Monday, 21 December 2015

The Future Isn't What It Used To Be - And I'm Not That Thrilled With The Present(s)

It's fair to say that, by and large, Science Fiction has totally lied to us about what the future held for us.  We were promised flying cars and hover boards by 2015 (Back To The Future), humanoid robots to do all our dirty work for us by 2019 (Blade Runner among others) and all sorts of gadgets like portable devices we could be handed to sign off work wait, Star Trek actually did predict that one.

But the one thing I think we can all guarantee in the not so distant personal future is that moment on Christmas Day when we receive a well intentioned gift and we smile cheerfully in the hope that INSERT BELOVED RELATIVE HERE won't notice as the words "Charity Shop" flash across our brains.  Typical such presents include:

#1: The Tacky Thing

The tacky thing varies from person to person but must consist of one or all of the following: 1 - ceramic oddly shaped serving bowl that due to it's depiction of cheerful reindeer can only be brought out a) at Christmas and b) when not serving venison.  2 - Festive attire: either a jumper, scarf, hat or tie that has pictures of Christmas and, preferably, plays "jingle bells" at a note on the chromatic scale that had previously been undiscovered.

#2: The Pot Plant

Now this is a tricky one, because unlike The Tacky Thing which has clearly been bought either a) by someone who doesn't really know you or b) is trying to foist their own Christmas fixation onto you - the pot plant person has decided that a plant will Cheer A House Up and add some much needed greenery.  But despite all their well meant intentions what they have given you is not so much a present as a problem.

Plants don't traditionally do well for me - I have been known to kill off supposedly indestructible plants by mere dint of a) placing them in the wrong degree of sunlight or b) just plain forgetting to water them/stop watering them at the right times.  The one exception to this at time of writing is a pot plant I bought home from the office when we moved to another site - it had survived routinely being forgotten about there and so has thrived on the same basis ever since (the plant is called Florence by the way - for reasons that are unclear to me now)

#3: The Lottery Ticket

We've all done it - forgotten about someone and, at the last minute, gone out and bought them a lottery ticket in the hope that they will a) win the lottery and b) not forget their kind relative/friend when they do and quietly slide a Mercedes or two in our direction - but the chances are extremely high that what you have just given to this person, a person you presumably care enough about to buy them something, a worthless piece of paper.  And should it turn out that you have actually bought them some winning numbers you will, of course, kick yourself for all eternity that you didn't keep it for yourself when you get that postcard from Barbados

#4: The Thing With Cats On It

A few years ago you went out and, on a whim, bought an amusing thing with a cat on (or insert whatever thing it actually was).  People came to visit and remarked on it and you said, in a generalistic way, that yes indeed: you had a passing fondness for cats: and now of course everyone buys you cat trinkets and somehow you are a collector of such things who rues the day you ever passed the shop where you bought that first item that led to your house being festooned with cats playing banjos, cats smoking cigars over a game of cards, cat toilet roll holders - because everyone who knows you knows you are a cat person despite the amount of protestations that actually you'd rather have anything else but another porcelain figurine of a cat ballerina

#5: The "Hilarious" Calendar

I never buy a calendar until January.  Not only can you get it for half the price even though you've only lost about five days of useage but you can always guarantee that at least three well meaning relatives and/or friends will buy you one - one that you will not like but will inevitably be stuck with.  Last year's calendar pretty much sets the bar for these - it was a collection of satirical newspaper "cartoons" from a newspaper I never read about articles that had been in the news the previous year!!!!!

I would say that I have never, in my entire life, seen a funny political cartoon in a Newspaper, but that would be a lie as I have seen precisely one: a cartoon of George Bush and Tony Blair as Laurel & Hardy and even that only raised a faint smile.

#6: Socks

There's a curious curve in the diagram of sock appreciation.  If you get given a pair of socks as a kid then you have probably been bad or something and will spend the rest of the day grumping and complaining that at least they could have been fitted with bluetooth - whereas as you get older socks become an increasingly attractive present to replace the other pairs that somehow never seem to be to hand when you need them (or to foot for that matter)

#7: Adopting An Animal For Someone

Actually quite a good idea in some ways, because it's charitable and it helps the animal - but at the end of the day you never actually get to enjoy the animal itself (and even if you did it would probably destroy your house and eat your cat) - but the weird thing is that part of adopting your animal is that you get letters and photos "from" the animal telling you how well it is doing and encouraging you to donate more - it's sort of charity by proxy: the recipient hasn't actually lifted a finger to help Save The Whelk (a struggling creature now that more people are flying than travelling by sea) but gets to feel good about themselves nonetheless

I'm sure there's plenty more of these presents of this ilk, perhaps you would like to add a few yourself?  Well, anyway have a good one and meanwhile here's a little present from me:

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

A Few More Films You Might Want To See

Well yet again I seem to have lapsed when meaning to show my face on here more often, so to speak, so here are some films I've seen recently and what I made of them:

#1 The Martian

A while ago my friend and lapsed blogger Argent, lent me the book of The Martian - I found it an interesting book which was clearly well researched but, if I'm honest, I found the level of actual science in the book a bit hard going sometimes.  When I first heard it was going to be a film I really wasn't sure it would translate well for precisely that reason - how much of the book would be sacrificed in the name of cinematic action.

It's often been said that Ridley Scott is more interested in the look and feel of a film than the script and that, as a result, some of his films have struggled -but when, by some chance, he is given a good script he really delivers the goods.  In this case the story finds our hero marooned on Mars after his crew flee in a storm, leaving him for dead.  From thereon in he is left to try and problem-solve long enough to be rescued.

The key element in a film like this has to be the watch-ability of the main actor and Matt Damon was an excellent choice here as he walks around the habitat growing potatoes, creating water and suffering endless disco music whilst chatting to himself the entire time and trying to communicate with Earth.

The film is visually stunning, but I have to admit that it took a second viewing for me to really engage with the story - possibly because having read the book I already knew the outcome or perhaps because I never really felt he was in much danger.  Still, all things considered, this is definately worth a watch - but I don't know if it would stand up to repeated watching on home video.

#2 Mr Holmes

There have been many attempts to bring the character of Sherlock Holmes to the screen, from Basil Rathbone driving around New York in a taxi inbetween fighting Nazi's to Robert Downey Jnr and Bennedict Cumberbatch with their post-modern takes on the story (for my money the only actor who ever truly encapsulated Holmes as written by Conan-Doyle was Jeremy Brett in the ITV dramatizations of the 1980s who drove himself to a nervous breakdown as a result of his commitment to the role)

In this take we find Holmes, portrayed by Ian "Gandalf" McKellan, fully retired and keeping bees, fighting against the onset of alzheimer's and desperately trying to remember his final case which took place some years early.

This isn't a detective case as such but more a character study of Holmes the man as he comes to terms with his mortality and steadily makes friends with his housekeeper and her young son - for once allowing his long-controlled emotions to come to the surface.

It's a gentle story with a wonderfully judged performance by McKellan and Milo Park shines as the young boy, and if perhaps the central mystery is a bit too thin then this hardly seems to matter by the film's conclusion.  Again, I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to watch it again, but it did impress me whilst it was on the screen and left me thinking afterwards

#3 The Lady In The Van

I doubt that the name Alan Bennett will mean much in the USA but for many here in the UK his style of writing encapsulates our understanding of the "talking head" style of drama - having made a name for himself both on stage and screen for writing wry and thoughtful monologues on elements of life (including one I think was called The Biscuit Under The Sofa in which an Beryl Reed played an old woman who had had a fall and was unable to get up)

Moving on from having actors play the parts Bennett later placed himself in the centre of the stories, something he had perhaps always been on the periphery of, with his tales of Northern life and this story is no different, with Bennett recounting the mostly true story of the old lady who parked her van on his drive and lived there for 15 years.

Maggie Smith (perhaps best known as the Dowager Lady of Downtown Abbey to Americans) manages to make the central "lady" both likeable and a figure of some pity despite her rudeness and lack of gratitude) and Alex Jennings is good fun to watch as he plays Alan Bennett the writer talking to Alan Bennett the person (a device of splitting the character that works very well on the screen)

It's fair to say, as some critics have indeed done, that the story never really moves anywhere much or make any major points - but I rather think that misses the point of Bennett's work and his conclusion that sometimes things in life just happen

We took my parents with us to see this one and they both said that it was more serious than they thought it would be; but i would probably clarify that I felt the level of melancholy humour was just about right

Next film I see will be Star Wars: Episode 7 - which i'm hoping will be better than the prequels