Thursday, December 30, 2010

a blast from the past!

many thanks indeed to the magnificent gent known only to some of us as twslex for sharing this magnificent parody!

Spitting Image did some very impressive parodies of the rich and shameless in their day, and Frankie certainly didn't escape their critical eye!

and, as this may be the last post for the year (you never know), all the best for 2011!!!!!!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 in film.....

or at least the films that i saw! there were a number of films released in 2010 that i wished to see but just didn't get around too. that said, there were a number of films that i did see which turned out to be less than expected. and indeed, as you would perhaps expect, more kids films that would have been usual a few years ago seem to feature on my list, you can guess why!

here, in no particular order, are the 12 that were released during the year that i can recall seeing! and, by the way, none of these were seen in 3D - i am with Christopher Nolan on this, it is a silly gimmick that hopefully everyone gets bored of sooner rather than later.

Toy Story 3 has unsurprisingly been hailed as the biggest moneymaker of the year. at a superficial level it is brilliant, containing just about every emotion you could want from a film and yet somehow making it all perfectly fine family viewing.
i do sometimes raise an eyebrow at how progressively Pixar are just making films for themselves and dressing them up as family entertainment - themes in this and things like Up and in particular Cars seem not really intended for children at least. putting any such concerns aside, this was truly wonderful, and made a mockery of the accepted wisdom that the third film in a series is always worse than those which came before it.

How To Train Your Dragon was not bad at all, but nowhere near as much fun as it could be. all too often concentration wanders off whilst watching this as it takes a while to get going and tends to repeat things a bit too much.
Dreamworks seem to have some sort of rivalry going on with Pixar in regards of making animated, "family" movies. both are pretty much guilty of recently leaning far too much towards "needing an adult mind to understand", but all the same as and when the dragons finally turn up in this move it is rather good fun. i am not sure exactly how many kids watching this are ready for the idea of seeing amputation, so be warned if you haven't seen it yet!

Shutter Island could well be one of the biggest ever wastes of talent and resources to hit cinemas. an intriguing plot, an impressive cast and one of the greatest ever directors involved should have made this a classic. however, for some bizarre reason, the film was promoted with a trailer that pretty much gave you the "plot twist". if that wasn't bad enough, within 20 minutes of the film you got handed a scene that confirmed the giveaway in the trailer was indeed what you thought.
this is indeed a great shame as Leonardo Di Caprio, someone who i have never been all that impressed with, gives the best performance i have yet to see him do. after the dizzying heights reached with The Departed, however, it was a disappointment to see Scorsese apparently slum it with this (at best) b-grade effort.

Shrek 4 (or any of the many names it has been given around the world) certainly wasn't a bad bit of watching, but did test the patience of what should be given a cinematic release and what should go out as a "straight to DVD" sequel.
the film has some charming and witty moments, certainly, but all too often in the space of a (very) short film you get the idea that this one was made for the sake of it, rather than because anyone had some brilliant or inspired idea of a story or adventure for Shrek, Donkey or any of their chums. it struck me as very odd indeed that the most wished to be seen on screen, the "Shrek" babies and the ace donkey-dragon hybrid kids, were just about absent here. all the same, worth a look if you enjoyed the first three, but hardly a essential slice of viewing, sadly.

Predators succeeded as far as making people less angry than usual when a film with these great sci-fi creations gets released. whilst no masterpiece, the film was certainly entertaining when it wanted to be.
the two big surprises this film revealed were that Adrien Brody could cut it quite well as an "action star", and Laurence Fishburne could in fact do a really, really bad acting job when he really couldn't be bothered with the material provided. the actual Predators seem to come into the film quite late on, but when they do make an appearance there are some spectacular action sequences. i am not sure what it is that all these "Predator purists" actually want from a film featuring it, but if it wasn't this then perhaps they should move on to other interests.

Machete started off as being a joke 2 minute trailer in front of the ill-fated Grindhouse film and managed to be better than anything on display in the 200 or so minutes which followed it. the idea of turning this joke trailer into an actual movie gained some swift support, then, and there's no reason at all to be disappointed with what became of it.
the film is littered with ludicrous acts of mindless violence, something for which the intended audience are very, very thankful for. Robert De Niro, a man who seems to have given up on making proper films, is wonderful as he is allowed to go as overboard as much as he likes, and any film which presents a bearable Steven Seagal is worth applauding. special praise, of course, to title star Danny Trejo. glad to see he got a shot at being the main star of a film instead of forever being in the background, and my is he impressive.

i have not watched all of The Last Airbender film adaptation, and i suspect i am not alone in this regard. the premise of the stunning animated series always seemed a bit too involved and long to condense into a conventional movie. it certainly didn't help that they gave the project to M. Night Shyamalan, a terrible film-maker whose one and only well received film, The Sixth Sense, looks more and more like a stretched out episode of The Twilight Zone each passing year.
the best advice i can give you in regards of this film is do seek out the magnificent animated series on which it was based and do not, under any circumstances, bother trying to watch this adaptation, not even for a bet.

I'm Still Here is a film that should have been a 21st Century, post-modernist masterpiece. it isn't, sadly.
after sacrificing close to two years of their careers and a lot of money to make this film, it is very odd that Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck decided to take inspiration from Shutter Island and announce to the world that the whole project was indeed a hoax on the eve of its release. the whole point of appeal for the project was the question "is Joaquin going off the rails for real or not?". giving the answer to that mystery made seeing the actual film somewhat pointless, for you knew the whole thing was fake and thus all you were watching was a (very) badly acted home movie.
it will be interesting to see how much long term career damage the two of them have inflicted upon themselves, all for next to no reason, gain or point made.

Hot Tub Time Machine is very possibly one of the funniest films that i have ever seen. it got lukewarm reviews so i was somewhat wary of it, but it turned out that i pretty much laughed myself silly from start to finish.
the vulgaraties and coarse nature of some of it means that it is not for all, but those who are not too easily offended should check this film out as soon as possible!
there are some glaring errors in the film - what's a poster for Rambo III doing there in 1986, for example - but you get the sense that many of them have been placed deliberatley for people to spot. beyond that, great to see John Cusack return to the kind of performances he gave in High Fidelity and Grosse Point Blank, and it is always ace to see the underused Crispin Glover in anything!

The Expendables, sadly, joins the films on this list that could have been so much better than it turned out to be. something close to a dream cast (for 80s action film fans) was assembled for this project, all for them to more or less stand aside and let Jason Statham be the star of the show. not that there's anything wrong with Statham (far from it, i am quite the fan), but we were all looking forward to Stallone, Dolph and a few others battling away.
the film features sporadic, seemingly toned down action sequences and enough one-liners to keep you interested. the hugely anticipated on-screen match up of Arnie, Sly and Bruce Willis, however, really isn't worth the 90 or so seconds that it lasts. oh well, maybe if they do make the intended sequel this will get redone, only better.

Despicable Me was a revelation. i laughed out loud when i first saw the trailer for this film, and the actual film itself surely did not let anyone down. i would argue that this was perhaps the best of the animated films released this year, no matter how much praise is being heaped on Toy Story 3.
the plot really isn't much more elaborate than an increasingly marginalized "super villain" with more than a passing resemblance to Dr Evil out of Austin Powers trying to use children to unleash his masterplan only to end up caring for them a very great deal indeed. however, it's exceptional fun watching this getting padded out, thanks in great part to the presence of the wonderful minion characters. the name and artwork for the film might not be the most attractive when browsing for films, but trust me, it's well worth watching.

The A Team was finally made into a film and released this year. the track record of TV shows being made into films is dodgy - every time someone gets it right (Dragnet, for instance), several get it wrong (Miami Vice, Starsky & Hutch and I Spy were all truly, truly awful adaptations). it is good, then, to report that they got the magic and appeal of the TV series absolutely spot on with this film.
The A Team manages to stay loyal to the source material much loved by us children of the 80s, yet it introduces enough subtle changes so that it can be appreciated and stand alone for what it is. immense, insane set-piece action sequences are supplemented with fine actors having as much fun with the material as they respect it. probably the best action film of the year, and one of the funniest too.

well, there you have it! of the films that i haven't seen in 2010, i really do wish to watch Inception, True Grit and Iron Man 2 at some point, as well as Wall Street 2. hopefully i get to them sooner rather than later, but time is seldom my own!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

2010 in music.....

....has been, quite frankly, poor. very little in the way of anything new has been interesting or inspiring, with two of the albums i bought this year being very welcome re-releases.

i dare say that there are many out there who would point out some great stuff from the last year. well, i haven't heard it! by all means comment and advise on something i may well have missed, but otherwise here are my choices of five notable albums from the last year. you should all make the effort to have at least one or two in your collection!

starting with re-releases, and a presumably 26th anniversary edition of Welcome To The Pleasuredome was very much a welcome release. this classic album has been beautifully cleaned up, and the extras that come on the second disc are rather spectacular. it's all too easy for some (many) to forget that, under the hype and buzz of the mega selling singles Relax and Two Tribes Frankie were an excellent musical outfit fronted by one of the best singers of the 80s, if not the best. sure, a number of the extras on the second disc will appeal to us die hard fans only, but any lover of music should have this on the shelf and in the stereo.

the most outstanding re-release of the year, however, has to be the magnificent special edition of Bowie's Station To Station album. the album is legendary for being the one Bowie can barely recall making (in his own words) due to the amount of chemicals being consumed, but you'd never guess, so crafted and flawless it is. as well as yet another cleaned up version of the album (i now have 3 "different" remastered versions), the bonus here is a 2 CD set of his highly celebrated Nassau Coliseum gig from 1976. it's basically two discs of Bowie at his live performing best and has several mind-blowing perfomances; the airing of Life On Mars? here in particular being one of the best ever.

as for new music, the Manic Street Preachers followed up their celebrated 2009 album Journal For Plague Lovers with one called Postcards From A Young Man. in its own right, it is an above average album - of the tracks, only 3 are perhaps one you would skip, with the remainder being splendid listening. however, the Manics and their awful label managed to contrive to undermine the release, claiming it would be "one last shot at mass communication" and expecting it to be one of their biggest selling albums. it sold well, but not quite that well. the bizarre choices made around the album (not playing much of it on the tour to support it, releasing one of the weakest songs, Some Kind Of Nothingness, as a single which failed to make the Top 40) tended to undermine whatever it was they were actually trying to do for many of us fans. still, very much worth a number of listens, so if you don't have it, go get it!

in regards of undermining yourself, the odd behaviour of the members of "Madchester" supergroup Freebass managed to distract considerably from the release of their much anticipated album, It's A Beautiful Life. on the eve of the release of this album, bass legends Mani and Peter Hook engaged in a string of abusive messages directed at each other, and kind of signalled the end of the band before it had really began. this, as it turns out, is a great shame. i had expected the album to be a bass-heavy rock festival, and was surprised to instead discover it to be home to the mellower, flowery rock sounds of the Manchester scene. those who miss the days of indie bands making a melodic sound and getting some success with it should really check it out despite the nonsense between the band members.

finally, and perhaps the one of the three new 2010 recordings that you should give serious consideration to buying, we have A Lo Minimo by Nasher. i gave a pretty lengthy review of this album a few months ago on this blog (happy searching for it!), and nothing in the time that has passed has changed my mind about it. wonderful listening with not a bad track on it, no matter how big the current audience for it is it certainly deserves a wider audience than it probably has right now. if you like decent, proper music with actual instruments as opposed to sampled rubbish and talent show winners, purchasing this album and playing it shall not leave you disappointed.

well, there you have it. what with the boys and verk i shall admit time has not afforded me the chance to keep my finger on the pulse of all things music, but if i've inspired anyone to listen to just one of these, i've done a good job! and yes Dad, i know you won't wish to try any of them!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Harlo Christmas

hey everyone

well, rounding off (i think) updates on Christmas, Andrew and Uncle Trevor very kindly sent on some exceptionally large pictures of their yuletide time! i have managed to reduce the size of the images so that they can be accomodated here for all to see!

first up, one of those "best of times, worst of times" images for me, as Andrew forwarded on the land that he could see as he gazed from (presumably) his bedroom window....

aaah, snow. how terrible to live in, but how wonderful it looks, making Christmas seem and feel exactly like it should do. whilst we all have tremendous fun in the sun here, i have still never quite got my head around the idea of celebrating Christmas is summer, at this time of year images from home do really make my heart long to be there once again.

well, i may not be there, but a number of our loved and dear ones are, and they surely had a heartwarming time in the midst of some rather chilly weather! here's Uncle Trevor, Gran and Christopher taking a pause, all interestingly pretending that Chris has not somehow grown antlers.....

and, where Trevour goes, so too does Ruby, it seems! looks like Ruby got an interesting present from Father Christmas, assuming that the penguin like item next to her was intended to be hers!

probably a gift from Colin and Angela, as a pattern or trend is developing. William got a penguin, Ruby got something penguin-looking like, and it seems that another trip was taken to the world of ornithology for a gift to themselves....

the mind boggles as to exactly what one is supposed to do with those pidgeons, but not quite as much as it boggles thinking about what the two of them will do with, or perhaps to, them. however, any further speculation in that respect could see me having to blank out a few words, and probably get punched too.

Andrew seems to have got a splendid gift too, in the form of a statute of the late, lamented figure they call The Stig. i wonder if it's a modern one that talks too?

well, thank you very much for the insights! we wish we could have been there with you to celebrate, perhaps as much as you wish you could have been with us to celebrate in some sun!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!

so, 2-1......

....and whereas the series has not been won, The Ashes, for the first time in a quarter of a century, have been retained by England!

there's a good deal of retrospect and review to come from many, many people over the next few weeks about this series thus far, which i shall certainly be contributing in this post. however, for the moment, let us savour a remarkable achievement for what it is.

praise has been flowing thick and fast from every corner of the oldest contested duel, and rightly so. no one is making excuses for the apparent poor state of the Australian side, instead focusing on the brilliant England team. the most heartfelt praise came from the man who more than anyone else perhaps stopped England from greatness in the Ashes, Shane Warne. nice one fella!

questions do have to be asked, however, as how it is that Australia have fallen so far that they have (so far) lost two Tests against their greatest opponents by an innings. there is no question of the quality of their players, there seems to be huge issues with just how much of that quality is being shown.

a few years ago, when this whole "Twenty Twenty" business started, there was an allegation that the Australian side did not take this new variant of the game seriously. "well, they had better start" was captain Ricky Ponting's answer to that allegation after they had been squarely beaten by Bangladesh in this format of the game. i can't but help wonder if the complacency Australia developed in that version of the game, followed by a few Aussie heads being turned by the alarmingly large money offered by this new format, hasn't crossed over and all of a sudden a new generation of Aussie cricketers have not quite grasped the importance and stature of Test cricket in general and The Ashes in particular.

the one Australian who certainly does appreciate this is the one likely to take, rather unfairly, most of the blame and consequences of not winning The Ashes, Mr Ricky Ponting.

the above, very sadly, could be the last time we see Mr Ponting on the field of play in a Test arena. yes, in this series he has failed with the bat, but far worse than that is how the players he has been given have failed him and their country. very little of what has gone wrong for Australia (and be mindful that the series thus far has mostly rather been what has gone right for England) is the fault of Ponting, but as the leader of the team you can be certain he'll be expected to shoulder the fallout. no genuine cricket fan would wish or hope to see Ricky leave the game in the manner it looks like he will be.

well, whereas The Ashes are ours for another couple of years, there's the small matter of a live series still on our hands. in the New Year everything moves to the beautiful city of Sydney, where one hopes and expects that England will face a tough battle to beat Australia. we have a squad capable of doing it, let us see if Australia has the will and mettle to stop us.

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

scenes from our Christmas....

hey everyone

righty-ho, let's see if i can give you all a brief but big-ish, informal yet hopefully informative look at our Christmas Day!

up front, James was rather ill on Christmas Eve, to the extent that he was running a high temperature for most of it. we battled to bring it down, and Michele was up on and off for most of the night with him. thankfully his temperature dropped significantly during the small hours of the day itself. Michele was able to get a few moments' sleep during the night, before the boys waited until as late as 5:30am to get up and see if Santa had been to visit. indeed he had, boys!

William, whilst developing very well indeed, was a bit confused about another day of having all sorts of things which he was allowed to rip the paper off so soon after the last one. his confusion soon passed though, and he seemed rather thrilled with what delights were hidden under the, apparently tasty going on his appetite for eating it, many sheets of wrapping paper.

of the one million (give or take) items that James had requested Father Christmas bring for him, he seemed genuinely delighted with what had arrived via the reindeer express, and indeed said a big thank you for all of them! he was particularly pleased to get his hands on something called (take a breath before you say this) Ben 10 Alien Force - Vilgax Attacks, which is just as well, since he asked for it on the last Christmas Day when his Uncle Dylan got it!

James and William had a delightful time opening up all of their presents, and as i mentioned seemed particularly impressed with them all. James, it seems, got all the things that he could recall asking for (give or take well over nine hundred thousand), and William was very happy to have things that he could throw about, carry around and hit.

ah, here are the boys with the "squeaky penguin" from the Harlo gang that i mentioned earlier today!

they are both well taken with this one! i suspect that if we had just bought a dozen or so of these they would have been rather happy!

later in the day Grandma and Grandad arrived. yes, in that car, as well as Richard's one. it seems that Santa had decided to leave some of the presents for James and William at their house since they visit them a bit, so Grandma and Grandad decided to bring it over.

the presents needed a fair bit of construction work, which Grandad delights in despite his best efforts at moaning, and James was only too happy to help!

however, it was not too long in to the construction business that Grandad decided to start stabbing himself on an array of plants, and indeed use distinctly unfestive language as a consequence, so James withdrew his assistance at some points to safely watch the building going ahead, keeping William company.

Grandma, well versed in Grandad's rare instances of unfestive language, soon stepped in and made sure that construction carried on relatively smoothly.

even i, your humble narrator, got in on the action a bit! i am not usually allowed near any complex DIY or building projects at all, but it was considered safe to allow me to tighten up a few bolts and bang some pins into the ground!

if i say so myself, which i do here, i did such a good job that surely my reputation for having a natural affinity for breaking stuff should fall by the wayside and i should be allowed to have a crack at your new car, Dad?

didn't think so, in relation to the above question. anyway, after i had finished my bits, the construction was ready for use!

my, that is one impressive jungle gym set the two boys have! so what if we no longer have much of a garden? gardens are meant for playing in, after all!

William, now walking and diving at spots where he wishes to stop, has taken something of a shine to the idea of climbing up stuff. this thus far has mostly been limited to TV stands and security gates, but the evidence suggests that he may very well accept just limiting his climbing activities to actual, proper climbing frames from now on!

James basically likes everything on offer, but the swing seems to have taken place of preference for him thus far!

i think this might be because as much as he loves sitting on the see-saw with William, so William loves trying to dive off the see-saw and get on the climbing frame!

later in the day it was time to go over to see Grandma and Grandad at their house where, wouldn't you know it, yet more gifts awaited the boys!

as well as having a whopper of a Christmas dinner (i was served a magnificent sized steak, the size of which suggested that there was perhaps not a great deal left of the cow), it was time for a nice afternoon swim, something that presumably our good friends and family in Europe and America didn't do.

here is our attempt at a family portrait for you!

not quite as self-taken as Gillian's as we didn't take it ourselves (i have no idea if our camera even has a timer thingie), but it does the job all the same!

wouldn't you know it turns out that William is quite the water baby? after getting his toes in the pool he was very keen on the idea of Daddy taking him around and around, quite a few times!

he was even kicking away for most of it - i suspect he shall be a natural swimmer!

James loves the idea of swimming and the pool, but he really doesn't like the idea of getting his hair too wet. trust me, hairwashing is an experience of note as a consequence. anyway, James loved his hour or so in the water, and gave the thumbs up to both that and, i'd like to think, the day as a whole!

well, that's a few slices of our wonderful day! really hoped, dear readers, that you all had a great time too!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Festivus in New Zealand

well, as timewise they had Christmas before us (probably around the time that we were opening up the Christmas Eve present, i think), why not start with a look at Christmas Eve in New Zealand? i believe that they call it Christmas there too, but thought i had better make mention of the Seinfeld inspired replacement holiday in case they call it something else.

as regular readers are all too aware, the postal services are usually pretty good at delivering items to New Zealand, and here Daniel and Katie proudly show off items which have been happily received by them!

quite an impressive array of cards there! nice one!

it is not only the postal services of the world which can find New Zealand. oh no, far from it - it seems that Mr S Claus esq. is equipped with the skills to find all the good children who live there!

looking at the presents they got, which are not shown here to maintain an element of mystery, Daniel and Katie must have been very, very good indeed this last year! so too, as it happens, must have been Grant, as it look like he got the veritable king of gifts!

looks like a splendid thing to have a snooze on, Grant, in particular after a hard day out there [TEXT OBSCURED ON LEGAL ADVICE], assuming that they are not all locked up in a barn for Christmas and that you had the energy and enthusiasm for it, of course.

something of a tradition for Gillian would be the composure and construction of a family self portrait every Christmas. as this is the case, this year was certainly no exception!

my, how majestic and regal they look!

finally, it seems a trip to the beach is how Festivus is rounded off in New Zealand, no matter how overcast the weather appears to be!

well, i for one would not stand in the way of my sisters' desire for an ice cream at any time, and Daniel being dressed ready to rescue someone could well have been a bonus!

righty-ho, as it looks like they had an ace time over there, time for me to try and trawl through our pics and see what i can get on this site for you!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

the night before Christmas

hey everyone

well, yes, OK, i understand that this post should perhaps be called "the night before Christmas some 4 days after the fact", but that's quite a wordy title, even for me!

as you can no doubt well imagine Christmas has been a very, very busy time with the boys, so it is only now that i am back at verk that i find i have a few moments to do some updates!

first off and, as the title and introduction has suggested to you, Christmas Eve. those lovable volcano victims The Harlos sent along an extra special present for James and William to be opened on Christmas Eve. it is not like James or William needed to be asked twice to open it!

the gift turned out to be nothing less than the magnificent tale The Night Before Christmas, which James thoroughly enjoyed hearing, and William delighted in trying to eat the wrapping paper of!

thanks Harlo gang, a wonderful treat! they very much liked their Christmas presents too, in particular the penguin which appears to have a dodgy stomach - you may be happy to learn that William is mimicking the sound of that penguin!

well, as many updates as i can do shall follow this, but in the mean time i trust you all had a wonderful, fun and peaceful Christmas!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

98 all out

thank you very much indeed all those involved for this brilliant Christmas present.