Amélie & The Italian Job

One unexpected disappointment and one unexpected joy of a film.

We’re in a hotel in West London for the New Year celebrations and we watched two movies before heading down for dinner across midnight.

We started with the original Italian Job which was shown on the television. It’s one of those classic films that you are supposed to have seen but neither of us had and so we watched it. I don’t think it mattered to either of us how much we knew (or didn’t know) about the film (‘you were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off’) as I think we both came away with a disappointed feeling. It’s considered a classic British film but it didn’t come across that way. Michael Caine is excellent, Noel Coward was interesting and I don’t think I’ve seen Benny Hill act away from his TV show before.Don’t get me wrong, it is a good film, and I enjoyed it but this was certainly a case where the preceding reputation heightened expectations too much.

On the other hand, I knew nothing about Amélie except it would be the second subtitled film in as many days and I am not a big fan of them. Yet again, however, I was surprised by the film and the interesting side of Paris you see through Amélie’s eyes. And again, it’s a well shot, colourful and stylised film and I only wish I had been a little more awake to appreciate it fully: it’s full of wonderful moments as Amélie decides to help her friends in her own quiet, special way.

You have to see The Italian Job but you should see Amélie.

House Of Flying Daggers

Visually stunning both in terms of photography and the settings. The fight sequences well choreographed and executed and, overall it’s very stylised.

After yesterday’s trip to the cinema, we decided that we would do it again and PY had been wanting to see House of Flying Daggers (Shi mian mai fu) so it was decided that we’d give it a go. I have to admit that I am not a big fan of subtitled films in any language so the strangeness of Mandarin didn’t bother me too much. It’s visually stunning both in terms of photography and the settings. The fight sequences well choreographed and executed and, overall it’s very stylised. Many people will enjoy the style of the movie and equally as many will see the style as a blocker to following the plot (undercover police deputy becomes captivated with suspected revolutionary on a journey to somewhere never properly defined). I was willing to give it a go and really enjoyed the film for the presentation and visuals but I couldn’t get past the ‘style’ to become engaged in the plot. Hand-on-heart I tried. I can’t knock the film as I think my inability to connect is due to my lack of experience watching films like this and I would urge you to get to see it before it closes and let me know what you think.

Napoleon Dynamite

I like films with a plot and Napoleon Dynamite is missing much of one but somehow the offbeat comedy works in a subtle – not laugh out loud – way.

Napoleon Dynamite
Napoleon Dynamite

If Napoleon Dynamite is to be believed, Idaho (or at the very least a place called Preston) is stuck back in the mid-Eighties and everybody is slightly odd. Napoleon is a school misfit with a misfit brother (who cruises Internet chat rooms), a misfit uncle (who is trying to recreate his high school football days) and a misfit friend Pedro who is trying to become Class President and is up against the all-American cheerleader, Summer. Add to that some milk-tasting contest and eating raw egg yolks in a chicken farm and I’m happy to admit it was a very strange experience.

Usually, I like films with a plot and Napoleon Dynamite is missing much of one but somehow the offbeat comedy works in a subtle – not laugh out loud – way. Add to that the massive Idaho landscapes and somehow you have an enjoyable way to spend a few of December’s final hours in a cinema. Just thank goodness for LaFawnduh.

Season’s Greetings 2005

with very best wishes for Christmas to you all.

santa on my christmas treeI guess it’s time to wish everybody a very Merry Christmas – wherever you are in the world Season’s Greetings to you. Christmas lunch this year will be made at home in London: a nice peaceful Christmas. Last night we spent several hours in the bars towards the City and had a very peaceful time sitting next to an open fire, drinking expensive Bloody Marys and laughing with friends. A very good way to end the working year. Next week I am working from home but I am not expecting it to be too busy.

I’ve admitted before that I love the whole Christmas vibe. Actually, I love the whole stereotypical, christmas card vibe rather than the rushed reality. Each year I buy a new decoration for the tree and this is the one I found for this year. Truthfully, a friend of mine had one and I copied her but I couldn’t resist the whole Santa-on-skis image – it’s far too cute for words. See, I’m just soppy for Christmas!

Shrek and Johnny English

Two Christmas Eve movies: one was great the other wasn’t.

When I was in Florida earlier in the year I went on the Shrek-themed ride at Universal but really didn’t know what to expect as I hadn’t been remotely interested in seeing the film. The Shrek experience was OK but I didn’t tush out to rent the DVD. Earlier today, however, Shrek was one of the Christmas Eve movies on the TV and I thought I would give it ago.

I have to say that I am very pleased that I did. It’s a thoroughly engaging movie of the classic fairy-tale variety that’s well animated, well-voiced and – most importantly – it’s a well-told story: a Prince called Farquaad (who’s not very nice) despatched a green ogre (are Ogre’s all green?) and a donkey to rescue a princess from a tower. See, it’s a classic fairy tale already!

If I must add Shrek 2 to the DVD rental list then you must certainly make sure you see this – it’s sure to become a classic piece of animation.

So while we were in the mood for a film we flicked to one of the movie channels to enjoy the delights of Rowan Atkinson in the James Bond spoof, Johnny English. It’s full of predictable – but well executed – jokes where English’s able assistant saves the day. Of course there are mistaken identity jokes, falling-down jokes and poo jokes. It may have been a great idea before the Austin Powers franchise but this is all a bit too weak, too late. But you might find something funny in it if you are an Atkinson fan but it didn’t really work for me.

Music To Go

Should I make the switch to iPod? Are you an iPod user on Windows?

Earlier (technically last night) I signed up to Audioscrobbler to submit my musical listening habits (at least from my machine at home) to the system. So, now you all get to see my appalling music tastes and have a good old laugh – although I recommend you sign up as it’s fascinating.

Meanwhile, I posted a comment over at Nick Bradbury’s site about digital music players and, while not the best expressed point ever I would content it holds true:

IMHO, the biggest problem Microsoft have with WMP is the lack of a Microsoft audio player and that’s Apple’s big advantage. I’ve had four or five players and none of them integrates well: playlists, ratings and recently played are not transferred. The iPod has all of this spot on: musical tastes need to be able to move between devices. In addition, WMA-compatible music stores have moved the goal posts so some of my previously purchased music is now not able to be played on my player.

I’ve used WMP for a while and encoded most of my music in their WMA format – it wouldn’t be impossible to switch but it would be a pain but I swear that it’s very, very tempting. It’s not just the iTunes software and it’s not just the iPod – it’s the combination they’ve got right.

Then Nick points out that the WMA conversion is all handled in iTunes and the whole thing becomes even more tempting. So, if you are a Windows user with iTunes and an iPod is it as good as it’s cracked up to be?

UPDATE: After posting this I realised the ‘On This Day‘ link is to a previous time I wrote about Digital Music players. I still have the Rio Riot and use it occasionally. It’s still a decent music player but suffers because they don’t update the software anymore and it wo’t play all my rights-managed WMA files. an iPod user from two years agao would have no such trouble would they?

Being Gay each Day

When it comes to understanding the impact of sexual preference on our daily lives we are – unsurprisingly – not like our straight counterparts at all.

A year ago I noted that Armistead Maupin, author of the Tales of the City series, “helped me understand a bigger world where gay people live and have fun but are, deep down, just like their straight counterparts”. There’s an interesting debate over at plasticbag.org about when you should – or should not – declare you sexuality. It all started when Tom drew up a “Tongue-in-cheek-ish slightly-bored early-evening version of what I would kind of like my business card to be like” which spawned other conversations relating sexuality. It appears, kids, that when it comes to understanding the impact of sexual preference on our daily lives we are – unsurprisingly – not like our straight counterparts at all.

Paycheck

Surprisngly enjoyable.

Essentially the plot runs like this: Ben Affleck reverse engineers technology and then has his brain wiped so that he can’t remember doing it. Of course, something happens and he has to remember. Luckily, he sent himself clues and we all get to play along and workout what the twenty items all mean and how he will (more-or-less) save the world.

Surprisngly enjoyable.

Kew Garden’s Winter Wonderland

See the lights and the ice rink at Kew.

somewhere warmer inside kew gardensthe 2004 ice rink at kew gardenMaybe I claim I am not as aware as I should be about Christmas but I have to admit I do like the whole season. Today, PY and I went to Kew Gardens in South London (or is it Surrey?). They’re having a winter wonderland. As the darkness falls the gardens/trees are lit but thousands of tiny lights making parts of Kew’s ground shimmer. There is also a ice rink (although it’s booked in advance and I stayed standing) which makes an interesting contract with the temperate and tropical houses. It’s strange how much I really do enjoy this kind of thing – maybe I am a sucker for the magic of Christmas. {Images at Flickr]

Going To The Dogs

I will feel slightly awkward when four of us head to wimbledon dog track.

You realise Christmas is on its way don’t you? I should be very aware of this fact. Last weekend I spent time with my Mum as she won’t be in the UK for Christmas. But it’s creeping up on me no matter what they say. Today, PY and I were going to host a pre-Christmas party for some friends: mulled wine, beer and a trip to the greyhound races. Somehow, however, it got here and we didn’t invite anybody. Plus, I had a guilty feeling about going to the dogs because a good friend of ours rescues them. Nonetheless, I will feel slightly awkward when four of us head to wimbledon dog track. I am not sure I will stop feeling guilty so it might make me part with some money to somebody who looks after the dogs.

A Pointless Rant About Trains

I am not shocked at the mediocre service. I am not shocked that the staff on board couldn’t care about the confused passengers. What amazes me is that I took two trains and for the majority of both journeys the trains were full.

Today’s illogical rant follows in a moment. Do not be alarmed. An emergency exit is located here and here.

Virgin Trains have made a big deal about the investment in new trains. And the trains were very nice – the airline style at-seat audio was a nice touch. But the service was still below par. On the way north last weekend  the train had been changed and so seat reservations were no longer valid (yet our seat numbers were still there). They seems to have removed the at-seat buffet (which is handy on a full-train so you don’t lose your seat) and the train terminated early.

I am not shocked at the mediocre service. I am not shocked that the staff on board couldn’t care about the confused passengers (are you in my seat or not?). What amazes me is that I took two trains and for the majority of both journeys the trains were full. And by full I mean people were sitting in the parts between the carriages, on the floor in the cold, draughty bits (as an aside, how come it can be so draughty and ventilated and the toilets still smell?). Every train I ever take is full. To work in the morning. Home in the evening. North to visit my parents. South to visit PY’s parents. So why do we always hear about the lack of money in the railway system?

What’s Your Pointless Obsession?

What’s your pointless obsession? It’s got to be pointless and yet take up lots of time that really you would be better spent working in a soup kitchen or raking the leaves. Mine is PIM (and I am not talking about the drink).

What’s your pointless obsession? It’s got to be pointless and yet take up lots of time that really you would be better spent working in a soup kitchen or raking the leaves.

Mine is Personal Information Management. Somebody invented the concept of PIM and they set in motion a train that would mean I would spend hours searching for ways to the same thing over (and over) again. The goal is, as always, a reasonable one: to synchronise calendar & address information between the office and home (including my Treo using different calendars. It should, in theory, be easy but it’s not. I’ve moved the criteria recently to search for an online WAP-accessible calendar which means I could have a smaller, cheaper ‘phone than the Treo for times when it’s not really appropriate (or practical) to take it with me.

The plan was to use Yahoo Calendar as the gateway between home and the office – synchronising all – but it doesn’t quite work. I find the Yahoo-Outlook synchronisation causes too many errors when synchronising (although it’s fine to overwrite). Yahoo won’t synchronise my Palm Desktop at home (although it will sync with the Treo). I can export my Palm address book via a file upload to Y Calendar but the date book option fails every time. Yahoo Calendar’s WAP implementation works so it would satisfy that criteria if it would hook into everything else properly. I wonder if anybody really does use it or if it’s just a nice ‘we have’ gimmick?

Now, I’ve spoken about all this before. It’s pointless and really very unnecessary. I really can’t see my address book and/or calendar options are any more demanding than anybody else on the planet: I might be trying to be a little sophisticated with my use of them but I don’t think my uses are different – I’m just trying not to have multiple out-of-date copies of things. Of course, it’s a geeky thing to want and it’s frustrating that nothing out there does what I want.

But (in my best Points of View voice), why-oh-why do I choose this as my time consuming obsession? Am I alone?

Weekend Away

A weekend with my mum was a great deal of fun even if we had to pretend it was Christmas early!

I’ve spent the weekend with my mum at my parents house. PY was there for some of the time but he came home yesterday while I stayed for most of today. My dad is working away and she is off to join him for Christmas later this week so, in effect, this was Christmas for us. I did eat Christmas pudding at the restaurant yesterday afternoon but that’s about as far as I went (although the amount of food I have eaten means gym buddy will be very unhappy with me this week).

It’s been a very enjoyable weekend. When I sat down to write something I was going to say much more. I was going to write, for example, about how I feel closer to my family now than I have done in the years since I moved south; how it felt like a proper adult weekend with no flashbacks to being a teenager again or, simply, how much fun the whole thing was. Instead, I think I want to relax in the joy of it all.

UPDATE 14 December: My mum was worried about traveling alone for the first time in a few years. And, of course, everything was OK apart from the fact her luggage remained in London. Whenever either of my parents have taken connecting flights in recent years one piece of their luggage is always left behind. I wonder if that says more about them or the airlines?

the Da Vinci Code

It’s very easy to get sucked into the world Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code.

You may recall that I love my pulp fiction and, on the train, I finished the latest and greatest thriller, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I picked it up in a sale in a bookstore in one of those three-for-two offers. Amazingly, I had missed all the buzz about it and it was only after I had started to read it that I looked around to see half of the people on the train reading the same book. It’s certainly grabbed the attention of London commuters. Anyway, time to review it for Amazon as I haven’t been keeping those up and my ranking has started to slip!

It’s very easy to get sucked into the world of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code. It’s a thriller from start to finish and one of those books that can have you hooked in just a few pages – you will be stealing yourself away to read the next chapter before you know it. Maybe you can see the blockbuster film or see the Ludlum or Grisham parallels but what makes this novel stand out from others is enormous amount of plot detail. Regardless of your opinion of Les Dossiers Secrets (or any of the premise behind the tale) the description of the artworks, relics and rituals in the novel is fascinating. Most importantly, however, the detail enhances the story rather than detracting from it. You may imagine that such vivid descriptions of paintings, churches or cryptology would slow the story-telling but the opposite is true: the finer points of this work add to the pace. It’s probably a novel you should re-read to see if you can decipher the codes when you know the answers and it’s certainly a novel that makes you want to delve into the history behind it. All in all, it’s a great suspense story that makes religious symbology entertaining.