Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Year: 2005 (page 2 of 13)

Friendly Advice From A Lion

Drunken Sparkie!Sparkie held a great little soirée last night. I may have been a little late in arriving but then didn’t leave until nearly 5am (aside from briefly disappearing to say bye to Irina at 3am, accidentally waking her and thereby “saving the day” as she only just made it to the bus taking her to the airport). I finally got to meet the the elusive Luke Church properly, though he’s allegedly heard much about me from Kirsten (being a CompSci) and has already visited P-2006. Of course I’d be lying if I claimed not to have checked out his website already, so it would appear our infamy is mutual at best. If you’re very lucky he might donate a photo from yesterday to accompany this entry.

Georgie ponders the deeper meaning of...Trivial PursuitI love giving opinions but hate giving advice. Opinions are transitory and can be altered at will whereas advice is something that can come back to haunt you later on. You know, if you happen to be wrong. However, I received some advice regarding Narnia that I think it only fair to pass on. Despite the trailers and clips and the involvement of Weta, do not approach it expecting something in the style of Lord of the Rings. This is very much a children’s story, exceptionally well crafted, but arguably somewhat sterilised given its intended target. That is not to say its audience is not supposed to include adults, far from it. Essentially the tone is simply that of the books which is, in my opinion, ideal since I’m hoping for the film to evoke the same sort of magic, which is very different from LOTR.

I’ve not been keeping a close eye on casting for X-Men 3, but from the “announcement teaser” (whatever that means) both Angel and The Beast look awesome. However I then discovered the man beneath the blue fur is Frasier. Now, I’d hate for Kelsey Grammer to be unfairly typecast as much as the next man. After all, he only played the character for ten years. We can get beyond that. I’m sure. If we try. Hard.

Child’s Play has finally added a UK hospital (Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool) to their list so do consider donating if you feel like being charitable this Christmas. They’ve broken the $200K mark already and it’s a great way to show how positive the gaming community can be, contrary to what some would have you believe.

Rebel Without A Pulse

Stylish humour in games is hard to get right, but the real mystery is not so much how to make it work, but the fact that when it does, the games disappear into obscurity. The humour from the Sam & Max era that disappeared around the time of Grim Fandango has never properly re-emerged. Even when mixed with great gameplay and a decent story, as in Anachronox or Planescape: Torment, commercial success sadly still seems to evade such titles (I do hope you noted and appreciated the melancholy sibilance). Stubbs the Zombie is the latest such humorous creation that is both stylish and funny, allowing you to play the part of the zombie you usually blow away with a double-barreled twelve guage. Subtitled “Rebel Without A Pulse”, the games irreverent slant is clear from the start, rending limbs, eating brains and using body parts as weapons in a 1950s setting with a great musical accompaniment. Although the game is apparently somewhat flawed in its mechanics, this fantastic cinema trailer alone makes it seem worthwhile.

Phoenix Wright: Ace AttorneyMeanwhile for anyone struggling under the burden of selecting Christmas presents, GameSpot have generously stepped in to help with their Holiday Gift Guide. You select what sort of person your buying for and they provide a list of appropriate games with ratings. For someone like me it might suggest Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (no, I swear I’m not making this up), only you’ll have to buy me a Nintendo DS* to go with it too. The game is about a “rookie defence lawyer” with “the wildest cross-examination skills in town,” utilising the DS touch sensitive screen to investigate crime scenes and cross-examine witnesses in five cases. It’s certainly an original concept and beats traditional exam term revision if you ask me…

The Cambrige Globalist | Vol. 1, Issue 2Meanwhile the second issue of The Globalist is fast becoming a reality. The final edits of the articles are trickling through to the production team now and two pages are already complete. The coming issue’s theme is population and whilst I can’t divulge anything about the content, I figure once again I’ll let you see a sneak preview of the cover. Selecting an image was hard for this issue, wanting to avoid the clichés of people of different colours or an average Tokyo crowd. I tried looking at a few pretty cityscapes and then some impoverished slums but nothing quite worked. Then I thought, what if I could have both. So I tried Brazil. The city I settled on is Belo Horizonte, a large city with a sprawling slum quarter tumbling down the hillside.

Downing students should check out the Howard Proposal with attached plans and decide if that’s likely to be useful to students.

*No, seriously. Buy me a DS. Me love you long time?

Great Goblets of Fire!

Several people have been asking for my opinion on the new Harry Potter flick. I’m sorry to admit that I haven’t actually got round to seeing it yet, but I would also be lying if I suggested it was top of my list of priorities. Then again, Jane hasn’t seen it yet either and she is (allegedly) a fan. I’m told she reads the books and everything. On that note I’ve found myself around far too many groups — nay, covens — of people who prattle on about how no one should see the film until they have made sure they have read the book first else they will never be able to follow it. Bollocks to that. I’m sorry to shatter your delusions but that book is 636 pages of J.K. Rowling’s meticulously marketed rambling and not all of us have time to waste reading it. I’m perfectly satisfied with the idea that I may not understand the relevence of several shots and images in the film if it saves days of my life.

The honest truth is that I don’t enjoy the books: I don’t like the writing style. I have only read the first two in any great depth, and am told the second was particularly bad by most fans (who, if I recall, seemed to think it was the greatest thing since sliced Quidditch when they first read it). Nevertheless upon flicking through any of the weightier subsequent tomes I find that the author rambles more than Anne Rice. And that’s saying something. It’s true that most modern literature is overlong and poorly edited down, but its forgivable where the style is so flamboyant or captivatingly beautiful that they get away with it. For me, Potter is not one of those examples. Do not misunderstand me. This is not an exercise in Potter-bashing (wait, that just sounds wrong). Far from it: I quite understand them being read by those who enjoy that sort of thing. I merely wish to point out how presumptuous it is to expect every filmgoer to read the damn thing before daring to set foot inside the cinema. That’s like ordering every Lord of the Rings fan to read the virtually unreadable Silmarillion* before being allowed to watch Peter Jackson’s movies so that they have a full understanding of the backstory to Middle Earth. No thank you. I’m perfectly content to miss out and just enjoy myself when the time comes.

*I knew someone who voluntarily gouged out their own eyes after a few dozen pages, although I’ve never made it that far in myself.

It’s Free, Dammit!

Whichever criminally moronic suit at Ubisoft decided to slap copy protection onto a freely distributed demo deserves to be bound and fed to a ravenous giant ape. The offending software is, as you may have guessed from the subtle hint, the demo of the new King Kong game. Apparently it’s not bad as movie tie-ins go. I wouldn’t know. Because the StarForce copy protection crashed my computer before it even loaded. Needless to say, after wasting twenty minutes of my life due to a subsequent crash on restarting (StarForce is notorious for causing system instability), the game was immediately uninstalled and will never be bought or played on principle. I strongly recommend you do not touch it with a barge, punting or, indeed, any other kind of pole.

If game demos are the sort of thing that you do, there’s always Quake 4 which now includes multiplayer. It uses the Doom3 graphics engine and the similarity is immediately apparent with the main difference being that that there is now actually light so you can see the pretty things the engine does instead of just imagining that they’re somewhere out there in the dark. A lot of people are also talking about Weird Worlds, which harks back to the days of bad sci-fi TV shows where man tentatively took his first steps in the blackness of space to meet rubber-faced aliens with rayguns. If that sentence made you feel at all nostalgic, you’ll enjoy the amusing parody of the gameplay. Although I can’t wholeheartedly recommend buying it, the demo is nevertheless a decent distraction for an hour or so. I managed to get progressively worse scores with each attempt until it finally clicked and I racked up about 5000.

Johnny Depp fans may consider it somewhat remiss of me not yet to have mentioned that a teaser trailer has surfaced for a little film called Dead Man’s Chest, which you may recognise better by its prefix, “Pirates of Caribbean”. The original was a film I truly wanted to hate, but thoroughly enjoyed, and as such I’m tentative about voicing any concerns about the sequel. Verbinski’s return as director is as surprising as it is welcome, although I’d speculate it’s probably due more to a chestful of gold than artistic integrity. But to be frank as long as Depp can reproduce a similarly enthralling performance as Jack, that’s all we really need. Although a bloody death for Orlando’s nancy-boy Will wouldn’t go amiss. Meanwhile Friya will probably be even more excited by Mr. Banderas in a new dancing flick, Take The Lead.

Meanwhile as Apple are converting their existing trailers into glorious high-definition, now seems like an appropriate time to remind you about the Quicktime Alternative. It’s a small, sprightly application that uses the Apple codecs but much less of your system resources. Oh, and no irritating pop-ups. I’d highly recommend it rather than upgrading to Quicktime 7.

In The Mood For Wong Kar Wai

Only a student would present a checkout assistant with two doughnuts, a kitchen sponge and a bottle of decent, half-price Bordeaux. It was a sunny winter’s day, so naturally I spent most of the daylight hours in a darkened cinema. The Picturehouse had a Wong Kar Wai double-bill which begged me to come and I happily obliged. Picturehouse afficionados may be interested to hear that they have now licensed the entire premises, meaning that you can grab a pint and take it into the theatre European-stylee should you so wish. The two films on offer today for the bargain price of £5.50 were In The Mood For Love and its recent sort-of-sequel 2046. I had seen the latter earlier this year but had never seen the former before. Although separately they are brilliant films, together they work phenomenally. They share a similar dreamlike quality and languid, ravishing cinematography that makes them feel almost erotic despite their grittiness. Yet the pensive tone of each focuses on very different ideas. The first is more plot-driven, involving two neighbours who discover that their respective partners are cheating on them and, in an effort to understand it, become close as a result.

2046 picks up with the man several years later, now a womanising scoundral and a totally different character, perhaps changed by the experience we have already witnessed. Less plot-focused, it deals with the notion of memory and dealing with one’s past, entwining a stylised visualisation of a sci-fi story penned by the lead with his own life. It is sprinkled throughout with allusions to its predecessor and the title itself comes from the hotel room in which the events of the earlier film unfolded. “All memories,” we are told, “are traces of tears”. Perhaps not all memories are inherently sad, and yet the fact they are now only memories means they are tinged with sadness, a longing for an impossible return to a time now past. And so we forever struggle to escape one’s own past lest we actually manage to return and become forever stuck there, trapped in room 2046.

Happiness CandleDave and Krystyna held a Christmas party on Thursday night, complete with a Secret Santa (with a not-so-secret Gubby playing a disturbingly promiscuous Mr. Claus — yes, I have sat on Gubby’s lap and yet I have returned from the abyss a stronger man). There was an impressive spread of food with exotic cheeses and biscuits, sausuage rolls, mince pies and various mulled beverages (wine and even cranberry for the non-alcoholics). Amongst the gifts received from Santa were a sprig of mistletoe, an edible candy garter, and a rubber duck with a (non-stolen) Santa hat. I came away content with a tinned Happiness Candle that, Edward Monkton explains on the label, would like to be my friend. Admittedly it was not the weapons-grade plutonium which I had reqested, but hey, you can’t have it all. Well done guys!

The Christmas Leprechaun Appreciation Society

Mrs. SantaI’d like to raise a glass to every member of The Christmas Leprechaun Appeciation Society who voted that we dine on Wednesday. Due to circumstances utterly beyond College’s control, the first night of Christmas Formal that had been scheduled for Tuesday was cancelled at the last minute due to a gas leak. We, on the other hand, had chosen well. Replete in the ever-fashionable amalgamation formal attire, gowns and obligatory santa hats, the Hall teemed with students intent on achieving a suitable level of inebriated festive cheer. Charlotte was looking particularly alluring, having ditched the traditional wear entirely in favour of a very festive, very short outfit that was very reminscent of Michelle Monaghan in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I’m not allowed to tell you where she got it from.

On Thursday the careers service held a Law Fair at the University Centre which was filled with firms vying for our favour and, therefore, assualting us with their respective goody bags before we could be tempted away by some other firm’s alluring soul-sucking branded merchandise. Staggering back with several bags brimming with brochures and application forms (my reasons for attending weren’t purely mercenary), I dumped them in my room and surveyed the afternoon’s takings. Although I’m now openly biased, Linklaters came out on top in first impressions. Leona (who was at the dinner a few weeks back) stuffed the bag nicely, including a Linklaters lip balm for Kirsten since I figured she’d detest the very idea of it being branded by lawyers. Turns out I was right. After commenting off-hand that the Post-it indexing tabs were very useful for statute books, Allen & Overy proceeded to give me four packets along with a stressball (something tells me unfortunately the latter will be the more useful).

bagging as much as possible | the haul

best penHaving had time to closely inspect the bounty, here’s the run-down and specific category awards. The award for “Best Pen” goes to Weil, Gotshal & Manges for a kaleidoscopic glowing device that I cannot take to lectures else I’ll be too distracted by the pretty lights. And yet it manages to remain sophisticated despite the fact it occassionally glows pink. The runners up were Skadden for an incredibly useful pen that incorporates both a highlighter and a dispenser for the aforementioned Post-it index tabs. Unfortunately it’s a hideous bright yellow. I’m sure Yvonne would have loved it. The “Classiest Standard Pen” category is open to those pens sans gimmick, letting their style speak for itself. Freshfields plucked this category with a gorgeous, heavy black and silver number. “Best Gadget” was interestingly fought. Travers Smith would have taken it with their auto-opening calendar/calculater if only I hadn’t gotten exactly the same device from someone else at a Fresher’s fair last year. Nevertheless it was useful since the battery on the old one has just run out, so now I have a nice shiny new one to replace it. SJ Berwin came out on top with a device that wasn’t just cool, but genuinely useful, providing a universal phone charger with a set of adapters to fit any mobile phone currently on the market. Not a bad haul for an hour’s work…

Finally, if anyone remembers thrusting a Santa hat on my head in bar on Wednesday, no doubt with the sole intention of crushing my hair, then let me know because I’m quite certain I didn’t buy the one that ended up in my room. Unfortunately Kirsten stole it before she left so I can’t return it. Just send me the bill.

“Alright, Let’s A-Wassail!”

This evening’s Advent Carol Service was filled with some remarkably appropriate music for the liturgical period of repetance which isn’t best served by joyous (or rather, raucus) carolling or even wassailing, whatever that may be*. Ben selected some lovely pieces for the choir, who did a great job, and some easily singable stuff for the congregation to slaughter. Having seated everyone else, the Chapel Wardens mostly ended up perched on the end of things while the service proceeded. The choir are rather more used to singing to a mostly empty chapel so found their volume somewhat muted when absorbed by a solid mass of bodies. It was followed by the usual free buffet dinner replete with mulled wine and those plates with the cool clip-on wine holders that only ever seem to be brought out at this one event each year — I’d have thought they should be a staple at any respectable law presentation.

On Friday night I took Sparkie, Sonya, Chima and Kirsten to see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It turns out I was right. My encapsulated review is “brilliantly funny, see it now“. A slightly more coherent view is found in the link above, but to be honest the extra words are largely unnecessary. It’s a perfectly balanced comic noir which, I am told, just serves to show how unfunny The Ice Harvest actually is. Or, for that matter, Ben Stiller in general.

I’ve also been further fuelling my eBay habit with the recent discovery of JBidWatcher. I’m only telling you about it because I like you, so don’t tell anyone else. Naturally I think sniping is a filthy practice and could not possibly condone it. But hey, if they’re going to steal items from under my nose — err, finger — then it’s war.

*Yes, I do know that wassailing is the practice of door-to-door singing requesting in return a “wassail” or refreshment. 2 points to anyone who recognises the title quote though.

A Very Expensive Birthday Cake

Kirsten is currently back in Germany. It all started a few days ago when her phone rang while we were eating dinner. She answered it and started talking away in high-speed German. My understanding of low-speed German is virtually nonexistant so I could discern little beyond the fact it was her mother to whom she was talking. After some time she wandered over to my computer and started booking plane tickets, at which point I began to get a little concerned. When she eventually finished the call she seemed more bemused than distraught and it transpired that the conversation went something like this:

“Kirsten, you know it’s your sister’s birthday this week?”
“Yes.”
“Well you know that cake you made before? Did you just follow this recipe?”
“Well I made a couple of small creative changes but I pretty much just followed it, yes.”
“But it’s really complicated… Can you come back and bake it for me?”

And so her mother is paying for her to fly over to Germany, bake a cake, stay the night and fly back tomorrow morning. Kirsten’s not complaining since she gets to be there for her little sister’s birthday. But, we calculated, once flights, airport taxes, trains, coaches and taxis are all factored in, that brings the total cost of the cake to a lavish £110. Without ingredients. I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted a cake that expensive. Either her mother is insane or it must be a damn amazing cake and I don’t even get to try a slice…

On the subject of German baked goodies, Kirsten’s also got me eating festive Lebkuchen, a Christmas delicacy that is essentially spiced gingerbread coated with dark chocolate and topped with icing. Gaudy to look at, but with a rich, spicy taste (there’s cinnamon involved too), they’re definitely growing on me.

World Community Grid: FightAIDS@Home Meanwhile, the World Community Grid has recently picked up a new project, FightAIDS@Home, researching new drug therapies for HIV using the system I mentioned previously. I would seriously urge everyone to think about getting involved since these are serious causes with valuable results. Having spoken to Sparkie I also realised I didn’t provide a link to the Cambridge team last time. That’s now been rectified.

Superman ReturnsFinally, an early teaser trailer (mostly stylistic with little content) has emerged for the long-awaited Superman Returns. Before you ask about the title, no it’s not cashing in on Batman’s success, the return of the man of steel (or rather, blue tights) was announced long before the dark knight’s “beginning”, but suffered from continual delays and difficulty in selecting a lead to step into the daunting boots left by Christopher Reeve. Although the director is somewhat secretive about his admittedly “expensive” budget, he has played down speculation by stating, “it’s under $200 million.” Oh, that’s okay then.

Law Ball: Cabaret

Law Society Ball: CabaretLast night was the Cambridge University Law Society‘s Annual Ball, one of the highlights of the calendar because of the frankly ridiculous sponsorship it attracts. This year’s theme was “Cabaret” and it was being organised by last year’s Downing Ball president, Charlotte F. In fact this was one of the nights when Downing’s dominance becomes painfully obvious with Nick doing the rounds as CULS President and Carlo as one the first year reps. In an unforgivable move for a lawyer, I discovered that I’d somehow neglected to bring any bow ties with me this term. Fortunately TomTom ably stepped into the breach offering me not just a tie but a choice of colours. We actually arrived at Chilford Hall very early due to Kirstin’s (you’re going to have to start distinguishing between CompSci Kirsten and lawyer Kirstin, I’m afraid) overly enthusiastic taxi timings. The ride up was certainly much more comfortable than queuing in the cold for an overpacked draughty bus like last year. A champagne reception awaited us followed by the prerequisite three course meal (with complimentary masks) and then several hours of dancing with a swing band and the inevitable declined into cheese. The food was decent but not particularly noteworthy it must be said, aside from the profiteroles and the wine (which was good for Merlot).

The Cabaret Girls | Cheese!

Anna and Mr. PleasingWith tales of last year’s excesses spreading swiftly, this year we were inundated with a large contingent of non-lawyers who all seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly. Lucy and Liza came along, as well as an impressive number of NatScis, Ravi nabbing a spare ticket at the third years’ table. The Globalist contingent of lawyers was also out in force. Late in the evening I swapped numbers with a rather wasted Dawson whom I assume accompanied the Pembroke lawyers and seemed to have been making good use of the ample amounts of freely flowing booze (albeit in slightly less debaucherous quantities than last year). On the downside there was a distinct lack of a vodka luge or chocolate fountain (although that’s arguably a good thing since it meant no chocolate to clean out of my suit this morning…) but there was a full cold breakfast of Nadia’s-supplied pastries at around midnight which kept everyone full and content. The addition of two scantily clad dancing girls to accompany the jazz band during the reception was a good “themed” move. I’m considering hiring a some for my room. You know, for special occassions.

Even Ravi was eventually forced to concede at about 2am, “I have to admit you lawyers do know how to have fun.” That we do.

Ali and Ravi | Andy Capp

The Downfall

I went to see Downfall last night with Kirsten and some of her friends. I’m sure it’s a flagrant breach of some strict social protocol to see a film about Hitler with several Germans, but I had intended to see it several months ago when it was released, and it came highly recommended by Martin. Kirsten seemed slightly surprised despite the fact it was on the list. It’s not an easy film to watch by any stretch of the imagination. While any war film will contain its share of brutal scenes, unlike those that cover the full spectrum of a conflict, Downfall deals only with the very end of the war, a nation on its knees awaiting the inevitable. The result is both relentless and highly compelling, with a phenomenal portrayal of Hitler’s last days by Bruno Ganz. A sympathetic portrayal in its introduction, it shows him as a grandfatherly character, later losing his mind as swiftly as his country, hand shaking uncontrollably, and finally as the ferocious leader who would sacrifice any number of lives to achieve his goals, screaming at his generals and blaming for his own failures the very German people who were loyally dying at his command. I was shaken by it, and Kirsten understandably more so (“They’re not his people,” she corrected me, “he’s not even German…”). In England we barely remember the state London was in, let alone the war-torn husk of Berlin which greets us here. And yet Downfall also manages to produce a positive cathartic experience akin to this year’s emotional powerhouse Crash.

I love to study the character and history of such great world leaders precisely because I fail to believe in the indivual’s power to alter the course of history. Rather I tend to believe in what I call the tide of history, this force of inevitability that pushes humanity along its journey in a more structuralist way. Of course there is no denying the vile acts of Hitler and equally his oratory and inspirational strengths, I feel that much of the blame lies with the Allied powers at the end of the WWI. After all, the alleged “second” world war was really a continuation of the same conflict after a brief respite. The ridiculous attempt to crush a nation through peace treaties and expect them to set aside their pride and subject themselves to a degrading cowed state was clearly going to stir up precisely the bitterness and anger which led to a man like Hitler being adulated and elected. He was not alone in his sentiments, perhaps only in extent.

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