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Archive for July, 2006

To summarise this film I would say, More of the same, but … more. In other words, if you liked the original (and I did) and you like special effects (and I do), you should be more than happy with PotC2. It would be useful, however, to see the first film first, because much of the plot in the sequel refers back to the earlier film. And the plot in this new instalment is pretty convoluted – perhaps too convoluted for an action film.

It essentially revolves around various protagonists trying to get their hands on Davy Jones’s heart – which he keeps in a chest … a wooden chest with a lock, not his thoracic cavity. And there’s lots of to and fro and fighting and ships getting eaten and stuff. It’s a very busy film.

Although Depp is, as usual, on form as the charismatic, doped up Captain Jack, the star of the film is Bill Nighy as Davy Jones. Not that you’d recognise him, though – not only is Jones a completely CGI character, Nighy affects a very convincing Scottish accent (not your usual Rab C Nesbitt rip-off) to portray him. And the CGI are pretty amazing – the green, tentacle-bearded Jones is incredibly realistic (if a green, tentacle-bearded bloke can be said to be realistic), as are the rest of his marine-themed mutant crew and the kraken. The only flaw in the graphics is that the characters’ movement isn’t quite right – it’s a bit too jerky (as is often the case with CGI characters). The problem probably isn’t the movement as such – which was all motion-captured, apparently – but may be to do with the number of frames of animation, or perhaps a lack of blurring. Whatever – I’m no expert in these matters.

To be fair, PotC2 does at least attempt a bit of emotional depth: Will Turner meets his undead dad, and there is a betrayal at the end that will have serious repercussions in the forthcoming third film. However, while I appreciate the effort, it does seem as if its heart’ not quite in it – it just wants to show off, which it does, and well.

After the climax of this film there’s a sense of bathos before the characters realise there’s an awful lot more work to do. As the middle volume of a movie trilogy, Dead Man’s Chest works an awful lot better than The Matrix: Reloaded and nearly as well as The Two Towers. Let’s just hope the final film reaches to the heights of The Return of the King instead of falling to the dismal depths of The Matrix: Revolutions.

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All I seem to do on this blog these days is post reviews. That’s because I’m reading a lot and I’ve been to the cinema quite a few times recently and the turgid nature of a dial-up connection makes me loath to spend much time at my desktop computer writing for my blog. Anyway, I have a batch of new reviews to post (written out and about on my laptop), but in the meantime here’s a token post to show that I still care.

Finally got hold of a copy of The Dark Tower, book seven of The Dark Tower. Amazon was clearly lying when it said the paperback was due out at the beginning of July, because I haven’t seen it in any shop. The copy I’ve got is an American import, purchased from Forbidden Planet for the sum of £6.50. I’m enjoying it so far.

This morning I had, well, breakfast, effectively, with a couple of people from the Lib Dems. It’s not that I didn’t know about it, but I had a call from one of them at quarter to nine this morning saying, Meet me in an hour, to which I, having hurriedly climbed out of bed, replied blearily, OK. We met at a café on Hampstead Heath which was actually like a real café (meaning more towards the cheap and cheerful, greasy spoon end of the spectrum).

It was this person’s idea that the occasion be some sort of leaving do, but I didn’t feel very enthusiastic about that, and I managed to downgrade it to just me, her and her partner. The whole idea of a leaving event reminds of my recent birthday, which, as I’m sure you’ll have read, I have mixed feeling about. It’s much better, I think to just say bye to people as and when I see them last. In the confines of my own head I can be quite egocentric, when it comes to other people my instinct is to fade into the background. Or, from another persective, I’d like to be the centre of attention for things I’ve done – like writing – but not just for being me.

In other news, I have a writing project. I’m not going to say much about it here, but it’s been inspired by something I’ve seen recently, but also by older ideas. At the moment, I essentially only have one character and I need to work out what the story’s about. But I’m quite excited about it.

I’ll be moving out of this flat in a week’s time, so I’ve got plenty to be doing over the next seven days. It’s the last session of Shadowrun tomorrow, the last (and first) session of Al Qadim (with what used to be the Iron Kingdoms group), then on Saturday it’ll be the last session of my Empire of Destiny game. In its current form, anyway – I have some work to do putting all the relevant information on my RPG forum. I’ve still got various organisations to inform of my move, I’ve got to manage a transfer of all my computer-related activities away from my desktop to my laptop.

I probably ought to tell my landlord about the broken window pane, as well – having wedged it open a few days ago, a few hours later it became very quickly closed. Guess I won’t be getting the full £500 deposit back, then.

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That’s that, then

Italy won the World Cup after an uninteresting 1-1 draw against France. Strangely, given their England-like history of penalty shoot-out failure, their PKs (to use the jargon – get me) would have given the Germans a run for their euros. France played better than them for most of the final game, but Italy were better than France over the course of the tournament. I would have been happy to see either side win, so guess what? I was quite happy.

Of course, the game was marred by Zinedine Zidane’s goat-like head-butt of the Italian defender Materazzi. Today the French hero explained that the Italian repeatedly insulted his family. That episode – which has been replayed endlessly on TV over the past few days – will undoubtedly be one of the defining images of Germany 2006. The picture of Zidane trudging towards the stadium leaving the gleaming World Cup Trophy behind.

Other memorable moments from the tournament include:

The really rather exciting semi-final where Italy scored two goals against Germany in the last few minutes of extra time (they were evidently saving all their penalty shooting energy for the final).

David Beckham in tears after his substitution during the Portugal game. Almost like he knew what was going to happen.

Rooney’s sending off in said game.

Beckham’s goal against Ecuador.

Joe Cole’s goal against Sweden.

England’s all-round piss-poor performance.

The ridiculous 6-0 defeat of the now historical Serbia and Montenegro at the hands (well, technically the feet) of Argentina. Including that 24-pass build-up to Cambiasso’s goal.

Three of the record four sent off players in one match huddling together on some steps watching the rest of the Portugal-Holland game. One of whom was the Portugese shortarse Deco, who a) looks like either Adam or Joe out of Adam and Joe, and b) really ought to have the first name Art.

My last day at work on the first day of the competition.

Swervy balls.

David Pleat on ITV’s coverage of a Germany game saying, of Podolsky and Klose (I think), ‘I do like to see a couple of centre-forwards playing with each other.’

The fact that ITV seemed to drop Gabby Logan from their match coverage team even though she was by far their best presenter. And what the hell was that epitome of blandness Steve Ryder doing on ITV?

Those ridiculous head-microphones the ITV pundits used.

The charmingly dorkish Brad and Hal Budweiser links on ITV.

Adrian Chiles.

Martin O’Neil cementing his position in my mind as the Tom Paulin of football punditry.

Diego Maradonna’s rather attractive daughter who seemed to accompany him to all the Argentina matches.

The fact that in every single match that I saw (and I saw quite a few – no work, remember?) at least one, usually several players fell over. Some of the pundits talked about the German groundskeepers not watering the pitches – evidently, no one told them about the Vaseline.

The realisation that the Portugese goalkeeper, Ricardo, looked an awful lot like the Spanish guy from the first roleplay group I joined in London. Then the further realisation that this RPer had left our group some time before the World Cup because he had a job in Germany.

… And probably some others.

The question now (for me, at any rate, not being a club football fan) is how England are going to do under Steve McLaren. Probably no better than any other manager since Venables or Robson. Beckham and Owen, the two talismans of the English game for the last eight years, are nearing the ends of their playing careers. They may make it to Austria and Switzerland for Euro 2008, they certainly won’t make South Africa 2010. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see how it all pans out.

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I had a pleasant surprise last Sunday: the reading group I thought had died a death came back to life. The upshot was that I had three days to buy and read Hey Nostradamus. Which I dutifully did. And then wondered why on earth we weren’t reading the book I’d voted for at the last meeting.

Well, it was only 240 pages long so it wasn’t too bad, but, having now read two Couplands, it appears to me he’s a one trick pony, and his one trick isn’t that good. Hey is so similar to the other of his books I’ve read, Girlfriend in a Coma, that a) I wondered whether it was, in some way, an attempt to rewrite the earlier novel and b) you might as well read my review of Girlfriend and save me the trouble of having to write a new one.

Oh. You’re still here. Well, then.

Hey consists of four fist person narratives, each one a riff on the loneliness, monotony, frustration, dislocation and fragmentation of modern life. That’s it, really. Stating the bleeding obvious, in fact. I know life is rubbish – I have to live with it every day – I read fiction to take me out of life’s rubbishness for a few hours, which is why, I suppose, I like fantasy so much.

For what it is, I will grudgingly allow that Coupland does it quite well. His narratives, while they may be annoying, do have a sense of authenticity to them, they’re emotionally honest and his observations of life can be acute. But they’re just series of events, there is no plot here. Very post-modern, but aren’t we now in a post-post-modern era?

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While there are some downsides to them, I can’t helping loving long series of books. I started reading Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire a few years ago and was hooked, and, wanting read the rest of his ‘back catalogue’, I eventually got hold of a copy of the first Wild Cards book, entitled, er, Wild Cards. Aces Abroad, while not the best in the series so far, was still a very good read.

The problem with it was that it followed an extended junket by Senator Gregg Hartmann and other wild card virus-related notables to, well, everywhere. They travelled round the world visiting various countries to see what conditions the world’s jokers (people made into mutants by the virus) lived in. At the same time, various things go off in these countries: a peasant/joker uprising in Guatemala, a vampiric telepath in Haiti and so on. These subplots distracted from the main story. In fact, it’s more acurate to say that the main story was a series of subplots linked by the junket and its participants. Stuff happens by the end of the book, but it didn’t feel like a self-contained plot.

Despite this, I still found it a compelling read. It had that ‘I just want to read on a bit further to see what happens’ quality. The writing was solid, journeyman stuff – it may not have been poetic or devastatingly insightful, but it had a story to tell and it got on and did just that. Once again, the consistency of the book was remarkable, the writers and the editor pulling together to make it seem like all the various and differently-authored stories were part of a constistent whole. Although once again, Melinda Snodgrass was something of a weak link – the part of Aces Abroad she wrote was one of the most important in the book, and she wasn’t quite up to the task.

It seems clear that Martin et al are deliberately structuring the books and the series. Wild Cards itself was a kind of prologue to the whole project, volumes two and three, Aces High and Jokers Wild, constitute between them another phase of the story, as do Aces Abroad and Down & Dirty. The road trip format of the current book is an interesting device and shows a more marked division of responsibilities than the very smoothly constructed previous two ‘mosaic novels’.

One further commendation: while I usually try to vary my reading diet and not read two thing by the same author in quick succession for fear of getting weary of the same voice, I’m already halfway through book five (which makes sense, as it’s essentially the continuation of the story started in book four) in the series and have just ordered book six.

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Review of Banlieu 13

Do you remember that BBC One trailer/self-advertisement thing from a couple of years ago? The one that featured a bloke jumping off roofs and climbing up drainpipes and such like? Well, Banlieu 13 (ou District B13 en anglais) features that selfsame guy doing pretty much the same thing. It has a story as well.

After two prologue sections (one relevant to the plot, one less so) illustrating the backstory of each of the two main characters, it becomes clear that the criminal boss who’s the de facto ruler of Banlieu 13 (a suburb of Paris so violent and crime-ridden that the authorities have walled it off and washed their hands of it) has obtained a kind of neutron bomb that will kill lots of people – and it’s set to go off in 24 hours. The two protagonists – one a police officer, one a resident of Banlieu 13 – have to go into this no-go area and defuse the bomb. Silly, yes, I know.

The silliness is, however, provides a plot to hang an exciting action film off. The two heroes run, jump, kick, punch and shoot their way through an urban environment that is almost post-apocalyptic in its grittiness. And it’s a lot of fun: the chases and fight scenes are immensely watchable, there’s a nice interplay between the two leads (even if they’re not the greatest actors you’ll see on the big, or any kind of screen), it’s brutal in places, but also contains a lot of humour. I quite liked the story as well – it’s a classic science fiction theme, and it has great resonance with the situation in Palestine/Israel.

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The Lake House is a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours but it’s not outstanding. Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock basically start a relationship via the medium not of speeding buses, but of time travelling mailboxes. Bullock’s character moves out of the eponymous lake house and leaves a letter in the mailbox for the following tenant. The letter is received instead by the previous tenant, Reeves’s character, two years earlier.

This straightforward (disregarding the paratemporal mailbox) romance is bulked out by a couple of interesting sub-plots – one about Bullock’s previous boyfriend, and a more interesting one about Reeves’s distant father, played by Christopher Plummer (who seems to have been in a lot of films lately – and there was me a year or so ago thinking he was probably dead by now). The acting is pretty decent throughout – even by Reeves – and the film has a nice but melancholy autumnal feel to it.

If you’re paying attention (and I was) you can tell a mile off where the film’s heading. When it came to the climax, my suspicions were confirmed – and then turned on their head (or should that be ‘heads’? Their collective head, if you prefer). When you’re constructing the end of a story there are two main dichotomies you can focus on: happy ending/sad ending and predictable ending/surprising ending. The film almost tries to have it all four ways, and my feelings about its resolution were equally abivalent. Not sure if this constitues a spoiler, but the ending involves a time-travel paradox, and, while I think it would have worked better without that twist, it also subverted the expectations I’d had from early on.

Watchable. Forgettable.

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