Saturday, May 26, 2012

Once in a lifetime?

The Olympic torch relay came through Grangetown this morning. I got up to see it carried down Corporation Road at 6.30am. There was an entourage convoy, with people saying 'Hello Cardiff Bay'. Which was a bit disappointing. Once you cross the bridge it's Grangetown!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Big furry film and DVD round up

Had the luxury of seeing a few films recently, so here are some reviews - starting with one we saw in the most apt cinema ever.

Being Elmo
This is a documentary about Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who pretty much created the character of Elmo on Sesame Street. Despite the title, it was more about the man behind (or inside) the muppet, rather than about Elmo. His obvious love for his craft and for the character that is really a part of his soul is evident throughout, and his story of achieving his dream of joining the luminaries of the Jim Henson Company, including the late Jim Henson himself.

We saw the film in a most suitable location - Sinema 2 at Chapter Arts Centre, a room that is decked out in a very Elmo shade of red. The seats were very comfortable too.

As a documentary I'd really recommend it. It's an encouraging story about how if you love something really enough to pursue it as a dream, then you can make it. Seeing Kevin giving a tour of the studio to a small kid with a similar love and fascination of puppetry at the end of the film was touching - as he passed on his secrets, hints and tips to possibly the next Sesame Street wunderkind.

Jongudmund's rating: 8/10

Captain America: The First Avenger
I've been wanting to watch Captain America since it came out last year, partly because I really liked Chris Evans in The Losers, and partly because it looked cool. I've enjoyed how they have been setting up for the full Avengers movie that is in cinemas now, but actually taking the time to set the scene. It struck me today that what I really appreciate is that they've gone and made the prequels first. (I know, that means they aren't technically prequels, but you know what I mean!)

So, this is the Captain's back story, as he battles the villainous Red Skull, head of the Nazi Hydra organisation, during World War II. Chris Evans and Tommy Lee Jones are excellent, as is Hugo Weaving as Red Skull. The story is cogent and very well-executed. Marvel movies seem to be absolutely top drawer these days - ever since Iron Man. The script is witty and understated, and I really enjoyed it, although (spoiler alert) the denouement is a bit of a downer, which made the film quite melancholic.

On the DVD there is also a very interesting extra about the Captain America costume. I did like how they included the classic Captain America look into the movie, and allowed it to naturally evolve into something that looked 'real'. Marvel are clever at referencing the original comic book look and feel, and I'd go as far as saying this film is almost the perfect comic book adaptation. (Although not quite as perfect as Hellboy.)

Jongudmund's rating: 8/10

And so, on to my other pre-Avengers catch-up: Thor. I knew very little about the Thor backstory, so I was glad that this film really got into it quickly.

There was an added bonus as well, with Natalie Portman as a rather glamourous scientist who gets caught up in the craziness of Thor's quest to find true heroism while exiled to Earth. I like Natalie Portman and will watch pretty much anything with her in (even the Phantom Menace!), so to find out she was in this was a real plus. Anthony Hopkins was very good as Odin as well.

So now I know the stories of Thor and Captain America, I can get on and watch The Avengers Assemble (or whatever they change the title to next), but I would say Thor is worth watching on its own terms. Again Marvel have got a pretty good script, it's interesting to see how they meld comic book fantasy in with Norse mythology, and there aren't too many overblown headache-inducing action scenes. A good all-round film, with some interesting stuff about what makes a hero heroic.

Jongudmund's rating: 7.5/10

I sawthe trailers for this and was quite excited by it. Bradley Cooper is very watchable. It had Robert De Niro in. And it seemed an interesting concept - if you could take a pill that would make you superhuman, would you? So, with all that in place for the film, what could go wrong?

Well, quite a bit actually. There is one classy bit of filmwork - before Cooper's character takes the magic pill the world is washed out and grey. Afterwards, everything is in bright technicolour, as if he's landed over the rainbow in Oz. And that's where the cleverness stops. The big problem is that most of this film is narrated - e.g. a threatening underworld type menaces Cooper and he tells us in a needless voiceover.

It's not that he's got a boring voice, but eventually I grew tired of it because it felt like I was listening to a long rambling anecdote. While it's an interesting concept - you take a pill that allows you to use the bits of your brain you don't normally use to become mush more smarter and perceptive, the protagonist goes off and plays the stock markets with his new found talents. It's hard to make that interesting. And De Niro grimaces his way through his few lines like someone doing an unconvincing impression of Robert De Niro.

So, all in all, it was a bit of a snore off. And (spoiler alert) it does contain a rather gross scene involving blood and use of a hypodermic needle as a close combat weapon. So be warned.

Jongudmund's rating: 4.5/10

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday, May 04, 2012

Paris - Day 4 (the voyage home)

We had a final morning in Paris, so we went shopping.

I found an arcade of stamp shops (the Passages du Promenades). Yes, I bought something.

We were also the first customers of the day in this creperie. I had a crepe au sucre et citron.

The thing about Paris is is seems every street you walk down has some sort of massive monument. Arches are everywhere.

I liked the cheeky lion on this one.

But it was time to leave. In a station cafe I had this lemonade. It tasted better than you'd think, given the name.

There were a pantheon of trains at the Gare du Nord, including several TGVs.

But back at an English station, Cathy met a celebrity!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Paris - Day 3

Day 3 was a long one. But we started it well with pastries from the bakery.

This photo doesn't really do them justice.

We went to Ile de la Cite and visited Notre Dame. There was a massive queue, so we just walked around it instead of going inside.

The rear is as ornate as the front.

There's a bridge to the Left Bank that has become a popular place to leave a padlock with your name on - a modern-day folk ritual.

The bridge of padlocks does afford some good views back to the cathedral, though.

That evening we went to see the light show on the Eiffel Tower.

It had been raining, which came in handy to get a double view of the monument.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Paris - day 2

The next day we discovered arguably the best thing about our apartment - it was above an award-winning bakery. We managed to visit five times in three days. The pastries were amazing!

"Our" boulangerie. It has ruined eating pastries in this country for me.

We went to the zoo. The Paris Menagerie is one of the oldest in Europe. During the French Revolution the starving inhabitants of the besieged city ate all the animals. They have since restocked...


...with mad flamingoes...

...and friendly hippos.

Well, some of them are friendly.

We got soaked at the zoo, so we went back to the apartment, dried out and then decided to stay indoor. Galleries Lafayette is the kind of shop they only really build in Paris.

This was the stained glass domed roof!

 The sun came out for a bit, so we went back out - to the Champs Elysee.

The cultural  sensitivity of big corporations was in evidence in the McDonald's.

We walked up the Champs Elysee and saw the Arc de Triomphe. That's three of the big four landmarks done in just two days.

 It's a big arch (he said, unnecessarily!)

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Paris - Day 1

In celebration of my sister-in-laws impending big 4-0, four of us took a four-day trip to Paris at the end of April. Here are some photos from our trip.

 Breakfast started with the obligatory croissant
So we went exploring - this street leads down to the Vendome, commemorating Napoleon's victories

At the Tuileries Gardens we got our first sight of La Tour Eiffel

Cathy and I went into the Orangerie - the museum purpose built by Claude Monet to house his giant Waterlilies canvasses

 Then we went to the Louvre - this is the glass pyramid outside

We crossed the river and rode a double-decker underground train to get close to the Eiffel Tower

Did you know Cathy does impressions?
Stealing a kiss in the city of love

Then we walked down the Champs du Mars to the Peace Monument. It's missing a piece on the left there