Saturday, December 30, 2006

Torchwood: Episode 11 - 'Combat'

Good looking bloke isn't he?

This was a quite interesting episode, better than most so far. For the first half of the episode I really didn't know what was going on and although I did figure it out (the episode title should have been a big clue, had I taken note of it) before the events unfolded on the screen, it was still good to watch.

Good character development for Owen, Gwen and Rhys, although Ianto is still totally 2D. 7/10 (sorry Dave).

Teaser for next week's episode is intriguing too.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Doctor Who: The Runaway Bride

Just watched this year's Doctor Who Christmas Special, The Runaway Bride. It was OK. A bit too silly for my liking and using the baddies dressed as Santas idea two years in a row was not good. It was Doctor Who lite, and yes, I am remembering that Doctor Who is meant to be a family entertainment show on at teatime. Lite-er than usual.

But the teaser for the new series looked very good indeed. Roll on the spring.

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Ben Folds - supersunnyspeedgraphic, the lp

Amongst other things, I got the new (ish) Ben Folds CD for Christmas. I like Ben Folds, his albums are generally full of well written and performed, piano-based, intelligent pop tunes. And this one is no exception, for the most part it is filled with entertaining and musically interesting piano-pop tunes.

The album is a compilation of tracks taken mostly from four EPs which were released exclusively on iTunes over the past couple of years, mostly original songs, but there are a few covers on there. It also features a song from the 'Over the Hedge' film soundtrack. Oddly enough, the fact that it is a compilation doesn't really come across to the listener and the album mostly sounds like a collection of songs which were meant to go together. Mostly.

In the middle of all this intelligent, entertaining pop is a cover version of Dr Dre's song 'B****** ain't S***'. Indeed. That's 'female dogs aren't excrement', incase you didn't know (the title is possibly the cleanest lyric in the song!). I can see why Ben Folds recorded this song. The very idea of a well educated, clean cut, middle class, white boy singing foul, dirty, misogynistic, street lyrics is quite funny and the execution of that ironic joke is very well done - clean and nice tinkly piano accompanyment to perfectly articulated lyrics. But having listened to the album a few times now, I'm highly likely to skip track 6 on future listens - sure, the joke is funny, but the lyrics are highly offensive and not the sort of thing I actually want to have running through my head.

The rest of the album is not without 'parental advisory' lyrics either. But these are generally used sparingly or at appropriate points in songs to provoke the listener or emphasise a point. Take track 2, 'All you can eat', for example. Here the 'F word' (in the context of 'they don't give a...') is used a lot to describe the attitute of a subset of the American population at whom the song is aimed. And you kind of feel that the language is appropriate to the sentiments in the song.

Now that I am a parent of young kids, I realise that 'parental advisory' warnings are now there to remind me not to listen to certain CDs when I'm in the car with my family...

As for the rest of the album, the covers of The Cure's 'In beween days' and The Divine Comedy's 'Songs of Love' are excellent, the cover of The Darkness's 'Get your hands off my woman' is OK, if a little pointless (once again with properly articulated expletives, although the joke isn't the same as The Darkness are also well educated, middle-class, white boys). The original songs all stand up well to comparison with Ben Folds's back catalogue, which is all the recommendation you should need, really.


Friday, December 22, 2006


Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all


a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year, without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform, or sexual orientation of the wisher.

Disclaimer: By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher who assumes no responsibility for any unintended emotional stress these greetings may bring to those not caught up in the holiday spirit.

Torchwood: Episode 10 - 'Out of Time'

A plane takes off in 1953. Due to some poorly explained phenomenon it lands, half an hour later, in 2006. Lots of things in 2006 are different to how things were in 1953. Other things are different too. And other things. One of the three time travellers can't cope. One is indifferent and just wants to fly or have sex, but preferably fly. The third takes a couple of days but gets used to 2006 quite well. Um. That's about it.

Not really much plot here. No twists of significance (Owen falling in love doesn't count) and not much character development, although I fully expect Rhys to chuck Gwen before the next three episodes are out.

Could have been a lot more interesting. Only 5/10 (sorry Dave, I've started so I'll finish...).

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Embrace your inner cheese...

I have embraced my inner cheese.

I got a copy of The Feeling's album Twelve Stops and Home a couple of weeks ago.

I liked it on first listen. I liked it a bit more on second listen. And so on. It seems to get better with each listen. Fab.

Yes, it is cheesy. Yes, it is retro, 70s, FM-friendly, soft pop rock. It sits nicely in the gap between Supertramp, ELO and 10cc. Which is why it is just great! What's not to love? Classic rock guitars, quality pop melodies, syrupy Beach-Boys-esque backing vocal harmonies and the well timed use of the word 'bloody'. Nice.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Happy Feet

Took the kids to see Happy Feet yesterday. It was the first cinema experience for the wee one and she enjoyed it, but didn't manage to endure to the end of the film. Indeed, my elder daughter found it quite hard to maintain interest until the end, as the film is simply too long; 1hr 49mins to be precise. Which is fully half an hour longer than it should be.

This film gets it right for kids and adults alike on some levels - the penguins are cute and the way they sing to each other using (reasonably) contemporary songs is fun. But the plot doesn't really get going until about 20 minutes into the film and it is fairly slow going in bits - the kids lost interest on a few occasions.

Where the film started going wrong was that even the characters that weren't voiced by Robin Williams sounded as if they were. And then there's the last 30 minutes and the 'in your face' ecological message which is just too much. If I may paraphrase, the message of the film is this:

It would be OK if we over-fished the Antarctic ocean and deprived the penguins of their only food source if penguins were just ordinary penguins. But as it is, some penguins can tap-dance and so they are worth saving. Let's not steal their fish.

Can anyone spot the flaw in logic in that message?

Things they got right: Penguins singing, penguins dancing, penguins sliding on their tummies down exciting ice slopes, Elvis, going on a quest for food, South American penguins, synchronised swimming, nasty grey seals, elephant seals, killer whales.

Things they got wrong: Robin Williams, Robin Williams, the whole zoo bit, the eco message rammed down your throat, too many dull moments.

But the kids enjoyed the first 2/3 of it, so I can't really complain. We'll probably end up with the DVD eventually.

So 6/10 for kids (probably 7/10 for the DVD, when it comes, as you can simply switch off the end) but only 5/10 for adults.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Match Point

Just watched Match Point, the Woddy Allen film set in London, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers& Scarlett Johanson.

Didn't like it to begin with. Too typically Woody Allen with obviously improvised scripts and I didn't take to any of the characters initially.

Then got sucked in.

The whole affair got reasonably interesting and you wonder how its all going to play out.

Then it went totally unexpected.

Our main character did something which you really didn't see coming. Not quite sure I believed his actions.

Then it turned into Crimes & Misdemeanors.

And then ended.

Hum. Not sure what I think of it, on the whole. 6/10 maybe. Or maybe only 5/10.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry...

A big apology to anyone who has ever left a comment on this blog. Due to a typo in an e-mail address, I haven't received any e-mails telling me of comments posted. So I (wrongly) assumed that nobody was commenting. So 38 comments have been approved today and I may try and reply to some of them later.

So thanks guys for keeping reading even when your comments have gone ignored and unread until now.

Torchwood: Episode 9 - 'Random Shoes'

Another odd one this, but I quite liked it. Clearly the writer has read Douglas Adams's 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency', but as every SF fan should have read that, this is OK.

Once again this episode focuses for the most part on one of the main characters, in this instance Gwen, although the story is told from the point of view of a deceased geek.

The plot slowly unfolded, revealing exactly what did happen in the run up to the death of the narrator. It was never truly gripping, but interesting enough to hold my attention.

My only real gripe about it is a personal one. In the story, Gwen goes to a talk at Aberystwyth University, where I was a member of staff for 4 years. Except that she doesn't - clearly the budget wasn't big enough to allow for the three hour drive from Cardiff to Aber, so the talk takes place in a big museum type place which I have certainly never seen in Aber. But apart from that, it was all fine.

7/10 - I might well watch this one again on a rerun someday.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

The secret of invisibility: Einstein was wrong...

Cool science news. Boffins at Imperial in London have managed to make something invisible... and proved Einstein wrong along the way. Read all about it here.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bond, James Bond

I saw Casino Royale last night. It was a fairly entertaining way to pass a few hours on a Saturday night. I'm just not sure it was a Bond film.

I mean, obviously it was a Bond film, in that it was a film about James Bond, but that's the thing. Most Bond films so far haven't been about James Bond. They've been about evil villains with schemes to take over the planet. They've been about meeting (and doing other things with) exotic women in exotic locations. They've been about gadgets and cool cars (lets forget the invisible car in Die Another Day, shall we?). They've been about effortless cool and suave sophistication. And that's why Casino Royale isn't really a bond film.

So what was good about it? Locations (although using some of the same locations as Star Wars: Attack of the Clones was a mistake), chases (even though the crane climbing chase was utterly unbelievable, even for a Bond film), Daniel Craig (good actor, still not convinced he's right for the part, but can't fault him for trying), Eva Green (never seen her in anything before, liked her), interplay between characters, particularly Bond & M.

What wasn't? Product placement, convoluted plot (who was the principal 'bad guy'? We just don't know for most of the film), too many false endings, too long.

But I'm with Marcus in that the final, final ending was pretty near perfect. Was that the only time he said the line in the entire film?

And for the first time in several films, the opening theme song was a proper Bond theme song. Madonna's Die Another Day was just plain wrong and neither Garbage (The World is not Enough) or Sheryl Crow (Tomorrow Never Dies) were quite right.

Following my usual film ratings system, I'd have to give this 7/10 (Good, worth a second viewing sometime, but not worth buying the DVD).

As an aside, the film was rated 12A. This means that the BBFC think that it is not suitable for children under the age of 12. Personally I'd have ranked it more of a 15 - I can't believe that all that violence, murder, torture, etc. has no effect on impressionable, young teenage, minds.

So why, oh why, do some parents think that it is suitable to take 8 and 9 year old kids along to see it? There were at least 10 under 12s in the cinema last night, inlcluding two who quite possibly were under 8. I had to suppress the urge to make comments to the parents on the way out of the cinema, beacuse it clearly wasn't a film suitable for kids of that age.

Can kids not just enjoy kids films without being subjected to adult material from an early age?

Rant over. Night night.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

The rise and fall of Soulwax

What has happened to Soulwax?

"Who?" I imagine you saying.

Soulwax. They released one really, really good album in 1999 and haven't achieved anything like the quality of it since.

'Much against everyone's advice' is one of my favourite CDs. It is one of those rare things: a genuinely cross-genre album, mixing rock guitars, pop melodies, great harmonies and contemporary (for 1999) dance music into a fantastic, yet hard to define, musical experience.

Their next release was completely different. The guys in Soulwax also were club DJs with a talent for mixing two songs together in a not-aurally-horrible way. They mixed several compliation CDs in this manner, most of which have never been officially released. 'As heard on Radio Soulwax: Pt 2' was given an official release, but I quickly realised that this was not a proper Soulwax recording, just some DJ dance music cleverly mixed together. Not really my kind of thing. Although I must say the mix of 'Dreadlock Holiday' by 10cc and 'Independent Woman' by Destiny's Child, slowly morphing into '9 to 5' by Dolly Parton is an inspired work of genius.

The next release as Soulwax, 'Any Minute Now', came in 2004. It was dull. It was boring. The dance beats and rock guitars were there, but there was a total lack of memorable melodies and quality pop hooks. Poor show.

But, I hoped, this was a temporary setback. Surely the next proper Soulwax release would be better?

No its not.

I got it ('Nite Versions', look carefully at the pink CD cover and you might just about make out the writing...) out of the audio library last week and have listened to it twice. Pure mince. And I don't mean that in a good way. Still dance music. But no decent melodies and the guitars are now lacking. Sigh.

Apparently there is a hard-to-find CD from before 'Much Against...' maybe it'll be good. But I'm not going to invest too much effort trying to find it.



I'm trying my best to be Superdad. Not only did I buy and build these bunkbeds for my daughter's bedroom, I also made the curtains. Yes, I know how to use a sewing machine as well as a screwdriver...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Torchwood: Episode 8 - 'They keep killing Suzie'

A bit of an odd one this. The plot kept twisting and twisting so that it ended up in a completely different place from where you would have expected. This is a good thing. But it wasn't hugely gripping at any point.

Possible spoilers below...

This episode was really trying to add some continuity to the series, continuing the story of Susie which was started in the first episode. Therefore it seemed quite odd that there was little continuity, with regard to Toshiko's arc or the Owen/Gwen affair, from last week's episode. Also, it was never explained why Jack couldn't use the gauntlet, but Gwen could.

But having said that, it was interesting and kept my attention for the duration. 6/10.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Torchwood: Episode 7 - 'Greeks bearing gifts'

I've always had a soft spot for Daniela Denby-Ashe (pictured), so an episode of Torchwood featuring her as a sexy lesbian alien should be something I'd like, right?

Well, it was quite good. Better than last week, but not as good as the first few.

This week the story was seen, almost exclusively, from Toshiko's point of view. In other words, this week we are 'fleshing out' her character. Until the end of the episode, all the other regulars stay very much on the sidelines as Toshiko gains the ability to hear people's thoughts and finds out what they think about her.

Once again, Torchwood tried too hard to prove itself as an 'adult' show - the lesbian kissing was fairly irrelevant to the plot and there was quite a lot of unnecessary 'adult' content as we listened to the thoughts of everyone who walked near to Toshiko.

But, leaving that aside, it was a fairly typical mid-season sci-fi episode plot, which could have been modified slightly to fit into almost any sci-fi show. Certainly it felt like an episode of Stargate SG1 (albeit one with added lesbian snogs). However, it was a fairly self-consistent plot, contained a good bit of character development (except Ianto, who is back to being two-dimensional) and did keep you wondering how things were going to end up. So while I won't be watching that episode again on a rerun, it was reasonably entertaining on first viewing.


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Friday, December 01, 2006

Star Wars - animated