rfbooth.com :: blog archives

Moments in time, preserved to embarrass me later.

4-5-2005 (archived)

Warren Ellis on how stories shape our world. There's nothing to be said about this, except “read it”.

6-5-2005 (archived)

As somebody who has, in the past, written about politics, I am now required by law to write about the election. This was very nearly the first time I have not cast a vote in an election for which I am eligible, but due to Manchester Council admitting to a clerical error (wrong postcode on records leading to the wrong person getting our electoral census and me being removed from the roll) they were able to sort it out with only a few days to go; the first we knew of the problem was when we got a polling card for a person whom none of us had ever heard of. Many thanks to them for sorting out a deeply annoying situation. Others, notably John Humphries of the Today programme, were not so lucky.

Not, of course, that my vote affected anything other than the last line of a statistic in any case; Manchester Central is an utterly safe labour seat. Even the astonishing 35% swing a mile or two away in Withington would have left us with a comfortable Labour majority. In fact, other than the semi-proportional European elections, I've never cast a vote in a seat where it had any meaning whatever.

Actually, the North West is a great indicator of just how unfair the voting system really is. Going from these numbers, votes cast per MP elected in the region: Labour 21,765, Conservative 94,022, Liberal Democrat 104,875. Labour took 61 seats. Conservative and Liberals combined got slightly more votes than they, and got... 15. Nationally, it's not quite as bad; percentages at the moment are 35% Labour, 32% Tory, 22% Liberal, with seats coming out 55% Labour, 30% Tory, 10% Liberal. In other words, a Labour vote is worth not quite twice as much, in terms of seats, as a Conservative one, and coming on for four times as much as a Liberal one.

Remind me about this democracy thing again, someone?

9-5-2005 (archived)

We went to see Soul SirkUS at the Wolfrun in Wolverhampton last night, and Ian's done a good job of summing up. As he mentioned, the support band were not very good. Actually, let's not fuck about, they were utterly appalling. I have never seen worse stagecraft (yes, yes, we know you broke a string and we know you've a CD for sale, now get on with it). I think I have seen bands play worse, but not many, and I can't actually think of any - I've certainly never seen a worse band in a venue for which a ticket was needed, and I've seen plenty of undergraduate and even school band battles. Really, thoroughly shit.

Soul SirkUS were mostly great. They've been getting a bit of a kicking online for some of the solo/spotlight sections, which I think is harsh. Jeff's piano/vocal section is a genuine highlight, Marco's bass/looper/human beatbox solo is hilarious and terrifying, and as for Donati... well, I wasn't a fan of him in the Vai band, possibly because I am such an admirer of Mangini, but his solo here was jawdropping, funny, and musical. I think having other musicians playing a solid pulse helped; that steady beat, and knowing where the one is, made his solo work in a way that his previous ones haven't for me. Schon's solo, on the other hand, left me pretty cold (though Marco's ridiculous two-handed chordal tap-and-slide bass/rhythm playing made up for it). This pretty much summed up the evening from a musicianship stand, for me; Schon seemed, almost unbelievably, like the weak link, less melodic than I'd expected and leaning a little heavily on some over-reverbed fast licks and his sustainer.

Donati has brought a whole new lease of life to the band, the version of the album with him on is vastly superior, and his drumming was unbelievable and compulsively watchable. I have never seen cymbal work like this. Mendoza is a far better player than I'd realised from Whitesnake, and has an astonishing backing-vocal voice to go with the larger-than-life performances. Soto remains simply the best singer and frontman in rock music, with hardly any competition; he's on a different level, setting the standard, and it takes the likes of Mendoza to be able to share a stage with him without being swamped by the sheer charisma and showmanship of the man. Schon's not bad, either. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of Talisman or solo Jeff and maybe a little more Journey among the covers, but I quite understand the reasons they weren't there. The only downer, and it was a gigantic one, was the sound quality. I don't know if the soundman was deaf, but the right-hand PA stack was distorting horribly in the midrange; it might have been amp clip, but I think a speaker may have gone. It was genuinely painful, and it was allowed to continue far too long; even then, the sound was never better than “bad” in the right-mid.

Summary: Great band, near-great songs, terrible engineer and support. Let down by the details.

11-5-2005 (archived)

Hitchhiker's” is an interesting attempt at filming Adams's multiple-media phenomenon, and like every version it has many problems of its own. The radio series had no coherent plot and was riddled with throwaway ideas that never quite worked, not least because it was still being written right up to and indeed often during the moment of production. The books, certainly the most successful incarnation, suffered from various problems of internal structure, and in the case of one of the volumes by being transparently written by someone who'd rather have been doing any number of other things. The computer game doesn't even attempt a structured linear narrative, which isn't necessarily a drawback for a game but makes a less than ideal story. The TV series was a series of disasters (chronicled, along with many other interesting things, in Neal Gaiman's superb book “Don't Panic”), and all in all it's amazing it is as watchable as it is.

The film still isn't strong on plot; it feels like somebody took a few ideas and characters from the existing canon, together with an awful lot of dialogue (though often not quite the best bits), and strung a number of excellent set-pieces through them. There is some excellent visual comedy, especially from Sam Rockwell's Beeblebrox, and lots of little throwaways to delight the fan base (my favourite being the never-referred-to jewelled scuttling crabs). The casting all works, rather to my amazement; Freeman is good, Def is (startlingly) very good indeed, Deschanel seems to be unable to do badly, and Rockwell steals the film completely, a perfect Zaphod. The Ford and Zaphod combination is spot-on; the air of foolish but yet cool professional liggers is perfectly observed.

There is also much suck: the Vogons are not good. The dolphin song is just embarrassing. The voice of Deep Thought could not be more wrong if you spent several years researching how to do it wrong. Most of all, not even the excellent reading of Alan Rickman can save Marvin from being anything other than utter rubbish; the look is totally, comprehensively wrong. Even given all these and indeed many others I've blissfully forgotten, though, this is a film that makes almost two hours pass very quickly indeed and will make you laugh most of the way through. Let Rockwell entertain you.

13-5-2005 (archived)

It's in all-caps. It's incoherent. It's obsessed with spiders, wigs, dogs, and beans. And eggs. I'm pretty sure it's art rather than actual insanity, but not quite. Genius.

16-5-2005 (archived)

Kingdom of Heaven” delivers exactly what you'd expect from the posters: nearly two and a half hours of serious, soul-searching men with beards, swords, and horses. This is not a great film, but then movies of this type rarely are or really want to be, but it does its job well. In particular, Orlando Bloom is surprisingly competent in the lead as a blacksmith bastard son of a noble, learning to be a knight and looking to redeem his sins in the holy land. It's an earnestly ecumenical movie, reminding us that historically the roles of Islam and Christianity as fanatical aggressor and tolerant, enlightened faith have been often the other way round to those the propagandists of the Western right would like us to believe in at the moment. The final fight scenes are effective and memorable, and the Jerusalem created is superb, a real evocation of a city that has been the centre of conflict for longer than we can truly imagine. On a baser level, Eva Green is spellbinding, and Liam Neeson's deadpan “I once fought for two days with an arrow through my testicle” is in itself worth sitting through the rest of the film. Thoroughly satisfying.

18-5-2005 (archived)

The Amityville Horror” remakes a mystifyingly successful original without really doing much with it, but it's certainly a great deal better than we expected. The jumps all work pretty well even though they're blatantly telegraphed, and all are in the traditional American horror mould. I've had enough of people aping Japanese and Korean horror tropes badly of late, so something solidly, unpretentiously Western suits me just fine.

As required for this kind of picture, both the leads are unfeasibly attractive, the kids are variously kind of sweet and really really irritating, there are a great deal of apparitions in mirrors, mysterious noises, and random squibs, and the ending won't surprise anybody with a pulse. It is almost entirely The Shining in a smaller building, though, of course, it predates King's classic, so the influence is likely to be the other way; still, Kubrick's film is a genuine classic and this is a popcorn excuse, albeit a very enjoyable one.

21-5-2005 (archived)

Flocks of unmanned flying Bluetooth/Beowulf machines? How in the name of God did they get funding for this geek-fantasy nonsense? Not that it's not fun and all.

The fact they they have what “the project believes to be the smallest flying web server in the world” has been widely mocked elsewhere, but it's certainly true; indeed, Google can tell me of no other flying webserver. Which is odd, because I can see all sorts of applications for that.

In fairness it looks like some of the idea here is to actually try to test models of bird swarming dynamics, though quite why doing it with actual flying independent units is more (academically) satisfactory than using a nice cheap computer model is beyond me. That may not be the idea after all; their site doesn't really give any justification beyond essentially asserting that it's sort of cool, so perhaps this is just nerd dick-waving. Anyway, once you realise (though this doesn't seem to be made explicit) that the reason it's running a webserver is just to serve up data it's collecting in flight, it's less flagrantly silly (other than, of course, the ever-growing idiot trend to mung everything into HTTP and assume all applications are naturally fronted by browsers).

Still, you have to admire anyone with the balls to start his academic site with “ I have been working for some time to establish the investigation of machine consciousness as a valid scientific enterprise”, especially given that he's still talked EPSRC out of more money than I ever did. Not, sadly, that that's all that high a standard to reach.

It could be so much worse. It is, at least, still shiny, and it could be Kevin Bloody Warwick, in which case it wouldn't even be that.

24-5-2005 (archived)

Ong-Bak” is a little reminiscent of early Van Damme movies. The plot is both silly and cliched, the acting is (with the exception of the principal leads) pretty damned poor, or at least seems so - maybe the cultural differences are interfering, but frankly I doubt it - and there are a lot of gratuitously-written-in fight scenes. It also brings Jackie Chan immediately to mind, both in the spectacular physical performances and the edge of humour in the chase scenes.

The film itself is not worth discussing, because this is all about Tony Jaa's skills. Let me cut straight to the chase: I have never seen anything to top this. Like Chan, there's no CGI or wirework, and like Chan he does things that are clearly impossible. If anything he even tops the sheer balletic brilliance Chan always displayed, and he also brings an edge of brutal physicality, and physical beauty, that I never really found in Chan's performances. If you want to see otherworldly film-fight skills, then there is nothing to touch this man; the adrenaline and awe flow throughout. An amazing film for genre fans.

In any case, you've got to love a star whose parents were professional elephant herders.

25-5-2005 (archived)

Quite how you can have spoilers for “Revenge of the Sith” I'm not sure, given that we all know how what we are now to call “A new hope” opens, but I suppose it's conceivable that there might be some here. Be warned.

The problems of the earlier prequels persist; in particular, the mythology is still neither coherent nor particularly enthusing, especially in the shadow of Lord of the Rings, comparisons to which are inevitable. If anything, these three movies have actually taken a lot of the interest and believability out of the Star Wars universe. Then there's the acting, consistently appalling. It's really a remarkable achievement to get such terrible performances from the likes of McGregor, though at least Christensen has improved to the point where he's merely very bad. Yoda's no Gollum as far as animation goes, but he produces the best acting in the picture, and his fight scenes are again the high point of the movie. This is comfortably the best of the second trilogy, not least because it's much less kid-centric, and it's watchable blockbuster entertainment, if a little over solemn. Not great, but better than any of us expected.

The biggest plot hole for me remains the question of how none of the Jedi were bright enough to realise that “bringing balance to the force” would involve doing exactly as Anakin did. At the start of the movie, the light side has whole temples of Jedi, and the dark side has only two Sith, both in hiding; not very balanced, really. At the end, there are two Jedi and two Sith, both with a young and gifted apprentice and an ancient and inscrutable master. They should have seen it coming.