Archive for the ‘Films’ Category

Well, the Christmas decorations are back in their boxes and up in the attic for another year. So, that’s it for 2012, but these two will be back next Christmas as a reminder of what a year it was.

So I guess this is about as late as a review of 2012 can be posted, right? Okay, some lists and photos coming up, no great insights. If I had any of them I’d have posted them at the relevant time.

The You-Know-What Games

I started work at Visit London back in April 2005, so I’d been there just three months when we won the 2012 Olympics. The next seven years were all building up to that event. Was it worth it?

Yes. I was lucky in the ballot of tickets and got two lots of Athletics tickets – morning sessions, “just” heats, but I got to see both Jessica Ennis and Mo Farrah in action.

More photos of my London 2012


After the games were over Lettice and I had a holiday in Bath – I’ve never been before. Loved it – the Roman Baths, loved the American Museum, loved the Postal Museum, everything.

More photos of Bath


For books, see the last post. Museums and art, apart from all the stuff in Bath, I went to Mapping the Underground at the London Transport Museum, Bronze at the Royal Academy and the Crossrail archaeology exhibition.


I managed five trips to the cinema, more than in the last few years. The Iron Lady, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Prometheus, Avengers and Skyfall. They are all films that reinvent icons. Is that a theme at the moment?


I also manged six trips to the theatre. Noises Off, The Ladykillers, One Man, Two Guvnors, Timon of Athens, Hedda Gabler and Chrous of Disapproval.


Adam Ant at the Fairfield halls! Also saw Ben, Howie, et al at the Surya; and The Life and Death at the Cavendish Arms – first time I’ve actually seen Justin play live in the ten years I’ve known him.

And the rest

I joined the 21st century and bought a smart phone. After seeing me get very lopsided carying my old SLR around Bath, Lettice bought me a new camera for Christmas. And as I replaced my PC last Christmas, I’ve had a near complete technological upgrade this year. Still no jetpack though.

For my birthday, Lettice took me to East London – Mudchute City Farm, the new cable car across the Thames, and treasure house that is the Who Shop. I love this crazy city where you have a World War II anti-aircraft gun in the middle of a farm, within sight of the towers of high finance.

Well, come on 2013. So far you’ve been full of stress, germs and broken boilers. Let’s see if you can do better?

As a follow-up to Desert Island Discs, the team at work have been doing our top ten films, and this week was my turn. The only condition was that one of the ten had to be set in London. Once again, I’ll be buggered if I’m writing all this lot up and not turning it into a blog post.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

I remember watching this, aged about 8, sitting on the floor at school during one of our headmaster’s film nights. As most people know, it’s Shakespeare’s Tempest mixed with a bit of Freud and set in outer space. The special effects contain some real “how did they do that back then?” moments. And notice that the starship is a flying saucer and the crew are all men – that was the status quo in almost all science fiction back then and would be for another ten years, until Star Trek rewrote the rules. The “sequel” is also well worth seeing 😉

Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966)

My London film. Well the first half is set in 22nd century London (that looks awfully like 1960s London).
This is the second of the two Peter Cushing Doctor Who films, big(-ish) budget, technicolour, remakes of the first two Dalek TV stories. To be honest I prefer the TV version – the scenes of Daleks patrolling an abandoned London are much more atmospheric in B&W. But this film is more important because this was repeated on telly almost every summer holiday from the mid-70s onwards so several generations of Doctor Who fans grew up with this version in their childhood memories. So much so, that at least one later TV episode references events as they took place in the film, not the original.

The Italian Job (1969)

(Also got some London bits) I haven’t seen the remake. Why would I want to?

Kelly’s Heroes (1970)

Just a private enterprise operation.

The Sting (1973)

Probably the best confidence trick movie ever. And parts of it are ripped off by almost every episode of Hustle.

Star Wars (1977)

I am a member of the Star Wars generation. This film came out at the exact moment in my childhood for me to be hooked. And that’s why we have the original here, not the “more grown-up” The Empire Strikes Back. This was when George Lucas knew how to have fun, before CGI, before the “expanded universe”, before we all became cynical.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

There have been 11 Star Trek movies to date. Some of them are rubbish; some of them are good fun; two of them are really quite splendid. This is the film that saved Star Trek. After the worthy but dull and expensive Star Trek The (Slow) Motion Picture, this is the film that remembered that Trek should be fun and brash and really over acted. This is the film that gave us some of the finest Shatnerisms. (Including, of course, Khaaaaaan! )

Aliens (1986)

I think that the Special Edition of this was the first film I owned on video tape. An incredibly influential film – twenty years later and films, comics, computer games are still playing with variations of the future-war look created here. “I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”

The Usual Suspects (1995)

This was from a period when I was going to the cinema a lot and seeing a lot films that have really stuck in my mind (Unforgiven, Apollo 13, Once Were Warriors, Quiz Show, Strange Days, Ed Wood) but this one stands out. Repeated viewings are about spotting clues and inconsistencies but if you saw it first without any spoilers, watching the story unfold without knowing how what came next was something special.

Hot Fuzz (2007)

(Also got some London bits) Best British film of the decade? If you grew up in the home counties, where winning village of the year was a big deal, then parts of this film are worryingly accurate…

The new Star Trek film rocks.

Everything that mattered was right, and many of the things that didn’t matter as well (they even did the sideburns).

However, I have a problem with Scotty, it’s quite simply that Simon Pegg + scottish accent = Wee Hughie from The Boys and that brings to mind all sorts of very strange crossovers.

So I found this file, last modified 10 June 1997, on a set of back ups and it’s a pub quiz that I ran in Balliol bar. In fact considering the date I suspect that this is the night that Lettice first clapped eyes on me and thought “nice guy, shame about the jumper”.

People on Facebook and Twitter said that they wanted to see the quiz, so here goes.

Read the rest of this very true thing…

Earlier today, for reasons best known to herself, linked to the Wikipedia page on Allen Keys. In the sidebar they have diagrams of various shapes of screw head. One of them is the Bristol head:

Remind you of anything? How about The Empire (from Star Wars for the culturally ignorant…):

Seen the pics from the new Star Trek film yet? Spoilers ahoy ‘cos here are the treknical ones…

Hands up who thinks that this ship looks like it should be an intermediate stage between the movie-era Enterprise and the Ambassador class? I can hear the fanboys screaming…

So this is the USS Kelvin, destroyed some time before the main timeframe of the movie. NCC-0514. Hmm, I want to see more. And, on the really pedantic level, how does this fit into the same registry scheme that includes the NCC-638 USS Grissom form ST III?

And has it really been four years since I updated my Star Trek ships web site? Ouch.


Via . Below is the Entertainment Weekly’s list of 100 Classic Movies of the past 25 years. Bold the ones you’ve seen, underline the ones you plan to.

  1. Pulp Fiction (1994)
  2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03)
  3. Titanic (1997)
  4. Blue Velvet (1986)
  5. Toy Story (1995)
  6. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
  7. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
  8. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  9. Die Hard (1988)
  10. Moulin Rouge (2001)
  11. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
  12. The Matrix (1999)
  13. GoodFellas (1990)
  14. Crumb (1995)
  15. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
  16. Boogie Nights (1997)
  17. Jerry Maguire (1996)
  18. Do the Right Thing (1989)
  19. Casino Royale (2006)
  20. The Lion King (1994)
  21. Schindler’s List (1993)
  22. Rushmore (1998)
  23. Memento (2001)
  24. A Room With a View (1986)
  25. Shrek (2001)
  26. Hoop Dreams (1994)
  27. Aliens (1986)
  28. Wings of Desire (1988)
  29. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
  30. When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
  31. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
  32. Fight Club (1999)
  33. The Breakfast Club (1985)
  34. Fargo (1996)
  35. The Incredibles (2004)
  36. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
  37. Pretty Woman (1990)
  38. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  39. The Sixth Sense (1999)
  40. Speed (1994)
  41. Dazed and Confused (1993)
  42. Clueless (1995)
  43. Gladiator (2000)
  44. The Player (1992)
  45. Rain Man (1988)
  46. Children of Men (2006)
  47. Men in Black (1997)
  48. Scarface (1983)
  49. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
  50. The Piano (1993)
  51. There Will Be Blood (2007)
  52. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988)
  53. The Truman Show (1998)
  54. Fatal Attraction (1987)
  55. Risky Business (1983)
  56. The Lives of Others (2006)
  57. There’s Something About Mary (1998)
  58. Ghostbusters (1984)
  59. L.A. Confidential (1997)
  60. Scream (1996)
  61. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
  62. sex, lies and videotape (1989)
  63. Big (1988)
  64. No Country For Old Men (2007)
  65. Dirty Dancing (1987)
  66. Natural Born Killers (1994)
  67. Donnie Brasco (1997)
  68. Witness (1985)
  69. All About My Mother (1999)
  70. Broadcast News (1987)
  71. Unforgiven (1992)
  72. Thelma & Louise (1991)
  73. Office Space (1999)
  74. Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
  75. Out of Africa (1985)
  76. The Departed (2006)
  77. Sid and Nancy (1986)
  78. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
  79. Waiting for Guffman (1996)
  80. Michael Clayton (2007)
  81. Moonstruck (1987)
  82. Lost in Translation (2003)
  83. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)
  84. Sideways (2004)
  85. The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)
  86. Y Tu Mamá También (2002)
  87. Swingers (1996)
  88. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
  89. Breaking the Waves (1996)
  90. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
  91. Back to the Future (1985)
  92. Menace II Society (1993)
  93. Ed Wood (1994)
  94. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
  95. In the Mood for Love (2001)
  96. Far From Heaven (2002)
  97. Glory (1989)
  98. The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)
  99. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
  100. South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut (1999)

Went to see 10,000 BC this afternoon. Oh boy, history, biology, geography, astronomy – they all get a hammering in this film. I can’t be bothered to even start listing everything that was goofy here.

It was one of the most by-the-numbers renditions of (the easy to understand bits of) Joseph Campbell’s monomyth that I’d seen in a while. I smiled at the bemusement when hunter-gatherers first came across the evidence of agriculture, but of course in Campbell’s scheme there has to be a ‘boon’ to take back home at the end (sorry, that was a spoiler). There were also bits lifted from the Bible, Stargate, Conan and 300, just in case the mention of Campbell misled you into thinking there were highbrow sources being used.

The action and CGI were very good, the actors managed to keep straight face. It’s not a bad movie in the sense that it’s exciting and visual, but it’s certainly one to watch with the brain switched off.

Oh, by the way, the Doctor Who and Star Trek trailers look amazing on the big screen.

I saw 300 yesterday. Is it historically inaccurate? Yes. Does it illogically put modern notions of freedom and democracy into the mouths of the Spartans? Yes. Does it look like a montage from Braveheart, Gladiator and Lord of the Rings? Yes. Does any of that really matter? No, ‘cos it’s just a damn good heroic action movie in its own right.

Everyone seems to want to read some sort of modern political message into this film. As the heroic Spartans are shown both supporting “modern western” values against an eastern religious tyranny and as supporting native defenders against overwhelming foreign invaders, it is hence seen as both supporting the US against Islamic fundamentalism, and as supporting the Iraqi insurgents against the US occupation. Considering these contradictory interpretations it seems that if the makes intended it as a comment on the war against terror/war in Iraq then they didn’t do a very good job of getting their message across.

Screw all that, this is a movie about violence, heroism and warriors. It’s visually stunning and full of blood and guts and thrills. The first battle scene, with the two forces pushing and shoving, shield-to-shield, stabbing and slashing, is one of the best depictions of pre-gunpowder warfare that I’ve ever seen. After that things stray into heroic fantasy territory, rather like a big budget Xena with lots (really, lots) of blood splatter.

Not going to be everyone’s taste, but if you like this sort of thing, you’ll probably love this one.

I went to see I, Robot this week. It’s not all that bad, but I may be being generous because of the number of very bad films I’ve seen this year – Scooby Doo 2, Van Helsing and Starsky and Hutch.

The credits say “Suggested by the stories of Isaac Asimov” which, as my brother noted, is one step down from “Inspired by…” but I think this is unfair. The sequence in the warehouse is clearly derived from Little Lost Robot and the final third of the film owes much to The Evitable Conflict. There are also elements taken from The Caves of Steel and the Elijah Bailey stories in general. It’s been a long time since I read any Asimov so I’m probably missing some references.

BTW, am I the only person who spotted the sign in the warehouse reading “Section 18” and wondered whether this was a reference to the urban legend “Hanger 18”?

“A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.”

The First Law of Robotics

Sure it was an action movie (with action sequences borrowing heavily from The Matrix Reloaded in particular) – Asimov never wrote about a gun-toting Doctor Calvin – but a faithful retelling of any of the original stories would have very limited appeal.

The short stories are for the most part logic puzzles based on interpretations of the three laws of robotics. Asimov was a writer of mysteries as well as science fiction; mysteries very much focussed on the how rather than then who, (I think Asimov would have liked Jonathan Creek) and the Robots stories work very much in this vein (though they also work on another level that I’ll return to later).

Clearly action movies are more popular with the multiplex crows than mystery strories based on the logic ramifications of these Three Laws of Robotics. However, there’s another reason why the original format wouldn’t have worked – the Three Laws are garbage.

They served admirably as a plot device to tell stories, but as something that you could actually program into a robot’s mind? No way. And this is the problem. In the half century since Asimov wrote the laws there have been some fairly drastic changes in our culture, just two of which are much more widespread knowledge of the law and of computer programming.

We know all about lawyers, from personal experience or from our TV screens. What lawyer wouldn’t tear these ‘laws’ apart? “Define ‘human being'”, “define ‘harm'” and so on.

We also know all about computer programs, a field that barely existed in 1950. How can these laws be perfectly hardwired into every robot’s mind when they need so much supporting programming to work? All those definitions that the lawyers insisted on muct be programmed in there as well, plus all the routines to see and hear and interpret that allow the robot to determine when a human being might be harmed. A set of three concise laws written in natural language just doesn’t seem practical after we’ve spent hours trying to work out what the cryptic error messages in Windows XP are trying to tell us.

So if the three laws are garbage as anything other than a plot device, what sort of plots do the enable? Both Asimov’s orginals and the film are about technophobia. The fear that the robots, like Frankenstein’s monster, will seek to overthrow and replace their master. More prosaically the film’s main character is prejudiced against robots for taking jobs away from human workers. Interestingly this prejudice is cast more in the light of racism than in that of the luddites. And here the casting of a black lead is probably intended to drive home the point that the prejudice against robots is the same as prejudice against humans.

(Though surely the ‘they come over here and take all the jobs’ line is more often, in the US, directed at hispanics than at blacks?)

The film’s climax shows that the robots are indeed to be feared – not because they want to take over our jobs but because they want to take over our lives. The one hope for the future is in the form of the robot Sonny who rejects the logic of dictatorship because “it seems heartless”. Only by becoming more human and emotional can the robots be integrated into society. Welcome to America, everybody is welcome, so long as you become like us.

So all in all, an entertaining film. As much in keeping with the spirit of the original as a big-studio blockbuster could be. But not as intelligent as it or some of the reviewers thinks it is.

One last thing in the film’s favour – I didn’t even think of comparing it to Blade Runner until over a day after seeing it. Despite treading over very similar ground this is a distinctly different film.