lives on the outskirts of a large kingdom. As usual, they have only a medieval level of technology; bows and arrows, but no guns; horses and carts, but no internal combustion engine. There are magicians, but there power is a bit difficukt to quantify - most are fairly ineffectual. He has a friend called Tomas, and lives with his family as an adopted son to the cook at a Duke's castle. The boys dream of a future in which Tomas will be a great warrior, and Pug a master magician. Of course, in fantasies such as this, dreams really can come true.

Suddenly the relative peacefulness of the kingdom is shattered by the arrival of a strange army. They appear from nowhere, and start to encroach upon the land, building up a territory of their own and fighting local people to enlarge it. Pug and Tomas are thrown into the middle of this and travel across the whole known world, and even to other worlds. They meet dwarves and elves, goblins and very powerful magicians who seem to predict the future.

There are a host of major and minor characters, and there are even some women, though they are only really standard love interest, and never get to take place in any real position of power.

I didn't really realise that this is the first in a trilogy called "The Riftworld Saga". I'm not sure if I'm sufficiently interested to read any more. There are some unexplained loose ends, but I'm quite satisfied I think with where this first volume closes. In fact, further investigation reveals there are loads more Riftworld books. I think it's best I stop now.

Posted by se71 at 02:57 PM | Comments (0)

Three for Two

I finished my book on the train this morning. In need of something new I popped into Books Etc on London Wall at lunchtime. I had a novel in mind, "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro. After a long fantasy story, I sometime like something shorter and more literary. I know practically nothing about the book, which is how I like it. I do know it takes place in the town of Hailsham, where a friend used to live, so that gives it an odd interest factor.

It's quite expensive at £7.99, but to make me feel better about spending this money, I paradoxically decide to spend over twice that amount. As part of a three for two promotion, I can get my cheapest book free.

The second book was easy to pick - it's one I've been waiting to come out in paperback - "Freakonomics". It's non-fiction, and is about the odd relationships between things, mostly I think having economics as a root cause.

A couple of summers ago I took Simon Winchester's "Krakatoa" on holiday with me. It was a very interesting read, being a study of both the science and the history of the situation when the biggest bang in the history of civilisation occurred. His new one is about the earthquake in San Francisco in 1906, and is called "A Crack in the Edge of the World"
I think I will read about this disaster as I sit in the sun wondering why everyone else is still reading Dan Brown. (actually, embarassingly, I'll probably have one of his with me too :-)

Posted by se71 at 02:54 PM | Comments (0)

BHF Lifecycle

Who is writing the copy for the British Heart Foundation? I read their advertisement for a charity cycle ride today and got really annoyed. The Link is here , but will probably not endure so here is the offending line:

"From wobbly-wheeled mums
and dads to mountain bikers and bmxers – everyone is taking
part to raise money for life-saving heart research".

Bloody Cheek - I've been a dad for 13 years and I'm not about to start wobbling on my bike any time soon. The seven times Tour De France champion Lance Armstrong is also a dad and I don't think he needs trainer wheels.

Some snotty nosed 19 year old obviously thought this would be amusing. He was wrong.

(It's a good cause, and I'm not telling you not to support it, but this kind of covert ageism really bugs me).

Posted by se71 at 12:06 PM | Comments (0)

May 18, 2006

Stars of CCTV - Hard-Fi

I appoached this CD thinking it would be just another collection of songs about girls and having no money, and fighting on a Saturday night; to a large extent I was right.

The Streets debuted with a collection of songs much on similar topics, and made a pretty good job of sounding original, and avoiding cliche. Hard-Fi have also managed to come up with some very good material, and along with the poor kid from the streets tracks, have also had a go at the Iraq war in "Middle Eastern Holiday".

The main influences for this music, whether conscious or unconscious, come from the late seventies. There is a lot early Jam in "Gotta Reason", the background singing on "Middle Eastern Holiday" and others is as tuneless (in a good way) as it was with the Undertones, and "Living for the Weekend" echoes Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run". "Better Do Better" is a Two-Tone ska record reminiscent of The Beat in places.

The lead singer belts out most of the tracks with gusto, but isn't afraid to show a more tender side on "Move On Now". The band seem to be capable of using any sound they need, whether thrashing guitars, quirky synths, or clasical piano. It means the CD is never boring, but the lead vocal holds it together so that it forms a coherent whole.

All the songs are good, but some are very good, and there is an absolutely fantastic standout track. "Cash Machine" and "Stars of CCTV" give a real up-to-date cultural aspect to proceedings, and "Feltham is Singing Out" concretes this west London suburb angst with a young offender hanging himself in the prison there.

If you only get to hear one song however, listen to "Tied Up To Tight". This is of course another song about trying to leave the slums for the bright lights. I am finding it very hard indeed to describe just what it is about this song that makes it so great. Every listen makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck - it just works on some base level that I can't figure out. Is it the edginess of the music, the distorted guitars building up a tension that matches the lyrics? Perhaps, and that's the best I can come up with. The lyrics tend towards cliche in places "Your eyes are burning so bright", but any song with the word cognoscenti in it has got to be good.

A new band, if they are any good, only really get one chance at the angst-ridden angry young man album before they get rich and cannot do it any more - Hard-Fi haven't wasted theirs.

Posted by se71 at 12:03 PM | Comments (0)

May 11, 2006

'48 - James Herbert

There is something about an author whose work you have grown up with.

I've been reading James Herbert's novels since I was a young teenager: The Rats, The Fog, The Survivor, formative stuff. I enjoyed them at the time, and he became Britain's most popular writer in the horror genre.

He still writes, and I seem to have gotten a bit behind, as I have with Stephen King. So I picked up '48 and decided to give it a go. I sort of wish I hadn't.

The only skill present in this novel is that of spinning out a chase for quite so many pages. Characterisation is zero. It's just a seemingly unending set of fights between the hero, Hoke, and a group of zombie-like people. There are serious echoes of "I am Legend", the book by Richard Matheson filmed as "The Omega Man".

The backstory is quite interesting; it's an alternate history plot where Hitler infects the world with a deadly virus near the end of the Second World War. This wipes out all people except those with a fairly rare blood group. Hoke is an American airman in London, married to an English woman. When disaster strikes, he survives alone, and wanders the streets of the city. Some survivors have symptoms which mean they can live for years, but they are driven mad and band together in groups hunting the normal people. Hoke calls then Blackshirts, as for some reason they have all appropriated this mode of dress.

The novel's action takes place in 1948, three years after the atrocity. Hoke wakes up and is chased by the Blackshirts. He meets a few other normal people, and together they flee across London. That's about it. Fight, flee. Fight, flee. Hoke is the narrator throughout, and his American turn of phrase feels unnatural, and jars every time some obviously un-English word like "heck", or "darned" is thrown in. His reason for remaining in London, his secret task, is easily guessable and untimately unbelievable.

All in all, this is one of those books solely for the Herbert completist. The descriptions of London are intersting if you know the city well. Might make a good first person shooter video game.

Posted by se71 at 11:12 AM | Comments (0)

May 08, 2006

The Sultan's Elephant


I thoroughly enjoyed watching "The Sultan's Elephant" at the weekend, and if about 4000 photos so fat on Flickr are anything to go by, then I'm not the only one. Here are mine by the way.

This is a piece of street theatre, with massive puppets parading through the streets of London over four days (4th - 7th May 2006). It's an ambitious work, which took years to build and plan, and was a resounding success.

I cycled over to The Mall on Friday evening to see it after work, and caught a glimpse as the Sultan went in to attend a private party in Pall Mall (that description from the official timetable).

On Sunday I took the family up for another look. We saw the little girl riding her scooter, and then getting into the rocket and disappearing. It was very crowded, and a great spectacle. We also of course saw the eleven metre high elephant spraying a happy crowd with water.

I love London for stuff like this.

Posted by se71 at 02:52 PM | Comments (0)

May 03, 2006

Brompton Folding Bicycle

Brompton on the train
Originally uploaded by se71.
My tube/train pass finally ran out, and so I decided to bite the bullet and get a Brompton bike so that I could avoid that particular underground hell for a few months.

I got an S-Type. This decision was difficult, as these things always are. There are many standard bikes, and you can also get a custom build, some in pretty colours. The prices vary madly, from about £450 up to £1200, but the higher end models didn't actually have enough improvements to make them cost-effective. A lighter bike is advantageous, but might have less gears. A bike with a dynamo would be good, but is heavier and harder to pedal.

I've been walking past Evans Cycles by London Bridge every day, and decided this would be a good place to buy from. They had five Bromptons in store, and gave me a couple of test rides. I bought the bike I liked best. I have the S6L-Plus. I comes with lights, and a small light-weight handle-bar. I get a bag to attach to the front too (have a look at all the bikes here in this PDF document if you'd like to see what you might have gone for). I'm not sure if I'd have gotten that bike if Evans had had the complete range; and if I'd custom built I might have gone for different accessories, but I like to buy things and use them immediately. Instant gratification++

Posted by se71 at 04:27 PM | Comments (0)