book: Stuart Woods “Dirty Work”

January 16, 2010

Dirty Work by Stuart Woods is another in the Stone Barrington series of novels. This time Stone is back in New York but the UK Secret Service ‘friends’ he made in London (in “The Short Forever“) turn up in pursuit of (and on the run from) an assassin – La Biche.

As well as the usual fast pace, twisting plot centering around Stone and his friends this has the back story of what turned La Biche into a killer for hire and intent on tracking down and killing a secret service group.  The interesting twist here is that Stone takes a unique stand point from everyone else by trying to communicate with the assassin that everyone else is trying to kill.  Will this help the situation or get him in more trouble.

Again, this is a very well structured, well written, simple novel, quick to read and very enjoyable!  More Stone Barrington!

book: Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

January 14, 2010

Don’t Panic is sort of not a biography of Douglas Adams, and it isn’t really a companion to the radio series/book/record/theatrical release/TV Series/computer game/sequels/movie/web site “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.  It is in fact slightly difficult to classify. Until that is, you read the back cover which sums it up well “Don’t Panic celebrates the life and work of an ape-descended human named Douglas Adams…”

The book was first released in 1987 and has since had several updates to include Douglas Adams death in 2001, the film release in 2005 and this version went to press just before the release of the ‘new’ Hitchhikers book in 2009 And Another Thing by Eoin Colfer.  I really liked this book almost because of the way it has grown over the years.

Mostly it consists of a loosely chronological introduction to Douglas Adams and how he came to the point of writing Hitchhiker’s and then follows through each reinvention of the story for different media, as well as his other ventures with The Meaning of Liff, Last Chance to See and the Dirk Gently novels.  However, as this book was written with Douglas Adams participation and while some of these things were going on the interviews seem fresh and relevant to what was going on, not reflected memories tainted by subsequent knowledge.   There are lots of little insights into the characters, plots and of course the author who created them and some wonderful snippets of unused script and fan letters.

Just over 6 months ago I borrowed the full set of radio programmes to listen to while decorating so I thought my memory of these stories was fairly fresh, but this little book added a certain level of depth that I would recommend to any fan of Adams work.  The thing that surprised me most in reading this was just how small the world of British comedy is (or at least was), the same names keep coming up for producing, directing, writing, re-writing or editing such things as Hitchhikers, Not the Nine OClock News, Blackadder, Monty Python, Dr Who (the last of the old versions at least, if you follow), Spitting Image, even QI … it seems that a great deal of the BBCs best drama and comedy comes from a very small group of people.

movies: Sweet Smell of Success

January 13, 2010

Sweet Smell of Success (1957), starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis and directed by Alexander Mackendrick is the first in a short season at the GFT “Heroes and Villains: Journalism on Screen”.

I have to admit I didn’t know much about this film but it looked like an interesting prospect and on doing a little research on imdb I found a few things to make it worth a punt.   For example, I wasn’t familiar with the name Alexander Mackendrick, but it turned out he had directed some of my favourite Ealing Comedies!  He was born in the US (to Scottish parents), but grew up in Scotland, where he studied at the Glasgow School of Art, his FIRST movie was the fantastic Whisky Galore! 1945, followed by The Man in the White Suit 1951, The Maggie 1954 (a very little known but lovely wee film about a steamer on the Clyde and Western Isles) and The Ladykillers 1955.  The Sweet Smell of Success was his first Hollywood movie.  Also, Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis are giants of Hollywood of that period and only a year prior to this stared together in Trapeze.

OK, so what about Sweet Smell of Success?  Well it is an utterly fantastic movie!  The basic plot involves four people, J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) is a gossip columnist and career breaker – if a celebrity isn’t mentioned in his column they are nothing. Sid Falco (Tony Curtis) is a ‘press man’ or PR agent who needs to get his clients into JJs column.  Lastly we have Susan Hunsecker, JJ’s manipulated and put down 19 year old sister and Steve Dallas a Jazz player who is in love with Susan.  Put simply JJ Hunsecker forces Sid to break up the relationship between Steve Dallas and his sister.  Sid has to do this in order to survive in his business since that relies on being in JJs column.

Although Lancaster has top billing in this movie, and indeed puts in an outstanding performance, Tony Curtis is simply outstanding and really shows the breadth of his skills moving seamlessly from desperate and beaten to pretending to be in control then wining and things working out – all in a single scene. He even steals the scenes where he is simply in the background, it is almost a hypnotic performance.

So, the plot is interesting, characters well drawn and performances utterly outstanding!  What about film making…  again, simply outstanding!  Direction was great, and James Wong Howe (Oscar winning Cinematographer) pulls some fantastic shots with lots of location shooting in the clubs and on the streets of 50s New York city.  The only thing to let down this movie was the print used at the GFT which had several distracting glitches, jumps and miss-matched ‘colorization’ (if that is the correct term for a monochrome movie).  But that aside well worth watching!


I tend to only blog movie review of movies that I’ve gone to see at “the movies”.. rather than movies I watch on DVD or TV or on-demand TV… because there lies madness!  However, this means that I tend to cover new movies, but now that I am trying to go to the GFT more often and will be seeing more old/classics films – what to do.  I decided to solve this enormous problem by blogging whatever the hell I like, cause it’s my blog and I’ll do what I like and that sort of cleared up the whole problem for me.

book: Terry Pratchett “Monstrous Regiment”

January 11, 2010

Monstrous Regiment” is a bit a departure for me in Terry Pratchett books.  I started by reading through all the books about The Watch (I thought) and Industrial Revolution themes and the main Death books.  So I did some online research to decide which series to go for next only to find that “Monstrous Regiment” is classified by some people as a Guard story.

This is certainly a great little story of a small Discworld country of Borogravia which is perpetually at war with it’s neighbors.  The god of Borogravia, Nuggan, seems to have gone a little crazy continually adding amendments to scripture which make more and more things an Abomination unto Nuggan ( “the last three abominations were against rocks, ears and accordion players”).  Among these, it is an abomination for a woman to dress as a man.  Which makes it very dangerous for Polly who disguises herself as a boy to signing up to the army in what appears to be the last recruits to join up.  It seems after a while that she may not be alone.

The story follows the recruits under the leadership of Sergeant Jackrum as they come to learn that they are not on the winning side of this war and that their god Nuggan has abandoned them.  I have to say The Guard aren’t in the book much but Sam Vimes is a Special Envoy from Ankh-Morpork “which is kind of like an ambassador but without the little gold chocolates.” and has a few fellow guards on call.

I really enjoyed this one, it doesn’t slow at all and the whole gender equality and blind faith debate is interesting and well woven through the story.

movies: A Serious Man

January 8, 2010

A Serious Man is the latest movie written and directed by the Coen brothers and I can best described as “Classic Coen Brothers”.  If you forget their more recent “The Ladykillers”, “No Country for Old Men” and “Burn After Reading” (which were good) and think more of “Barton Fink”, “The Hudsucker Proxy” (which is on Dave tomorrow) and “The Big Lebowski” then you have a better idea of this movie.  If anything it reminded me most of “Barton Fink” as it follows the main protagonist as various things mostly out with his control just happen to him.

There is very little point in describing the plot as the sheer number of strange things that happen to Larry but basically none of them are very good.  He is Jewish and there are a lot of questions of faith in this that actually reminded me of Job – so much is gradually falling apart that he doesn’t really know how to react or what to do so turns to the Rabbi (or a series of Rabbis).  However, this isn’t a depressing story (like Job can be) as Larry doesn’t really get a chance to address any of the issues before something else happens to him.

There are lots of fantastic moments in this, lots of quiet slightly nervous laughter at the GFT rather than ‘belly laughs’.  But the ending is really, really odd – unexpected and I’m still not sure what I think about it.

Which brings me to the other thing I like about this sort of film in general.  It isn’t just about going to watch a movie but this leave you with so many thoughts, opinions and questions that you keep thinking it through for hours or days later.  You really get your moneys worth from the Coen Brothers.

Photo taken on a walk last year

January 7, 2010

We followed the arrow but didn’t find any.


January 5, 2010

I thought of doing some resolutions but really what is the point?  By the 3rd I had already broken ‘no chocolate’, ‘no fried food’, ‘exercise every day’, and a few other default type resolutions so I’ve been thinking more about things I would like to aim for and work towards this year to be a thought now and something I can look back on at the end of the year and either laugh at myself or tick as achieved!

I would like to go to more movies! I always aim to go to see more films on the big screen but either I don’t organize to go with anyone or want to go but can’t be bothered with the idiots who you have to put up with, etc.  So now, if possible, I will only go to the Grosvenor or GFT to avoid the prats.  I was surprised to total up last year and see that I’ve only seen 6 movies at the cinema, so it should be easy to improve on. Also, I’ve been given a GFT membership which knocks £1 off admission and is just enough incentive to get me back into the habit.

Similarly, I would like to see more live music.  Live gigs are fantastic (but again you have to suffer the idiots who think that they will somehow get more out of the music if plastered)!  I already have tickets for a concert in May and plan to go to at least two gigs in Celtic Connections… but if anyone has suggestions for concerts they are looking for someone to go to then let me know.

Be able to play Bass with some confidence.  I started to learn electric bass guitar earlier this year and really haven’t put enough effort into it.  I have never been able to play any musical instrument or to read music or know anything about music theory and I don’t intend or aim to be a breath-taking musician.  However, even the little that I have learned has helped my VJing stuff simply by adding more attention to what is happening musically and not just following the words/tune.  So I would like to know more, practice more and be able to at least be a back up player for a church band by the end of the year.

VJing – I do enjoy VJing and Visualist work (which I define more widely as having an overall visual design for an event than VJing which is more about mixing videos during an event).  The main regular event for this is the Deeper services at St Silas, but I have done a couple of under-18 club nights this year, and worship events out with St Silas.  My aim for this year is to get better at the practicalities involved in this – we struggle a lot with the current software so may well change it, and also need to spend a lot more money on equipment so I need to find more paid-for gigs to build up a budget.  Lastly on this topic to post more on the Christian Visualist blog and try to make more contacts with the others I know doing the same sort of thing worldwide.

Use Time better – I need to make more effort to meet up with and keep touch with friends and family, by the end of the year I should really have gone to my sisters and even better if I manage to visit all the MacLeod clan in Lewis.  A proper holiday is always in the back of my mind but I really don’t think I will change enough about myself to make that happen.

Church & Faith – I have nothing to say about that for now, so perhaps the aim should be to have something more to say about it.