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November 29, 2006

Careers in Soaps

This story on BBC News suggests that young people do not get good career role models from characters in soap operas.

I'd have thought (*) this was self evident. Soap characters really aren't good role models for anything.

Relationships - always having affairs to spice up the story, broken homes the norm.

Work - in the laundarette, market trader, bar staff and other McJobs etc etc

Health - pies and chips, always in the pub

Drugs - always drinking alcohol, harder drugs frowned upon though

Sport - Err, never for these couch potatoes

Technology - the kids play on consoles, actually understanding a PC would be unheard of

Literature - tabloids

God I'm so depressed now, just thinking about it.

(*) caveat - I gave up soaps over 10 years ago, please tell me I'm wrong and it's all much better now.

(meant to finish this article off, but never did, so posting it finally, as is)

Posted by se71 at 02:39 PM | Comments (0)

November 28, 2006

The Karate Kid

I saw this movie when it first came out in 1984 - it's a great coming of age story about the underdog taking on a big challenge. I seemed to remember it was fairly family friendly, so when my kids started pestering me to see it (the "Wax On/Wax Off" motto is famous still!) I popped into the local HMV to see if I could pick up a copy on DVD. To my surprise it's rated a '15'. I wracked my brains, and still couldn't think why this might be, so bought it anyway. I needn't have worried. This film definitely needs a reclassification - I can only think of the one occurrence of a fairly mild swear word as a reason it might conceivably miss out on a PG rating.

Ralph Maccio plays New York teenager Daniel who is uprooted by his single mother to California. As he tries to make friends, he falls for a girl called Ali (a very early role for Elizabeth Shue). She is an ex-girlfriend of the leader of a group of kids who attend the local karate school. This guy doesn't like Daniel muscling in on his girl, and soon Daniel is bullied, beaten up, and depressed with his new life.

In steps Mr Miyagi, the caretaker of his apartment block. Miyagi, played by the late Pat Morita in a career defining performance, turns out to be a karate expert. He says he will teach Daniel how to beat the bullies in a karate competition. His unorthodox tutoring methods are priceless and the centerpiece of the film.

This is classic '80s fodder, not to be missed. Did I mention it's pretty funny too.

Notes: Checking on IMDB I find that in 2005 this film was reclassified as a 12 in the UK. This is still too much.

I also see that Ralph Macchio was born in 1961 - this makes him probably aged 22 when the movie was shot - he definitely doesn't look that old.

Posted by se71 at 10:33 AM | Comments (0)

November 20, 2006

Popular Fiction

I'm having a severe problem with popular fiction - far too much of it is complete pants.

I like to read interesting and thought provoking fiction. I also like to read books that a lot of other people read, so that I can keep up with popular culture, and have something to talk about at dinner parties (though I never get invited to those, hmm).

Science fiction and fantasy pretty much always work for me for the intellectual reasons, but hardly anyone you meet in day to day life will know the difference between Gemmmell and Reynolds. They may have read Banks, but seldom have touched (or even be aware of in some cases) M. Banks.

So, to expand my mind and horizons, I decided a few years back to jump out of genre fiction (into which I also include horror and crime), and embrace the stuff that everyone else seems to be reading. This experiment has succeed and failed in equal measure. My hit rate is much less than 50% I'd say, and I'd like to find a way to increase my odds of a good read.

First the successes. I have discovered some books that have literally blown me away. The quality of the writing, the depths of emotions, the scale of the vision; all these things have surprised me and pleased me. I'm talking about books like 'Atonement' by Ian McEwan, 'Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell, and "The Remains of the Day" by Katsuo Ishiguro. Other novels by these writers are also excellent. I've got a few other authors I like, Ian Banks, John Irving, but I'm quite a slow reader, so have to choose carefully and my list is quite small.

Unfortunately I've had more than a few complete failures. 'Bridget Jone's Diary' was vacuous, 'A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian' was complete tripe from beginning to end. I thought maybe Richard and Judy's bookclub would be a good source of new choices, but 'The Shadow of the Wind' was rubbish, "An American Boy' was 500 odd pages of complete pointlessness, and while I liked a lot of 'The Time Traveller's Wife', the ending was very disappointing.

I've even had a bit of a foray into Booker prize land - surely that would be a good way to make my decisions? But even a bestseller, prize winner, and personal recommendation like 'The Life of Pi' left me wishing I'd wasted my time elsewhere.

So what am I to do? Most popular fiction seems to be badly written dross. Why are people putting up with it? Why on earth do they keep buying it? Can any serious reader say "The Da Vinci Code" without cringing? The only conclusion I've reached is that picking a random but attractive looking book off the bestseller list is a complete waste of time. The general public must have little taste, and the Booker judges should get out more. I'm going to have to stick with science fiction, and with my small list of quality non-genre authors.

If you know any author or book that is in the bestseller list that you'd like to recommend, I'm open to suggestions, but unless you agree with everything I've written here, perhaps it's best you leave me to my ranting.

Posted by se71 at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2006


I went cycling on Sunday morning with a group of like-minded enthusiasts from the local triathlon shop. After hurtling down steep hills at speeds up to 60km/h, and punishing my body with long uphill climbs for nearly 2 hours, we came to the town of Marlow. It was only 10:35am, but this being the 11th day of the 11th month, a large group of serious people, many in uniforms of some kind, were standing around the war memorial. We were asked by the police to dismount to walk past. Cyclists wear special shoes, and so we sounded like a team of horses clomping through. What with that and our bright lycra tops, we were a bit of a distraction to all that quiet reflection, and some of our number felt a bit embarassed.

But as we remounted and powered away through the countryside, I thought to myself, "What's best? Is it better stand around and remember the dead, or to get out there in the world and remember that I'm still alive?"

I know the answer.

Posted by se71 at 11:22 AM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2006

Muse - Unintended

Three minutes and fifty seven seconds of absolute perfection. Why aren't this band the biggest on the planet.

Amazingly, you can even listen to the whole track on the band's website Click the media link, select the CD 'Showbiz', it's track 7. And even better, you can also watch a video of the song there too. What a great site.

Also, you can buy it here

Posted by se71 at 01:43 PM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2006

Flickr Interestingness

I've been ego surfing on Flickr via Scout, and discovered that one of my photos from last year has made it into their interesting page for that day.

Here's the intersting page and here is the individual photo.

The Buncefield explosion in Hemel Hempstead was one of the most interesting things to happen that day, and quite a few shots of that made it into the 500 photo shortlist.

I'm unreasonably pleased about mine being there though :-)

Have a look yourself - maybe you've got some intersting photos too! Let me know.

Posted by se71 at 10:54 AM | Comments (0)

Climate chaos? Don't believe it

Christopher Monkton has written an article in the Sunday Telegraph about global warming. Unfortunately I haven't got time to read it in detail, or to follow up on all the points raised. I'm also not an expert in this area or an expert statistician.

But, I can see that he is seriously trying to publicise that everything is not as open and shut on the global warming debate than we have been led to believe by both the government and the media over recent months. This is something I agree with.

Unfortunately, it is now nigh on impossible to have a reasoned debate on this topic without the rabid believers resorting to ad hominem attacks. I've been called stupid and have seen others called much worse for just suggesting that the earth might just be following one of it's natural cycles. I'm not stupid. I think the evidence is complex and open to many interpretations. I think that if a weatherman cannot tell me whether I can plan a barbeque this afternoon, or a holiday in Cornwall next summer, that I shouldn't get too worked up about his predictions for 100 years time. I know specific days and general trends are different - I'm being flippant there - get some perspective you scaremongerers.

Shit happens, climate changes, we're not ice-skating on the Thames much these days, but do you really think burning a bit less oil is going make any difference. Do you want Britain to freeze in the winter like that again? And if the whole world does agree and manages to cut CO2 emissions, and it does make a difference to the earth's climate, are you really confident that it will be a positive one? I'm not.

Posted by se71 at 09:28 AM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2006


Brick isn't half as smart as it thinks it is. It tries really hard, with lots of dialog you can barely hear, conversations between characters about things you can't know yet, flashbacks, anti-stereotyping and lots of other stuff to keep you confused. In this way I think the film makers think that you'll continually want to see what happens next, if only to finally understand what's happened already.

I was able to put up with this, I'm a bit of a machocist in this way: confuse me, mislead me, turn everything on it's head in the final reel, I'm happy. But I do want the game to be worth it in the end, and this film doesn't deliver.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan, a bit of a loner at a nameless American high school. His ex-girlfriend disappears, and he plunges into the criminal underworld to try and find her. His tenacity is a bit bizarre; he faces bullies and guns, endures beatings, and generally gets in a whole heap of trouble. Why would he do this?

The twist here is that all the criminals are also high school age. It doesn't quite work, they aren't menacing enough, and come across a bit like the gangsters in Bugsy Malone (the musical with kids). Unlike Gordon-Levitt, the supporting actors aren't as good, and some are actually quite poor.

And when we finally get to a conclusion, it isn't really very clever at all. Why he just didn't hand over the case to the police is beyond me.

Ties hard, but fails to impress. Some cool scenes.

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

November 03, 2006


Click has a very narrow range of target viewers - probably 13 to 17 year olds. Children under this are excluded by the 12A certificate, and anyone older will fail to find funny yet another dog humping a stuffed toy joke.

Adam Sandler is overworked by a dictator boss (David Hasslehoff, who is overacting his heart out). He longs for a way to get some more time, and when he is given a mysterious remote control thinks he has found the answer. This remote can pause, fast-forward, and replay time. The exact way this happens is a bit glossed over - in fast-forward mode for example, his body is there, and responds to people, but isn't really sentient. In some fast-forward episodes however, he manages not only to keep his job, but get promoted, hardly likely.

Of course, it all goes wrong, and the remote starts to do things on it's own, and Sandler starts missing big chunks of his life. It starts funny, and turns tragic and what we end up with, is a moral tale a bit like 'A Christmas Carol'. We are told to enjoy the time we have, put family first, and not work so hard. Laudable indeed, and not overcoated in sugar, it's a really hard-hitting lesson.

With a few alterations (the crude humour and the internal inconsistencies of the device mostly) this could have been a really charming story. It could have been a big event, a future clasic even. Sandler is a capable actor, his co-stars also perform well and it is very moving at the end. But the vision was just too small, the cheap laughs spoil it, and a fantastic opportunity was missed.

Posted by se71 at 11:03 AM | Comments (0)

November 02, 2006

Cast Away

I don't think I'm giving much away to say that this is about a man being stranded on a desert island for years. In a way, the first section of the film is a bit superfluous as we lead up to the inevitable plance crash. Slightly chubby Tom Hanks works out how to survive on the island; he grows a beard (see cover of DVD for this giveaway) and then loses his famous method actor paunch, along with a few of his marbles. During this time, he keeps his spirits up by thinking of his girlfriend Helen Hunt back home.

It all moves along in a bit of a formulaic manner, and would be boring apart from the spectacular camera work. We get a few scenes where the camera swivels around Hanks from all angles in continuous shot that look really amazing.

What we're all waiting for of course is to find out if he gets rescued. I'm not giving that away, but I will say I was a bit disappointed by it. There are two films here, and adventure story, and a love story, and I think the mixture of the two isn't handled quite right.

All in all, I'd say this was a good family film. It's not Forrest Gump , which Hanks and director Zemeckis worked on previously, but that was a true masterpiece.

This bit complelety spoils the ending - you have been warned.

So, you have probably guessed that in Act 3, Hanks escapes the island and gets back home to see Hunt. When he was on the island he went almost completely nuts, talking to a volleyball as if it's a real person and seriously contemplating suicide. Once he escapes, he snaps back to being completely normal again - this is a bit unlikely I'd have thought. The most unlikely thing though is that when he finds Hunt is married now to someone else and has a child, he just walks away from her. In fact, the next day, he's chasing after the first girl in a pair of tight jeans that he meets. OK, there is a completely lame justification as to why she will be his next true love, but this intervention of fate, and also where the whale looks at him and practically saves his life, are unwelcome additions to what isn't supposed to be a fantasy film.

Posted by se71 at 01:54 PM | Comments (0)