Friday, May 29, 2009

Coming Soon!

Tuesday is the big launch day. Shhhh! I didn't tell you that, okay!


Thursday, May 28, 2009

A word about Star Trek

I'm not a Trekker and get quite offended if people think I am. The only allegiance I have to anything "Star" is to Star Wars, okay. But even so I was quite looking forward to seeing the rebooted Star Trek in the brand new movie.

I was blown away.

This is simply one of the best prequels/remakes I have ever seen.

It captured perfectly the essence of the old TV show that I used to watch on BBC2 while waiting for Dad to come home and for us to have tea. Gone was the po-faced seriousness of the Next Generation and other droning follow-on TV shows. In was the irreverence, the humour, the liveliness, the action that I remembered, only this time dressed up the nines in a big budget special effects extravaganza that only got a bit stupid in one bit - when Kirk is chased by a monster.

Two things stand out. Firstly, if you're going to recast iconic characters, then do it with people who look a bit like them, sound a bit like them and can act a lot like them. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban simply were Kirk, Spock and "Bones". It was spooky. (Although if one more person tells me they keep seeing Sylar from Heroes when they see Spock I think I'll snap. Not everyone watches Heroes.)

Secondly, don't bin off everything that's gone before. And they haven't. Director JJ Abrams et al have cleverly reworked the Star Trek mythos to open up the possibility of boldly going to new worlds all over again in an altered reality that doesn't negate what has happened, but allows for it to be retold. And, Spock calmly uses the Vulcan neck grip. Clever references like that permeate the script, humorously and smartly.

So, in conclusion...
I went to this with two avid Star Trek fans who were equally blown away. The mark of true directorial genius in a situation like this is to keep the keenies interested without offending them, and to win new converts. I am definitely the latter. JJ Abrams, I never thought I'd say this, but at this rate I'm going to be a Trekker.

Jongudmund's rating: 10/10 I defy you not to enjoy it!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hay highlights

We had a Book Group trip to Hay-on-Wye on the Bank Holiday. Here are some highlights...
  1. Seeing Stephen Fry as he hurriedly left the festival, with a glass of red wine in his hand as he departed through the throng.
  2. The envious looks as we unpacked our huge shared picnic in the middle of the festival square.
  3. Manly discussions about manly topics in the 'Man Car'. (The girls got to talk about Twilight and potatoes, apparently.)
  4. Wandering round Hay itself and in and out of bookshops.
  5. Meeting up with former group members, Alan and Rhian, at lunchtime.
  6. Free samples of fair trade fudge.
  7. ...and, strangely, going to a really well-organised event with covered walkways between marquees, posh portaloos, and virtually no mud, was enjoyable in itself. I was thoroughly impressed.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Like a punch to the stomach

Shrewsbury lost 1-0.

To a last minute goal from a dodgy corner.

And as we watched one end of the stadium erupt, their noisy, raucous joy felt like a punch to the gut. We were winded and stunned and we slumped in our seats, morosely succumbing to Wembley defeat.


[Sighs] Ah, well, it'll just have to be fourth time lucky...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The hesitant herpetologist

At a youth planning meeting last night I had the following exchange with Emma, who was suggesting ways of persuading people to grasp our vision.

Emma: "You probably think I'm being manipulative..."

Me: "No, I think you're being wise... like a serpent." (Spot the Bible reference!)

Emma: "Are you calling me a serpent?"

Me: "Well, you know what they say - if the boot fits... well, then you're probably not a serpent."

Hmm, should have thought that last bit through really.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My top 5 bands I want to see live

There’s always time to kill at gigs while you wait for bands, so on Saturday night, as we sat in the floor of the CIA and waited for Counting Crows to come out, Cath and I discussed the best gigs we’ve been to, and then our ‘ultimate gigs’ – the bands we want to see one day.

So, here’s my top-5 wishlist of bands I want to see.

1) The Tragically Hip. They’ve got a new album out – woohoo! I’m so excited. I’ve ordered mine to be flown over from the States. (You too can share the experience – as you can listen to three tracks from it on the website.) The album tour incidentally is only in the US and Canada. Boo.
2) The Killers – as a headline act. I saw them support U2 on the Vertigo tour when they only had songs off Hot Fuss to play. And they were hampered by the fact they were the support act and support acts have to put up with a confined space and a second rate light show.
3) All American Rejects. Because they’re awe-some!
4) The Dixie Chicks. Bit of an odd choice this one, but I kinda like them and I do have a thang for country music.
5) Green Day. I still maintain that American Idiot is a contender for Best Album of the 21st Century (so far). I would love to see them live, although I don’t really fancy the mega-rock arena experience.

One thing I've noticed is that none of them are British. For the record, I think Cath would substitute the Hip for Gin Blossoms, and possibly one of the others for Ben Folds. I may be wrong. I was too busy thinking of mine to pay much attention.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Breaking the curse of the third album

It's a rock cliche that the third album is "difficult". If the first one is well-received, the second one is written while the first album is being promoted and the band still have their feet on the ground. The third album is when it all goes a bit Spinal Tap.

But two bands have really bucked this trend, releasing 'third albums' that I am in love with.

Firstly the All American Rejects new album 'When the World Comes Down' is simply everything that is right with a guitar-based slightly indie-feel album. I loved Move Along - their second album, but the first one I heard. Then I listened to their first album and thought 'Yeah, this is okay, but Move Along is better'. I wasn't really expecting the third album to be any cop at all - it was the 'third album' after all.

Talk about low expectations being completely undeserved. This album is audio magnificence. Personally I think the single 'Gives You Hell' needs a few listens to grow on you. But the tracks around it: 'Damn Girl', 'Mona Lisa', Falling Apart' and the beautiful duet 'Another Heart Calls' would make it onto just about any other album by just about any other band as the stand-out tracks.

And then we have The Killers. I loved their first album. It was on repeat in our kitchen for months. Then their second album came out and I had a new favourite album and felt a bit disloyal for liking the second one more. They couldn't possible pull off that trick again, could they?

Oh, yes they did. Discounting the 'demos and b-sides' compilation Sawdust (well worth a listen by the way), their third album, 'Day and Age', has been a new kitchen mainstay in our house since Christmas. It's very hard for a band to evolve and develop new sounds when their early stuff has been so popular. But somehow Brandon Flowers et al have managed it.

They've also managed to develop a few different styles - the mariachi mildly bouncy "I Can't Stay" contrasts with the stadium rock of "Spaceman" or the dancey "Human" or even the big band blast of the opening track "Losing Touch". Having so many different sounds on one record might alianate a few hardcore fans, but in real terms I think they will give this album staying power in the hearts and minds of fans as it slowly earns legendary status.

And between them AAR and the Killers have thoroughly disproved the myth of the 'difficult' third album. My only worry now is that there's no way they can possibly improve on these.

Or can they?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Counting Crows restore my faith

A few years ago I went to see Counting Crows on the Hard Candy tour in the CIA and left feeling very disappointed. So much so, that I wasn't really looking forward to seeing them on Saturday night. In fact, if we hadn't been bought tickets by my generous sister-in-law, I wouldn't have gone. (Especially as it was in the CIA, a venue I hate.)

But if I hadn't gone I would have missed out on a great gig. Support wise, Oregon band Blind Pilot were pretty good and just quirky enough to be interesting without being pretentious. The other support band, The Hold Steady, weren't much cop, although a fair few people in the crowd seemed to be shouting along with their songs. It didn't help that they seemed to be fronted by an aggressive geography teacher, while the spiv-suited keyboard player was obviously a "character".

The main attraction made a bold choice, opening with a brand new song, which of course no-one knew. They went for an alternative feel on "Mr Jones" which didn't really work, played more songs off This Desert Life than I would have expected, missed out "Angels of the Silences", played great versions of "A Long December" and "Omaha", and finished with an awesome version of "Rain King", which segued halfway through into 'I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends' before seguing back into the last chorus of Rain King for a finale.

The encore - a couple of songs off their new album - was a bit disappointing after that. I always think bands should end on a song everyone knows, but there you go.

So all in all, an interesting set-list delivered with energy and punch. Adam, the singer, seemed to actually be interested and engaged this time around. And it helps that the CIA have installed a much better sound system too (although the acoustics were terrible during the support acts), although I'd still prefer to see them somewhere else really. Somewhere with soul.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Recently seen movies

3D stop-motion animation based on a book by Neil Gaiman (slightly macabre writer) and directed by Henry Selick who directed Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach (ergo, a slightly macabre director). The end result is gothically weird. There's plenty of offbeat humour - like the dead dogs dressed an angels - but overall it's a bit of a horror movie for young 'uns. I wouldn't take small kids to see it, but I enjoyed it.
Jongudmund's rating: 7/10 Well worth a look

Monsters versus Aliens
Hilarious cartoon. An evil alien attacks earth to reclaim a meteor that has transformed an ordinary woman into a 'monster' 50ft version of herself. Spoofing The Fly, The Blob, Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Godzilla-style monster films and just about everything else from those 50s monster movies, I imagine most of the jokes would go over the kiddies' heads. But I laughed a lot, particularly at Bob the Blob voiced by Seth Rogan. It had a bit of a deeper storyline than you normally get from this sort of thing too.
Jongudmund's rating: 8/10 Thoroughly worth it

Tropic Thunder
"Comedy" that falls short on just about everything. A weak storyline based around making a Vietnam war film fails to use the comic genius of several top-rate actors , including Ben Stiller and Jack Black. There is a LOT of swearing in it and far too many in-jokes about film-making and studio bosses that would be funny to people working in Hollywood, but are craply dull to the rest of humanity. Frankly, this is one sick puppy that should have been drowned at birth.
Jongudmund's rating: 1/10 Avoid, avoid, avoid

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
An oldie seen on TV. Given the way profile of Angelina Jolie in the TV spots and billing, she's hardly in it. Which is disappointing as her character is easily the best one. This has the feel of a hammy TV serial from the 60s. The plotline is interesting. There are one or two holes, and several cliched plot 'twists' and conversations.
Jongudmund's rating: 4/10 Mildly diverting. Probably more fun if you fancy Jude Law (I don't)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
The only problem with this is that I kind of guessed/knew all the plot twists before they happened. Of course the British guy was going to sell him out, obviously Mutt was Indy's son, etc. Harrison Ford is always good value and the script had its moments. But this seemed scattergun in its approach to story. It was very episodic and some things seemed to happen because they're the sort of things that happen in Indiana Jones films, not because they added to the plot - like mysterious decorated natives jumping out on Indy and Mutt in a cemetary. Half the time I was left thinking 'Why?'
Jongudmund's rating: 5/10 Watch it if you're an Indy fan

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Doing it the hard way

Shrewsbury are back at Wembley for another shot at play-off glory. But, boy they did it the hard way.

They lost 1-0 at home in the first leg to an own goal.

In the return leg away at Bury they gave away a penalty in the first half. The keeper saved it.

They scored in the 88th minute to level the tie and take it into injury time.

They had a man sent off in the first minute of injury time, so had to play the next half an hour with just ten players.

They hung on and it went to penalties. The Town keeper saved two - including one from Bury's leading scorer.

And Town are at Wembley a week Saturday.

But ironically, they really shouldn't have been in the play-offs at all. Two teams would have finished above Shrewsbury had they not had points deducted this season. So, technically, on the basis of points earned over the course of the year, Shrewsbury are only the ninth best team in the division.

I really have this feeling they are going to win. Because they never do things the easy way.

Monday, May 11, 2009


My normally-coherent friend Cheryl, uttered a classic nonsequitur today:

"My arms really ache. I think I've got irritable bowel syndrome."


(during which time I'm wondering how those two are linked and coming up with a very disturbing, yet plausible, possible reason)

"Er, I mean repetitive strain injury. Ha ha ha."

Fair play, the girl can laugh at herself.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Manly Christianity

There's an interesting story wending its course on my brother Dave's blog, concerning 'men and church'. One commenter (behaving slightly nebbishly) is laying the blame squarely at churchgoing men having a high level of education. Be warned! According to him if you went to church as a child or teen and/or went to university that means you're probably a pooftah or you act like one.

But on a serious note, there is something interesting in the original 'research' that Dave linked to. Men apparently don't like 'wet' churchianity. It's one of those surveys where you see the findings and think 'well, duh!' But then there is a lot of slightly-offputting-to-men stuff going on in churches.

Stuff like the music. There seems to a be a trend in modern hymnody towards 'love songs to Jesus'. The one I find a bit disturbing is one that includes a line "By your side I would lie", which always strikes me as homoerotic. I tried to find it online to reproduce the lyrics here, but couldn't. Instead I found one just as bad:
Closer than my thoughts
Closer than a kiss
How could it be
More intimate than this?

More honest words than these I'll never find.
With all my heart, my strength, my soul, my mind.

I love You, I love You, I'm Yours and You are mine.
I love You, I love You, I love You Jesus Christ.

Let me hear Your voice
Whisper Heaven's song
Deeper into You
Is where I belong

Now here's the thing. I recognise Jesus Christ as my saviour and Lord. I have chosen to follow him. Does that mean I love him? Well, yes, of course. I love Jesus. But - and here's the line that some of these songs seem to cross - I'm not gay for him. But if I'm made to sing that song by an overly sentimental worship leader, it sounds like I am.

And that's one reason why men don't like going to church.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Vaguely racist

We've had the first of the European election leaflets through the door. One is the usual incredibly negative tirade against Labour and the Tories from the "friendly, moderate" (il)Liberal Democrats. The Welsh Liberal Democrat campaigns are always the most negative.

But the other leaflet, from the UK Independence Party (UKIP) was more disturbing. They have one aim - to quit the EU - but it's the way they go about it that is troubling me. Two 'facts' are included on their leaflet. Firstly, "1 in 7 prisoners in the UK are foreigners", followed by "Romanians committed 1,080 crimes in London in 2008".

No context, no defining information. What crimes are we talking about here? Are we talking about Romanian women smuggled into Britain and co-erced into prostitution? Are we talking drug-dealing? Both those crimes require a market. Who is the bigger criminal - the seller or the buyer (who is also breaking the law)?

And on a broader reach - it's said that periods of economic crisis usually give impetus to racist movements. It looks like one political party is happy to stir up racist sentiments in the hope of winning votes.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Book idea - the resurgence of primitive religion

Here's another book idea I've got, based around studies of primitive religious motifs/magic and contemporary culture and religious trends. I've got a few ideas written down somewhere, but I'm not sure where. I can only find notes on two potential chapters. So I'm constructing the following sections mainly from memory:

Return of the Fertility Goddesses
The fetishization of over-sized breasts in our culture, linked to the fertility/grain goddesses of the ancient near east, who are always large-breasted and wide-hipped. The cosmetic search for perfection linking into an ancient represntation of the Divine.

Representative and Sympathetic Magic in a Health Store Near You
The growth of homeopathic remedies aligned to sympathetic magic in shamanistic/druidic cultures and how they both feed off the primitive religious idea that becase a looks like b, a must somehow influence b.

Tribalism and the Shamans Battling Evil on our Behalf
A worked up version of my Is Football a Religion? article published several years ago on a football website (and now no longer online it seems), that identifies players as representatives of the tribe doing battle in an artificial realm against the forces of the 'outsider/other' (the archetypal format of 'evil'). The huge growth in sport as recognisable tribal affiliation over the last few years (including ceremonial tribal vestments ie replica shirts).

Spirituality Without Spiritual Conflict
The rise in 'local gods' and spirit guides, particularly in angelology divorced from the Christian context. Belief in the spiritual but not in forces of good/evil. The moral neutrality of 'being spiritual' paralleling the tribal vision of the spiritual realm which is there to be interacted with, and used by the 'wise'.

The Power of Words
Ironically a powerful sub-theme in the major monotheistic religions - Scripture as a talisman charm to ward off evil in phylacteries, Qu'ranic inscriptions, learning by rote, plastering Bible verses on all sorts of tat. Reference to the 'cursing stone' of Carlisle. The return of a qabbalistic belief in the power of words over a subject.

If I can find my other notes I'm sure I've got enough ideas to make quite an interesting book.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

I don't usually do 'words'...

...and I certainly don't post them on here if I do get a sense of something I should share. But this was something else, and it also marked a milestone for me in that it was the first 'public word' I've given in the church I've been going to for nearly three years.

It was at the Refresh event a week ago, and was confirmed by another 'word' immediately before mine, which scarily gave what I had to say more legitimacy for me.

But first a contextual note: Cathy and I have been reading through the Bible in a year and we're on the freaky apocalyptic books at the end of the Old Testament, which in this One Year Bible parallels Revelation, so that's two doses of apocalyptism in one sitting. Not easy. But anyway, there's a load of stuff in there about "bowls of God's wrath" being poured out upon the nations, in particular Babylon being cast down to the dismay of all those nations that grew rich through trading with her and so on.

As I was sitting in the meeting, I felt a sense of wrath and judgement and a feeling that God's wrath is going to fall on all those nations who had deserted him and had followed false gods and idols, setting up empires in their names. But that God would reach down and cover his chosen with his hand and protect them from the judgement that was coming.

I often mock those 'words' that are given that seem all about flowers and sunshine, mainly because I don't get 'words' like that. I'd like to, but I just don't. In fact the only entirely positive word I can ever remember giving was to my friend Phil at the beginnings of his church plant in North Shrewsbury. (And that came true, NSCC is now a viable church)

So, make of this what you will. I'm not claiming to be a prophet, nor am I claiming that this will come to pass. But if it does, you read it here first. (And it would probably be best to be part of the chosen - my advice, it usually is.)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Book idea - t-shirt theology

Every so often I have ideas that I think would make a great book.

Yesterday I thought about writing a theology book based on various t-shirts I own, starting with my "theologian" t-shirt, then incorporating in no particular order "Got Jesus?", "Love your enemies" (with a pic of the ghosts from Pacman), "Think slowly", "Video games ruined my life - good thing I've got two more lives", "You're worth a lot to me" (pic: Lego Boba Fett), "665 - the neighbour of the beast", "I pulled a princess" (pic: Mario & Princess Peach), "Everyone has the right to be ignorant, but you are abusing the privilege", Darth Vader's anger management, and "It's all fun and games until the flying monkeys attack".

I reckon I could make a theological point on all of those, covering just about all the major doctrines of the faith and a commentary on how they pan out in real life, or not as the case may be. But here's the thing, who would buy the book? More importantly, who would pay me to write it?

Monday, May 04, 2009

Surprisingly alright for an X Men film

I went to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine last night and I have to say I was surprisingly impressed by it. On the one hand retconning any storyline is difficult. Do you scrap it a la Batman Begins, or embrace it and risk ruining it a la the Star Wars prequels?

But this handled it well. It fits into the film storyline, explaining at the end how Logan winds up in X-Men not knowing who he was. The rest of the story is passable. The development of Weapon XI wasn't perhaps as well-thought through as it could have been. I was a bit nonplussed at how casually the film-makers killed off some quite interesting mutants, not to mention passers-by who get in the way. Gone are the days when innocent people survived in Hollywood blockbusters.

Overall, there is something slightly fragmentary about the storyline, and the scriptwriter assumes you know who the hell everyone is. And keep an eye out for a laughable 'cameo' from Professor X at the end, who looks like a jobbing actor wearing a Patrick Stewart mask, or a really bad attempt at a CGI face. Either that or Patrick Stewart needs to cut down on the botox!

Speaking of Patrick Stewart, I saw another Star Trek trailer before the main feature. I've seen three now and they seem to keep getting better. I never thougth I'd admit this on my blog, but I'm starting to feel a bit excited at the prospect of seeing the new Star Trek film. There, I've said it. I can't believe it.

My rating for X-Men Origins: Wolverine: 6.5/10 (Worth a watch, if only for the Star Trek trailer)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Woohoo! Wemberley here we come

Bizarrely, what happens occasionally in football is that the whole season hinges on the final match. Shrewsbury went into today's game at Dagenham two points behind the Daggers, but knowing that if they won they would finish in the final play-off place (occupied by their hosts).

They duly won - only their third away win of the season - leap-frogged Dagenham into 7th and are now two games away from the play-off final at Wembley. So in three weeks time I could potentially be off to Wembley again, if the mighty Shrews can beat Bury over two games.

I reckon we might do it. Stranger things have happened.