sawyl: (A self portrait)
Via a recent May the Fourth post on Tor, an intriguing making-of video about the creation of Star Wars: Despecialised Edition:

sawyl: (A self portrait)
A gentle end to the year, with my day spent reading and lazing around.

The parents took themselves off to a matinee performance of The Imitation Game which they liked a lot — although pater said they it seemed to make out that Turing had done absolutely everything at Bletchley, whereas there were actually something 10,000 people there during the war.

Somewhat inevitably mater told me that Turing reminded her of me, but when we unpacked things it transpired that she only meant that he was portrayed as somewhat pedantic. (I suspect that this false resemblance owes more to Benedict Cumberbatch than Alan Turing: I've also been told that Cumberbatch's Sherlock reminds people of me; because there's nothing like being told that you resemble a high-functioning sociopath to make you feel good about yourself)

On their return the parents whipped up a few curries from Madhur Jaffrey's Curry Nation, including an excellent cold starter involving chickpeas and pomegranate seeds. JF came for New Year's Eve supper, on condition that she didn't have to stay until midnight, and we had an extremely civilised evening talking about books and trekking.

We indulged in a bit of fanishness over Scarlett Thomas, who we both love, and, while talking about writers whose books engage with literary matters, J mentioned that she knows Sarah Moss, whose novel Cold Earth I absolutely loved and which has stayed with me and continued to prod at me ever since I first read it.

Talking about some of the things I'd read this year, I said that I'd re-read Susanna Clarke's masterpiece Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell ahead of the forthcoming TV adaptation (and, now that the Callander has flipped over, I suspect I'm going to read it again this year). It turned out this was an easy sell: although she hadn't read the book, J had read and liked Clarke's short story collection The Ladies of Grace Adieu and as a specialist in 19th century literature, I thought she'd probably enjoy Clarke's (to my untrained ear) excellent pastiche of Austenian sensibilities.

After an extremely nice evening, J left for home and I dithered about whether to go to sleep or whether to see the new year in. In the end I got an early happy new year text from R and her snoring springer just as I was flossing my teeth and by the time I was done replying, I thought I might as well wait out the last few minutes of 2014.

Here's hoping 2015 is a good one!

Maleficent

Jun. 8th, 2014 09:28 pm
sawyl: (A self portrait)
I'm surprised and slightly embarrassed to say I really enjoyed Maleficent. It was astonishingly pretty to look at, the story was undemanding mashup of various classic fairytales, the twists were foreshadowed heavily enough that there was never any real worry about how things would turn out, and Angelina Jolie upstaged everyone and everything with her enhanced cheekbones and cutting manners. Ideal, undemanding stuff for a lazy Sunday evening.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
It's the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Ghostbusters. I remember quite clearly pater taking me to see it at the Odeon Leicester Square. I'm pretty sure it was a treat — he'd promised he was going to take me to see something there — but I whether he hadn't suggested it in the first place as an excuse to get away from whatever the rest of the family were doing. As treats go, it was obviously a success: three decades on and I can still recollect what we were doing that afternoon. Of such moments are childhoods made...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Half-listening to the end of today's Sound of Cinema on the theme Here Be Dragons, I caught the George Fenton's music for the closing of Shadowlands — the tenuous connection with the theme was Lewis' friendship with Tolkien. Which serves to remind me just how much I love the short Veni Sancte Spiritus that opens the film:


The sound is so English and the treble solo so perfect...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Over on Tor, Emily Asher-Perrin points out just how profoundly messed up the world of Who Framed Roger Rabbit really is...
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Tom McCarthy has a Guardian piece bewailing the horrors of Spielberg's Tintin move and he doesn't mince his words. After praising the opening sequence, he sets out his position on the rest of the film:

From then on, though, it was downhill, and then some. Steven Spielberg's adaptation is not just a failure; it is an assault on a great body of art so thuggishly moronic as to make one genuinely depressed.

Before eventually concluding:

In the books, money both stands for genealogical fakeness and is fake itself (a brilliant scene in The Crab with the Golden Claws shows Thompson and Thomson tricked into passing off the very counterfeit coins they've been charged with tracking down: a doubling of illegitimate faces and false "metal"); in the film it literally pours down, in one scene, from the skies, Haddock's reward for being "true to himself". Hollywood's idiotic "message" is forced on an oeuvre that is great precisely because it drives in exactly the opposite direction. It's like making a biopic of Nietzsche that depicts him as a born-again Christian, or of Gandhi as a trigger-happy Rambo blasting his way through the Raj.

Which has served the double purpose of ensuring that I avoid the movie for ever more and encouraging me to try, next time I'm back in Coventry, to borrow my nephew's copy of The Crab with the Golden Claws.

ETA: I've noticed that Rachel Cooke has included The Castafiore Emerald — always my favourite — in her list of ten graphical novels that transcend the comic book medium.

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The ever wonderful Hadley Freeman has a delightful paean to Ghostbusters over on the Guardian web site.

Admittedly, a significant portion of my Ghostbusters adoration comes from two strands of nostalgia, one that is entirely solipsistic and one for the friendship that shadows the whole of this awesome little comedy. But nostalgia aside, this has always seemed to me the finest mainstream 1980s comedy...

Amen.

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After a longer than expected day, supper — sweet and sour veg with tofu and rice — with the usual crowd at tyepyedong before heading on the cinema to catch Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy which, despite my love of the TV series, more than convinced me of its merits.

The film's period details seemed very fine, conjuring up a rundown world of battered institutional furniture and grim grey walls, of vile patterned wallpaper, of knackered English cars and rundown hotels close to busy railway lines, against which the brilliant orange retro-futuristic briefing room made a particularly shocking contrast. The acting too was something special. Gary Oldman's Smiley was brilliant: silent, all-seeing, occasionally ruthless, and damaaged but determined not to let it bring him down; a total contrast to Alex Guinness' more expansive Smiley. Benedict Cumberbatch also stood out as Guillam. In place of the slightly desperate womaniser of the books, Cumberbatch's Guillam was gay, torn in his loyalties, and obviously melting down under the pressure making his explosive attack on Ricki all the more convincing.

Although the clarity of the plot suffered slightly from the compression required to fit it all into two hours, some of the additions more than made up for this. The decision to play out Smiley's encounter with Karla as a monologue rather than a flashback worked brilliantly, as did the flashback to the wonderfully horrific Circus Christmas party — Lenin on stage as Father Christmas, with the entire staff belting out the Soviet national anthem. I also liked the decision to keep the two main influences on Smiley's life almost completely off screen: Karla features as a disembodied voice; while Ann, who appears only from behind, can only really be seen through Smiley's reactions.

Highly recommended.
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Mark Kermode puts forward a strong case for intelligent blockbuster movies in today's Observer. His argument essentially boils down to:

P1 Blockbuster movies succeed regardless of content
P2 Intelligent movies are better than stupid movies
C Therefore blockbusters should be intelligent

Which means that if Kermode is right about his first premise — and he provides some convincing evidence — it's a lot less risky to make an experimental blockbuster than it is to produce an experimental mid-price film...
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Lazy morning following by a lunch at The Rusty Bike with the usual crowd. There were a few minor hitches — someone had gone to The Fat Pig by mistake and there were delays in sorting our order — but the food was good when it eventually arrived. After a lot of post-prandial indecisiveness, those of us in the Newtown contingent spent the remaining part of the afternoon watching The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which I thought rather successfully mixed the spirit of the original book with a new quest element that gave Caspian and the Pevensies an urgent reason for pursuing their tour of the islands.
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I somehow missed The Incredibles when it came out but, thanks to the iPlayer and it's (recently added?) ability to catch up movies, I finally managed to find time to watch it. And I'm glad I did; it was very funny, wonderful beautiful and cleverly knowing, with it's nods to James Bond and both DC and Marvel's superhero comics.

Sunshine

May. 2nd, 2009 11:14 pm
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I've been meaning to watch Danny Boyle's Sunshine ever since it came out, but I've never quite got round to it. But, having picked up a cut price copy at HMV, I've now been able to rectify my deficiency.

Although the science was largely nonsense — something about relighting the sun with a giant bomb — I thought the mission details were actually rather good. I liked the hydroponic farm, the idea that they might need a psychologist and a room that projects scenes of Earth onto its walls to prevent the crew from wigging out, and the way the crew sort-of but not quite get on each others' nerves after spending sixteen months together.

The special effects were particularly stunning. The opening shot is particularly wonderful: what seems to be the sun turns out to be a reflection in the heat shielding of the Icarus II and then, as the camera tracks, the spaceship becomes visible as the viewpoint drops into the shadow of the shield, before the the shot turns to trace the ship as it heads towards the sun, making it look like a pupil tracking across a giant eye — a motif that is repeated on a few occasions, giving the impression that the sun is watching the approaching astronauts. Added to great sets and a couple of really nice EVA sequences — I particularly like the little shield repair toolchests with their built-in lighting — it makes for a really great looking film.

Most enjoyable.
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Having queued up the recent broadcasts of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I've finally got around to watching them and I'm seriously unimpressed. Not by the visuals, which remain stunning, but by just about everything else.

Firstly, the films are staggeringly dull. Yes, there are action scenes but they drag on for far too long and, besides, no-one ever seems to get injured no matter how absurd the odds so they're not really terribly involving. Secondly, none of the character are particularly interesting. With the honourable exception of Boromir, who comes closest to being tempted, none of the characters seem to express much in the way of doubt — or, in fact, anything that could be mistaken for a genuine emotional feeling — making it almost impossible to really care about them.

Then there's the whole problem about the external nature of evil. Rather than treat evil as an internal and personal thing — a genuine human failing — we're simply reminded that all evil is due to the ring and through it Sauron, and that if only the ring could be destroyed, evil would be banished forever. So all the humans who covet or fear the ring have a get out: they can simply blame the corrupting power of Sauron. So much for moral dilemmas.

All things considered, I think I'm going to stick with Wagner and Der Ring des Nibelungen. Yes, he was an anti-semitic adulterer with a penchant for Schopenhauer and silk undies, but at least his Ring Operas are interesting...
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OK, so I was watching The Relic — I know, I know, but after collapsing from exhaustion on Friday, I decided that a lazy weekend was more than called for — and I found myself wondering about the climactic scene where Margo Green sets fire to the specimen storage area.

Finding herself pursued by the monster, she runs into the storage cage knocking jars of pickled specimens off the shelves and opening the taps on the carboys containing the preserving spirits. She briefly breaks off her chase to grab a pair of jars, filling the smaller with liquid and putting in a the larger jar along with a quantity of a white crystalline material. Thus armed, she ensnares the monster in the storage cage and, at precisely the right moment, shatters the two glass jars causing them to ignite.

I wonder what reaction she used? Something extremely exothermic, obviously, but also, given the ease with which she triggered the reaction, something with a low activation energy and something that could be cobbled together from a handful of easily available laboratory chemicals. And all done in five seconds flat. Impressive. Someone was obviously paying serious attention in chem class...
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According to the Guardian, one of the films creating a buzz at Cannes this year is Fernando Meirelles' adaptation of Blindness by José Saramago. I loved the novel but I wonder how well it will survive the transfer to the celluloid, given Saramago's brilliantly distinctive style. I look forward to finding out...
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I've just noticed that I've missed The Day the Earth Stood Still on C4. I'm most upset. Not only is it a great film, but it's also got a wonderful, deeply influential, theremin heavy score by Bernard Hermann. Maybe the time has come to buy it on DVD...
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I've finally got around to watching A Prairie Home Companion. Rather unsurprisingly, I totally loved it, but then I'm a fan of the radio show...
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When the third of the recent Star Wars films came out at the cinema, I didn't bother to watch it. Why? Because I found Attack of the Clones so awful that I felt I couldn't run the risk of watching something quite so appalling ever again.

AotC seems to me to be completely without merit. The plot is distinctly cursory and the acting is dreadful. Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman phone in their roles and could have been replaced by a couple of cardboard cutouts and no-one would have noticed, whilst Hayden Christensen manages to comprehensively misread the intentions behind his every line of dialogue — something that wouldn't be quite so bad if he didn't have quite so much screen time — to the point of unwatchability.

All of this goes to undermine the spectacular set pieces. If you don't care about the rest of the film, it's hard to take an interest in a car chase, no matter how dramatic; or to care about the outcome of a lightsabre duel; or, as with the foundry scene, even work out how it is supposed to relate to the rest of the plot.
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I always feel slightly sorry for The Phantom Menace. It's not materially worse than any of its predecessors but, because it lacks the sepia tinged nostalgic associations of the first films, I find myself less forgiving towards its shortcomings.

Despite not really rating it as a film, it does have a few positive features. There are a couple of good action sequence, particularly the opening section on the Trade Federation and the duel in the finale, although the tension of the latter is undercut by being juxtaposed with the whole child-in-space deux ex thing. Best of all though, is John Williams' score, which seems to have thrown off the Neo-Korngoldianisms of the first trilogy in favour of a more subtle, more integrated approach — particularly fine is the way that he uses a couple of simple ostinato figures to tie the Queen's storming of the palace to the battling Jedi knights.

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