My mother called this morning to tell me I needed to retake a set of passport photos because apparently the passport office had rejected the ones I previously sent. Allegedly those shots were simply too beautiful. I didn’t even know that was possible, but apparently there were concerns they could distract security staff or customs personnel dealing with the passport, thereby constituting a security risk. So I had to head into town and get a new set. That’s not exactly what I had hoped to be doing 3 days before my first exam but at least it was relatively painless. I’ve never been a fan of photobooths but for once was quite pleased with the results which came out in a fairly flattering soft focus. I still have faith that as always they will manage to make it look hideous by the time it’s on the passport, of course. As we all know the defining characteristic of any acceptable form of ID is that it bears only the vaguest possible resemblance to the holder…
The official Stardust website is now up and running, looking extremely pretty with the expected plethora of interactive gubbins but also a host of useful background for those not familiar with the Neil Gaiman story. Currently only the “Village of Wall” is accessible, and it looks as though two more sections will open up in due course. With this year’s blockbuster sequels proving underwhelming, Stardust is not only a breath of fresh air but could gain mainstream attention. Unfortunately in the UK we still have to wait until October for it arrive.
The fad of Firefox Top Ten Tips lists has grown rather weary and repetitive but I did recently discover one that pointed out an incredibly time-saving feature contained within the basic browser. Smart keywords allow you to run searches for specific sites directly from the address bar which can prove much faster than the search box since you don’t need to switch between different search engines. If you are a Firefox user I guarantee this feature is worth checking out.
I took this to be a covenant that if I survive this term, never again will God destroy my spirit with a flood of Tripos questions.
Exactly 28 days remain until my final exam. I mention it because number may hold more significance later in this entry. Exams notwithstanding, life goes on. Unless you are a journalist, that is, in which the case the only thing happening the world seems to be the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. I hesitate to label it missing white woman syndrome but the coverage does seem somewhat disproportionate, with celebrities getting in on the action by waving around rewards. The sheer level of parental idiocy required to leave a three-year-old alone in a foreign country seems to have been entirely overlooked. Meanwhile our dear PM has finally announced his actual retirement date (rather than the date of the announcement of his future speech about when he’s considering thinking about discussing retirement, perhaps taking a leaf out of Bungie’s book). The strangest thing is seeing a cheerful Gordon Brown on TV and in the press. It suddenly dawned on me that in the past 9 years I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile…
I finally got round to another incremental update to the site in the form of the menu bar of this section (it will shortly spread to the others). Aside from the minor aesthetic change to its appearance and rollovers, it has also been recoded to use a single image file which ought to remove the lag that some were experiencing with slower connections.
I was unable to join the group who headed out to see 28 Weeks Later, the follow up to the acclaimed British zombie flick 28 Days Later. The film has certainly polarised audiences, an unsurprising occurrence that tends to accompany sequels that have been handed over to a new cast and crew. Although director Fresnadillo has little experience, his short list does include the superb Spanish film Intacto, about gambling with people’s luck and fortune. Yet the main criticisms do seem to be directorial, specifically regarding the action sequences that are allegedly akin to swinging a camera around on a rope as fast as possible and then editing the sequence so that no shot lasts more than a second. Motion sickness is a genuine concern, and actually following the action is laughable to the point where more than one person did not realise a character had been killed until afterwards when they realised the person was no longer present. However the sheer destructive force unleashed upon London may be worth seeing in itself. I share this now only because there is a good chance I won’t be able to see the film before it disappears from the big screen. If you have seen it, please do offer your thoughts in the comments. Now if the franchise follows the Batman/Superman model, I’d recommend skipping the next two films but 28 Decades Later ought to be a belter!
EDIT: Sparkie has offered four important rules if you plan on watching the film yourself. Ignore them at your peril.
Spring cleaning in the Critic section I realised that although the Film Reviews archive was supposed to stretch back to 2003, it was missing several reviews that I had written that year. They require a little reformatting from the old site, so I have transferred a few over and you can expect the last few to appear in the next few days. Meanwhile I also hope to beef up last year’s short list as I rewatch several films that I didn’t write about at the time. This being exam term, however, you probably shouldn’t hold your breath.
I have also updated the DVD bargains with an exam term flavour, resulting in it being filled primarily with TV shows that can be watched over lunch without the excessive guilt that comes from watching an entire film.
My Spider-man 3 review has attracted a lot of interest and some criticism so I thought I’d clear a few things up. The text of the review may appear overly harsh, particularly given the overall rating 2/4, but I feel that if one is to spend such an inconceivably large sum of money on a film then they really do need to be able to justify it. To produce a film with the same actors and crew that is inferior to its significantly cheaper predecessor is just unforgivable. Now I was worried that I might be unfairly rose-tinting my memory of Spider-man 2 with hindsight, so I went back and rewatched it. I was not. It is an exceptionally well crafted superhero film, both in visuals and content. Spider-man 3 is, to put it mildly, not. On the other hand the reason it’s rating falls dead in the centre of the scale is that when the film was over I did not feel an irrational hatred towards the filmmakers or even a desire to have my money back (like, say, The Matrix Revolutions). All I felt was a strong desire not ever to see the film again — but I was still content to have seen it once. Unseeing it was not at issue while I had strongly desired such an improbable temporal anomaly following Freddy Got Fingered. And to put it into perspective, at least it’s no worse than the game.
Cat’s birthday yesterday meant an excuse to sample the new Wagamama, recently opened on Regent Street. Although I generally enjoy their food, I realised it is a prime example of a restricted menu that cannot really serve to please everyone, certainly not on a repeated basis unless one is to stick to a certain dish. For a similar experience I think the modern Japanese styling of the Miso is probably better, resulting in a similar vibe and price but catering for a wider range of tastes. Perhaps they could move one of the two in Croydon, given that one can walk between them in under five minutes…
Yesterday was Rav’s birthday which we celebrated first by gorging ourselves on takeaway Nando’s (the new ability to take sauces away in small plastic tubs is great) and then heading to an opening night showing of Spider-Man 3 at the Picturehouse. Not even my favourite screen in Cambridge could improve the disappointing mess of the final instalment of Raimi’s trilogy. I shall not dwell on it here since I have already written a full review, but suffice to say one of the more positive reviews I have read described it as “a smartly subversive drag show”. At least I think it was supposed to be positive. When even the mainstream press are panning a blockbuster movie, one has to wonder about the motivations of those reviewers who continue obstinately to praise it — are they nobly defending their opinion or just protecting their future free preview tickets?
Afterwards we returned to K to celebrate with an unfathomably unhealthy triumvirate of chocolate cakes. It was as if dark powers* had aligned in this confluence of cocoa that seemed to suck the light out of its surroundings. A warning notice was required. As I was involved in springing the surprise cake attack I was unable to take photos, though Rav certainly sounded pleased. Outdoing even the DeathCake™ was the gift of a projector, contributed to by most of the people in the room. He immediately set about clearing an entire wall to screen several episodes of Scrubs as a test. Based on his grin it definitely passed.
* Apprentices Dave and Angie under the tutelage of the dreaded Sith Lord Jamie Oliver.
The photos I do have are in a gastronomic vein, taken during the preparation of the DeathCake™.
While making no judgement about the quality of the final film, I openly rubbished the tired teaser trailer for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The complaint is slightly unfair since all Potter trailers are inevitable compared against the Azkaban teaser which is arguably one of the finest examples made with its atmospheric choir and languid, moody shots. Absurdly it was the trailer for the inevitable game tie-in that sparked greater interest, with impressively realistic incarnations of the film’s characters and a stunningly faithful reproduction of Hogwarts. Yet all this high definition goodness is rather irrelevant since if one were to play the new Harry Potter game, the only format worth considering is clearly the Wii version, wiimote wand poised as you cast spells. The balance has been redressed somewhat by the new full length film trailer which is more engaging, if overly reliant on pyrotechnics rather than subtlety.
Ubisoft have announced a new game in the ever-expanding Tom Clancy franchise, but this outing comes in the form of a World War 3 RTS. Little more is known beyond the title EndWar and the fact its scale is supposed to be massive, possibly even in the massively multiplayer sense. We can assume this is the new project alluded to by the viral website launched several weeks ago.
In other news Kryptonite has been discovered in a mine, though the crystalline substance disappointingly fails to glow green. No word yet on superpowers granted or neutralised.
And lastly for those who enjoy dock action on Windows, a brand new version of Stardock’s ObjectDock ought to be right up your street. Did I mention it’s free?
The release of a trailer for Day Watch (that’s Dnevnoi Dozor to the Russian speakers amongst you) is reason enough for a post itself. It’s over a year and a half since I dragged a motley crew of willing and unwilling victims to see the first instalment of the epic Russian Night Watch trilogy, and although I think it was far from perfect, consider my appetite truly whetted. Although there are clear Hollywood sensibilities (and rumour was they would bankroll the third film) it is nice to see it retains the gritty Russian base with stylistic flourishes that made the original so enthralling. It is not beautiful in the immediate sense, but as you fall under its spell its sheer power makes it a joy to watch. It also featured the most creative use of subtitles I have seen, working them into the scene as they slide behind objects or dissolve ethereally. If you have not yet seen Night Watch, do be sure to grab the DVD before Day Watch arrives.
More interesting, anyway, than a new one for Pirates of the Caribbean. At World’s End looks like — well — exactly like the last two actually. Whilst I’m still keen on seeing the conclusion to last summer’s rambunctious adventure romp, I can’t help but feel the format is wearing a little thing. Trilogy fatigue is difficult to overcome — more of the same is forgettable (Alien 3) while a last ditch soporific attempt to attach deeper meaning to the affair tends to be hideous (The Matrix Revolutions). Upping the ante Return of the King style is a rare achievement, and evening maintaining the same level of energy is hard (Return of the Jedi). Perhaps things would bode better if it were called Return of the Sparrow…
Rumours abound regarding the supposed preparation of the black Xbox 360 Elite which boasts a 120GB hard drive for all your media needs and an HDMI output. So for existing Xbox owners the question is whether it is worth upgrading. The short answer is probably not. On medium sized TVs the difference between component cables and HDMI is probably not noticeable enough to warrant the expense unless you are using the Xbox as your primary media player with the attached HD-DVD add-on. The 120GB hard drive will be available as a separate purchase and is really the way to go. I suspect they will also run quieter with the new hardware. So that leaves the colour, which may or may not be in limited quantities. The truth is that although the black looks cool, white probably matches everything else you own — your Wii, your DS, your (shudder) iPod. Unless you’re a Sony fan, of course, but then what are you doing looking at 360’s?
Stephen, with whom you may remember I was working defending kids in a Louisiana juvenile court during my gap year, has been making veiled references to “the interview” for several days. It turns out the discourse in question is regarding his involvement with and views on the Nicaraguan election of 1990. The full transcript, made available by Nic, is an interesting read with an insight into US foreign policy in “influencing” elections. It is really more of a personal account by a then political activist (and now full-time lawyer). La lucha es la victoria, he says during the interview, a phrase that became something of a motto for us while we worked often on seemingly hopeless cases: the fight is the victory.
Following Robert Rodriguez’s triumphant success in transferring Frank Miller’s gritty Sin City graphic novels to the big screen, a sequel was certainly expected if not inevitable. One suspects it will be worth watching if largely inferior to the original simply because he selected the three strongest stories to work with the first time around. More interesting is the emergence of 300, a film based on another of Miller’s comics about a desperate battle fought by a hopelessly outnumbered band of Spartans. With a recent glut of films in a similar setting I had not fully appreciated the goal here until I saw the lush visual style evident in the recent trailer. It often appears more like a painting in motion upon the canvas and looks to be a stunning depiction of a group of men relinquishing their lives for their homeland. An act of defiance not for the outcome but for the act itself.
In both stories, whether in Nicaragua or in Sparta, the moral seems the same. And those words, the gravitas of which I only half grasped at the time, seem truer as time passes which is why I thought I’d share them with you. La lucha es la victoria.
Today’s Christmas lunch with future (and current) trainees from Bird & Bird was not terribly festive but highly enjoyable (which is what counts), and it was nice to put faces to the list of names that has been circulating for a while. Rachel, Matt and I had a slight advantage having been on the same vac scheme, making the room full of new people less daunting. I was also finally able to meet Tessa in person, having discovered a few months ago that she knew an old friend of mine and we would be working together. Despite the last minute venue change Row, Laura and Lynne did a great job, providing (and circulating) more than enough food and drink as we mingled. The conversations reinforced just how varied people’s backgrounds are in arriving at a career in law — the North, South, Scotland and Wales were all represented while many of those starting with me in 2008 are currently doing the GDL having read a variety of subjects at university. It was also great to catch up with some of the trainees we met over the summer and hear what they’ve been up to since, which often, it seemed, involved swanning off abroad for several months (to work, they claim). They’re already planning another gathering in the near future and I’m certainly looking forward to it. But I would say that since Laura is probably reading this!
Mel Gibson’s Apocalyptico is a film I had been largely ignoring based on a rather plotless trailer that appeared to be nothing more than yet another attempt at the (apparently) hallowed title of “epic”. However critics suggest it is actually rather good, pointing to its intense closing third which is essentially a 45-minute jungle chase sequence. Gibson has, however, found himself in trouble with Guatemalan activists who claim he is racistly portraying the Mayan people as violent savages. Aside from the bizarre notion of playing the race card regarding a film about a long-dead civilisation, in all fairness the Mayans were generally known for brutal human sacrifices upon stone altars long before Mel made his little film. It’s sort of like the Italians claiming that they’re being misrepresented by Sparticus and that the Romans were actually quite nice people once you got beyond the feeding of Christians to lions which really just shows their cuddly animal friendly side because the lions were ever so hungry.
And finally, you may know that Dyson waddled along to see Happy Feet with a few friends fully decked out in Penguin costumes (the animal, not the deformed Batman villain as I suggested). Feeling that was not enough, they proceeded to enter a short dancing clip in a competition to win a trip to Australia. Aside from being slightly disturbed by the fact such things are actually made in adult sizes the amusing clip is worth 30 seconds of your time. They are very… cute. Apparently they rose to #1 briefly before suddenly dropping which one presumes may be due to foul play by their competitors voting negatively. They are clearly the best of the bunch so please take a look and help them out!
I’m back in Croydon now, but had a fantastic final day in Cambridge. How better to spend an evening than Pan’s Labyrinth followed by an extravagant poker game? First off, the Guillermo del Toro helmed film is an adult fantasy masterpiece. Visually stunning, it finally shows that elaborate realistic CGI effects are no longer the domain of Hollywood/Japan alone. I knew the Spanish film was dark in tone, though I was unprepared for just how brutal some of the “real world” violence would be. This is not merely the Tim Burton brand of dark fantasy; it is definitely intended for adults alone. The dichotomy between the whimsy of Ofelia’s imagination and the all-too-real backdrop of fascist Spain is perfect for the film’s mood and intent, weaving the two together in the most powerful ending I have witnessed for some time. Hopefully a full review will appear soon, but in the meantime you must see this film.
About a week ago, no doubt still soaring on a lingering Bond high, Ravi and I frivolously discussed the possibility of holding a poker game in black tie. At the time the situation seemed to merit it. One week later we found ourselves going ahead with it because, well, we hadn’t done anything suitably silly for far too long. Booking a T staircase supervision room for its large table, eleven of us (including Angie, Sparkie, Sonya, Irina, Andy and a certain Fellow) gathered to do battle. Where lack of money could not, the dress code lent suitable charge to the proceedings along with a variety of alcoholic beverages to taste. It also enabled the establishment of a new tradition when going “all in”, now to be accompanied by undoing one’s bow tie with a flourish (requiring, of course, that all participants wear real ones). Perhaps puerile and definitely one of those “only in Cambridge” flights of fancy, it was definitely worth it and provided and a perfect end to a pleasant term.
Shreena just blogged about a video in which the BBC Culture Show visits Whitby Gothic Weekend. It’s a slightly superficial insight into the Goth community (you’d need rather longer than 7 minutes) but is an interestingly open-minded exploration, with musings on the future of the culture and why after twenty years it has not already disappeared like so many others.
I’m prepping you early for this one because it’s important. The film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust is now scheduled for release next summer. It was initially intended for an Easter release but on the strength of a rough cut the studio were confident enough to bump it up to the summer selection. This means considerably more marketing, but also stiffer competition. For a film no one’s heard of, the names attached to the project are impressive: Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sienna Miller, Robert De Niro (and a small role for one of my favs, Rupert Everett), with the proceedings helmed by Layer Cake writer-director Michael Vaughan. Its budget is a respectable Hollywood size at around $79 million. The official movie site has just stirred into life, so expect content soon.
So what is it? Essentially Stardust is a fairy tale for grown ups about a boy who leaves home to search for a fallen star. Gaiman wrote it as a novel and it was then re-relased as a fantastic illustrated work with art by Charles Vess adorning every page (“prose with decorations” as he likes to call it). Vaughan stresses that in his screenplay he has tried to ground the proceedings in reality as far as possible, unlike Pan’s Labyrinth, another mature fairy tale which fully embraces its fantasy side with out-of-this-world make-up and luscious gothic visuals. Pan’s Labyrinth, directed by Mexican Guillermo del Toro (now famous for Hellboy), is due out in a few days.