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Monday, February 27, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - A Review

It's not a genre of film that I'd usually think too hard about watching from its trailer alone: there were no car chases, spaceships, shootouts, aliens, flux capacitors, Natalie Portmans or orbital slingshot manoeuvres even hinted at. What did attract me, though, was one more thing that I like in a movie: dry British wit.

The premise of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is this: a bunch of previously unconnected old people, including Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton*, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench **, find themselves, after various personal misfortunes, leaving their British lives behind and hightailing it to Jaipur's Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful. Far from the paradise depicted in the brochure, it's a ramshackle ruin with inept but infinitely positive and lovable Sonny (Dev Patel) working in vain to resurrect his father's dream. The bunch, along with Sonny, share experiences that change their views of the world in ways that none of them could have predicted.

The film contains a stream of expertly delivered lines with the comic timing that we've come to expect from the likes of Bill Nighy, and if I had to pick just one genre to fit the film into, it'd be comedy. It's funny from start to finish, with the audience regularly laughing out loud and a refreshing feeling that all the funny bits hadn't been in the trailer. But it's not just funny: each character has their own storyline, their own reason for leaving their life behind. Each of these storylines is compelling and unique, and the characters themselves are wonderfully three-dimensional without the need for silly glasses to see them as such.

Best Exotic explores such themes as homosexuality, casual racism, old-age, death (both of people and of relationships), love and Delhi-belly with maturity and subtlety, and these themes neither detract from nor are hindered by the movie's comedic streak.

A number of my favourite films are British, and this is a shining example of the British film industry doing what it does best: intelligent, funny, emotional and completely watchable comedy drama. It's a reminder that a film can be funny without slapstick; that it can explore edgy topics without shoving them in your face. This one, in my opinion, is a keeper, and may well be the best British movie in quite a while.






* These first two in, essentially, the same roles they played in Sean of the Dead. Well, they're married, at least.
** I struggle to think of this lot as old people even if, according to the figures, they are.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Star Wars in 3D: Is It Worth It?

I went to see Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace - 3D* on Friday. I couldn't find anybody who was willing to go with me, but I went anyway. 29 years before my first solo cinema trip, though, for a loner of my advanced level** must be something of a record.

I have, of course, seen The Phantom Menace*** on the big screen before, having originally been released in 1999, as well as the other two prequels****. I also managed to see The Empire Strikes Back when it was re-released in 1997 (having been originally released two years prior to my own first appearance in 1982).

And I was, of course, disappointed (as any self-respecting Star Wars fan was) that Episodes 1, II & III didn't quite match up to the brilliance of the original IV, V & VI. However, I'm not quite as violent in my dislike of the prequels as many are: they're not bad films, they're just not as good as the original trilogy. It's nice to have some backstory.

Anyway: Star Wars in 3D.

George Lucas has, of course, decided that it's time for a new conservatory and has noticed that the 3D bandwagon would be a perfect one to jump on in order to raise the funds. As a result we have TPM-3D.

I think it's important to note that I'm not an unreserved fan of 3D movies just yet: I've seen a few, including Avatar which I thought was unnecessarily long with the 3D aspect being little more than a gimmick, and Up which was an excellent film but gained nothing from the 3D aspect beyond one or two 3-4 second 'oooh' moments throughout its 96 minute running time. I recognise the potential of the 3D technology, and I look forward to the moment when something truly original bursts forth that just wouldn't be the same in plain old 2D, but I'm firmly in the crowd that sees cinematic 3D as nothing more than a pretty gimmick so far.

Having said that, TPM-3D was the first 3D film I've seen where the 3D aspect did truly appear to add an extra something. George and his special effects elves have certainly thrown a good amount of work and (I assume) money at this venture, and it is definitely rather more than the botch-job I feared would result from retrofitting a movie with a pair of 3D specs.

It must be remembered that TPM wasn't written or filmed with 3D in mind, and this may be why it works so well: Some films, such as Avatar, were written for 3D, and it seems that the storyline suffered as a result- the gimmick took over. Other films, such as Up, were great stories but seem to have had the 3D aspect bolted on at the last minute just to take advantage of the current craze. TPM, however, is a decent movie with good special effects, a generally compelling storyline, Natalie Portman, and a boss who's prepared to chuck big bucks at it and to take the time to make sure that when it bows down to the latest gimmick, it looks damned good afterwards.

Honestly, I turned up because I wanted to see some Star Wars on a cinema screen, with space battle sound effects assaulting me from all directions. The fact that it was in 3D meant nothing more than an increased cost and some silly glasses. When it started, however, and those yellow words began scrolling out from the bottom of the screen, receding into the infinite distance, I had a wow moment. That simple thing looked amazing, and it intensified that spine-tingle that accompanies the beginning of any Star Wars movie.

I occasionally glanced at the movie without the glasses on - most 3D movies are not entirely in 3D (apparently only about 20% of the '3D' version of the last Transformers movie was actually in 3D) - and it seemed to me that which bits to 3D-ify were very well thought out indeed: Some of the space shots really gave a feeling of infinite distance that isn't quite there when you're watching in 2D, and there were a few scenes in which, although the main action (Qui-Gon and Anakin talking about the force, for example) wasn't in 3D (and didn't need to be), there were subtle background effects going on that tickled your senses through the back door*****.

But where do we go from here? My understanding is that Lucas is using TPM-3D to test the water and decide whether to release the other five movies in order to pay for his new swimming pool, extension, double-garage, summer house and guest-bungalow (respectively). This, of course, means that we have to pay extra to wear silly glasses and watch the worst three films in the franchise before we get to the meat-and-two-veg.

Personally, I want to see A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in all their cinematic, multi-channel stereo surround-sound glory, and if that means pandering to George's money grabbing for a couple more years first, then I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to do it. And if they look as good as TPM-3D did, I might even find myself enjoying it.




* That's a mouthful- I'll refer to it as TPM-3D from now on.
** My lonerchloriants are off the chart...
** Hereinafter referred to as TPM.
**** Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005). You can probably figure out the contractions by now.
***** If you'll allow me to so gratuitously mix my metaphors.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Woo and not-woo

In my capacity as chief* blogger at Blogstronomy I get the odd bit of communication now and then. Most often it's a question, which is good, as that's what the point of the blog is: to answer questions about space and everything in it. Sometimes I get offers of syndication that never materialise. Sometimes I get woo thrown at me.

'Woo', in case you're not familiar, is gibberish. Specifically, it's gibberish that tries to claim some kind of credibility in the scientific community but falls flat on its face when tested as it does not predict successfully (or even flatly contradicts) real life happenings. Examples of popular woo include homeopathy, astrology and intelligent design. I've even been sent 'evidence' that the Earth is, despite buckets of evidence to the contrary, the physical centre of the universe. The fact that this 'evidence' was poorly written**, poorly referenced and ignorant of pretty much all of physics beyond the 'apple falls when dropped' stage, seemed to be pretty far from the mind of the guy who, probably frothing at the mouth, sent this stuff to me.

So I was woefully underprepared and more than a little cynical when I received a note from a PR company asking me if I'd like a review copy of a new book about the Higgs boson. "Yeah, yeah," I thought, expecting another frothing, foaming, inflammatory, apostrophe-abusing, fact-deficient twelve-page .pdf file about how the Higgs boson was actually God's fingernail clippings; or that it was an abomination and the evidence for it has been placed by that most evil of all creatures - the scientist; or that believers in Higgs were destined for the same circle of hell as homosexuals, the unmarried and maths teachers for reasons left unspecified, to land in my inbox.

Imagine my surprise when, having accepted the offer of a copy of this new book to review, I actually received a review copy of a new book. A real book. A book with a cover and pages and everything. I was there when the postman pushed it through my letterbox and it went "whump" on the mat. After recovering from this shock I actually dared to look inside and found that it wasn't woo! It had references and diagrams, imaginative chapter headings and even the odd Beatles lyric.

When I picked myself up off the floor, I read it. And then I reviewed it, and posted that review over at Blogstronomy.




* Read: only.
** Anyone who is my 'friend' on Facebook will have experienced my passion with regards to the mistreatment of the common apostrophe.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Lemonade

Who dun stole mah lemonade?
Yes: I am posting a picture of some lemonade. But do not adjust your set just yet, for it is a bottle of lemonade that I find quite interesting*.

The lemonade level, as you can see if you squint, is just below half way up the bottle. This is not odd in itself, but requires the following extra snippets of information:

  • The bottle was bought in a markedly more full sort of state.
  • The bottle cap is still sealed (i.e. it is still attached to the little plastic ring that lets you know if some scrote has opened it in the shop).
  • There are no readily identifiable holes, cuts or other sorts of damage to the bottle.
  • There are no stains, splodges, or stickinesses in the vicinity of the bottle's storage location that may indicate leakage. 
  • The use-by date, in case you're interested, is August 2010.
My primary hypothesis for this occurrence is that the gas dissolved in lemonade and other fizzy drinks in order to make it fizzy has become undissolved. It makes sense that this happens over time- that's how fizzy drinks go flat. What amazes me is the difference in volume. For comparison, there were other bottles in the same cupboard from a similar period of recent history which hadn't changed noticeably in terms of lemonade-level but, when opened, were experienced to be as flat as the proverbial. These were, however, of a different brand.

So I put it to you, my freaky friends who enjoy a conundrum or two: Where's my lemonade gone? Do you think my idea holds water**? Or is something else afoot***?










* You, of course, are free to disagree with me on this. And probably will if past indications regarding things I find interesting and things other people find interesting.
** We've already seen that it doesn't seem to hold lemonade.
*** You may deduct 20 credibility points for each occurrence of the following in your proposal: aliens; 2012; apocalypse; Dr Gillian McKeith; dowsing; Mayans; spiritual; magnetic pole reversal; galactic conjunction.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Top 10 Cartunes: Introduction

They don't make 'em like they used to.

For me a decent TV theme tune tells you something about the show to come. Maybe this is explicit, including a spoken description of the series' premise or a visual montage of its beginnings; maybe it's implicit in the theme and mood of the music itself, and maybe it includes a song with lyrics that relate directly to the show and its themes.

It may be that I'm just getting old, but kids' TV shows today don't seem to have this aspect sorted to the same degree of success that shows in the 80s (when I was growing up) and the 90s (when I was growing up a bit more) seemed to.

So over the next few posts I will be playing you my top 10 kids TV theme tunes. The title, 'Cartunes', is a contraction of 'Cartoon Theme Tunes', but I suspect that these won't all be cartoons- the theme is retro kids' TV in general.

And so this isn't a completely wordy post, here's a video from Youtuber FreddeGedde, who's produced a number of really entertaining and imaginative musical videos on the subject of TV themes:


As we go along, feel free to comment or tweet @TeaKayB use the #tvthemes tag!) with your favourite kids' TV themes- who knows, maybe they're lined up for another post? If I get enough that I haven't included in my top 10 I'll put the ones I like into a 'best of the rest' post at the end!