Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fish-ion Impossible

You remember the scene in Mission Impossible I with the fish tank restaurant? I inadvertently recreated that scene in my dining room last night.

All I did was pick up the power adapter for my laptop, which was sitting beside the fishbowl... the plug did an amazingly good impersonation of a pendulum and swung into the side of the fishbowl.

Smash! Sploosh!

25 pints of water suddenly discovered that there was no glass to hold them inside and proceeded to scatter bits of fishbowl, pebbles and fish (only one of those) over the dining room floor. The water also poured onto the mains power socket and tripped the electricity, plunging the house into darkness.

Amazingly, the fish survived the experience. We hastily poured some tap water into a bowl and (after searching for a minute or so) found the fish and dropped it into the fresh water. It looked kinda dead for a while, but was back to its usual self half an hour later. (Actually, its 'usual self' looks kinda dead anyway as the fish has been ill for months now, but seems quite intent on not dying).

Took me about two hours to clean up the mess. At least we have a laminate floor...

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Only once in my life has anyone written a poem for me.
I'm sad to say that this is it:


Doctor Who: The Sound of Drums

With the exception of The Empire Strikes Back, the middle part of a three parter is generally the leanest part of the story. This episode felt like it. Lots of running about achieving not very much, a little plot development, a little (inconsequential) action, etc. But mostly it was the build up to another world-in-jeopardy, end of season cliffhanger.

So it held my attention but wasn't really great. John Simm was enjoying himself though.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Doctor Who: Utopia

I don't think I can comment on this one without spoilers, so if you haven't seen it and don't want to know the big twist, do not read below the picture...
Too much! Too much in one episode!

Hurray! Captain Jack's back (with John Barrowman's name in the opening credits, no less), but almost all of our questions about Capt Jack were answered in about 2 minutes of dialogue; could they not have padded it out over a few episodes? There's been so many unanswered questions about him through the entire first season of Torchwood that I feel slightly cheated by the speed with which they answered all of them. But its good to have him back.

Chan and I liked the Professor's insectoid sidekick doh. Chan its amazing just how alien you can make ordinary dialogue sound if you prefix and suffix every sentence with out of place words doh. But I must be thinking a bit slow this weekend, I realised that there was some hidden message in the Professor's name - due to the fact that it was shown in big letters on the screen several times (very 'bad wolf') - but I didn't figure out what it was saying until it became obvious.

So now we know what the point of the Doctor becoming human in 'human nature' was, it was to get us used to the idea of a time lord becoming human so they could bring back the Master without ruining their own mythology. Yea! The Master is back. Fanboys everywhere will be rejoicing! I'm just disappointed that it wasn't Tom Baker. And hopefully the newly regenerated Master will return to form and grow some facial hair, a clean-shaven Master just isn't the same. But from the teaser for next week, it looks like John Simm plays the part with relish.

All of a sudden we're somehow back to the classic Doctor Who - filming in quarries, two companions, the Master, and so on. Fab! Hopefully UNIT will make a reappearance next week too. Can hardly wait.

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Fathers' day

This is my Dad. OK, its not the greatest photo of him, but it had a date on the back of it, so I know that in this photo, my Dad was exactly the same age as I am now (36 years and 7 months). Which is kind of surreal. When my Dad was this age he had three kids who were 6, 4 and 1 and another baby on the way. I wouldn't be born for another 11 years!

But father's day this year comes with a mixed bag of emotions, because today is the third anniversary of the day he died.

Happy father's day.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Doctor Who: Blink

Brilliant. I loved it.

Once again, a fantastic Doctor Who episode that the Doctor doesn't actually feature in very much. The statues were suitably creepy and the atmosphere nicely tense throughout.

Only one gripe - how did the statue get to be holding the tardis key?

When they eventually need to replace Martha as assistant, I think Sally Sparrow would be a great choice!

And Captain Jack's back next week. Hurrah!

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

The film reviewer Mark Kermode (TV's Culture Show and Radio BBC Five Live's Simon Mayo show - search for the podcast on iTunes) claimed (repeatedly) that this was the best film of 2006 at any opportunity. My friend David M describes it as "Best. Film. Ever." Almost every review I have read of this film lavishes praise on it. So I was expecting greatness.

The film delivered it. This is a truly beautiful film. Although, I have to point out (for the benefit of those of you who haven't read any other reviews...) that there is a lot of ugliness in the film too, which only goes to make the beauty that bit more beautiful. If you know what I mean.

Any description of the plot I could give would give you the wrong impression, indeed, the plot didn't go where I was expecting it to from what I'd heard. So I'll not spoil anything here.

Just watch it.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007


I saw Marillion in concert at the ABC in Glasgow last night. Disappointing.

Once upon a time Marillion were a neo-progressive rock band fronted by a charismatic Scottish front-man named 'Fish'. Fish and the rest of the band parted company in 1988; he went on to have a reasonably productive solo career and they got a new singer, Steve 'h' Hogarth, and have subsequently recorded ten albums. Most of their albums have been pretty good, but their most recent album, 'Somewhere Else' is pretty lacklustre. See my review of it here. But I haven't seen them live since their first tour with 'h' on vocals way back in December 1989 (Glasgow Barrowlands), so I got a ticket for last night's show.

Two things combined to make this concert not very good. The first is that Marillion are simply not a great band to look at. They sound good, even live on stage, but they're not particularly good to watch. The second was the selection of songs.

Steve Hogarth is basically an old bloke with bad hair who screws up his face when he sings. This does not make for a visually good front-man. Sure, he still hits most of the notes, but you'd enjoy the experience all the more with your eyes shut. Also, he doesn't seem to have got over the 'what does the singer do during the instrumental breaks?' dilemma - he clearly feels the need to be pretending to play an instrument when there are no vocals to be sung, so he straps on a guitar sometimes and proceeds to play only two chords, or borrows the bass guitar during 'faith' and only plays three notes. Or squats down beside a keyboard at the front of the stage, even though Mark Kelly at the back is more than capable of playing all the keyboard parts. On one song he even appeared to be trying to play a cricket bat. It seemed to be wired up to something, but I couldn't distinguish any sounds it was producing. Inevitably, I have to compare him to Fish (who I have seen live far too many times) and there really is no comparison. Fish holds your attention during instrumental breaks without having to hide behind a guitar. Also, when Fish signals the audience to clap along, about 95% of the audience do; when h tried, only about 15% of the crowd did.

Steve Rothery hasn't aged well either. He still plays guitar well, but any stage presence he used to have has decreased as his weight has increased. For most of the gig he simply stood, fairly motionless, at the side of the stage playing the guitar. Indeed, about 6 or 7 songs into the set, he wandered over to the other side of the stage during a solo and got a round of applause for doing so. I think the crowd was amazed that he could actually move.

The rest of the band were on form. Ian Moseley hid behind his drum kit - as usual - for the entire time, so I can't really tell you what he looked like, but he played well. Pete Trewavas bounced about playing the bass and looking like somebody's dad. Mark Kelly, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have aged like the rest of them. I know he's the youngest member of the band, but only by a couple of years. To look at he could easily be ten years younger than the rest of them.

So, with your eyes shut, it could have been a great night. The band were musically on form, but then they played a pretty bad selection of songs. I'm afraid all they managed to do last night was reinforce my perception that the songs on the new album are pretty rubbish.

Many years ago I got the Delirious album 'Mezzamorphis' and was not highly impressed by it. But then I saw them play all the songs from it live in concert and 'got' it. I saw the songs in a new light after that and my opinion of the album went up. Last night's gig had quite the opposite effect on me. If anything, my opinion of some of the new songs has dropped.

The setlists on the current tour change every night, so I guess I was pretty unlucky with this one. If I had compiled a list of 'Marillion songs I want to hear played live' (which I hadn't) I would have only been able to tick one song off the list - 'Man of 1000 Faces' was, for me, the highlight of the show but only went to demonstrate just how poor some of the new songs are. Other highlights of the concert were 'Afraid of Sunlight', 'Between you and me' and 'Fantastic place'. The rest was mostly taken from the new album and Holidays in Eden - two of Marillion's poorer albums.

On the previous night of the tour (Newcastle) they played 'Ocean Cloud', a 15 minute epic which is my favourite song from the last album and 'Sugar Mice', an old classic. Nothing like that here. Sigh.

Oh well, never mind. Fish is touring again in October ;o)

By the way, if anone cares about such things, the setlist was:
  • Splintering Heart (from 'Holidays in Eden')
  • The Other Half (from 'Somewhere Else')
  • You’re Gone (from 'Marbles')
  • Faith (from 'Somewhere Else', also 'Marbles' era b-side)
  • Thankyou Whoever You Are (from 'Somewhere Else')
  • Most Toys (from 'Somewhere Else')
  • Afraid Of Sunlight (from 'Afraid of Sunlight')
  • Fantastic Place (from 'Marbles')
  • A Voice From The Past (from 'Somewhere Else')
  • Somewhere Else (from 'Somewhere Else')
  • Waiting To Happen (from 'Holidays in Eden')
  • Man of a Thousand Faces (from 'This Strange Engine')
  • Between You and Me (from 'Anoraknophobia')
  • King (from 'Afraid of Sunlight')
  • Neverland (from 'Marbles')
  • Easter (from 'Season's End')
So that's only one track from my favourite h-Marillion album, 'This Strange Engine', none from my next favourite album, 'Brave', and one from my third favourite album 'Anoraknophobia'. Sigh. And while I'm being an anorak, have a graph of my interest levels through the gig. For comparison, note that my interest level has never dropped below 'interested' at any Fish gig I can remember.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Doctor Who: Family of Blood

Generally good. Not as good as the first half, but then the second part of a two parter rarely is.

My main problem with this episode was this (spoilers): At the start of last week's episode we discover that 'the family' are chasing the Doctor and he has to become human to evade them becuase if they got to him as a Time Lord, things would be really bad. In the conclusion, he turns back into being a Time Lord, confronts them and manages to defeat them - as a Time Lord - so if he could do that, why did he need to become human in the first place?

And the whole sequence narrated by the posh, body-snatched boy when the Doctor dealt with the family was quite out of place. There is no good reason why he should go to quite such long lengths to devise four different eternal-torment type punishments.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Spider-Man 3

The story so far: Spider-Man was a great superhero origin movie, reasonably faithful to the original comics, with the exception of the web-shooter gadgets (completely forgiveable) and the wise-cracking sarcasm (sadly missed). Spider-Man 2 was a good established superhero movie, great baddie, nice action sequences, but overly syrupy love story and soap opera ending. So, to Spider-Man 3.

Fundamentally, this movie continues the 'love/hate triangle' between Peter Parker, Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborne. So we see the relationship between PP and MJ fall apart, the friendship between PP and HO temporarily restored then fall apart again as Harry remembers why he hated Peter/Spidey and then proceeds to force a wedge between PP and MJ. Along the way Peter/Spider-Man turns to the dark side, thanks to alien black goo stuff, completely fails to fall in love with Gwen Stacey, and ultimately reaches reconciliation with both HO and MJ (I hope that was vague enough to be spoiler free).

This plotline, with a few action sequences, would make a pretty good 90 minute superhero movie. But not a summer blockbuster. So in order to bolster this up to multiplex pleasing levels, they thought they had to throw in a couple of further bad guys to the mix: Sandman and Venom.

Why choose the Sandman for this movie? Purely because the FX are cool. As a bad guy he has a pretty rubbish background and origin story. And I don't want to give away any spoilers here, but the final scene between Sandman and Spidey is just pants. What kind of way is that to leave it? Its unresolved. In the middle of the film he is out of the story for far too long for us to care when he comes back. But the single greatest error the movie makers made with the Sandman is that at no point does Spidey suck him up into a vacuum cleaner! That always happens in the comics. Poor show. The only real function he performs here is to turn the black Spidey towards revenge, but I'm sure that could have been achieved without him.

If it had been me writing this movie, I'd have ended the alien goo part of the story when Spidey manages to break free of it in the church. Sure you could have had the goo then going on to devour Brock, but I'd have left the birth of Venom as a setup for the next movie. Because as a bad guy Venom is pretty dull - he's basically an evil Spiderman (with fangs and a long tongue which doesn't even appear in the movie) - able to do exactly what Spidey does, and nothing else. All the best super-villains have completely different superpowers to their nemeses. In a fight between Spidey and Venom, you simply have like against like, so its not much more entertaining than a fight between two ordinary blokes - its a level playing field. The other problem with Venom here is that he is only introduced towards the end of the film - long after the point you just wish it would hurry up and get everything finished. Simply, you don't care - its all FX and no heart.

Green Goblin Jr.
Harry Osborne becoming the Green Goblin, on the other hand, we care about. The film should have invested much more time and effort into this character arc.

So what we have here is a Phantom Menace of a movie - built out of a string of well constructed, visually impressive set-pieces, tied together with dull dialogue scenes into a movie which manages to be less than the sum of its parts. And bum-numbingly too long.

But hey, I'll probably watch it again sometime and may even buy the DVD (most likely when the price drops to a fiver on eBay though).

As a general rule of thumb in Superhero movies, the more villains there are, the less good the film. Although you do have to kind of class Zod, Ursa and Non as one villain in Superman II for that theory to work. Also the third instalment of Superhero franchises is always weaker than I and II. But hopefully they won't do a Superman IV or Batman & Robin if they ever make it to Spider-Man 4...

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