Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Torchwood: S2E7 'Dead man walking'

Given the title of the episode and the content of this trailer, its kind of clear what is going to happen in this episode, but if you haven't seen it and you don't want to know, do not read below the video clip as there will be spoilers...

OK. So Owen died last week. But when has death ever stopped a character returning in sci-fi? They bring Owen back, but he's not alive as such (cue jokes about lack of bodily functions and the normal things that happen to a body after death) and something is taking over his body.

Anyone else reminded of the two parter ('The Impossible Planet' and 'The Satan Pit') from series two of the new Doctor Who? Must be just me then.

And so, when 'Death' is revealed we get into very dodgy CGI territory. And what happened when it all went black? Owen went to 100% 'something else', the black CGI came out of him, everything went black and then it seems we're missing at least one scene. How is Owen still standing? If he was 100% something else and it came out of him, surely that means he's now 0% anything, and certainly wouldn't be expected to be up and walking about. Why does Jack appear to wake up in the car at the hospital? How did they get there? Either this is bad plotting or really bad editing. What happened?

And the final battle between Owen and 'Death' was just mince, wasn't it?

And going by the preview, Owen is still neither alive nor dead next week. Do I care?

Killing off main characters is often good for a series. Instantly bringing them back undoes all the good. Unless of course, they're going to do the double whammy and kill off someone else, and then not bring them back. We'll see.

But I think this is the low point of this series so far. Next.

Oh, but who was the tarot girl? Do we get a story involving her in the future? I'm a little bit intrigued there.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Misplaced Childhood?

I went to Parson's Green Primary School in Edinburgh when I was wee (the image on the right is a pupil's recreation of the school logo - its supposed to be a beacon burning for all to see, but I always thought it looked like a litter bin on fire, the bins they had in the playground in the 70s were metal cage-like things).

Anyway. I remember quite enjoying the first two years of my school experience. I had a nice teacher, Miss Mackay (who ended up married to my eldest brother, but that's another story!), I made some friends and generally got on OK.

Then came primary 3 and 4. For two years I had Miss Grosset for a teacher and hated every minute of it. I was a bit of a dreamer but could do sums and writing and the stuff that I was supposed to do, but I did it slowly. Miss G's solution to this problem was to shout at me. Unfortunately, my response to being shouted at was not to speed up and do the work, but to retreat further into daydreams and slow down further. Which made her shout louder. And so on.

I remember one occasion when I'd been going slow on some sums and the class was going swimming in the second half of the morning. I was shouted at and threatened that if I did not finish the sum sheet in question that I would be left while the rest of the class went swimming. I didn't finish the sums. The rest of the class went swimming. I was left - on my own, with no supervision - in the classroom to finish the sums in time for lunch. The teacher in the next door classroom occasionally peeked in, but I was basically left by myself for about 75 minutes. I don't think I ever finished the sum sheet.

Of course, such actions on the part of a teacher would be severely dealt with these days. But that is not really the point I want to make. The thing is, for years I have remembered that day as an example of how bad P3 & P4 were for me. But last week I was talking about it with my wife and I came to realise that this is my only memory of those two years! I can recall several different things that happened in P1 & P2, quite a lot from P5, loads from P6 and P7 but only one from P3 or P4 (and I don't even remember which). I must have blotted out everything else.

Generally, I have a very good memory for events, places, etc. (not people's names, sadly) and I am quite shocked to discover that two years of my life (except one morning) are missing. Can I get it back? Would I want to? I'm not sure.

By the way, P5 (Mrs Quinn), P6 (Miss Stillie & Mrs Hunter) and P7 (Miss Howie) were all reasonably pleasant experiences for me, but I would never have said I enjoyed school until I reached the high school and discovered, much to the surprise of many, that I was really quite good at maths & science.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Battle of the Banks?

We're looking to change banks.

For varous reasons, for the first time ever, we are probably in a position to save some money, so I want to have:
  1. A current account for everyday transactions, which preferably has a decent interest rate.
  2. One or more savings accouts, preferably with instant or quick access, with reasonable interest rates.
  3. Both with good online and telephone banking services.
In about a year, our current mortgage deal ends and I'd quite like to then transfer the mortgage to the same lender so we can 'offset' against the savings/current account.

From the legwork I've done already it looks like First Direct or Intelligent Finance are the two main contenders (Smile and Egg are also both in there too, but with Egg I'd have to have the current account with someone else, and I'd rather not - for simplicity, and there was something that put me off going with Smile, but I forget what it was now...).

So, can anyone advise, which is better First Direct or IF?

(also looking to switch credit cards, but I think I know which to go for there).

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Torchwood: S2E6 'Reset'

Martha Jones guest stars, Jim Robinson from Neighbours guest stars, lots of people die and something sinister is going on in the Cardiff area.

Beware, there will be spoilers below.
First things first, its nice to see Martha in Torchwood, but her realtionship with Jack with the Doctor not there was odd. I think they managed to convey that someting was missing between the two of them, and there was a slight awkwardness. Or that could have been a slightly clumsy script?

Given that Gwen, Ianto, Tosh and Owen still have very little clue as to who Jack is, where he's from and what he's done in his own personal past (even though much of that was in the future), I'm surprised that there wasn't more effort on the part of the Torchwood team to find out about Jack through Martha. Maybe that'll come in weeks to come. The moment of bonding between Gwen and Martha was good.

Nice to see the culmination of the Tosh and Owen thing that has been building for a few weeks, even though it ends in tragedy. But of course, we now see that they were setting that up.

So the plot? Well it was OK. Nothing remarkable, not terrible, not great. But, of course, it was just the backdrop for the two events that they wanted to write in this week. Enter Dr Jones, exit Dr Harper.

Clearly Russell T. and the production team have been watching some of the big action/sci-fi shows like 24, Lost and Heroes. They've learned that you can kill off major characters and keep going. indeed, that killing off major characters can sometimes enhance a show. Perhaps that's why the show has been made to feel much more of an 'ensemble' piece over the past 5 episodes.

In fact, for most of the episode I was expecting it was going to be Martha who was going to die. Not on the basis of what was happening in the episode, but on the basis of the press coverage of Martha's appearance in Torchwood. She's been everywhere recently mentioning that she's in Torchwood for a bit but that her involvement with Doctor Who isn't over yet, etc. For some reason it reminded me very much of when Alex Fearns character 'Trevor' was written out of Eastenders. For a week or two beforehand he was making TV and magazine appearances and somehowm managed to mention in every one of them that his contract extended for several months more, and then they killed him off suddenly when no-one was expecting it. I thought they were going to do that with Martha. And it was only when Owen saved Martha that I realised that wasn't going to happen and that Owen was the one who was going to die. Somehow a death was inevitable.

And where now? Well, I've recorded episode 7 from BBC3 last night, so may watch it tonight. But does this mean that Martha will be standing in for Owen for a few episodes, or does she just do her guest appearance and leave? Will Torchwood continue as a four-piece or will they have to recruit someone new? That could be interesting... We'll just have to watch and see.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Atonement (the movie, not the book)

Just saw the Oscar nominated movie Atonement. Nominated for 7 Oscars including 'best motion picture' and 'best supporting actress'.

If that's the best movie of the year, I'm glad I didn't make it out to the cinema much in 2007.

There will be spoilers here. Sorry.

I should state here that I haven't read the book. So I'm judging the film on its own merits. And the main merits are a great supporting cast and James McAvoy. Both actresses who played Briony aged 13 and aged 18 were great. But Keira was wooden.

But the main issues I have with the film are:
  1. There is no way that Robbie would be so stupid as to send the wrong letter. No way. I can understand how it could have been written, but nobody - having written that letter - would calmly fold it and place it at the side of the desk. Or, if the letter had been left undestroyed, there is no way that he would have sent it without checking. No way. Totally unbelievable.
  2. The whole bit in France, before Robbie gets to the beach, is utterly pointless and does not advance the story. I was so bored by it.
  3. And the film jumps about in time quite unnecessarily. One scene happens, the next was '3 weeks earlier', then suddenly 4 years have passed, then we jump again. Basically this suggests to me that if the story was told linearly that it wouldn't be very interesting.
  4. And everyone dies. I know the tragedy is a classic literary form, but I've never really understood it. Where is the entertainment in there? Basically, crap things happen to a bunch of people because somebody made a mistake and then they die. The end.
So you'll have noticed that I didn't like it much. When I watch a film I want to relate to characters in it, I want to like them, I want to care what happens to them. The only character in there I cared about was Robbie, and it was clear from the outset that only crap things were going to happen to him. To be honest, I could have given up watching at any point, but I thought I may as well watch until the crucial mistake in the middle to see how it would happen. And then I was past half way and thought I may as well watch to the end. Wish I hadn't.

Go on, tell me I'm wrong...


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Torchwood: S2E4 'Meat' & S2E5 'Adam'

I've been away for a while, so this is me playing catch up...

Episode 4: Meat
Nice idea for the story. I liked that. Um, but how does the creature actually grow? What does it eat in order to gain weight? Just a little problem for the plot there. But it was reasonably entertaining, even if it did feel like it was about 20 minutes longer than it needed to be.

Episode 5: Adam
Also a nice idea, which started off well but unraveled a bit towards the end. The problem is, however, if Adam changed their (long term) memories, how could taking a 2 day amnesia pill restore things to the way they were before?

So two episodes with interesting ideas, but both would have benefited from a bit more thinking the problem through before finalising the plot.

And Martha Jones is in it next week (unless you've already watched it on BBC3, which I haven't)

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Portable Door by Tom Holt

During the 1990s I read a lot of books by Tom Holt. Some I quite liked, others I loved and one or two I really disliked and, in some cases, never finished. But a sucession of books that I didn't like much, culminating in 'Wish you were here' (published 1998, but I attempted to read it a couple of years later), which I never finished reading, put me off Tom Holt books for a bit.

You know the old cliche that every story should have a beginning, a middle and an end? Well, I found that Tom Holt books generally had good and interesting beginnings, clever and sometimes inspired endings, but often got a bit lost in the middle somewhere. It was as if he had a great idea, wrote it down in full and then thought 'hmm, this isn't long enough, I need to pad it out somehow' and added a few unnecessary twists and turns in the middle somewhere.

But anyway, 'The Portatble Door' got quite good reviews and sounded a bit more interesting than some of his late 90s output, so I finally got around to reading it.

Its good. Its funny. Its clever. It even has moments of greatness. Oddly enough, it isn't the middle of this book that Tom Holt had problems with, it seems to have been the beginning. The beginning of the book seems to go on for ages, indeed, it felt like well past the halfway point in the book before the story got going properly. Certainly its past halfway before the portable door of the title actually comes into the story and we (and indeed the characters in the story) begin to work out what is going on. Or rather, what is going on is revealed to the characters about halfway through the book and it feels like the majority of the actual story doesn't even begin until that point.

The book tells the story of Paul Carpenter, a reasonably talent free young man who has left school but so far failed to find a job. We meet him at his interview to be a general office dogsbody at a company called J.W. Wells & Co. While waiting for the interview he meets a skinny and sulky girl who he is instantly drawn to and, against all probability, both he and the girl (who we eventually find out is called Sophie) get jobs at J.W. Wells & Co. Given his CV, you wouldn't think that Tom Holt actually spent much of his time doing dull office jobs, so I guess he's spoken to a number of people who have done exactly that, and has channeled their experiences into the first half of this book. You see, in the first half of the book, before we really find out what is going on, we find out about Paul and Sophie and the dull, pointless, weird and occasionally inexplicable things they are given to do as office juniors. It is the office job from hell. Possibly quite literally.

But I won't spoil the surprise of what the company actually is and does. You can find that out by reading the book. Despite being a slow starter, it is a good and entertaining book and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes a bit of weirdness in their life.

It even verges close to being 'literature' at some points (not merely 'genre fiction' which most folk will label it as) as the book does touch on big themes in human experience. I suppose the main theme of the book is that you are not defined by what you do (in terms of a job, I mean), or what you look like, or even what species you are, its who you are underneath your skin that counts.

And the story of Paul Carpenter doesn't end there. There are three other books in the series, so far, so I'll probably get around to reading the next one - 'In your dreams' - sometime.

For what its worth, I found the first few of Tom Holt's fantasy books the most entertaining, everything from 'Expecting someone taller' (1987) and 'Who's afraid of Beowulf' (1988) through to 'Faust among equals' (1994). After that things got a bit too weird and convoluted for my liking, although 'My Hero' (1996) was good.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Torchwood: S2E3: To the last man

Delayed review of last week's Torchwood episode...

I think this was one of those episodes which shows just what Torchwood is supposed to be. Creepy stuff going on in Cardiff, a bit of sci-fi technobabble, a reasonably believable and touching human element and, predictably, more gay snogging. Lets take this character by character:

Gwen seems to have (hopefully temporarily) reverted to her 'What's happening Jack?' not very confident and a bit freaked out by weird stuff persona. Here role here was simply to look worried and get scared.

Toshiko, like all characters in this series, seems to swing both ways. The only love interest she had last series was a female alien, but this time around she has fallen for a frozen bloke she only sees once a year. Somehow that was quite believable.

Ianto snogged Jack. Sorry, but I just don't buy that. Obviously, in watching sci-fi, you have to suspend disbelief to a certain extent, but while I can accept the space-time rift in Cardiff allowing folk to walk between 1918 and 2008, I'm not sure I believe that Ianto swings both ways.

And the others were just there to make up the numbers this week.

All in all it was quite good, but with disappointing elements. And Tomorrow's episode throws Gwen & Rhys into the melting pot. Could be fun... I'll let you know what I think.

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