Wednesday, 30 December 2009

High Noon (1952) - A review

Long before the likes of the popular TV series called 24, there was High Noon - a Western originally released in 1952, starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. I watched this movie recently, as part of my on-going mission to watch as many as I can out of the American Film Institute's list of top 100 movies.

I'm not typically a fan of Westerns, so I put off watching High Noon several times before I eventually bit the bullet a couple of days ago. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. The story is told in real-time (hence my reference to 24). In summary, it's about a retiring Marshall (you know... Sheriff, law-man...) who finds out on the day of his wedding that a dangerous criminal he arrested has been pardoned, and is on his way back to the town, bent on revenge. He is then torn between his loyalty to his new bride, the town, and his own honour.

This movie had me gripped from near the beginning to the end, largely due to the real-time telling of the story, building up to the climax at high noon. It was superbly acted, each scene moving you steadily towards the inevitable showdown.

The movie's theme song, "The Ballad of High Noon" (or, "Do not forsake me oh my darlin") irritated me from the start of the movie, where it seemed not to fit squarely with the action on screen. However, the words clearly underpinned the motives of the hero as he proceeded along his chosen path. I must say, the song grew on me, and several days later, it's still playing in my head! Perhaps that's because it was played in one form or another throughout the movie from the beginning to the end! Seriously, I can recall no other tune in the movie - at all. Having said this, I wasn't too surprised to see that it won the Oscar that year for "Best Original Song". It was quite obvious to me while watching the movie that those concerned were shooting for this honour, and were keen to ensure nobody would forget the tune!

At the end of the day, I'd give High Noon a 4 out of 5. It had more story than action (which is a plus in my books), but I must deduct a point for their playing that song over and over and over again. I might reconsider the point if I ever succeed in getting it out of my head...

Friday, 25 December 2009

The Case Against Christmas

I enjoy celebrations as much, if not more, than the next guy. So why am I writing an article against Christmas? I'm not, really. I think it's fantastic that people have decided to set aside a day to give gifts and be merry. I'm just a bit frustrated with our calling it a celebration of the birth of Christ, and practically cutting him out of the whole affair! How many times do you hear someone going on about the spirit of Christmas, only to find that their conclusion has nothing whatsoever to do with Christ? I'm aware that the festival has it's roots in Pagan rites, so I guess it's no surprise to find it straying now from anything Christian.

What's all this about Santa Claus? Why do we insist on lying to our children for the first several years of their lives? I think it's despicable that kids are made and encouraged by a collective lie to believe in a fat guy in a red suit who flies in through the chimeny to bring them gifts! Why am I so irate? Perhaps it's because I believe in Christ and I don't want their dear little minds to think that the God I love is part of the same worldwide fuzzy conspiracy to keep them in line.

Down with Santa! Up with Christ!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Return of Schumacher

Some great champions just don't seem to know when to call it quits, permanently. Pele, Mohammed Ali and Diego Maradona are noteable examples. Now, Michael Schumacher is in danger of adding his name to this list. According to reports, he has signed a 3 year deal with Mercedes, marking his return to Formula one. My question is, WHY? Why on earth does the great man wish to risk tarnishing his reputation as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) Formula one driver of all time? Does he still have the magic? If so, he will further cement his place in the book of racing legends. If, on the other hand, Michael's reflexes and speed are not what they used to be, then we might be about to witness a tragedy. I do hope he knows what he's doing...

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Lost Art of Saving

I recall my growing up years, when if I needed a new gadget, I was encouraged to save for it. My father had 2 green wallets in which he would place any cash given to my brother and I. Each wallet had a slip of paper inside, on which was recorded all income and expenditure. Thus, we were taught to save. It just came naturally, and in the words of George Banks of Mary Poppins fame, I would feel a sense of conquest as my savings increased! If memory serves, we would spend most of the money at Christmas, then start again.

I miss that habit. As a society, we've strayed far from the savings culture and become creatures of credit. Rather than patiently waiting for things, we insist on instant gratification, relying on numerous lenders to help us satisfy our unquenchable thirst for human possessions. So, the vast majority of us live in debt, accepting this lifestyle as the status quo. Well, the global recession has burst our collective bubble and forced many to learn to save again. I welcome the news that increasing numbers of British families saved a high proportion of their income this year. Perhaps we're back on the right track. Or perhaps we're all just waiting for the all-clear before we resume spending with reckless abandon. Time alone will tell...

It's a Wonderful Life (1946) - A brief review

I've recently taken to watching all the movies on the AFI's 100 years ... 100 movies (2007 anniversary edition) list. One of the best for me so far has been "It's a Wonderful Life" directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore.

I watched the preview to this movie first, to get a good sense of what it would be about. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the preview gave little or nothing of the movie away, something which I would later find to be the norm for movie previews of that era.

"It's a Wonderful Life" was a moving tale for me, and one to which I can affix the tag "life affirming". James Stewart put in a beautiful performance as the lead character (George Bailey), with Donna Reed as the love interest. I can't really fault the move; the characters were well written, the dialogue was good and the pace was appropriate for the movie and its message.

I heartily recommend this movie! 5 out of 5!

Family Matters Season 2 - A review

I recently picked up Season 2 of the 1990's TV sitcom "Family Matters" to see if it was as good as I remembered. I was not disappointed. While many contemporary sitcoms have me yawning endlessly at the screen, Family Matters had me smiling, giggling, and yes, outright laughing at points. The characters have stood the test of time: Carl Winslow, as the dependable, moral and comical father of the house; Harriet Winslow as the strong matriarch, the sensible one in the family; Eddie Winslow as the irresponsible, girl-crazy teenager, who deep down has a good heart; Laura Winslow as the good daughter, and more importantly, the perpetual love interest of the season's (and series') most engaging character - Steve Urkel!

Urkel is the indisputable star of Family Matters. With a dress sense that seems to have been modelled on Michael Jackson, Urkel (played reliably by Jaleel White) is at the same time loveable and extremely annoying. His nasal voice, nerdy character and catch phrases "Did I do that?" and "I've fallen and I can't get up" still tickle me. Although he primarily interacts with Laura (played by Kellie Shanygne Williams), he plays best in the season when sharing the screen with Reginald VelJohnson (as Carl Winslow). The two seem to go off-script on some occasions, generating some fantastic physical-comedy moments.

Of the remaining primary characters in the season (Rachael, Mother Winslow, Richie and Judy Winslow), the only one that really does not acquit herself well is Judy (played by Jamie Foxworth). While admitting that the acting in the whole season is short of first class at points, Jamie has few if any high points. Her character is underdeveloped, she has few lines, and even these are not delivered convincingly.

Some will find Family Matters (Season 2) a little too sweet for their liking. To say it is cheesy would also not be an unfair comment. It is unashamedly optimistic and moral, so much so that at times the characters slip into a 2-dimensional straight-jacket (for example, when it's time to deliver a moral message, or to condemn some action as wrong). The mood music which cuts in towards the end of each episode and at climactic moments is somewhat dated, but it worked well at the time the show first ran.

In all, I give this season 4 out of 5. Bring on Season 3!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

2001: An Odyssey of the Emperor's New Clothes

For much of my life, I have harboured the view that 2001:A Space Odyssey must be a good movie. After all, it's ranked pretty high on the American Film Insitute's list of greatest American movies, and every self-respecting critic lauds it as one of the greatest movies of all time. I beg to differ.

I have just wasted 141 minutes of my life watching this movie, and it makes no sense to me. Okay, I could sit down and try to interpret it and come up with some high-minded intellectual-sounding jargon as many have done before, but I will be true to myself here. That little emperor's walking about in his birthday suit. The movie is long, boring, and way too arty for its own good.

To say that 2001 is slow-moving is an understatement. Call me uncultured, but I like a healthy dose of dialogue in my movies. I'm not particularly enamoured by watching flashing lights and scenery run by my screen for over 20 minutes at a time.

I will not sacrifice another minute commenting on this movie. If you haven't seen it and want to, good luck to you. Just don't say I didn't warn you. This is definitely one for the critics alone...

Saturday, 12 December 2009

The Tragedy of Tiger

Like many others, I have followed the story of Tiger Wood's personal life splashed across the pages of the world's newspapers, all sources eager to expand upon the news of the good guy gone bad. It was with a great sense of sadness that I came to realise that this would not just blow over; it was here, it was real and worst of all, it was likely true.

I feel sorry for Woods and his family. The last thing they need now is a media spectacle, but sadly, they will be unable to avoid this for a long time to come. Do these reporters have hearts? Do they not realise that by digging deeper into these stories, while increasing the circulation of their papers, they are making it harder and harder for the Woods family to work through their issues? Is money really this important that it has turned us into ravenous wolves ready to tear one another to pieces? Perhaps things have always been this way.

I remember watching (on TV) as Tiger claimed his first Masters, all those years ago. As he donned that green jacket, I knew I was witnessing something special - the beginning of a new age. This sense was proved right over the years as he won tournament after tournament, and marched on to become the most successful sportsperson of all time. Yet, I must admit that a transformation was equally evident on his face over time. He smiled less and appeared a lot more focused and serious in his photos; I have heard some say he appeared more mean. Perhaps his personal life had begun to seep into the public slowly, imperceptibly, through the mirror of a troubled man's eyes.

It's too much to ask in today's world that the media focus only on the man's golf and leave his personal life alone. I only hope that one day, we learn when to say "enough".

I wish Tiger Woods well as he takes time off golf to focus on his family. I hope they are able to work things out, and go on to be better, stronger people. The world of golf will dearly miss the Tiger, but in my opinion, he has done the right thing.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Money and the Entire World Economy System

No, I have not gone off my rocker. Yet. Yes, I'm about to launch into a rant about money. What? It's not like I'm the first person to do this!

How did we get here? How did money get elevated to this position? Who decides what it's worth or if it even exists? I repeat, contrary to what some of you might be currently thinking, I am not losing my marbles. Let me walk you through my thoughts.

How did we start off? Barter perhaps? I've got this slab of meat, you've got that hefty club, let's exchange and be happy? Perhaps. I do know that somewhere along the line, some things began to be valued for their practical benefits. Salt, for its value as a preservative, and perhaps for its taste, gold for its use in ornaments, diamond for being virtually indestructible and very pretty... and so on. At some point, some clever fellows decided, why should we drag heavy bags of gold about when we can store them in a bank and just carry some paper from the bank proving that we've got the gold? Yet more time passes, and folks are prepared to trade using just the paper promising to pay the gold to the holder. We've moved on even further now. No paper required. Just figures on a computer screen. Here's my question: WHERE'S MY GOLD?

Okay, let's be serious. You say Mr. A has a million pounds (of gold presumably). Does he, now? Says who? It's a fiction isn't it? We've all bought into this fiction and are building our lives in one gigantic game of make-believe. If the majority of the world's citizens decide, "That's it, enough of this nonesense, I don't want to play anymore" then the money becomes worthless. I say we demand to see the gold, get back to barter, or purchasing with some other practical item of value, e.g. oil. Or groundnuts. Who's with me?

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Of movies, trailers and revealing reviews.

I love movies. I love walking into a movie and not knowing a thing about it. I love experiencing the cinematic art form as it was meant to be experienced - seeing the plot unfold as envisioned by the writers and directors. Unfortunately, these days you're more likely than not to see half the movie plot given away in some silly trailer months before the movie is released! I believe there was a time when we could watch trailers and they would make us yearn to see the movie, without spoiling that essential element of surprise. The way trailers are made these days, you'd be lucky not to have a scene from the last 20 minutes of the movie flashed shamelessly in your face!

Who makes these things?! Surely the writer and directors can't have much input. My bet is on the big marketing machine of the studios who don't care much about the art form - it's all down to dollars and cents (or pounds and pennies as the case may be!) There are clearly many people who don't mind half the plot of a movie being given away before they see it, else this monstrous marketing exercise would've stopped by now. I have now decided to steer clear of trailers as best I can. Some of the most memorable cinematic experiences I have had occurred when I walked into a movie "blind." No prior knowledge, no review, nothing. Then again, I've had my share of howlers, when I've walked into movies I wouldn't have touched with a long pole, had I watched a few trailers! Gotta take the rough with the smooth!

How about those movie reviews? Now these are actually much, much worse than movie trailers. Is it that hard to write a review without including some pretty horrific spoilers? Would it hurt too much to place a "spoiler alert" at the top of a review, if it goes on to tell you the beginning, middle and end of a movie before recommending that you see it? Mister Critic, why bother recommending a movie to me if you've spoilt it already by giving everything away? I'm only left with a sense of loss, rueing the beautiful movie experience I will miss due to your tactless writing!

Specific examples: Seven Pounds. Awful movie? Yes. Should I have been given the opportunity to judge this for myself without undue influence? Most definitely! In the very first line of the first review I read, I basically came to understand that the guy kills himself in the end. Oops. You've all seen this one by now, right?

How about the movie "My sister's keeper". Here's an extract from a review for you: "Kid gets sick, then sicker and dies. Does this appeal to you? Then watch the movie." What???!!! Just because you thought the movie was so bad, does it mean you won't give any of us the chance to judge for ourselves? Must you chase us away in such a heartless manner?

Spoiler alert: The paragraph above will totally destroy the possibility of a proper viewing experience for the movie "My Sister's Keeper." If by some chance you have already read it, please seek the assistance of the nearest Man in Black.

While I'm ranting like this, I must give a mention to a particularly annoying situation I experienced a couple of years ago, when a certain radio reporter was interviewing a child about what was then the latest Harry Potter book. Not a movie, I know, but the principle's still the same.

Miss Reporter begins: "A major character dies at the end of the book, right?" At this point my eyebrows lift.

"Erm.. yes.." says the child hesitantly.

"You've read it all, haven't you? Who is it?" asks the infuriating reporter. My mouth drops open. This book had only been on sale for a few hours.

"Are you sure you want me to say?" says the intelligent child.

"Oh go on," says the reporter whose name and residential address I wish I knew. "It's our secret, I won't tell anyone, I promise." Shamelessly lying to an eight year old girl on a national medium of mass communication.

By this point I'm lunging for my radio, letting out a slow-motion scream: "Noooooooooo!" The name drops from the little girl's lips before I can get to the button. I'm left staring dejectedly at my radio and wondering what has become of the human race...

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Of Cinemas and Certain Deafness

I haven't been to a cinema in quite a while, and that's saying a lot. Former friends and colleagues (okay, former colleagues - my friends are still my friends) will tell you how much I love my movies! I actually used to own a Cineworld Unlimited pass, which was excellent value for money. Why have I stopped, besides the credit crunch? I can't stand the sound any more.

"What?" I hear you cry. "You must be crazy! How can't you like cinema sound? It's great!"

What planet are you living on? The modern cinema, in my unscientific opinion, is the ticket to certain deafness by the time you're 60. The volume is cranked up so loud it could wake the dead! I've been to many cinema chains in my time and I can't single out anyone for being better or worse than the others on this. Why, oh why does it have to be so loud? Is it perhaps so that the hearing-impaired can enjoy the cinema experience too? I tell you this, if this dangerous societal trend continues, we all, cinema-going people, will be hearing-impaired before long.

Now where's my TV remote control? The volume on these TV programmes are way too low these days...

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The iPhone Exploitation

I love the concept of the iPhone. The adverts draw me; the recommendations from friends are compelling. However, I remain convinced that the phone is currently priced at much higher than what it's worth. I have long passed the phase of running for the latest technology just to be able to say that I was one of the first to have it. I don't believe in being the gadget industry's guinea pig, nor do I wish to spend my hard earned pounds on a product that will drop to a fraction of its current price in the next few years (or months!) when the next big thing comes out. Already, it's being said that the new 32GB iPhone will be priced at around what the 16GB is currently priced; more interestingly, the old 8GB iPhone 3G could be sold for under £70. The truth of this remains to be seen, but what if it does happen this way? I'll be quietly sniggering to myself as I ignore the new release and buy myself a fully functional 8GB iPhone that was the toast of the town only a short while ago!

London Tube Strikes

What is it about our beloved transport for London people that makes them resort to strikes several times every year? Do they really have that much to complain about? I don't claim to be fully aware of their reasons for striking each and every time, but I can't help but remember the words to a rather expletive-ridden London Underground song: "The greedy b******s get 30k for sitting on their a** all day..."

I'm not sure the writer's anger is justified, but it's hard to believe the TFL guys have the interests of the general commuters at heart. I think greed has got the better of the Union leaders and they feel they can strike at the slightest opportunity, causing maximum carnage. I say good on the Mayor for calling their bluff this time. Perhaps if we all get on with our business and let their strikes come and go uneventfully, there will come a day when they will rediscover the value of continued dialogue.

The attack on Gordon Brown

I've been a Labour supporter for as long as I've been able to vote in Britain. I've not always liked their policies, and I've been as disappointed as the next guy over the expenses crisis. However, I was appalled by the way certain members of the Labour party, particularly some former members of the cabinet, went after Gordon Brown these last few days with their daggers fully drawn, ready to spill his political blood.

I was frankly disgusted by the pictures of Harriet Harman walking away from her office with her "rocking the boat" brooch. Does she think we've all forgotten that the real reason she had to leave government was because she was badly stung by the expenses scandal? Yes, I know there were others who did wrong and they were protected by Gordon Brown. I don't claim that the man is a saint. I just doubt the moral integrity of those who would essentially turn the consequences their own wrong-doing into a weapon to hurt their elected leader; those who would pledge full support one day and then spin round 360 degrees the very next day, because they missed out on promotions in the Cabinet reshuffle.

Do I think Gordon Brown is doing particularly well as Prime Minister? Definitely not. Do I think he will lead the Labour Party to victory in the next general elections? Extremely unlikely. Do I think anyone else can achieve this feat? No. Hence, I say let the man serve out his days. Let him do the best he can in the time he and his once-great Labour party have left, before the general election ushers in the inevitable conservative government. No amount of back-stabbing and mudslinging can save Labour now. But it's not too much to ask that they and their leader go down with a little dignity.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Susan Boyle

I dreamed a dream in time gone by. That dream did not involve programmes like "Britain's got talent." This year I managed to sit still for 10 - 15 minutes of an early life show before flicking the channel to something slightly less mundane. I don't doubt that some acts on that show have a great deal of talent but some are to me, frankly revolting.

Susan Boyle. Definitely a talented lady. Is she a particularly exceptional singer? I think not. There are many who are much better singers and much less well known. The Boyle effect was caused simply because she was a woman who did not look as if she had much to offer the world of showbusiness - and how she shocked that world! I saw that clip like the 2 million other people who logged on to Youtube to view the overnight BGT sensation. And I was moved! I instantly understood why she had become so popular, and something in me rooted for her. No, I couldn't bring myself to sit through a whole evening of that ghastly show, but I followed the news as an understandably mesmirised word awaited the 'inevitable' coronation of Susan Boyle.

Sadly, the coronation was not to be. And that is really as it should be. Susan Boyle was not, in my opinion, the most talented person on that show. The 5 seconds I saw of dance group Flawless told me that. And Diversity? Maximum respect to them. I did feel sad for Ms Boyle, as I have a soft spot for the underdog of any tale. The problem is that she lost that underdog status going into the final, due to the excessive media coverage of her journey and the unprecedented support she garnered along the way. She probably became, in the Great British public's eyes, less of the loveable church-going rising star, and more of the over-hyped diva, certain to win irrespective of merit.

Now, Susan is said to be mentally unstable. The press is dishing it out, and the people are lapping it up with predictable eagerness. How fickle the finger of fame. My heart goes out to Susan Boyle. I do hope she recovers and goes on to make a lot of money on the back of her 14 remaining minutes of fame.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Of Dodgy Marketing and Half-Price Sofas

Marketing has really gone to a dark place. Was it ever light? I don't honestly know. All I can say is that I take everything I hear in adverts with at least half a kilogramme of salt. A pinch would hardly suffice.

Every other thing seems to be on "sale" or "half price" these days. It "was £100" and for some inexplicable reason is "now £20". I exaggerate as usual, but I'm sure you get the point. Isn't there something fundamentally dishonest about all this? How about the "half-price sofas" advertised by such companies as DFS? Has anyone every bought a full-price sofa from these places? I'd really love to hear from you!

I have a legal background and know a fair bit about misselling, trading standards and the like. The big advertisers are just as knowledgeable, but it seems they trample the spirit of the law into the cold hard ground on a daily basis. Take for instance, small print. Not the ones you can hold in your hand and read if you really, really tried. No, I'm talking about the ones on posters and billboards... the tiny chicken-scratches referenced by the ominous asterix at the end of some extraordinary claim or other.

"Fly to America, FREE!*"

*when we said free we didn't really mean free, we were just exhaling...honest!

I get really upset by the ones on the other side of the train, where you want to believe whatever silly thing the advert has claimed, but you just know the illegible print situated on the poster will spoil everything. You want to read said illegible print to be sure, but it's totally impractical to do this without planting yourself firmly infront of your fellow passenger's face.

I have nothing against creative advertising and savy marketing. I just don't like it when folks refuse to play fair.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Instant News

Yes, I know it's been said before. Everything's instant these days. Instant coffee. Instant milk. Fast food. Wait a minute, that's not instant... anyway, you get my drift.

We are an impatient generation. And sadly, the new reporting culture has followed this trend to its great hurt.

I remember a time when the news was delivered once a day, in the evening. It was well considered, well presented, factual and largely accurate. These days we're bombarded with breaking news long before anyone is actually sure what the full story is!

Is anyone else as fed up with this as I am? I'm as eager as the next guy to catch breaking news, but guys, at least get the full story first! Why rush to be the first on the scene only to be the first with nothing concrete to say?

MPs Expenses

Okay, what is it about the UK ministers that reminds me so much of 3rd world despots?! Why can't I enjoy 15 news-watching minutes of my day without hearing some soundbite reminding me that one of my representatives is squandering my hard-earned pennies in some God-dishonouring way? I'm fed up!

Having grown up in a so-called "third world country", I'm used to hearing news reports of the political elite enriching themselves off the back of their slaves ... oops, subjects! What's the right word, anyway? Electorate? Will that work?

While I'd be the first to admit that the scale of corruption... (again I use the wrong word! Sleaze? Okay, that seems fine) ... While the scale of sleaze in a country such as the UK is nothing compared with what obtains in some other less transparent countries of the world, it still disheartens me. I guess I expected more. But I've been told that this is a fault of mine. I expect too much of myself and then project that on others.

Is this a problem with the Labour government? I think not. More a problem with human nature. We just can't seem to keep our hands out of the proverbial cookie jar, given half the chance. Some may take a nibble, others a huge bite, still others scoff the whole tin. But wherever we turn there always seems to be someone a-nibbling.

May God save us from ourselves. I wonder how to get my hands on a Labour party application form...

Thursday, 7 May 2009

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