Monday, July 30, 2007

RE Remakes

I've been diagnosed with viral tonsilitis, so no antibiotics for me, just rest, paracetamol and strepsils.

Between sleeps, I've been taking the opportunity to watch the Battlestar Galactica box set I borrowed a while ago. A few things strike me about the 2004 version compared to the original I remember from when I was a kid. In all these ways, TV has evolved in the past 20 years, not unlike the Cylons.

Gender equality - a good proportion of the lead characters are now women, including a few who were men in the original series (including Starbuck aka Face Man!!) What does this say about our wider culture? It's almost normative now to have mixed-sex combat units, whereas in the early 80s such a concept wouldn't have been filmed. The same development has taken place in the Star Wars prequels, and was there in Starship Troopers, Farscape and the short-lived Space: Above and Beyond. Space warfare is no longer the preserve of men.

Moral ambiguity - in the original series the Cylons were evil and human were generally good, apart from one or two bad eggs. In the new version, humans are morally neutral - they have their ups and downs and even key characters have their flaws. But the Cylons are even more ambiguous. Far from being pure evil, they seem to be trying to recreate humanity. Some Cylon characters are empathetic towards the humans; some are even siding with the humans. The drift of our culture away from a two-tone, right-wrong dualism towards a dialectic with individuals deciding their own moral outcomes is worth noting.

Long pauses - a year or so ago I watched Blade Runner with Irony Boy and we noticed how slow it seemed. Partly this is because it's futuristic film noir, so it should have more in common with a film like Gattaca or Solaris, than a straight action film. But it was still very slow, and if it was remade today the first things which would be cut are the long-visual scenic shots. It would probably end up more like The Island - thoughtful opening, non-stop action from about halfway through, with lots of explosions and ludicrous stunts.

In TV science fiction series, especially those where each story isn't wrapped up neatly in a single episode (a la Doctor Who), you get what I call the Next Generation effect. One of the major flaws with Star Trek: The Next Generation was that not much happened. There was a lot more talking, plenty of cod-philosophy, and lingering moody shots of key characters. Galactica has all this in spades - whether it's the debate about whether Cylons have souls or the contrast between human idolatry and Cylon worship of the 'one true God', it often seems to take an age for anything to happen. But the best episodes are when something does!

Irony - Richard Hatch who played Apollo in the original series appears as an incarcerated freedom-fighter in the 2004 version, and at one point says "So, they call you Apollo?" to the new Apollo, played by Jamie Bamber. Ah, where would the modern remake be without self-referential irony?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Seduced by Facebook

It seems most of my friends have been similarly sucked into the vortex that is Facebook. Unfortunately my blog output has taken a hit as a result because my sneaky online activities in worktime are now more Facebook than blogging. My own personal failing is the Scrabulous application. So far I'm unbeaten.

Got time to play Scrabble online? Send me a challenge. Who knows you might be the first person to beat me!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hazards of doing a good deed

A day in Fair Do's should come with a snack attack warning. Apparently we've run out of fair trade eccles cakes because another member of staff can't stop eating them. But I've discovered the real butter flapjack. Mmmmm.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A writer's legacy

Occasionally people ask me how I got to write for a living. Sheer luck (or divine providence if you don't believe in luck). Sometimes I'm asked how a person could become a writer. I always say 'read books'. Ask a writer what they're currently reading and you'll usually get a list as long as their arm (and only because you can't really carry a pile of books longer than your arm). And it's fairly obvious that people who don't read won't know what works and what doesn't.

My dream is to write more of what I want to write for a living. But I recognise I am lucky in getting to do something like what I want to do. Still we all daydream, don't we.

Thinking about other writers I admire, one of them is George Orwell. A mark of a writer's achievement is the impression you make on the language - in other words your legacy. Orwell managed that with one book: 1984.

I read 1984 when I was about 15 and it remains one of the most affecting books I've ever read. And when you think about the linguistic legacy of the book, you can see how I'm not alone in that. The very title is frequently used to describe a sinister governmental state of affairs: "It's like something out of 1984". The term 'Orwellian' is used exclusively for a dystopic view of the future, or a pessimism about society, based on 1984 (and possibly Animal Farm, to be fair), but not for any of his other stuff.

And of course, Big Brother. Inescapable at the moment in terms of TV, but also in terms of CCTV. There are 20 million CCTV cameras in the world and 4 million of them are in Britain. That's one camera for every 14 people. 20% of the world's CCTV footage is of me and my fellow Brits going around our daily business. (And worryingly, the Big Brother who watches us doesn't stop people blowing themselves up on the underground or ramraiding airports. No wonder the conspiracy theorists conclude the government is in on it.)

At least one other TV show takes it's name from 1984: Room 101. It takes a certain kind of genius to take the fabled torture room where you are made to face your worst fears and turn it into light televisual entertainment. But I think Orwell would have enjoyed the irony. And it was quite a decent show, even if the first presenter was replaced with no explanations. (It's just like something out of 1984.)

And try and read a quality newspaper (or even the Daily Mail) for a week without running across the phrases 'thought police' or 'doublethink' (the art of holding two contradictory viewpoints at the same time).

So the big question is, did naming these concepts so many years ago mean they couldn't insidiously develop. What George Orwell gave the world was epithets to describe the erosion of civil liberties and government duplicity. When his labels are applied to circumstances, it reveals them for what they are. Is his legacy really the freedom to name and shame tyranny?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Knocked Up

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by watching Transformers twice in a week, but this free preview was one of those where at the end you think ‘That wasn’t worth it.’

The premise of the film – intelligent TV presenter gets knocked up after a one night stand with a weed-smoking goofball, decides to keep the baby and along the way falls in love with said goofball – offers fewer laughs than you’d expect. Unless you’re the kind of person who finds cinematic depictions of people getting high an absolute riot. In which case, you’re in luck as the stoners seems to get stoned every couple of minutes.

The problems with this movie are manifold. Firstly there’s the knowing references to other films. One minute you see a poster for Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, the next, two main characters decide to go to Las Vegas and eat magic mushrooms. That’s one of the subtler references.

Then there’s the wider cast and sub-plots involving the other characters. Most of them could have been dispensed with to make this a tighter storyline. The first half an hour is excruciatingly dull. Distil it into five minutes and the film would still be forty minutes or so too long. A script editor would have helped, especially one with a bigger vocabulary. Profanities in movies don't usually bother me, unless they become tiresome in their regularity.

The two leads, played by Seth Rogan and Katherine Heigl are quite good, but only Paul Rudd, who seems to have lost a few pounds since he romanced Phoebe in the last series of Friends, emerged with any real credit from the wider cast, although the kids playing his daughters were funny. The birth scene at the end is believable and explicit – and is credibly acted (and scarily horrible). But it takes a helluva long time to get there.

There ain't much of a moral to this story, except maybe 'don't have sex when you're drunk, and if you do, try to remember to use a condom'. Oh, and 'never walk into a room where a woman is giving birth, even if they are screaming.' But apart from that, the bigger lesson to be learned from Knocked Up is how not to do a movie.

Jongudmund’s verdict: Wait for it to appear on telly, but I bet you’ll switch channels halfway through. 4/10.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

You have to watch this!

Irony Boy sent me the link to this video, which goes to show how having too much time on your hands ain't necessarily a bad thing. I particularly like Lego Chewie's entrance.

The parable of the bridge

In the depths of the valley, the tribe of little people lived under the bridge.

It was comfortable under there – nice and dry, with water nearby. Everybody pretty much agreed life under the bridge was almost perfect. In fact, no one could imagine what life was like away from the safety and the shelter of the bridge.

One or two members of the tribe had wandered out. The ones who came back said it was horrible out there. They’d felt lost and alone, ended up dirty and worn out, and so had come back to the safety of life under the bridge. Now they could wash themselves clean, rest, and recover from their ordeals in the loving company of their tribe family.

Some little people who wandered away never came back. The elders of the tribe muttered darkly that the wanderers had died, or gotten so lost they could never return. They issued dire warnings to anyone who even thought about leaving the safety of the bridge. “Be careful!” they said. “The bridge is what we know. The bridge is the only place where you can be safe. The bridge is the perfect place for us to live.”

Generations passed and, with each new generation, the younger members of the tribe would grow accustomed to the warnings of the elders, and start to wander out from under the bridge in curiosity. The elders’ warnings grew direr. They spoke of hideous monsters waiting to devour any who ventured away from the safety of the bridge. They spoke of torments and ravenings, of the madness and misery that awaited any who ventured away from the safety of the bridge.

The tribe of little people grew afraid to even think of leaving the safety of the bridge. If any thought such an unthinkable thing, they were loath to admit to it, and the very few who admitted to it were hushed by their family and clan members. Soon it was taboo to even admit there was a world other than under the bridge.

But there was one young member of the tribe, called Sprog. He wasn’t the tallest warrior, or fastest runner, or the cleverest artisan. His teachers used to call him the daydreamer, because he always seemed to be thinking about something he wasn’t supposed to be thinking about.

One day Sprog went to see the elders. Standing in their Circle he addressed his supplication to Vinder, the wisest and most wizened of the tribal elders. “Excuse me, elder,” said Sprog politely. It took Vinder a while to realise Sprog was talking to him because he was profoundly deaf. Eventually he said ‘Eh? What d’you want, lad?”

“I want to ask a question,” said Sprog.

“Go ahead,” said Vinder.

“We live under this bridge,” began Sprog. “And you elders tell us this is all we know, and this is the place where we’re safe and so we must never leave it…”

“Yes,” said Vinder.

“But, I’ve been thinking. When we build a bridge across one of the little streams, we walk across it. So, if this is a bridge like our bridges, it wasn’t built for living under, it was built for walking across.”

The elders were silent for a very long time.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Just as good the second time around

Went to see Transformers again tonight - on another free ticket. I was expecting 'second screening syndrome' where you see the continuity gaps, spot wider plot holes etc. I'm happy to say the film went even more quickly and I was carried along with it. This is also one of the few films where the score would probably be worth buying - I really noticed the heroic music pumping at key points in the film.

The only problem now is my car doesn't seem as cool any more. Cathy chided me the other day when I said that, pointing out my alloyed up Golf is still a nice car. But it's not a robot. Sigh.

If you haven't hocked your first born yet to buy a ticket, you'll have to wait til the general release on Friday. Still, gives you a couple of days to get some bids on the kids on eBay.

Friday, July 20, 2007



I kept nudging Cathy throughout with comments like "It's Bumblebee, it's Bumblebee!" or "It's Optimus Prime!" And she kept telling me to shut up and stop being such a saddo. At the end I turned to Cathy and said: "I think this just might be my new favourite film!" She said: "Seriously?" Perhaps it's more of a boy thing.

In case you loved Transformers as a kid and are afraid the big screen version is going to stuff things up, don't worry. Everything you could want is in there, including in-jokes ("They must be Japanese!"), amazing special effects, humour, decent acting (despite slightly corny scripting), heroism, explosions, screeching tyres, and good triumphing over evil.

Or to put it another way: it's full of cool cars and then they become robots. What more could you want?

Plus they've left the ending open for a sequel. On the basis of the first one, I'm already excited at the prospect of seeing more.

Go and see it. Seriously - get thee to a cinema!

Jongudmund's rating: 10/10

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Shrek 3

Saw this a while ago, but haven't got round to reviewing it til now.

Well, what can you say about a third instalment of a film series that won't be said anywhere else? As a film it's OK. Not a patch on the original but with a few good laughs And when I say few I mean few. One sequence, where a fearful dad-to-be Shrek feverishly dreams he's being assaulted by zillions of ogre baby shreks is funny for the first few seconds, then it gets boring.

The problem with Shrek 3 is that you know the characters and so this feels a bit like one of those circular letters which arrive in Christmas cards from people you haven't heard from since last Christmas. You can read them and find out what's happening in their lives, but realistically, if you don't read them your life won't be any poorer.

Jongudmund's rating: 6/10

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The season starts early

I was one of the 3,000+ who turned up at Shrewsbury's new stadium to watch Town take on the A-Line Allstars. Because it was their first match at the new ground they couldn't fill it to capacity anyway for safety reasons, but they were hoping for 6,000. Although the first thing you learn in economics a-level is that price determines demand. £12 to see a collection of fading pros and Macclesfield Town trainees is perhaps a bit steep.

Still we could marvel in Gianfranco Zola's silky skills as he deftly swept the ball around League 2 defenders. It looked as if he'd somehow magnetised it to follow his foot obediently, and he could easily be the best player playing at our level if we could somehow tempt him out of retirement. Besides Zola, who is arguably the most skillfull footballer ever to grace Gay Meadow, Graeme Le Saux, Gustavo Poyet, Gianluca Festa and 48-year old Mickey Thomas added a bit of fun and star quality to the occasion. Ex-town legends Mickey Brown, Steve Cross and Tony Kelly also made it onto the pitch.

For those interested in results, Town won 4-0, with two of the goals scored by triallists my die-hard brother had never heard of. But who knows, they just might become household names in Shrewsbury by this time next year.

You can see photos in my Facebook photo album.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Hold on... I've heard that before

Driving into work this morning I heard the new Razorlight single called 'Hold On'. I'm pretty sure I could knock together a 'concept CD' of songs called 'Hold On'. There's a track on Good Charlotte's first album called it, and Jet did an amazing song on the Spiderman 2 soundtrack (for the bit where Spidey doubts himself and has to wrestle with his inner demons). Back in the day I had an Apollo 440 single with a b-side called Hold On (2 What U Got). By way of contrast, there was even a Christian song which leant it's name to a Vineyard collection.

So, that's 5 before I even start looking. Anyone know any more off the top of their heads?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Church Review: St Mary the Virgin, Haddenham

I've often been asked if I'm a mystery worshipper for Ship of Fools, but I've always thought the reviews on there are often a bit naff. The site as a whole is kind of cliquey and I don't really feel like I fit. But, on Sunday we did go to a different church than normal, so I thought I'd review it.

Venue: St Mary the Virgin, Haddenham

Service-wise it was a simplified Anglican Communion, using a prepared liturgy which cut out some of the more florid language. Being a fairly full church on Sundays, this slimming down meant there was plenty of time for everyone to go up and get communion (and kids received a blessing which I thought was kind of nice), without the service feeling like it went on forever.

The preach was quite good too. The Rev Chris Denham started by contrasting the recruiting posters for World War 1, and the patriotic jingoism which ensued, with Churchill's 'blood, sweat and tears' speech at the beginning of World War 2.

He then commented on the kind of story you read in Alpha News where someone has lost their job, their marriage is falling apart, their kids are on drugs and they're contemplating suicide until they're invited on an Alpha Course and everything falls into place. He made it quite clear he wasn't knocking Alpha - in fact, his church runs a couple of courses a year. But his tongue-in-cheek comments weren't too wide of the mark. When compared to the text for the day, Jesus' harsh promise to anyone who would be his disciple, Alpha News is World War 1 recruitment. Jesus is echoed more by Winston Churchill.

It was a good point, well made, with a minimal amount of jargon to reinforce the point that being a disciple is both wonderfully life-changing and at the same time a hard road to follow. And, another plus was that he made his point, then got on with the rest of the service. He didn't belabour the subject, which a few preachers should learn.

Musically, it was a mix. One old hymn I didn't know, but it was OK. Mainly modern music songs but none of the 'trying to play a song written for guitars on an organ' you sometimes get. The pews were hard, but they can't rip them out because they've got medieval carvings on the pew-ends. Which summed up the general limitations of the church, but also it's strengths, in that in a place where God has been worshipped for centuries you get the sense of being part of something bigger than whatever is happening now.

Preach: 8/10
Music: 7/10
Surroundings: 9/10 for look, 2/10 for pews

And finally... kudos points for having toy bags hung on the end of certain pews to try and keep the kids occupied. It nearly worked.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Writers and editors

The next issue of the magazine is pretty much done from a writing point of view. Now it’s in for editing – a hugely important part of the process. I used to hate having copy I’d written neatened up by an editor, but over time you kind of get immune to it. And recently I’ve been reflecting on how it’s very useful to have someone cast a critical eye over what you write and make sure it’s tidied up.

It’s easy to spot the moment when a writer, or other creative, stops listening to the editor and begins to believe his or her own hype. Here are a few examples…

Example #1 JK Rowling
I risk the ire of Clare for daring to comment on the great JK, but truth to tell her books were better when they were edited to a readable length. But after ‘the Prisoner of Azkaban’, Rowling went stratospheric and no editor was going to tell her ‘look, love, you’ve got to cut this down a bit.’ Cue ‘Goblet of Fire’, which seemed to go on and on and had one of the most ridiculously unlikely twists at the end involving a character who was actually someone else in disguise.

Then the films came out and Harry Potter was suddenly accessible to the majority non-reading population. And JK Rowling decided at this point that she could write epics.

But she can’t.

At least, not if ‘Order of the Phoenix’ is anything to go by. A good editor would have cut about a third to a half of the 500+ pages, got rid of the side stories which added nothing to the basic tale, and produced a good book as a result. Instead all the lickle kiddies had to wade through pages of turgid filler to get to the good stuff. It was so bad I haven’t read book 6 and won’t be reading book 7 either.

Example #2 Oasis
Oasis’ first album remains one of the pinnacles of British rock. It’s got everything – soaring, powerful guitar riffs, Liam’s rock and roll snarl, clever lyrics, all wrapped up in a bundle of decent songs.

But then the Britpop bubble expanded, with Oasis at the centre. I didn’t personally like their second album as much, although it did contain the still-hummable Wonderwall, and one or two other classics. But they were more into slagging off their rivals, saying offensive things in NME, partying and sacking drummers by this point. With nobody around to rein them in, because they were Oasis and weren’t going to be told what to do by anyone, they were able to set their artistic sides free. And what have they done since? Absolutely naff all.

Example #3 George Lucas
Let’s not get into the ‘how did the prequels go so wrong’ discussion here. But let’s ask the question, why does George Lucas feel the need to go back and rework his original films? Not only did he stick a load of stupid animals into the Mos Eisley scenes for cheap laughs in Star Wars, he completely cheesed up the end of Jedi, and hashed up Sy Snootles’ best musical number ever with an annoying new character called Yuzzum.

Then to add insult to injury, in the special edition DVD set he replaced Jeremy Bulloch’s voice in Empire Strikes Back with the antipodean twang of the guy who played Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones.

But of course, Lucas is never one to miss a marketing trick. So, just when you thought you’d bought your last set of Star Wars DVDs, he releases a new set which contain the original versions as well as the ‘remastered’ (insert your own suitable description here) versions. Then he has the cheek to say "I don’t know why anyone would want to watch the original versions…" Because they’re better, George, that’s why. Now why don’t you go and get funky with the original cut of Howard the Duck or Willow.

Example #4 Peter Jackson
You take Lord of the Rings’, one of the most loved books ever written in the English Language. You manage to turn it into three films, which amazingly please the die-hard fans of the book and your average cinema-goer. Now the world is your oyster. You could do pretty much anything you want to.

You go and re-make King Kong…

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Another new alias

I'm a man of many faces,
Known by many names...

...names like Kevin.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Not such a great special offer

Feeling a bit low today so when we popped down to Asda I bought myself a packet of sweets, costing 44p. On the bag it declared "3 bags for £2!"

Either it was a typo or Asda assume their shoppers are thick.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Recently Cath and I were sitting outside our friends' new house waiting for them to come back. And while we did so we were flicking through a pile of hymn books, like you do. In this case, it was to try and find nice hymns for a wedding.

One of the books - 'World Praise' of the Mission Praise ilk - had an international section which meant a number of very popular songs and hymns were published in English, Spanish and German. Being a cultured internationalist, and uniquely gifted singer to boot, I was soon regaling my wife with well-known songs in German. True, I have no idea how to pronounce German words, but we had the car windows open and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to make a good impression on our friends' new neighbours by singing hymns in German very loudly. Who knows there may have been a German speaker within earshot who heard my singing and fell to their knees in prayer and supplication begging God to make it stop.

And, just so readers of this blog don't feel left out, here's one of the songs. See if you can guess what it is...
Der Himmel zeugt
von der Herrlichkeit des Herrn der Herr'n.
Wer ist ihm gleich,
dem einzig Auferstandenen?
In Ewigkeit bist du
das Lamm auf Gottes Thron!
Ich beuge meine Knie
und bete an den Sohn.