Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Magic Roundabout

There’s always a danger when they remake a classic. In fact, the only time I’ve seen Cath distraught after a film was after the feature film version of The Cat in the Hat, when the memory of the original inventive classic was violated by a sleazy sub-plot and tacky jokes.

So on to this – would it be another redactive post modern disaster or not? The good news is that it’s actually very good. The anarchic, understated humour of the original series is still there; the quirks of the characters, each of them essentially good yet flawed, make them as endearing as ever. And the villain is genuinely bad – not just misunderstood, or a product of his upbringing, but genuinely bad. Which is how villains ought to be, really.

Irony Boy wasn’t that impressed by it, but there were times when even he laughed. The animation was fairly good, the surreal nature of the original stop-motion continuing in the CGI. The vocal talent on show was top drawer: Ian McKellen playing Zebedee as Gandalf, Tom Baker as Zebedee's evil nemesis Zeebad, Robbie Williams, Joanna Lumley, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent and Lee Evans, playing the train.

There were some new bits too. I don’t remember fearsome zombie skeletons in the original series. It was a bit strange that the new moose character couldn’t talk, when the other animals can. And there were a few knowing nods to the controversy over whether Dylan was a stoner or not, e.g. "I’ve got something stashed away we could use." "Dylan, we don’t have time to experiment with your recreational activities." or "I can see grass! Sweet, sweet grass!"

But the best line was the smitten Brian gazing up into the night sky and asking the object of his affection, Ermintrude the cow: "Is that the milky way?"

"Brian, that’s not the sort of question you ever ask a lady!"

Jongudmund's rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The perfect introduction

Last night Cath, Irony Boy and myself were at a gathering and a woman introduced herself to me. She then asked 'And who's this?' about Cath, to which I said 'Oh this is my wife, Cathy.' (As you'd expect me to really.)

Then she noticed Ian. 'And do you know him?'

'Yep,' I said. 'That's Ian. He's my sidekick.'

'Your sidekick?'

'Yes. We're superheroes in our spare time.'

That ended that conversation.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Gratitude should be my attitude

Cath has this annoying habit of, when I'm in a glump, telling me to 'count my blessings'. But it does work as a pick me up. Here in no particular order are ten of my blessings at the moment.

1) Cath - who, even after all this time, finds ways to make me laugh. Like last night when she said Thomas Rosicky of Arsenal had bad hair and reminded her of a young k.d.lang. (And she's right, which makes it even funnier.)
2) My car - which probably needs a new wheel bearing but took us safely to Shrubbery and back AND has a CD player in it (a big step up from the broken tape player I had in the grey Escort)
3) The Lost Prophets CD in my car's CD player, 'cos you need a loud CD to mask the squeaks of a wheel bearing giving up the ghost, plus Adam 'Acker for giving me a HMV token for Christmas so I could purchase said CD
4) A nice warm house given that its gone below freezing for the first time this winter
5) Kinder Surprises - especially the French ones that Viv and Ian bought me that had an Asterix toy in them
6) The geeky fun of sorting stamps
7) My job, which has annoyed the hell out of me in the past fortnight, but at least gives me the chance to write for a living
8) In less than a month we'll be celebrating my Grandad's 90th birthday
9) Dave's nice warm house, which is a lot tidier now he's married, meaning we can stay with him in Shrewsbury and sleep in almost proper beds (!)
10) Commenters on my blog - cheers guys! (And if that's not a blatant request for more comments then I don't know what is.)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Spoiled by living in a city

Every time I go back to Shrubbery I'm reminded of the Bowling for Soup song 'My Hometown'. Maybe it's because of the chorus, which goes like this:

"I hope this song finds you well
And I hope that you're doing f***in swell
I hope that you're back up
'Cos I know you've been down
And I hope you get the f*** out of my hometown!"

On that punk rock note: Happy Birthday Dave.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Bargain hunting

Up in Shrubbery today visiting the folks, all of whom have got stuff to do. Never mind - gives us a chance to pop into the town and visit my favourite charity shop: Save the Children on Wyle Cop. Why do I like going there? Cheap packets of stamps!

I bought 5 bags of odds and sods at 30p each and got some very interesting little gems out of them, including some Transvaal, which I've started collecting, some from Tanganyika and a short run from Zanzibar. Plus a French stamp featuring the Statue of Liberty, which'll go in my Lady Liberty thematic collection.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Notes on a Scandal

The best bit about this firstmovies film preview was the free tub of Green & Blacks vanilla ice cream. Although I did have to eat it before the pizza that Cath had kindly wrapped up for me to take. (I rushed from work to Fair Do’s for a Director’s Meeting, then home, you see).

On to the film: The acting was of a high standard. Pretty much what you’d expect from Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and (mmmm) Cate Blanchett. But the story itself, with its undertones of lesbian stalking, wasn’t so good. As a psychological thriller, it wasn’t particularly thrilling. It may have been better if the eponymous ‘scandal’ had been the opening scene, with the rest of the character’s involvement seen in flashback. That might have made Dame Judi’s machinations a little more thrilling.

And on that note – a scandal involving a married female teacher and a 15 year old boy obviously does echo real life, but I can’t help but feel that the law of sexual inequality comes into effect here. If the scandalous central character had been a married male and the object of his lust a 15 year old girl, then I doubt this film would have been made. Of course, such a taboo won’t have been broken by such a mediocre film, but, unless the stereotype of the predatory male is nonsense, perhaps it should be.

The thing that tips Judi Dench’s character over the edge is the death of her cat combined with her unrequited interest in Cate Blanchett. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be ironic, having a firmly closeted lesbian driven to the edge of madness by the pet’s passing brings to mind a whole number of bad taste ‘pussy’ jokes. And I think I’ll leave you with that thought.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


You know sometimes how you hear a song covered and you think – actually that’s pretty good. Then you hear Girl’s Aloud doing Tiffany and (worrisome mental image aside) you think – ‘No, covers should be banned’.

Somewhere along the line a line has to be drawn between good covers and bad covers. On the bad side there’s anything by Westlife, ‘Tragedy’ by Steps (never has a song been worthier of its title) and every reality TV star who tries to step into pop stardom. Oh, and Marilyn Manson, who was annoying before he started strangling classics like Personal Jesus. And on the good side? Well, here are 7 examples of times when covering a song actually works.

#1 Terrorvision – The Passenger
The ‘Vision went through a phase of doing covers as b-sides to their singles. This doesn’t actually add much to the Iggy Pop original, but somehow sounds better.

#2 Garth Brooks – Shameless
The king of country music took Billy Joel’s album filler track and made it his own.

#3 Dandy Warhols – Hell’s Bells
This is on the b-side of the Vodafone ad song ‘Bohemian Like You’. By slowing down AC/DC’s rock track and pitching it to a creepy baseline they turned this into a genuinely dark track.

#4 Counting Crows – Friend of the Devil
Included on their ‘best of’, even though it’s a cover of a Grateful Dead song that was never released on an album. One of a large number of songs I like with the word ‘devil’ in the title. Others include ‘Devil’ by the Stereophonics and ‘Runnin’ with the Devil’ by Van Halen.

#5 Van Halen – Dancing in the Street
Speaking of Van Halen, in the early days when they were producing albums in rapid succession they included a whole host of covers, including ‘Pretty Woman’ and ‘You Really Got Me’. This funked-up classic is the stand out one, though.

#6 either Rufus Wainwright or k.d.lang – Hallelujah
Rufus Wainwright covered this Leonard Cohen song for Shrek for the scene where Shrek and Princess Fiona go their separate ways – probably the most moving scene in an animated film. Then k.d.lang covered it on her album of Canadian songs and did it equal justice.

#7 Semisonic – The Air That I Breathe
A b-side to ‘Closing Time’ I think, but I’m not sure. Beautiful though, whichever single it was on.

And for the hard core fans of covers, a couple of bonus tracks...
Bonus track 1: Bowling for Soup – Summer of ‘69
It’s hard to take the Soup seriously, but then they don’t. A fun cover.
Bonus track 2: REM – The Lion Sleeps Tonight
So they released a single called The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite and some bright spark thought ‘let’s cover that Lion Sleeps Tonight’ song as a b-side’. Bizarre, but true, and incredibly funny to listen to. Michael Stipe at his warbley finest.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Wish me luck

A couple of weeks ago Matt the designer showed me a job advert for a "creative copywriter". It's in London and it's very vague what the job will entail. Still it was intriguing, and I thought I might apply.

Then last week came what I'm regarding now as 'the tipping point'. There are always things that irk you about a job, but eventually you come up against one thing that tips the balance from 'if something better comes along...' to 'there's got to be something better out there - maybe I should look!'

So, wish me luck, 'cos I mailed my CV tonight. Or, if you don't believe in luck, maybe say a prayer that if this is the right time to move on and the right direction for me to move in, then things will fall into place.

Monday, January 15, 2007

January's film reviews (so far)

Fittingly my 100th blog post on here is about films...

Night at the Museum
Ben Stiller is usually good value to watch. Owen Wilson is often funny teamed up with him (except in the dire Starsky & Hutch). Robin Williams reins in his usual hammy histrionics to remind you how good an actor he can be. Dick van Dyke does amiable villain pretty well. Steve Coogan as a Roman general with Imperialistic ambitions is very funny. Plus there are some marvelous special effects (like the dinosaur skeleton which comes to life to play ‘fetch’). But overall, this film fails as a whole to be as good as the sum of its parts.

The basic thrust of the story is that Ben Stiller takes a job as the night watchman in New York’s poshest museum, only to find that everything comes to life at night and tries to eat him, kill him, or, in the case of ‘Rexie’ trample him in an exuberant game of fetch the tyrannosaurus rib bone. The problem isn’t in the silliness of the storyline – how does a mummy learn English just by being in a museum in Cambridge anyway? – but in the serious sub-plot tacked on outside the museum. It was hard to care at all about the formulaic estranged partner, kid who’ll be disappointed in him, patronizing new stepdad etc. rigmarole. It’s all been done before (think The Santa Clause) and been done better.

Jongudmund’s rating: 5/10

Happy Feet
A computer animation about dancing penguins? Surely this would be the feel-good hit of the winter? But, no. Somewhere along the way, this story takes a dark turn to become possibly the most disturbingly depressing animated film since Dougal and the Blue Cat.

The penguins are cute, if a bit one-dimensional in character if not in animation. There are some funny gags. There’s also a very interesting cultural observation pitching the inflexible institutional worship of the ‘Great Guin’ against the young penguin, Mumble, who is what he is and can’t change. I’m not saying it’s a deliberate attempt to analogize the tension that exists between American fundamentalist moralism and those hurt by it because of their sexual orientation, but Mumble being told to ‘just try to act normal’ by his embarrassed devout dad could be read that way.

But then, as said, the film takes a turn. "Aliens" (ie humans) are to blame for the fish shortage, but Mumble’s dancing abilities win them over and they sort it all out. On the one hand it’s brave for a Hollywood movie to say that humans need to get their act together to sort the environmental degradation of the oceans. But on the other hand, this film implies those problems have been solved, which they haven’t. And the other message – that eventually salvation will come from above if we can just hang on is reminiscent of the argument that something will eventually be done to solve the problems. So, we don’t have to do anything ourselves.

And on a final point – why is Mumble still covered in juvenile feathers when every other penguin his age – including love interest Gloria – is proper penguin developed? Like the man cows with udders in Barnyard, this just makes no sense and started to really annoy me by the end.

Jongudmund’s rating: 4/10

Irony Boy’s choice of DVD, presumably because he likes looking at wrinkly naked men. Apparently he was surprised at the amount of full frontal nudity, even though he knew two of the main characters were naturists…

I have to say I’m not a big fan of Jimmy Carr. He’s always struck me as a supercilious, unfunny weasel. Here he plays a character who is meant to be a supercilious, unfunny weasel. But it was hard to tell he was acting. That’s strike one for the film.

The plot, if you can call it that, is three couples compete to have the most original wedding, helped along by the only likeable couple in the whole film – the gay wedding planners. And that’s about it. Jimmy Carr is supercilious, unfunny and a weasel, and the naturists are en naturelle most of the time. The only actor to come out of this with any credit is Martin Freeman – with a role not unlike Tim from The Office, but this isn’t his finest hour. The gal from Spaced, Jessica Stevenson, is likeable enough and does OK as well.

So to sum up: If you’ve never seen a scrotum this is the film to watch. Or if you like supercilious, unfunny weasels like Jimmy Carr. Otherwise avoid it.

Jongudmund’s rating: 2.5/10

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Yes, that is cool

Got this in an email today from my sister-in-law...
Thought you’d be interested to know that I’ve just been naming one of our new projects and have come up with Jharkhand Enterprise Development Initiative (JEDI) – cool hey!
Yes, that is indeed, cool.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Grey hairs

In the queue for a check out at Asda, Cath suddenly scrutinized my hair, saying: "Hey, I think you’ve got some grey hairs here" [prod, prod, just above my ear].
Me: "Okay…"
Cath: "Look!" [yanks a grey hair to show me]
Me: "OW!"
The funny thing was she couldn’t see why I didn’t want her pulling* my grey hairs in the checkout queue at Asda. [*in the interest of matrimonial harmony, I should point out that she refutes the claim that she plucked my grey hair out, although it felt that she certainly pulled it hard enough to tear it out by the roots]

It's not the only time recently that Cath has decided to groom me. A few days ago I was washing up and she decided to pluck a hair that was growing out of my ear, resulting in an interchange not unlike the one above that ended in me similarly going "OW!" I wasn't particularly thrilled by her observation of "Oh, look, it's straw coloured." So, I have blonde ears. So, what?

Now don’t get me wrong - secretly I’m quite glad that after 8 years of being married Cath still wants to pluck me. But if you’re going to pluck, then there’s a time and a place for it. Washing up while somebody plucks you isn't the easiest way to do household chores. And the local supermarket is definitely NOT the place for a quick pluck. Nobody wants to walk into somewhere to do their weekly shop and see couples plucking by the check outs. It's very off-putting.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Precocity = arrogance?

On Google's customisable homepage you can have quotes of the day to read. Today this gem from Mark Twain was included: "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education."

Here's an interesting historical note. When I left Sixth Form College I had to prepare a 'personal statement' for my Record of Achievement. I just wrote down that Mark Twain quote and handed it in. My form tutor went ballistic, telling me that when I gave that to an employer they'd think I was an arrogant so and so. But I wasn't so easily dissuaded and the quote stayed in.

To this day, some thirteen and a bit years later, I've never had to show an employer that Record of Achievement. But I'm pretty sure they didn't need to read my personal statement to work out if I was 'arrogant' or not.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Once you start to proofread

Here's an unexpected side effect of a job with plenty of proofreading - constantly noticing other people's print screw ups (like this classic from Christianity magazine). Today's inadvertent copy check came from the paper on my battered sausage and chips.

I'm not sure what I like most about proper chip shop chips. I know I love the contrast beween hot chips and fresh-from-the-fridge cold ketchup, or crunchy batter and soft sausage inside (mmm). Or maybe it's the fact that you get to unwrap your dinner like a present. There's that quantum excitement factor - will it still be the same thing that you saw being wrapped in the chip shop?

The paper today was a back of the tabloid ad spread - very unsavoury subject matter to wrap round a savoury meal. Amid all the lurid small ads was a large ad that caught my eye. Not because of the topless glamour model in it, but because said model was offering to send her "most inimate pictures ever!!!"

Here's a tip, Mr Ad-layout guy: If you're going to use three exclamation marks, at least spell 'intimate' right, otherwise we'll all know where your eye has been wandering to when you should have been concentrating on something else.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Given enough rope...

Scott Adams has been stung by criticism ever since he blogged about Saddam Hussein being hanged. But then calling your post ‘Good Noose from Iraq’, while clever, is likely to attract complaints.

Having said that, NewsBiscuit’s reportage of the ‘outrage’ felt by many Western politicians is equally offensively clever. And it made me laugh like the proverbial drain. Particularly the bit about how the stakes have been upped for 'happy slappers'.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's Day

I got annoyed with the new year coverage on the BBC yesterday. Suddenly New Year's has become a major focus for life-changing-ness hype. "This is it, get ready to wipe the slate clean, here comes a brand new year" etc. etc. in the overstated tone of a match of the day style commentator.

As if we aren't going to face all the old foibles, faults and failures in this new year. And what really gets me is that it's so arbitrary. We've decided that this month of a certain length will, when it ends, herald in a complete new sequence of 12 months of irregular lengths. What exactly are we celebrating? Humanity's capacity to impose some sense of quantifiability on eternity? I guess if we can't control time, then at least we can measure it and pretend to have the upper hand.

That all sounds rather brooding and pessimistic. So, on a less navel-gazing note: I had a better New Year's night than my friend Chezza who got back to her house (Chez Chezza) in the wee small hours to find water pouring down the inside of her window. Here's hoping she gets it sorted soon.