Book: Terry Pratchett “Thief of Time”

August 26, 2009

Terry Pratchett “Thief of Time” is the last (I think) in the Death-Series.  I’m working my way through Terry Pratchett books according to themes – starting with the Guards, now Death, with various asides on the way.

thief of timeThis is without doubt one of my favouite Pratchett books so far. Again we meet Death and his granddaughter Susan Sto Helit now a school teacher and the type of teacher we all wish we had.  However Death, with the help of Death of Rats draws her unwilling into the difficult task of finding ‘someone like her’.  Death himself can’t do this because he has to ‘ride out with the other 3 horsemen because of the impending Apocalypse.  At least we think there are 4 horsemen but there is also the milkman.

Also in this book we learn about Wen and The Monks of History, Lu-Tze the sweeper and his apprentice Lobsang and a clockmaker.

It is a fast paced book with lots of very good characters and interesting new concepts.


Editorial Fact Checking?

August 25, 2009

I have been fairly indifferent to the recent news debate about proposed changes to the US Health Care system and in particular the comparisons with the NHS.  However, it is probably worth noting that one of the key editorials which has caused so much of the ‘debate / argument’ was in Investors Business Daily (IBD) which stated:

“people such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.”

… hey it’s an editorial opinion, not a article presented as news, so there is no need to justify the statement or give any proof for saying that someone with neuro muscular dystrophy would be dead if he lived in the UK – the only problem was that in stead of giving an anonymous example they actually named the most famous British scientist currently alive – and that is the key – CURRENTLY ALIVE and he gives lots of credit to the NHS for that fact.

see bbc news web


360° Stage

August 20, 2009

Last night I went to see this…

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This photo was taken during part 2 of the event – the tear down. We only got to watch about 10 minutes of this before getting moved on, but it was fascinating.

Prior to this there were four blokes playing some music under, in and around the stage, and they were good, but the real winner of the night is the stage and the screen in the middle that does things that screens just don’t do!

Last year I went to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers in this same venue (Hampden Stadium) and swore to myself that I wouldn’t go to another stadium gig.  The visuals for that were average, but there was no way of seeing the band, the sound was OK but there were simply too many people trying to fit into the space between the stage and FOH mix – there was no stewarding to stop people moving anywhere in the stadium.

The U2 360° Stage meant that there was a good view for every available seat, the sound was good (I thought the vocals could have been clearer in the mix but apparently that was just me).  Generally speaking the screen was worth watching the entire time so it didn’t really matter where the band were or what they were doing.

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West Wing Season Two

August 17, 2009

This is nuts.

I hammered through season one from this box in 7 days.  I decided that wasn’t a good pace so should slow down, so I’ve just managed to finish season two of The West Wing in 10 days.  The problem, apart from my lack of self control is that I can’t watch one episode I watch one disk which is usually four, hour long, episodes.

So my thoughts on Season Two?  I’m not sure.  It is all really very, very good – tightly written, tightly performed, tightly filmed and tightly edited but that has all been said before.  There are a few small niggles such as why some characters seem to simply disappear never to be mentioned again, but overall it is simply very good, gripping drama.

Having just watched the season finale I am trying hard to resist simply breaking open the next box.  It was so ‘edge of the seat’ that I rewound (OK that term doesn’t really make sense for a DVD, but there we go) to watch the last 20min or so over again.

My aim now is not to start Season Three for at least a week, and from then on only to watch one episode in one sitting.  I’m not sure how realistic a goal that will be.  I am still following The Wire on BBC2 three nights a week and I can always fall back on Firefly boxed set to keep me busy.  All of this is fairly unusual for me though as I don’t tend to follow TV shows that much and those three are all American dramas.  The world may be upside down – certainly I think I’m turning nocturnal but that is a different matter.


Squirrels

August 15, 2009

One of the blogs I follow is thisisphotobomb.com (warning though, sometimes the content is questionable).  Basically a photobomb is when someone gets into a photo either deliberatly or randomly in the background who isn’t supposed to be there, say someone making bunny ears behind your head or jumping into the shot just as the photo was taken.

This is slightly different…

DanielSsquirrelbomb-P

You can read the story here, but basically the squirrel seemed to be interested in the noise made by the self timer on the camera.

Of course this has since led to the squirrel appearing all over the web, the best one I’ve seen so far is:

photobomb2


West Wing Season One

August 8, 2009

I’ve had a few nights of little sleep and somehow managed to get through all 22 episodes of Season One of the West Wing in under a week!  This wasn’t deliberate, I thought the boxed set would last me a lot longer than this and hopefully it still will.  But I thought I would give some thoughts on this initial exposure to the West Wing phenomenon.

  1. it’s good.
  2. it’s amazingly tight.
  3. a little claustrophobic.
  4. they walk about a lot.

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West Wing obviously has high production values (and cost) which make a difference right from the start.  The set looks like a real working office with the right amount of mess, extras in the background, things changing from day to day, etc.  The lighting and camera work is great – especially the walking about a lot stedycam stuff.

One of the things that I had heard about in praise of the West Wing was how good the writing is and it really is.  There is just the right balance of quirky one liners, complex jargon and straight plot moving to keep you interested.  The technique of having the characters walk about a lot is a good way of fitting in dialog and making it dynamic and interesting.  This also shows how good the actors are as some of these shots are fairly extended and require not only tight scripting but physical timing as well to get to the right place by the time your lines run out.

On the down side – I have no idea what a lot of the characters are actually supposed to be doing in the White House, there isn’t any explanation of their roles or even the hierarchy.  There is no back story to the characters, who they are, how they know each other, what their motivations are (although I’ve started season 2 and some of this is expanded in the first couple of episodes).  But that in itself is interesting because as a viewer you are introduced to a group of people with a group dynamic rather than a bunch of individuals with their individual stories.

So far so good, and it must be gripping because I just keep putting on the next episode as soon as one stops.  I really must slow down.


John Hughes – thanks!

August 7, 2009

john-hughes-RIPJohn Hughes, film maker died yesterday.

As someone who’s “formative years” were firmly in the 80s I would like to thank John Hughes for making the best movies of that time.

The Breakfast Club, is the seminal movie of teenage angst and one of the few films I will watch every few years, fantastic writing and outstanding performances from the Brat Pack and a movie that everyone should watch.

Pretty in Pink always makes me cry! Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Weird Science when Kelly LeBrock became every teenage boys dream, Sixteen Candles, She’s Having a Baby, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Uncle Buck, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation….

(for all these I try to forget he also produced Home Alone 1, 2 & 3)


Movie: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

August 5, 2009

harry potter poster Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the latest in the Harry Potter franchise – year six and there is now no doubt that Lord Voldemort is back.  The opening scene ties in directly with the climax of the last film (Order of the Phoenix) which *I think* has been the best so far in this franchise.  Order of the Phoenix was also the first to be directed by David Yates and by the looks of his imdb profile his first major movie following mostly TV work, and I think his visual interpretation of the Potter-world is excellent in particular the way wizards fought, using apparation, flying, hexes and spells exploding and colliding…  I found visually stunning.

This visual interpretation of the books runs very deep in the Half-Blood Prince where there is a constant feeling of foreboding with many scenes in darkness and washed out colours.  Even the usual train trip to Hogwarts isn’t the usual upbeat episode but begins with a flypast of the train in wild landscape of dark lochs (reminded me of Glen Coe but I’m not sure where it was).

The other thing which plays a massive role in this movie is the Hormones!  After all, we can’t forget that this is about teenagers at a mixed boarding school and by year six they are finally starting to notice each other in a “different way”.  This leads to a lot of the laughs in the movie but isn’t a distraction from the pace or plot in any way.  Actually I think this is the best paced Harry Potter movie so far as most tend to slow down too much in the middle which I didn’t feel with this film.

A few of the highlights for me were seeing more of Luna Lovegood who is a fantastically quirky character, the relationship between Dumbledore and Harry which has always been lacking in the movies, and the development of Draco Malfoy’s character (outstandingly performed by Tom Felton).  I also really enjoyed any scene that shows the death eaters in action… a perfect balance of looking ‘cool’ and ultimate evil.  I’ve never really been a fan of Helena Bonham Carter before, but the Bellatrix Lestrange character is great, always stealing the scenes she appears in.

There has been some controversy and moans from fans over the sections of the book which have been changed or left out.  I must admit that I was also disappointed about the end (I’m trying to avoid any spoilers here) but on reading more about the decision I can see why they changed it(*).  I would say that this does leave the film with a weak ending which doesn’t really make sense.  But this doesn’t take away from a very good film and not just another Harry Potter movie but another David Yates Harry Potter film which brings a depth to his visual interpretation of the books which I don’t think was fully realized in the earlier films.

Favourite Quote:
Albus Dumbledore: You must be wondering why I brought you here.
Harry Potter: Actually sir, after all these years I just sort of go with it.

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(*) Here Be Spoilers!!

If you have read the books you will, as I was, have been expecting to see a major battle take place in Hogwarts after the Death Eaters manage to get into the school – a task that Draco Malfoy has been working on all year.  Apparently the decision to leave this out was in order to avoid repetition with the Battle of Hogwarts which we should see in the next movie(s) ( Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is released 2010, Part 2 in 2011).

Personally I think this really leaves a lot of questions and leaves big holes in the plot of this movie.  The Death Eaters don’t seem necessary to Draco’s attempt on “someone’s” life nor of Snape’s “assistance” in that task so why all the fuss about getting them there.  The main thing happening at Hogwarts during the year is Draco’s activity enabling the Death Eaters to get into Hogwarts, not having them do anything once there makes this meaningless.  After the scene in the tower they for no apparent reason head off to Hagrid’s cottage, attack it, then wander off…  it really is an anti-climax other than the fact that there is the other climax in this movie.


New to the West Wing

August 1, 2009

westwingI picked up the boxed set of “The West Wing” yesterday for £50 – which seemed a bargain for around 112 hours of viewing.

I have never seen a single episode of this show but lots of friends who I know and trust (and Jodi) have all watched it, become adicted, raved about it, watched it again, swapped stories about it, etc.

So here I go on a new adventure.


Books: Christopher Moore, “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal”

August 1, 2009

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal” by Christopher Moore is mental.  Totally mental and fantastically funny, but very very irreverent!  I’m sure many Christians would be mildly or profoundly offended by this book but at the very least it will prompt you to think of different aspects of Christ’s life.

lamb-coverThe basic plot is that Levi bar Alphaeus (or Levi known as Biff, a nickname that comes from the sound of the daily slaps upside his head he required as a child) is brought back to life and held as a virtual prisoner in a hotel room by the angel Raziel in order that he writes a new gospel.  He is, let’s say “mildly annoyed” when he discovers the bible in the room and sees that none of the original gospels mention him or the time between Christ’s birth and the start of his ministry.

You see, Biff grew up in Nazareth with Joshua (Jesus real name) and knew about all the struggles he had growing up knowing who he was but not really what to do with it.  Biff also fancied Joshua’s mum, Mary but that never really got anywhere because Joseph didn’t die but Biff was prepared to step in if he did.

So Biff and Joshua grow up both become infatuated with a budding Mary Magdalene (“Maggie”), and have mixed luck at bringing dead back to life (OK with lizards but first attempts with humans has mixed luck).  Then at around the age of 13, they head off to trace the three wise men who turned up when Christ was born to help him find out what he is supposed to do.  So they journey Afghanistan, China, and India, Joshua learns the wisdom of the Eastern religions in preparation for his own ministry.

At one stage when staying with monks who practice martial arts as Joshua doesn’t want to learn how to fight he learns only the defensive techniques which the monks call “the way of the Jew” or Jew-Do.

Since Joshua is forbidden by his Heavenly Father from “knowing” women in the biblical sense, he relies on Biff to apprise him of the experience and Biff does his best to help out in this department as much as possible.

Eventually, Joshua and Biff return home and the followers are gathered (though not as you have previously heard) disciples appointed -Biff and Maggie who are with them decide not to be disciples as they just stick around Jesus when the rest are sent out to do things.

This is a very funny book – if you don’t take offense, which is why I’ve included a few more ‘spoilers’ than I otherwise would have.  I have found that I am involuntary laughing at inappropriate parts of church now as I think of the Biff-version of what has just been mentioned, for example when the disciples are surprised to see Joshua / Jesus walking on water he says “I just ate. You can’t go into the water for an hour after you eat. You could get a cramp. What, none of you guys have mothers?”

This book isn’t written by a Christian, it introduces lots of bad theological ideas that everything Jesus taught came from Eastern religions, it is very irreverent and will make you laugh at inapropriate points in a sermon.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough :-)