Monday, March 29, 2010

Feline Fun - Dewey the Library Cat

I had seen this book in the shops and been interested but never bought it.  Then I saw my mum had bought it. It was duly borrowed.  I always enter into these kind of things with a heavy heart.  I am completely emotional when it comes to a tale of an animal.  We pretty much know how the story of a pet's life will pan out at the end.  I always hope when I begin reading a book such as this that the animal is still going strong.  Maybe heading into a comfortable old age but still with us.  They rarely are :-(

As isn't so rare the animal in question didn't have a good start in life.  The book opens with him nearly freezing to death.  The story from then on is much more cheery.  The author obviously invested a lot in the cat and it was much more than a pet.  She thinks he's something special.  Don't all of us pet owners believe ours has that something extra?  I'll admit this cat does seem to have a fantastic personality.  He's King of his domain.  It does upset me that he was de-clawed.  I'm afraid I hold with the European view that this is an unnecessary and cruel.  It does seem to be prevalant in the US though.  A cat is much more confident when it's intact.

The book contains a few chapters on Ohio and I have to say the author really sells it well.  It sounds like a beautiful place to be around harvest time.  These chapters help flesh out the book to give a more rounded view of the library and it's customers that are Dewey's world.  There is no doubt that this little cat brought something extra into the lives of many of the library's customers.  I can't think of any other public buildings where a cat would be tolerated, let alone welcomed. 

This is a quick read that I got through in a couple of sittings.  It made me realise, yet again, how much of an asset to life a pet can be.  For me, my cat makes my house a home.

3.5 pawprints out of 5.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Reviewing a Reviewer - It's Only a Movie

Mark Kermode has lately been the only film critic whose reviews I have regularly been in contact with.  I'm usually behind in my newspaper reading and magazines I'm always behind.  His Friday afternoon show is listened to, via the podcast, every week unless I'm out of the country.

Even though I often disagree with his views on a film I can usually tell if a film is for me from what he has to say.  For a long time I would have said that he was one of my favourite reviewers.  As time has gone by though it has gone from a film review programme to a comedy double act with reviews thrown in.  When they are thrown in his co-host Mr Mayo often feels the need to interrupt the review with what is supposedly meant to be a funny comment.  Unfortunately these comments have become more frequent, less funny and much more irritating.  In the show Kermode has never been averse to telling us anecdotes of his life on the edge of film.  These stories are interesting but tend to be repeated until you can recite them along with him.

This is where my main problem with this book lies.  I've heard most of it before.  A lot of it on more than one occasion.  I like these stories but not enough to make the buying of the book a good investment.  There are parts of the book that were new to me, a fair amount to be fair.  The problem was it was mostly the filler that was fresh to me.  The highlights were old news.

The book is told in a fresh and interesting way.  His wit makes it a fun read.  If you're not a regular weekly listener to the 5Live show I'd recommend you give it a try.  Then comes the awful comparison, I have to admit I preferred Barry Norman's autobiography.  I'm probably biased but Norman will probably never be bested as a film critic in my eyes.  The only way Kermode can take his crown is to get a serious review show of his own.  I hope the BBC see sense and give him Film 2011.  I love his reviews on The Culture Show and think he makes a better critic than he does half of a double act.

3 out of 5 pawprints for me.  Probably would have taken 4 if I hadn't heard most of the stories before.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Avatar - Yes I finally saw it!

So yes, 3 months behind everyone else we got to see it.  I was hoping for IMAX but I could never book a good seat and then it was replaced by Alice in Wonderland.  So we opted for 3D on an ordinary-sized screen.  I had hopes and doubts for the 3D experience.  A few people had told me it wasn't like your usual 3D film.  Instead of things coming at you it gave you a sense of depth.  Well they were half right.  It seemed to avoid the shock factor of things flying at you.  It was still distracting at times though.  You lose the ability to choose what you focus on.  Something your brain would normally phase out becomes your object of focus.  When that's a piece of a plant drifting past the main action it;s disorientating.  So while the effect of 3D was much better than usual it only reinforced that I prefer my films in two dimensions only.

The plot was rather predictable.  An old tale that has been churned out time and time again.  It wasn't a bad telling of the tale but one I didn't need to see again.  The real downside for me was the characters.  They were lazily written stereotypes.  No-one went against what you expected of them in any way.  I didn't feel attached to any of the characters.  I just didn't care about them.  especially Worthington's character, he was just irritating. 10 minutes after they'd landed on Pandora you could tell how the story would end and who would do what to bring about that end.  The only thing was Cameron dragged the story out far longer than I had in my mind.  This film was way too long.

The awe of the effects kept me interested a little bit but not enough.  Yes the technical achievements were amazing.  But I'm not a fan of effects.  Surely to put such a huge effort and so much money into effects and so little into the plot is madness.  If the plot had been given half as much time as the CGI this film could have won everyone over.

For all it's predictability this film was never believable.

Spoilers below, rollover to highlight

Arrows beating technology beyond our own?  Come on!  The marine being moved from his own body to that of the avatar?  Give me a break!  I'm sorry this just didn't gel for me.  Neither did the 'network' of plants either.  Maybe I'm just dead inside...

End of spoilers

3 out of 5 pawprints.  This is one I doubt I'll ever see again.  I can see it's good points but they're not what I look for in my films.

Shutter Island (spoilers hidden and clearly marked)

This was the second half of last Wednesday's double bill.  Orange Wednesday is never a good time to visit the cinema but we had no other night free.  I was amazed that the screen we were in was completely full.  I haven't seen that, outside an IMAX screening, before.  I wonder what the big draw was?  Scorsese? Dicaprio? Luckily we got a good seat without too many mutterers and phone checkers nearby.

It's pretty obvious from the outset that this is Scorsese's 'Noir'.  It's got all the signs, the looming shots, the oppressive soundtrack, the dialogue.  Everything that makes a film slightly ridiculous without destroying your enjoyment.  My only complaint at the beginning was the Foghorn soundtrack.  If it had continued at that level throughout the film I would have had a serious headache.  It was just a touch too much.

The film looks great.  Modern gloss on a 1950's setting worked.  It reminded me of how good Mad Men looks.  To an inexpert eye the period detail was great.  Even though the film itself had a modern shine to it I was in the 1950's throughout.

I liked the cast.  They all carried out their task admirably.  Ruffalo is usually really easy to watch and he definitely was in this.  I just warm to him on screen.  Kingsley steals the scenes he's in.  He's brilliant, the best thing about the film for me. DiCaprio holds his own and does his role justice.  It['s always nice to see van Sydow in a film.  I haven't seen him in anything for ages.  None of the cast are greedy, they all fulfill their role and let the rest do the same.

There are some harrowing scenes of Dakow concentration camp which bring you back to earth with a bang.  Giving an odd seriousness to a film which otherwise I don't take too seriously.

It's and old theme that's been done many times before.  A locked house scenario, based in an asylum filled with dangerous inmates.  It's a credit to Scorsese that I never found it tedious, not even from the start.  As the film develops it seems to become more and more crazy.  My words as I left the cinema were "It was bat-shit crazy but I loved it".  I did feel slightly uncomfortable that I'd thoroughly enjoyed a film that included some harrowing scenes.

Spoilers below, roll over to highlight.

The end of the film wasn't what you'd call a particularly clever twist but it worked for me.  Though I did keep expecting another twist it never arrived.  The end of the film was quite harrowing.  Again bringing you back down to sombre territory.

I never did understand why it had to end in the lighthouse.  Is that what Dicaprio's character needed or was it cinematic license?  I'm beginning to think that lighthouses are like monkeys.  They always add a little extra to a film :-)

End of spoilers.

4 out of 5 pawprints.  Utterly insane but roll with it and it's very enjoyable.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Entertained but Angry - Green Zone

The first half of last night's double bill was Green Zone.  I was really looking forward to it.  I like Greengrass's work and Matt Damon's always solid.

The film I saw I found very entertaining.  It certainly looked very real (to someone who has never been to Baghdad, granted).  The story was gripping, kept me involved throughout.  There were numerous upsetting scenes but I don't suppose war is ever pretty.  Damon was good in his role.  It was a little obvious at times, rival agencies vying for power.  That may be exactly how it was though.  It wouldn't surprise me at all.  It was the 'bad guy - nice and polished' 'good guy - dishevelled but hard working' that took it a little too far for me.
It also fell foul of the compulsory chase scene.  This was better than most but I  do find them boring after a few minutes.  Also the ends were all tied up far too neatlly with a nice little Hollywood ending bow.

As an entertainment piece I'd give the film 4 out of 5 stars.

My major problem was (rant begins) that the director held far too much power.  He was making a film to put his point across.  Not a documentary which would have done pretty well to get that point well and truly home.  But making a 'movie', which takes actual facts and occurrences then bolsters the director's view with fiction.  Packaging it all in a nice box that hints at it all being true.  I left the cinema very uneasy.  Greengrass knows that he's famous for putting true events on screen.  He knows that the majority of the cinema-going public is gullible and believes what it sees on screen and never thinks to check facts.Then I listened to him interviewed on The Film Programme, podcast from BBC Radio 4.  (Available on the BBC site or Itunes, dated March 12th)  This really raised my hackles.  The man is not on the same planet as I.  The interviewer was questiong him on whether he was concerned that people would see the film and believe that it was all fact.  His answer -

"I believe in if you consider the full arc of this debacle in broad terms what we portray is basically what happened."
So he's claiming it is pretty much the truth?  Even though he has no access to 'the truth'.  he then goes into a rant on how the Iragi war damaged US/UK power in the world.

His reasons for making the film -

"What I wanted to do was find a story, find a way of bringing a broad audience to consider this subject. What you're trying to do is create a genre piece, a thriller.  You know because if you're going to get a broad audience the reality is you have to operate within the genre."

So you want to bring things to people's attention?  Documentary audience too small, truth not 'thrilling' enough?  Let's make a story up!

When the interviewer had the cheek to use the word 'fantasy' in connection with his film -

"I don't think it's a fantasy.  I think that's unkind.  What you're saying is 'Can I demonstrably prove that the events exactly in this film occurred?' No. obviously not.  It's a movie.  the point you're going is 'If you push that too far then it's propaganda', which I've never made. But of course the most interesting place to be, the reason why I've always liked putting pieces where the fact and fiction collide is because it's a sort of area of limitless creative possibilities.  It's capable of abuse, of course it is, and we all know those pieces that have been made where your audience looks and feels that this is propaganda.  But equally there are many, many pieces where that place has the deepest truth because you can say 'didn't it happen a bit like this?' 'Couldn't you just believe that this story happened?'  It's good and necessary and right that those kinds of issues get explored in popular cinema and that's what Green Zone is."

So Mr Greengrass, you're not interested in facts?  More interested in 'the deeper truth' that you made up.  Made up to prove your point.  This film is propaganda for what Paul Greengrass believes could have happened.  God knows we already know Iraq is a complete mess.  Probably a lot of what we saw on screen is true.  The fact that the director's ego got in the way of an honest film really sends him down in my estimations.  It seems we have an ego to contend with Oliver Stone and Michael Moore.  In their world we don't have truth, we have their 'deeper truth'.

Tome Time - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

This was my first bandwagon jump of the year.  No-one had recommended this book to me but it had become impossible to escape the buzz about it.  The release of the film only heightening this.  Decision time, watch the film or invest the time in the book.  We all know books are more rewarding but I have a 'to read' pile rivalling Pisa's tourist attraction.  As I'm fond of European detective fiction I decided to read the book then decide on whether to see the film.  As I wasn't going to be near any book shops soon and time was of the essence I took a new route.  This is the first book I've read on the 'Kindle App'.

I'm not sure why it was thought necessary to change the title for an English-speaking audience.  I'd be interested to know what the title is in other parts of Europe.  Though I have to admit Men who Hate Women doesn't exactly suck me in.  I do prefer books to be translated rather than altered.

I did enjoy this book even though there were some harsh, graphic scenes depicted.  The author is obviously banging a drum against violence against women as well as telling a tale.  Throughout the book there are frightening statistics concerning women and violence.  To see a man tackling this subject is rather pleasing.  Though I found the story entertaining and didn't tire of the book I din't find his style suited me as much as other authors.  Mankell being a prime example.  His depiction of people was great.  Not so great was the depiction of places.  I never got the feel for the areas in the book that the action takes place.

The 'heroine' was an interesting character.  A troubled, yet highly intelligent young woman who is as difficult for the audience to understand as her fellow characters.  The parts about her were my favourite parts of the book.  As the two sequels also focus on her I will definitely be reading them before too long.    Weirdly I hope that we don't come around to fully understanding her character.  That seems to be part of her 'charm'.

The 'hero' is also a likeable character.  With relationships that seem destined to complicate his life.  Part of the reason I liked the book is because people are faced with 2 bad options.  Which option they'd choose and why I found interesting.  The book isn't neatly tied up in the final chapter.  We know enough to not feel we've wasted our time investment but it feels real.  There should never be a perfect rainbow at the end of such a gruesome tale. I wonder how much of journalist is similar to the author.  As the author is also a journalist. 

3.5 pawprints out of 5.  Roll on the film.  Though it's doubtful it will be a patch on the book, they rarely are :-(

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Star Wars in Concert

This was last night's trip out of my cave.  Very enjoyable it was too.  If I were ever to go again though I wouldn't book seats in the centre of the front row.  Unfortunately I had far too good a view of the conductor.  As you can see from the photo he took precedence over the screen.  To be fair though he wasn't as obstructing in real life as he is in the photo.

The whole show was a huge spectacle.  No expense spared.  Except on the seating.  For more than ten times the price of a cinema ticket I would expect to have a better seat.  More fool me!

The show takes you through the Star Wars story via clips and a live narration by Anthony Daniels.  Though I have to admit the recorded into by James Earl Jones made me wish the Dark Lord could have done it.  David Prowse would have been excellent (see earlier blog entry!).

Lucas hasn't cottoned on that we were sick of Anakin as a child and the Anakin/Padme romance first time around.  We got plenty of clips outlining their parts of the story.  I suppose their would have been a large gap if they hadn't.  But, sometimes large gaps are good.

The scenes from IV & V were obviously my favourite.  With VI not preying too much on the little fiends that laid the ground for Jar Jar.  A large orchestra doesn't make me any more convinced that where the Rebel Alliance struggled a group of (anything but) cute, hoodie bears easily succeed. 

It was an experience which is hard to describe.  If you love the films, you'll love this.  If you're not a big fan I don't think you'll get value for money.  If you are thinking of going book a seat above stage level.  Distance from the screen won't detract. it's that large.  And you'll get a much clearer view.

Major disappointment of the night - The ewoks were behind glass.  A photo of me throttling one would have been ace :-)

3.5 out of 5 severed ewok heads.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Alice in Wonderland - Review

The decision was made to see this in 3D purely because it isn't showing on the IMAX in 2D.  I was dubious about the 3D version before I went in and seeing it didn't cure me of this.  I can't see how the 3D added to the film at all.  It took me out of the film in parts, where it was slightly disconcerting.  I'd also rather not have to wear a pair of huge glasses that dozens of other people have had on.  I know nothing about the differences between filming in 3D and 'retro-fitting'.  All I know is that if I saw this film again I would make for a 2D screen.

Rant over, I actually quite enjoyed the rest of the film.  I was disappointed by the lack of Burton's usual style of title sequence.  These were hardly noticeable.  I was looking forward to something much more inspiring.

The cast did a great job.  Both the physical actors and the voice actors.  I was glad they had cast someone I hadn't come across before as Alice.  She was instantly Alice, not someone from another role.  Helena Bonham-Carter was far too Queenie-like for my liking.  It probably worked very well for an audience too young to have seen Miranda Richardson's original in Blackadder.  It felt too much like theft to me though.  Especially as HBC is a highly competent actress who is capable of crafting her own character.  I can see how the role worked in the story though.  Matt Lucas being included in the cast didn't fill me with glee.  He did his usual kinda thing.  Which surprisingly worked very well.  Tweedledum and Tweedledee will never be my favourite characters but then again they are supposed to be a little annoying.  The Dormouse was bloody irritating.  It got on my nerves for most of it's screen time.  I would describe it's depiction in this film as 'a poor man's Reepicheep'.  Depp was great as the Hatter.  He had a much larger role in the film than I expected.  I was worried we were going to get a re-run of Captain Jack.  Thankfully I was very wrong.  Stephen Fry was as good as I'd expected as the Chesire Cat.  Which let's face it is the character I most wanted to see.  Unfortunately I hated the look of the cat.  His lines were great.  The effects they used for him were great.  Even his expressions were great.  Why oh why did they have to give him green stripes?

I liked the update on the original story.  Although nothing can improve on the book I really enjoyed this film.  It's not my favourite Burton film and will never be at the top of any of my lists but it was good fun.  One of the final scenes didn't really work for me.  It just didn't sit right at all but as it was such a small part of it I can get over it.

3.5 pawprints.  It lost one for the annoying 3D but it gained half back due to it containing monkeys :-)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My New Avatar

My fellow Manc and web-buddy Amy designed me this today.  I am well chuffed.  She has captured me perfectly in j-peg form.  She has very kindly done them for a few folks.  

To see more of what the lady has to say, peruse her blog here.  You'll find it choc-full of sci-fi goodness.

PS In real life my chance of balancing a cup of Earl Grey, hot and wielding a Jaffa Sabre at the same time are slim.  I'm not the most well balanced of souls.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Billy Liar

Last night's outing was to Oldham Coliseum  The show, Keith Waterhouse's Billy Liar. The production company Middle Ground Theatre Company

It's a very Northern play.  One which anyone from the North can easily relate to.  The set was just, one very typical 1930s era semi-detached.  Nearly all the scenes were in the living room.  The set is probably the best I've seen at the Coliseum.  Everything was spot on.

The story is about Billy Fisher.  A young man with dreams much larger than his capabilities.  He doesn't seem to grasp the reality of his limitations and leads a fantasy life without much of a grasp on reality.  Much to his father's annoyance.  As is to be expected in this type of play, we get laughs tempered with some poignant moments.  Things never end up quite as you expect.  You could see some of the turns coming but it didn't mar the experience at all.

The strongest point was the cast, well most of the cast.  They were great.  The actor playing Billy (Nathan Hannan) brought the levity needed to the role.  With the cheeky charm Billy gets by on.  His mother, played excellently, by tv favourite, Helen Fraser seems to be a long suffering woman.  Dealing with an ageing, bored mother and a son with his head off in the clouds.  She was my favourite of the cast.  His grandmother (Sally Sanders) did an excellent job at being very, very irritating.  By the end of the first act I was ready to throttle her myself!  Barbara is played by Julia Mallam.  She was perfect as the stiff, inhibited, romantic girlfriend.  His father (Chris Grahamson) played his part well.  You got his infuriation at his son's lack of a grasp on reality and responsibility.  The only two characters I felt were played a little weakly had much smaller parts so didn't impeed my enjoyment of the play.

My question is - Do they have Southern plays as well as Northern ones?  I've never seen one.  Maybe they're only shown South of Birmingham?

I'd give this 4 out of 5 pawprints.

I will definitely be seeing more Middle Ground productions.  If they're in your neck of the woods I recommend you give them a try yourself.

Oldham Coliseum currently has an offer of free tickets to anyone under the age of 26.  An offer to good to refuse if you live nearby.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Best Podcast Promo, EVER :-)

Here Goes Nothing is a podcast from the Simply Syndicated stable.  This is their latest promo piece.  IMHO it's the funniest promo for a podcast I've heard.  As I'm a nice person who likes to share things that make me smile, here you go....

Click here for Prowse prowess.

Now you've heard that you're going to want  more.  To listen and subscribe click on the link below.  It's a very funny podcast with talk of a wide variety of things.  Best of all, you get beer reviews :-)

Here Goes Nothing

I also have to give props to Starbase 66, also from the Simply Syndicated stable.  The show that placed the promo in my ear-buds.  It's also my favourite Sci-Fi podcast.  Their show can be found here Starbase 66

While you're there I suggest you have a good look round at the other shows on offer too.  There's a huge variety of subjects covered, Movies, Music, Food, Sci-Fi, Gaming and things I'm not sure which genre they belong in.  All the shows from Simply Syndicated

Enjoy :-)