« May 2006 | Main | July 2006 »

June 22, 2006

Sin City

This is primarily a review of the movie, though some references to the graphic novels is inevitable. Why? Well, becasue they are practically identical. Never before has a live action film crossed over from the printed page with such complete accuracy. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that if you've seen/read one of them, you can honestly claim to have read/seen the other too. My previous short review of "The Hard Goodbye" is here.

This movie is based on three separate graphic novels, with short, interconnected introduction and conclusion sections. Unfortunately the lack of continuity shows. There is an attempt to get all the characters together near the end, to make it look like one story, but it doesn't really fool anyone. And one of the stories starts and ends the film - well, actually, it sort of goes A B C D B A. (B - That Yellow Bastard, C - The Hard Goodbye, D - The Big Fat Kill, A - bookend sections). I guess as director I'd have done the same thing, rather than just show the stories consecutively.

However everything does take place in one city, Sin City, where the laws of physics don't seem to work the same way. People can survive falling from tall buildings, and live through appalling gunshot wounds, and even biology is different, with one character turning a luminous yellow after drug treatments. Each of the stories has a main hard man, nothing stops him getting justice, that is, his personal brand of justice. He doesn't mind a bit of maiming, torture and killing, to get revenge. Each of the stories has a tough woman too, though not so tough she doesn't need rescuing by the hard man. Oh, and she is always very attractive, and quite often wears very little or no clothing.

So we are safely in 18 certificate territory. You have been warned.

What we get are detective stories in the Philip Marlow vein, but with a lot more oomph to appeal to a jaded generation that has seen it all and can take it. Bruce Willis is a cop nearing retirement who saves a young girl from a violent rapist, but gets sent to prison becasuse the man he catches is actually the son of the corrupt governer. Mickey Rourke is an ugly man with mental problems, and he scours the city trying to avenge the murder of a prostitute who was kind to him. Finally, Clive Owen is the third tough guy, protecting a group of prostitutes from the corrupt police force. Owen doesn't quite have the meanness of the other two, he doesn't quite convince us that he could take the punishment Willis and Rourke take and keep going, but he comes very close.

The women, as secondary characters, are all the whore with a heart of gold type. They trust their man to help them, but are tough when needed. The film has been branded as sexist, as the women all appeal to male fantasies and need protection from the men. To a large extent this is true, but it's not the whole story. Jessica Alba plays a smart, tough woman, who is self reliant and resourceful. Carla Gugino as Rourke's parole officer only really has one flaw, she believes that the cops are the good guys.

I loved this film - it's fast and furious, violent but darkly funny. It has a magnificent 'look', black and white computer generated backgrounds, with only some bright splashes of colour, maybe in someone's eyes, or their red lipstick. It's not for the faint-hearted, but if you like this kind of thing, then it's one for the DVD collection, as you can easily enjoy it again and again.

Posted by se71 at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2006

World Cup Losers

I'm talking about football mainly here, though it's going to be a fairly generic thing. I've suddenly worked out I think one of the reasons why I quite despise football, and a lot of sport in general. Also, I think I've worked out why I actually like watching some other sports.

Football supporters don't really care if their team wins. Looking around Britain right now, you might think I'm mistaken, what with red and white flags flying from every white van and heaving pubs and empty streets when a match is on. But I don't think I'm wrong. You see, football fans really do care about something, they really want the the other team to lose.

Sounds like fancy semantics I know. But if you are English, ask yourself this. When Germany play Sweden - who do you really want to lose. You don't give a damn who wins, you just want Germany to be defeated.

I think football, and all team sports that have fervent supporters, is full of negativity like this. During the winter league games, an Arsenal supporter will scan the results looking for their rivals to lose just as keenly as they look to see their own team's result. And I hate this.

People who know me think that because I don't watch or care about football, or rugby, or motor racing, that I must hate sport in general. This isn't true at all. I'm a keen runner and cyclist, and always have been. I like playing squash and tennis if I get the chance. I've quite recently added swimming to my bow and have competed in triathlons. I've spent quite some time watching all these sports both live and on TV.

What makes individual sports more compelling for me then? Some of it is the lack of jingoistic nationalism. I can watch a great Wimbledon tennis player and appreciate the skill that goes into each shot.I can marvel at how a champion marathon runnner maintains a pace for two hours that I can barely manage for two minutes. I can be inspired by Lance Armstrong powering through yet another Tour De France, and it makes me want to get out there myself and cycle in all weathers.

These sports are about personal achievement, about positive values, and about cheering on great athletes whatever their nationality. Football means pickng a side, and even if they play badly, or unprofessionally, wanting the the other team to lose anyway.

But football is "the beautiful game" isn't it? George Best was a genius, Pele, Bobby Charlton. Inspires kids to play with coats for goalposts. I've only had the misfortune of attending one football match, and it was a disgrace. Fans hurled racist abuse at the black players. They screamed swearwords at their own players for losing the ball. They actually spat at the referee when he walked back to the changing room at half time. Compare that with the Windsor Triathlon recently - 2500 competitors, and many thousands of fans. An atmosphere of togetherness, of wanting everyone to do well. Cheers instead of jeers. I wanted to do well of course, everyone did. But I didn't wish my opponents to crash their bikes, or get heat exhaustion, just to raise my placing a bit.

So if you ask me if I watched the match last night, and I answer with my usual "No, who was playing, and err, was it football, rugby or cricket", I'm thinking of asking a supplementary question - "Who lost?", because I know that's really all you're interested in.

Posted by se71 at 09:59 AM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2006

JPod - Douglas Coupland

It's a really long time since I read Generation X and Microserfs, Coupland's landmark novels. I have forgotten most of them, except a few things, including the McJob, the flat food, and the dot-com programmers working stupid hours for no money but instead the empty promise of multi-million dollar stock options when their company IPOs.

Having just completed JPod, I'm reasonably sure that it's pretty much the same stuff, slightly repackaged to include the new internet themes and memes.

Ethan works in an office for a computer game company. We're supposed to think he's a pretty normal geek in the beginning. He has the stereotypical cubicle life. He gets great company perks like free food and drinks, and very flexible hours. He calls his block of cubicles JPod, as everyone's surname begins with J. There are 5 main colleagues, all with odd quirks.

But Ethan's life is weird. All his family and friends are weird, and he happily gets caught up in all their illegal activities. I think we're supposed to find this amusing, like the way John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson are funny hitmen in Pulp Fiction. But I just found the weirdness distastful and not very original. It goes on a bit too long as well, and like a soap opera, you can see the set-ups coming for miles.

It's written in an easy style which will have you moving through at 100 pages an hour if you're not careful. Of course, having pages and pages of prime numbers and digits of pi adds a lot to the thickness of the book, and very little to the interestingness.

Geeks will love all the overt references to Google, Nigerian spam, Blackberries and the multitude of other things they are daily exposed to. You get the feeling that Coupland really understands this world. He knows that dissecting a geek's laptop will expose just about everything you need to know about his life. I'm a card carrying geek myself and enjoyed that I understood most of the archane 8 bit computer talk, that I knew Belgian keyboards are hell to use, that I know what a rendering farm is. A few years back I was reading a Scott Adams Dilbert book, and was laughing my head off. My mum was there, and I showed her the passage - she has never worked in an office and the humour just didn't work on her. I think JPod is the same.

If you're not into the whole eBay, Quake, C++ world, if you think a computer is just a tool, and not a life choice, then I think you'll be turned off fairly quickly by this book. If like me you spend the day wondering what piece of software you could upgrade or reconfigure instead of doing any real work, then you'll find it a fun read, but you will be unconvinced by the actual story, and you won't care at all about the characters or what happens to them.

I even bought the limited edition, which comes signed by the author, and has a little JPod plastic figure. Nice marketing.

Posted by se71 at 10:37 AM | Comments (0)

June 11, 2006

Windsor Triathlon 2006

One of my few crossover posts, to let the world at large know that I've competed in, and completed, a full olympic distance triathlon. It was a bright sunny day in Windsor, and warm even at 6:35am when I started. I finished 2 hours and 47 minutes and 55 seconds later.

I'll stick loads of links and stats here soon.

Posted by se71 at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

June 05, 2006

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro

Sometimes it takes a few days for a novel to sink in after you've read it. This story seeps into your consciousness, and you find yourself thinking about it long after it's finished. Is this a defintion of a good book? Yes, I think it probably is.

There is very little that can be written in a review of "Never Let Me Go" without giving away key elements of the plot. If you like thought provoking themes set in a world much like ours, but subtly different you might like this book. If you want to see this world through the painfully honest eyes of a girl as she grows up, you might like this book. If you enjoy watching something gradually unfolding, with clues to what is really going on revealing the horrible truth....well, I think you'll like this.

Basically, I really think you should read this, but I can't actually tell you why without spoiling it for you.

It is completely heartbreaking though.

Posted by se71 at 10:36 AM | Comments (0)