Now is the time of year when I can start getting a little excited about a new Harry Potter. Okay, maybe “excited” is the wrong word given how the hardcore fans show their enthusiasm. Whilst not being hugely enthralled by the books, I am now a stalwart fan of the film franchise. The first two were competent distractions, albeit lacking any real magic and with variable performances from its inexperienced child actors. Last year’s Azkaban changed all that. Admittedly I was somewhat biased in my approach since I was a huge fan of the new director Alfonso Cuaron. Nevertheless, the maturing young actors and darker tone (not to mention Gary Oldman) made for a truly spectactular film with top notch realism in its special effects. I was somewhat underwhelmed to discover that Goblet of Fire was being helmed by Mike Newell, best known to most for Four Weddings and a Funeral which I found okay, but I am told several people really loved. Of course, the man also has Donnie Brasco in his past so he’s nothing if not versatile. Nevertheless the footage that has gradually emerged, climaxing in the biggest premiere event Leicester Square has ever seen, has definitely suggested that this film is going to be something rather special. I may not be queuing up for opening night tickets, but I am looking forward to it.
I finally picked up Totally Bill Hicks, which was recorded in London, from eBay the other day. I’ve been a fan of Mr. Hicks for a couple of years now, having been bizarrely introduced through Tool‘s Ænema album. There are a number of reasons he’s one of my favourite stand-up commedians. despite still being virtually unknown. Sure, as NME point out he’s consistently hysterical. Which helps. But there’s something more to this man, behind the fire and anger. He’s truly passionate about what he does; not just the comedy but the message behind it. He sees the world and he sees the wide disparity between what humanity could be and what we are. And it pisses him off. I found it incredibly enlightening last year to listen to his rants about the first Gulf War and realised that it was applicable in its entirity to this Iraq war, right down to his attack on President Bush! He’s the sort of angry voice that one assumes must have killed himself when hearing he died young (32), but perhaps stranger still it was cancer that took him.
Those of you who click on the links here will have noticed that Penny Arcade has been extensively swankified in line with the design for Child’s Play. The downside to their upgrade is that their file structure totally changed so every link from here had to be altered. They should all be working again now.
When I started watching Lost, I raved about it. There was so much to love not only in its mystery and tense, tightly scripted storylines, but also in its character-driven elements (I’ve always rated good characters higher than a good story). We had a host of apparently one-dimensional characters who, we gradually discovered, were far deeper than their surface suggested as each episode delved into the backstory of a different person. Half a season in, the whole thing began to lag seriously. Although there were forty survivors, it was clearly too large a cast to focus on in equal depth. As a result we ended up with a core group of around a dozen major players with extraneous people who were expendable at the writers’ whim. This meant that before the first season was complete, we were already revisiting the same character’s history twice or more.
Indeed, much of the problem with Lost stems from the length of an American TV season. In Britain, eight to ten episodes is considered a very respectable number; in the States, anything short of twenty implies serious financial difficulty. Crafting a suspenseful mystery is all well and good, but the scriptwriters seem to think that this can be achieved by constantly injecting new questions for 24 episodes without ever answering the old ones: what this actually creates is something that feels more like an hors d’œuvre platter of plot holes. It’s not a momentum that can be maintained for such a duration. The season finale has to have been one of the more underwhelming I can remember. Sure, dynamite is fun and I like fiery explosions as much as the next pyromaniac, but the truth is that I was just bored of this particular jungle by that point. That said, the opening to Season 2 injected some much neeeded energy back into the proceedings and has pushed to the story forward considerably, so it may not be too late. If nothing else, I’m still intrigued enough that I keep watching, so I certainly can’t claim it’s failed entirely in its aim.
Meanwhile I’d strongly suggest checking out Prison Break, a new show that deserves to be a big hit. With a similarly claustrophobic feel to Lost, given a cast of characters confined to a prison, it manages to broaden its range of sets with a conspiracy gradually unfolding outside the prison walls. Great dialogue and tense storytelling combine with a critical social commentary on the prison system and its corruptibility into something that often feels like a modern Shawshank Redemption.
Speaking of things that got lost, My Vitriol have almost disappeared since releasing the double-CD version of their debut album Finelines. Seemingly knocking around in the studio forever, creating the follow-up they jokingly (I hope) referred to as “17 Movements in the Key of D Minor”, they’ve released a couple of decent tracks through MySpace, which they’re now using as an interim website. Disconcertingly the album is labelled as “Chinese Democracy”, the name of the much awaited Guns N’ Roses album which never surfaced. Let’s hope that’s their idea of a bad joke.
Having said that I had no photos from Hallowe’en, Sparkie and Shamini were quick to offer their own so (somewhat belatedly) I thought I’d let you look at a couple while I write.
Having survived the traditional — nay, institutional — week five blues, I collapsed into bed last night and eventually managed to pry myself from the warm sheets at about 3 o’clock this afternoon. Slovenly and slothful, I am sure, but I really needed it. A whole bucketful of the Colonel’s finest chicken later, I was feeling very much recharged and ready to tackle the work for next week. It’s strange how from one end of the week it feels as though we have only just arrived, and from the other term seems almost over. Time is not just relative, in Cambridge it’s telescopic: a day could be a week, a week a year, and yet the whole term feels like merely a handful of days.
Having resisted its eerie siren call for several months, someone made the mistake of mentioning eBay not just within earshot, but directly to me. In just a few days I’ve nabbed several bargain DVDs, but as ever, the bargains do add up after a while. I’m hoping the relapse will be brief, but at least it looks to be profitable (well, insofar as spending money can be). Amongst my recent acquisitions is Manhattan. As one who has never explored Woody Allen as well as one ought, I have to say it is extraordinarily clever, witty stuff. It makes one wonder where the modern, illiterate comedies come from and why on earth we put up with them. I am particularly intrigued by Allen’s latest project, not least because Scarlett Johannsen stars, an adulterous little British film called Match Point. “The man who said ‘I’d rather be lucky than good’ saw deeply into life,” intones its lead. Strangely, I’m feeling rather more lucky at the moment…
Incidentally, my current must-see is the very original, very funny Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang with Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer. It’s generally being touted as the best work either of them has done in about a decade, so if you’re interested in coming along then let me know.
Another killer Thursday. After doping myself up with sugar to get me through the first supervision of the day, I ended up crashing in my third lecture right before another supervision, leaving me in not the best state as I staggered back home. Slumped down at last, I began feeling much rosier as I realised that at least I was free for the week. Our Ball posters are now strategically positioned around the faculty which cheered me up, especially since one is sitting right next to Girton’s (theirs is the same day) and totally blows it away. You know, from an unbiased objective standpoint. The committee’s Ball stash has also arrived, though I haven’t had a spare moment to drop by and collect it from Sara. I’ll snap a couple of photos of the hoodie and the t-shirt, possibly modelled by someone prettier than me.
When I heard Peter Jackson’s next project was King Kong, I’ll admit I wasn’t particularly interested. When I heard he’d cast Jack Black I was less than enamoured. Having seen the teaser trailer, I was just bored and looking for something else to entertain me. Yet another needless remake that, while very pretty, seemed to have nothing in the way of substance or anything new to offer. All that has changed with the release of the new trailer (available in high definition). From the very first glimpse of Kong, you realise there’s something special going on here. I’m a little apprehensive about waxing lyrical over Weta’s work again so soon (last time it was regarding Narnia), they’ve done another phenomenal job. You see such majesty and feeling etched upon the face of the great beast who shows not just expressions but emotions. His power and presence is immense. And he’s not even real. The only thing that piqued my interest from the start was that Andy Serkis (he of Gollum fame) had been hired to provide similar services in the titular role. Unsurprisingly it looks like he’s worth every penny.
Child’s Play 2005 has kicked off. Gabe and Tycho set up the charity a couple of years ago with a very simple premise: for each hospital in the scheme, Amazon wishlists of gaming products are created and the donor simply finds an item on the list and purchases it. This utterly removes the usually charity donation concerns about administrative costs and how much of your cash really reaches its target as the gift is sent directly by Amazon to the hospital. Better yet, this year they’re looking to expand the scheme to the UK as well, but the hospital is unconfirmed yet. If you spot that change then let me know. Finally, since the issue of the use of first person plural on this site has been raised before, perhaps this will shed some light.
Two dinners in two days. The first was paid for by Linklaters of whom I’m already a big fan. They took us out to Chez Gérard, the only quality restaurant I know that is famed for it’s signature dish of…steak and chips (or as they say “steak and frites” if you’re feeling pretentiously franglais). The food was extremely impressive with a great if somewhat insubstantial salmon starter, decent steak accompanied by an exceptional pepper sauce and a competant crème brûlée. The service, on the other hand, was shocking: the constant clang of dropped cutlery, the protracted pause between courses, the lethargic response resulting in chilly (if not quite cold) food, and the unapolagetic attitude to consistantly mixed up dishes (we were, to be fair to them, a large group). As such we were all cheerfully impressed when the partner waltzed in late, flatly refused to drink the same wine as us and patiently but condescendingly informed the slightly unhelpful waitress that it would be quite alright since he was paying.
By contrast the company was fine, consisting as it did of virtually every second year Downing lawyer and a handful of Cambridge-educated trainees. Of course we all know that the trainees are really recent graduates present purely as an excuse to take an early afternoon off work in some vague attempt to hark back to a romanticised memory of their student days. Nonetheless, at least their interesting to talk to. Chris I already knew through Anna, Sumit I had met at a previous Linklaters event, and the final trainee stumped me after chatting to her for nearly an hour when she asked, “Are you…Phoenix?”. Apparently my infamy is on the rise. More importantly I’m now beginning to wonder just how extensive a file these firms have on me already…
Tonight was dinner at Brown’s courtesy of Herbert Smith. The food was awesome: another smoked salmon starter (the only way to fly) followed by meaty lamb dish and stick toffee pudding to finish (thanks to Steph’s advice on things to avoid!). Service was better, albeit just as sluggish as last night. The red wine left a little to be desired (last night’s was somewhat lacking in flavour but incredibly easy to drink) but they bought us a round of drinks before the meal which gave us pretty much carte blanche to order whatever we liked which was unusually generous. Or perhaps rather foolishly trusting, depending on your point of view. It was filling, satisfying, but ultimately a little dull. The truth is the alleged cream of the Cambridge restauranting crop don’t feel nearly so special as they ought, and are going to have to act quickly to retain their title.
Unfortunately the late finish meant I had to miss the Ball launch party at Cindy’s. The Ball site has now been updated with several new sections including profiles for the committee. At any rate, I can’t stomach the excessive cheese of Cindy’s unless I’m pretty drunk and frankly I have too much work to be drunk right now. I’ll see you in a couple of days…
Recently I’ve taken to reading regularly ShortPacked!, a daily web comic loosely based around the toy industry (in the same way that PA is loosely based around the gaming industry), whose conspiracy theories are even worse than mine.
I finally made it to brunch with Lyds and Tom for the first time this term (my last attempt was thwarted by the phantom shifting kitchens). I’ve always said that hash browns are what make or break the meal and I’m happy to report that despite vicously circulating rumours about Lilliputian potato products being served the previous week, they remained a suitably satisfying size. The new self-service approach was a little disconcerting at first but does allow one to establish proper flood channeling when serving baked beans. It is imperative, of course, that the crispness of the hash browns be protected at all costs. The old gang have been maintaining the Sunday breakfast tradition over at 38, so Kirsten and I wandered over, allowing her to meet them and because pancakes do so nicely round off a good brunch. It then occurred to me that deliciously creamy hot chocolate at Clowns does so well round off a good pancake, as I had arranged to meet Lydia for coffee since she was keen to hear about all of the past week’s developments. It also transpired that we both have friends with imminent weddings. Which we’re starting to find slightly unsettling.
After last night I am of the opinion that free champagne should be served not by the glass but by the bottle. The result is both more efficient and more civilised than running the traditional alcoholic’s gauntlet, fighting one’s way through the horde for each refill. Given her slight stagger by the end of the evening, it would appear Kirsten was inclined to agree. Despite her marked disapproval of us spoilt lawyers and the way in which we are courted, for some reason she seemed entirely happy to accompany me on a boat cruise down the Cam, courtesy of Cleary Gottlieb. According to LawSoc head honcho Nick, we collectively consumed around 70 bottles of the good stuff in under an hour. Of course, lesser drinks continued to emerge throughout the remainder of the three hour ride, while a few ardent enthusiasts cradled their remaining bottle protectively. One such reveller was Joe from Selwyn, who recognised me and I him, but have not the faintest clue from where or why. There was an admirable contingent of the Downing first year lawyers present, although most of the usual second year legal suspects (of any college) seemed strangely absent, tempted away by fireworks ents, no doubt. Fireworks schmireworks, I say; the river (er, and Kirsten of course) had my full attention for the night.
P.S. Big up to Jayraj gracing the Downing massif with his inglorious presence this weekend. Word. And I hear Cara’s knocking around somewhere too, so I’m off to hunt her down…
I had been meaning to join The Grid for several months and finally got round to it today. For students who tend to leave their computers on all day anyway, it’s a great project to get involved with. Set up by IBM, the idea was to create a distributed public computing grid that could collectively engage resources in research projects that could otherwise take decades without major funding. The scheme works by downloading a small program which contacts a server and collects a task. When you wander off to your three hours of lectures and your computer is sitting idle, it starts up and uses those free processing cycles to start crunching through the data and submitting back the results when it’s done. In this way the community of volunteers are able to produce years worth of calculations on a conventional computer every day.
Currently efforts are being directed towards the Human Proteome Folding Project. As a logical progression after the completion of the human genome map, we now need to find what all those proteins do, in order to develop effective treatments for related diseases. The goal of the project is to predict the structures of unknown proteins and how they are likely to fold. By collecting structures and functions for a huge number of proteins, biomedical researchers can then access this database of information to find functional clues about these mystery proteins when they come across them. And it’s rather satisfying when your first task hits 100% and is submitted, rewarding you with 93 points (a crediting system so that people can group together and keep track of how much they have collectively contributed, including one for Cambridge University).
I bumped into Dawson from Whitgift a couple of days ago. He’s been studying English at Pembroke for the last year and we run into each other intermittently, usually whenever he’s up near the Faculty. He has gradually transmutated into the wild-eyed, rebellious-haired director type, puffing distractedly on a cigarette as we chatted (in his defence he hadn’t slept the previous night which may have had something to do with it!). He’s currently directing All My Sons, quite possibly the best of Arthur Miller’s less mainstream plays, so I’d highly recommend it to anyone with a free evening.
All My Sons
Pembroke New Cellars
19:30 Tue 01st – Sat 05th Nov
Disclaimer: No cash, gift or other item of monetary value exchanged hands in return for this plug. It would, nevertheless, be most welcome.
Once upon a time there was a little paper crane. Like all paper cranes, he was a little magic. The more care that goes into each crease and fold, the more powerful they become. Now this crane knew that the boy who made him was in trouble and needed more than a little magic. But he was only a little paper crane, what could he do?
So he flew out of the faculty and flew the long and arduous flight to where his intended recipient lived. Braving the chill winds he struggled onwards, refusing to give up. He found his wings freezing, their steady beat slowing ’til he started to tumble from the sky, falling to his death. He was not supposed to die, of course, he knew that. So he used a little of his magic to warm them back to life, and finally he made it there.
Inside, he waited. It was a long time before he found her, and when he did he was dismayed for he had no plan. He realised there was nothing he could do. After all, he was only a little paper crane. But then he discovered his real magic didn’t come from the creases and from the folds; it comes from the care. His real magic is simply what he is. A little paper crane.
And sometimes that’s just enough.
To change someone’s mind.