Sunday, July 31, 2005

Moochin' around

Sunday starts dull, so it's promising walking weather. Yomp up to Kirkby Stephen to find a petrol station for later, and beer for now, going via Ravenstonedale to stretch out what would otherwise be a 10 mile there-and-back.

Grab a pint, watching a bit of the Grand Prix, then eat leftover picnic stuff lunch in the churchyard - a pretty red-stone church, with an interesting portico where the churchyard abuts the market place. Then I buy a map, and find a pretty way back, along the river, through Nateby, then down the B-road to Castle Pendragon, and over the top back to the A683.

No appetite. Still not hungry after yesterday's huge meal.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Off to Worldcon

Staring the journey with a stop-over at the Fat Lamb near Kirkby Stephen; so the route planners tell us take the A1, turn left at Scotch Corner. Only as we have just gone past the A52 at Grantham, the traffic locks solid — and there's nothing coming the other way.

After a while a helicopter flies over; a while later a motorbike runs up between the lines of cars. There is a little movement forwards so I'm about opposite a gap in the central reservation, but there is a car between me and it.

Then a paramedic car squeezes down the middle and the car next to me edges forwards to let it pass, allowing me then to three-point and out through the gap. So A52, A46, A614, a prettier, if slower, route.

Later, coming past Leeds, there's a long stretch of 50mph limit alleged roadworks, for a couple of miles after the bit being worked on. Revenue generation I guess; but that is enough. I leave at Wetherby, and on to Harrogate, then past Settle, taking the A683 to the inn, which despite the best efforts of the postcode to mislead, turns out to be on that road, at the corner of the turn to Ravenstonedale.

As we have driven into cloud, rain and gloom, even at just 18:00, we're ready for food, which is plain simple fare, well done, and in enormous quantities. And so, as pepys put it, to bed.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Spotted the second dead badger by the roadside in as many days. One is not on the usual cycling route, but the other is. It's going to be a smelly summer — unless, of course, it keeps on being wet and I drive.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Sleep is good

Went to bed about 11pm and slept through to gone 9am; woke to wet weather. Just about caught up from recent late nights; but no chance to do anything in the garden.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Wimped out

No, I'm not doing the Dun Run; I'm posting this at the time the thing is starting to gather momentum.

I decided to sleep this p.m., and catch up on gardening, after having nuked the last two weekends and many evenings with the film festival.

Not that the weather forecast was that inspiring this a.m., with drizzle on the ride home from town this lunchtime.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


8000 miles on the dial as I parked down the Backs for dinner. Went to the Sala Thong for a Thai — and found that they were running a party of 50 in the river, and another couple of dozen upstairs. So I sat in virtually solitary splendour while I ate.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Another year

Now on the third year of blogging.

And, noticing moor-chicks scurrying for cover as I cycled past them this morning, I realise that I managed to completely miss duckling season this year.

Cycling home last night, after a front had brought some unexpected rain — it was supposed to have petered out by the time it got here — I found that the front was moving only slowly forwards, enough that I kept catching up with the rain as I went, unless I kept on pausing.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Film — Howl's Moving Castle

The last film of the Festival for me, given the cancellation of Paradise Now — so maybe film fatigue had set in; but I didn't see this new Ghibli/Miyazaki film as anything more than “Just OK.”, especially by comparison with other, earlier works. Or it may be because I deliberately hadn't read the Diana Wynne Jones book on which the film is based, expressly to avoid the usual negative comparisons of such adaptations.

I suspect the latter is the main cause. Having no idea of the original, I felt there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to no good narrative cause, but likely intended to realise in pictures neat bits from the book; which it did at the cost of exposition — even little things, like making it clear, when first introducing the name out of nowhere that Suliman was the vizier's name, and not the king's (which seemed the obvious interpretation from what little context we had).

A shame really — lush animation, even with gratuitous flying machines, around an emotionally empty plotline. Yes, that heretofore unthinkable thing, a Ghibli movie without a teary-eyed moment.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Film — Raining cats and frogs

A boy, his adoptive parents, a neighbour's daughter, farm animals and the inhabitants of a local zoo are set adrift by a quasi-Biblical Deluge. Veering from poetic to pedagogical (though the jury is still out on panspermia), while the inevitable problems arise with the food chain, stirred up by an unlikely snake in the grass character.

Again, very French.

Film — Innocence

Deep in wooded country, there is a school (curriculum = biology and dance, from what we see), a hybrid of Gormenghast and a girls-only version of Ohtori Junior school (Shoujo kakumei Utena: Adolescence mokushiroku); with five houses, of seven girls. New arrivals are delivered in a coffin; and each of the others then hands down their rainbow-coded hair ribbons, red for the youngest. Strange rituals punctuate each year — the choosing of a blue-ribbon girl to leave; the nightly departure of the violet ribbon girls from their dormitories; and there are rumours of strange punishments, especially for attempted escape.

Slowly some of the hidden secrets are revealed, but not all, before we follow the underground route of graduation.

Lushly photographed, atmospheric, and very, very French — heavier on symbolism than pragmatics, and with more young girls clad only in white cotton knickers (and school uniform panty shots) than a fan-service anime. Overall — possibly there's less to it than meets the eye.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Film — Paradise Now

This one got cancelled for being “inappropriate and insensitive”

PARADISE NOW is the story of what may be the last 48 hours in the lives of two Palestinian men — friends since childhood — who have been recruited as suicide bombers. When they are intercepted at the Israeli border and separated from their handlers, a young woman who discovers their plan causes them to reconsider their actions. But with pressure mounting, time running out, and passions running high...there's no way to know which way they will go. Giving a voice to the Palestinian condemnation of violence, Abu-Assad's compelling and beautifully performed drama is a tense and intelligent tale that will grip you to the final frames. As a testament to the film's inherent humanity and its balanced portrayal of such volatile subject matter, PARADISE NOW has received official backing from the Israeli government.

…my emphasis.

Personally, I can't think of a more appropriate time for it to be seen that it is not just us in the privileged nations alone who cannot condone such acts.

Film — Ghost in the Shell 2 — Innocence

Shiro Masamunes' Appleseed was my gateway drug into the whole Japanese anime/manga scene; so of course I'd go see this UK premiere.

Loosely inspired by the themes of Shiro's work, and set in something more like the continuity of the movie than the manga (I haven't finished the recent anime yet!), it asks around the question of what is identity as technology begins to blur the boundaries of the individual, both implicitly, and in the dialogue, as characters trade quotations and interpretations. Unfortunately the film is too busy being pretty to explore the issues even as deeply as Shiro does.

And a very pretty film it is too — several longuers with choral soundtrack as CGI cityscapes or carnival processions flow past, screaming out how much budget was being consumed every second, as well as making a valiant attempt at some of the visual metaphor from Shiro's own Ghost in the Shell: Man-Machine Interface v. 2. But it's not all in-yer-face — when Motoko manifests in one of a horde of identical gynoids, there are enough subtle visual clues that this one is different.

Oh, and if you missed the credits, the extensive gratuitous basset hound scenes yelled “Oshii Mamoru film” out loud.

Film — Night Watch

This was a heavy-duty premiere, complete with piracy-paranoia searching of bags and surrendering of videophones, as the Murdoch Empire condescended to permit the film to get its first outing here at the festival.

To a first approximation, this film is a Russian-made Underworld, loud, brash, driven by heavy dance music; a synthetic myth of conflict between hidden supernatural factions. But there is no glamour-girl in tight leather here to lead things off; rather a somewhat socially challenged chap who has become a reluctant vampire hunter after getting sucked into the secret conflict. And instead of refined high society, there is a run-down, almost 1950's air about this contemporary Moscow.

It is a visually effective piece of cinema, both in the images in the story; and also in the way that subtitling has been used — a vampire's call in red text that dissolves like swirls of blood in water; elsewhere sliding around the screen almost like thought balloons

Although the film boasted the only start-in-your-seat moment so far this season, there seemed to be an air almost of everyone sleepwalking through the plot, as things are thrown into look cool (like the owl presented to the protagonist, with no real back-story to her situation; Zebulon's sword), or to be sardonic Russian humour (the power-plant engineer cooking his supper on one of the steam pipes) and what looked like the main plot almost incidentally resolved as the film reaches an ending that had everything but an explicit “To be continued…”

Verdict: Mostly harmless

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Film — The Hidden Blade

Another mid-19th century samurai film from Yoji Yamada, the director of 2003's Twilight Samurai; and very much in the same mood, as a lower rank samurai wrestles with the obligations and restrictions of his station. Son of a disgraced father, unable to marry the woman he loves, Munezo Katagiri is finally ordered to kill his one-time closest friend, who has been condemned for fomenting rebellion.

As in the earlier film, this comission is the central dilemma, and its consequences form a fitting conclusion to the film. Sure, there is the obligatory slapstick retainer; and the comedic sight of traditional warriors just not getting it when being trained in modern military drill — such as having to be yelled at not to bow to each other while passing the artillery shells — but those act to throw the whole state of turmoil into sharp relief.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Film — The Adventures of Arsene Lupin

Lupin is the French character with the MO of Raffles and the public profile of Sherlock Holmes; this film is really a "secret origin" story, with the young Lupin caught up between a royalist plot and the machinations of Josephine, Countess Cagliostro. As expected, it's all very stylish and French; however to the viewer unfamiliar with the character, it is clear that some things (the Mission Impossible style masks appearing without any reason) are there because that's part of the greater myth, and are what the French audience will want to see. It also has great difficulty knowing how to stop - the royalist plot is foiled, but the film keeps going into a revenge sub-plot that is then left only partially resolved in the aftermath of an assassination attempt on Archduke Ferdinand, after a fast-forward montage of many years.

Annual puncture

That time of year again. Get to wheel the bike out, and find the back tyre's flat. This is probably a relapse of the puncture just next to another patch that I fixed last week. Given there's no bike shops in Cambourne, this means driving to work and then into town at lunch-time for a new inner tube, and maybe upgrading to an a super-marathon while I'm at it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

I'm dreaming of a what!?

A couple of years ago, I heard the first Yuletide adverts in mid July.

That's been beaten this year - the first tentative enquiries of where/what about the office bash here have just come around!

Film — Phone

Korean horror in the same broad genre (phones, and other modern technology as catalyst for horror) as Saturday's disappointing One Missed Call; but more stylish and psychological, not relying on deliquescent walking dead to spice up the supernatural threat; and actually resolves itself.

In a couple of places, it was possibly too clever for its own good — when we see the main character suddenly awaking at her desk, it's never certain quite how much of the preceding events were “just a dream”, including the apparent resolution of the normal-world context plot that kick-starts the chain of events (acquiring the new mobile with the significant number, moving into the empty house).

Film — Touch the Sound

Documentary film about profoundly deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie by the same director who made the earlier documentary Rivers and Tides about Andy Goldsworthy's art. Unfortunately, sound is not a visual medium, so we cannot just view what is done.

This does lead to some longeurs where all we have is Ms Glennie looking contemplative at various locations around the world, as the background noises are turned up — people walking, tapping their feet, dragging cases over tiling, that sort of thing. It takes a long while before there is even any speech; and music comes very late in the proceedings.

The scenes where she was instructing a deaf girl in percussion was fascinating; but, like Goldsworthy, the interviewer encourages his subjects into vague mysticism about their art.

Gobsmacking moment — her brother, with a gentle Scots accent, barely stronger than hers, was subtitled, presumably for USan audiences.

Film — Whisper of the Heart

An unusual Ghibli film, being a down-to-earth story of first love; against a tale of love lost. For once, the only fantastical elements are in the imagination of the young girl who we follow; and any connection to The Cat Returns are more that the latter is hommage to a minor but catalytic part of this film.

But. heck, it's Ghibli — what more do I have to say?

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Film — One Missed call

Japanese horror, with people getting calls from the future from their own mobiles, indicating their imminent death. Tries to lull you into thinking it's all over a couple of times, but is overall not scary.

Film — Steamboy

Steampunk anime — but for reasons of scheduling I had signed up with trepidation for the dub. I was gobsmacked, then, to hear real Northern accents being used for many of the characters, and everyone had appropriate accents. Best dub ever!

A big loveable high adventure; nothing profound.

Film — The Ritchie Boys

A moving documentary, made in Germany, about German Jewish refugees to America, who were assigned to US Military Intelligence in WWII, told by some of the surviving members of the teams trained at Fort Ritchie, Md. A fascinating bit of the hidden war revelaed through many engaging characters.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Film — Millennium Actress

The 25th Cambridge Film Festival started last night; and I took in the UK premiere of this 2001 film by Satoshi Con.

It's my sort of romance film, weaving through real life memories and movie scenes of elderly, one time movie star Chiyoko Fujiwara, searching for lost love, as a long time fan of hers makes a documentary interview. I'm not ashamed to say that my eyes were leaking copiously (if discreetly) in synch with Tachibana-san (the interviewer).

Poignant and haunting, a marvellous start to this year's program.

Better than expected

Despite the best attempts of the media, life goes on. A marvellous collection of quotes in response to yesterday.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Return of the bad old days

Bombs in London, though 7/7 looks to be orders of magnitude below 9/11, closer to the worst of the 1970's IRA campaigns — well that'll be goodbye to the recently reintroduced rubbish bins and Left Luggage facilities, then.

And Blair says “terrorists will not destroy "our values and our way of life"” — of course not. That's the Home Secretary's job (house arrest, assault on jury trials, proposed national database …), not one we've offshored.