Book: Stuart Woods “Orchid Blues”

December 31, 2010

“Orchid Blues” is the second book in the series based around the character Holy Barker Chief of Police in Orchid Beach, Florida (sequel to “Orchid Beach“).

This story starts with Holy getting ready for her marriage to Jackson.  He has a few last minute jobs to do before meeting her at the courthouse, unfortunately one of those jobs includes a stop at the bank.  During this the bank gets robbed and Jackson is killed.

The investigation leads to a militia compound outside of town which quickly involves some FBI friends and Holly’s father Ham.  Ham is recruited by the militia for his marksmanship skills but it isn’t till the closing chapters that the entire plan is reveled.

Another nice little page turner from Stuart Woods to end the year.

movie: Monsters

December 30, 2010

Monsters is getting good critical reviews and isn’t a bad movie by any standards, but I also didn’t find it had enough to make it very interesting.  The primes is that something is discovered in space, a NASA probe is sent to investigate, it crashes back to earth in Mexico and alien or new-life monsters start wondering around causing havoc.  Now there is a large portion of Mexico/USA blocked off as the “Infected Zone”.  However, all of this happened six years ago and this isn’t a monster movie – they are just part of the background.

This is An American photographer on the Mexican side is asked (or given an ultimatum) that he is to help a Sam, the daughter of the owner of his magazine, get back to the USA.  There is never any explanation of why Sam is there, she seems to have a ‘slightly sprained wrist’ after an encounter with one of the monsters.  Actually there is just an awful lot missing from the movie in terms of plot, motivation and explanation.  For example, to get to safety why didn’t they just go south – away from the danger and then head to the US rather than going through the “Infected Zone”

What is getting this movie noticed is that it has been made on an extremely low budget, mostly by one man – Gareth Edwards, a visual effects specialist who has written and directed this movie (and I think mostly shot it himself on location).  I think (and at the moment I simply can’t be bothered getting references to confirm any of this), that the visual effects were created on consumer level PCs and software.

Those sorts of details of how a film came into being are interesting, but in the end a movie has to stand up on its own merits.  Big budget or low budget can still make trash.  This isn’t trash, it is an interesting movie but for me there just wasn’t enough happening and I found it a little boring.  Last movie of the year, and not one I would recommend.

diving loop

December 30, 2010

This is a mesmerizing little video of people diving, I’ve no idea how this sort of thing is choreographed or how many takes it needed but it does come together into a nice little video:

Jingle Bells in space…

December 25, 2010

today I found out – that Jingle Bells was the first song sung in space:

On December 16, 1965, astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra on Gemini 6  sent the following message to Mission Control: “We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in polar orbit…  I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front.  The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit…”

The two then proceeded to sing the first ever song broadcast from space Jingle Bells, with a harmonica and bells accompanying, both of which they had secretly smuggled aboard.

Merry Christmas

book: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by JK Rowling

December 24, 2010

Having recently watched the latest Harry Potter movie which is based on the first ‘half’ of this book I decided to re-read it before the next part comes out.

It was a joy to return to reading these characters rather than seeing them in the movies with the enhanced detail, descriptions and of course the pace of reading it over a number of days rather than a couple of hours.

So again I’m really looking forward to the last movie due in the summer.  I would recommend going back to this book to any fan and if there is anyone who has only seen the movies you really are missing out on a lot – grab a book.

Now with only a week to go I’m wondering if I can fit in one more book before the end of the year?

book: Terry Pratchett “Johnny and the Dead”

December 9, 2010

I didn’t know about these Pratchett books about the character Johnny Maxwell, apparently there are three and are generally referred to as the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy.  Typically, I managed to start with the middle book of three but I don’t think I missed much.

Johnny, sees and talks to dead people hanging around by their graves and tombs in a local cemetery, which is a short cut on his way home from school.  The cemetery is under threat of development and Johnny and his friends start to see what he can do to stop this.

I think this is probably classed as a children’s or teenager’s book and as such is very short and quick read.  I particularly liked the small town nature of the story with Johnny unable to find anyone famous in the cemetery but a lot of local characters.

This is a great little read and worth catching.  I now need to try to get hold of the other two books in this series.

book: Raymond Chandler “Playback”

December 3, 2010

I tend to read thrillers a lot, so when I saw a Raymond Chandler novel at the St Silas Christmas Fair I thought it would be worth a try.  I’ve only come across Chandler and his iconic Private Eye Philip Marlowe in the classic American Film Noir movies, usually played by Humphrey Bogart.

The opening page of Playback had enough double talk and sarcastic one liners to get me interested:

‘Did you hear me? I said I was Clyde Umney. the lawyer.’
‘Clyde Umnet, the lawyer.  I thought we had several of them.’
‘Don’t get fresh with me, young man.’
‘Sorry, Mr. Umney.  But I’m not a young man. I’m old, tired and full of no coffee.  What can I do for you, sir?’

The plot was a little strange, opening with Marlowe being hired to follow a woman, Betty Mayfield, to a small coastal resort town of Esmeralda, California.  On the train Mayfield is recognized by a man who then tries to blackmail her, for reasons we (and Marlow) are unaware of.  Overhearing the blackmail attempt causes Marlow to switch side.  After that it gets kind of complicated with many changes of name, back stories and Marlow following his nose.

I found the book a quick easy read where the plot simply moves from step to step.  I think I’ll try some more of Raymond Chandler’s books sometime.

movie: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

December 2, 2010

I love the GFT, great atmosphere, feels like a cinema, no-NEDs, quality movies!

As for “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest“, well it was OK.  I didn’t really have much choice but to see this as I have already seen The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (by the way, all of these are about the same girl) and read the three books these movies are based on.  So, while I was looking forward to this movie I was also a little wary of it since the third book was the one I had the most trouble getting through.

These ‘dragon tattoo’ stories, also known as The Millennium Trilogy after the magazine that features in them, have been highly successful in both written and film format.  Even though the movies are in the original language and setting of Sweden.  The first book has a more or less ‘normal’ narrative structure, it has an objective that gets resolved, it introduces characters and the characters interact with one another.  The next two books, however, don’t follow these conventions.  The principal characters (Lisbeth Salander – the girl with the tattoo of a dragon on her back which is never really explained and infrequently mentioned, and Mikael Blomkvist – a journalist and co-owner of Millennium magazine, who drives the defense and support of Lisbeth) hardly ever meet, in deed in this last move it is only the very last few minutes of the film that has a very awkward conversation at her door.  The lack of romance is refreshing, but the sexual politics is difficult to get a handle on.

The third movie is one for the ‘fans’ (if you can be a fan of this sort of thing) – someone who has read the books or seen the other movies will probably enjoy this but I don’t think it is a movie that could stand on its own for someone to view with no prior knowledge of the story.  There are a number of flashbacks and recaps from past movies but I don’t think enough is explained to make much sense of what is going on.  Indeed the last book was so detailed that a great deal has been cut for the movie and, in my opinion, it only just holds together.  Knowing the back story it is easy to forgive what in the movie are random characters coming and going and the Frankensteins-monster figure of Lisbeth’s half brother who is repeatedly shown in incongruous cut-away scenes that make little sense if you don’t already know about him.

The mixture of politics, courtroom drama, action and thriller works well.  But what makes this movie, indeed all of these films, is the understated portrayal of Lisbeth.  Lisbeth is such a captivating character in the books that it is a difficult character to cast or act.  Lisbeth doesn’t actually do much – she refuses to talk a great deal of the time, she is in hospital or prison for most of this movie, she is a computer hacker, outcast, un-trusting character … how do you portray these things?  Equally Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist – a writer, there isn’t much acting to be done and the beauty of these Swedish movies is that they don’t try too hard and therefore loose these subtleties from the books.

However, Sony is currently adapting the trilogy for an American market, with David Fincher (Alien 3, Fight Club, Panic Room, The Social Network) as director, Daniel Craig playing Mikael Blomkvist and Rooney Mara as a far too pretty Lisbeth.  I will probably go to see these in turn but I suspect there will be a great deal of adaptation.