Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Mini-review: Maleficent

Life action reimagining of Disney's animated Sleeping Beauty.  The additional twist is that like Wicked before it, it tells the story of how the villain became evil and why they really aren't that bad after all.  Sounds like a bit of a stretch, and it is a little. They just about get away with it, but the story is weakened by all of the retconning.

Jolie was born to play this part, and clearly relishes every moment of it. Fanning brings a decent amount of life and charm to Aurora.

Elsewhere, it looks rather sumptuous in the right places (fairy land), and suitably dark and menacing in the scary bits. 

Monday, 29 May 2017

Mini-review: Miss Sloane

Chastain's powerful and understated performance as a super smart and utterly committed political lobbyist more than makes up for a slightly creaky plot centred around getting a new gun control bill through the US Congress.

Mini-review: Food rules: an eater's guide

Having recently come across Michael Pollan's simple rule:

Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. 

I decided to read some of the source material which explains the statement above a little more. Food rules is a short book containing a few dozen rules for eating. Often eat rule is based on science and/or folk wisdom - and some of them will settle in your mind, others won't.

Probably my favour was a Chinese one which went something like:

  • Eat one leg (fungi/plants) in favour of two legs (chicken) in favour of four legs (pork etc).
But there were others that were memorable gold e.g.
  • Don't buy anything with sugar (in all of its various forms) in the first few ingredients.
  • If a child can't pronounce one of the ingredients - don't buy it.
In summary, a breezy very short read - and perhaps something to occasionally dip back into from time to time.

Mini-review: Homo Deus

I listened to Harari's previous book - Sapiens - and almost every chapter contained an idea which caused you to look at an existing reality or long held truth from a different angle.  His new work, Homo Deus, isn't quite so dense ideas wise - but they are often equally thought provoking.

I particularly liked the following ideas:

We collectively create our own reality to enable large scale cooperation. 

We have sacrificed meaning e.g. "God said so" for power. 

Many of current "truths" such as our human centric way of looking at the world are no more real than our older religions. 

Data and algorithms will replace our humanist "religions". 

We are likely to concentrate on achieving immortality, happiness and power - but we should be careful what we wish for. For example, happiness can be achieved simply to stimulating the right parts of the brain - but that won't necessarily make life better. 

In the end, I was left feeling that I'd been taken on an interesting tour of someone else's mind - but could grasp little which would be practically helpful. 

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Mini-review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Gloriously deranged sequel/reboot/reimagining/whatever which finally gives Miller's apocalyptic vision the canvas and budget it deserves.  Theron's character is the inspired focus, giving Hardy's Max a supporting role. A strong candidate for the best action film of 2015.

Mini-review: Apollo 13

Most of us know the ending, but this is still a strikingly gripping film. What I was really struck by, however, was the youthfulness of the cast. Still I suppose it is more than 20 years since it was made.  It doesn't feel like it was that long ago.  Hanks, Bacon and Paxton all give subtle restrained performances and it's interesting to reflect how different they are from today's superheroes.

On the blu-ray front, it's not quite as polished looking at today's films but still looks pretty amazing if grainy in places.

Mini-review: Doctor Who - The Pyramid at the End of the World

Epic in scope, but low key follow up to last week's Extremis. Some interesting ideas, but also some fairly dodgy science on display too. It'll be interesting to see where this ends up.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

The 80/20 principle and eating

I like to experiment with my dietary habits to see if can improve my health and well being. I like it even more when I find advice that is concise and looks plausible from a scientific perspective.  I've recently come across a couple of bits which I thought I'd log here:

First up, there's the wonderfully concise Michael Pollan:

and more recently, Rhonda Patrick on the Tim Ferris podcast:

  • Cut out refined sugar
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Eat more vegetables
  • Take Vitamin D (if needed)

PS. I am not a doctor, and don't pretend to be one. Do your own research, speak to your doctor etc.

Mini-review: Alien Covenant

Scott returns to the well for another Alien prequel. Building on Prometheus, it teases out a few more reveals which get us yet closer to the events of the first Alien film. In many ways, this is familiar territory for fans - but there's enough new information to make it worth a watch and there's some surprisingly philosophical elements.

 If there is a criticism, it is in the huge and largely anonymous cast.  It's hard to care about their fate when you barely even know their name. Waterston and Fassbinder are excellent.

BTW, there's a nice call back to Bladerunner in the words one of the characters says.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Mini-review: Doctor Who - Extremis

Extremis kicks the series up a gear with a plot that craftily blends elements of the Da Vinci Code, the Matrix, the 3 body problem and the latest thinking about the possible nature of reality.

Lucas' Nardole gets to do a bit more than usual, but I admit I haven't really got a handle on his character. He feels like a school boy doing an impression of someone else. Elsewhere, Capaldi and Gomez nicely underplay their on-screen together.

Mini-review: Oblivion

Cruise's sci-fi actioner certainly looks the part, and the twists when they come are unexpected and intelligent if ultimately familiar.  Apocalyptic landscapes have rarely looked this beautiful and well realised either. All of the cast shines.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Mini-review: A Dog's purpose

Largely gentle and heart-warming drama rom-com told from perspective of various reincarnations of the same dog.  A sweet, but non-essential tale.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Mini-review: Doctor Who - Oxygen

Tightly plotted satire on capitalism. The opening scene is likely to remain lodged in the nightmares of  many a child's dreams to come.  Watch for wordplay on suits and breathing - and, of course, the cliffhanger.

Mini-review: Battle Los Angeles

By the numbers aliens invade earth war film.  Reasonably well done, but absolutely nothing new here. Save your money, and get Edge of Tomorrow or Starship Troopers instead.

Mini-review: Resistance

Frustratingly slow pace and over reliance on exposition instead of visuals mars an intriguing setup,  excellent cast and some beautiful photography. Another alt-history setup, this film suggests what would happen if Britain had been invaded by Germany during the second world war.   The answer seems to be that most of the population of rural countryside would be stunned into numbness and somehow try to continue as before. It is thought provoking, but that's incidental to the film sadly.

Part of the problem lies with the expectation setting of the cover. It is filled with flames and lots of soldiers. Neither appear in the movie itself. Also it is littered with five star reviews including one which describes it as "loaded with tension". It is better described as a quiet slow moving drama.

One final annoyance. There are no subtitles on the main feature.

Mini-review: Sherlock Holmes

Ritchie's first outing for the iconic character has aged surprisingly well. It's more talky and less polished version of his second Holmes film, but sets up and finds something new to say about the relationship between Holmes and Watson.  It's very much a reluctant bromance.  The plot is somewhat hokey, but the advantage of these films over superhero ones is that at least no-one is expecting an origin story.

Mini-review: Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino's films are always something of an event - even if they turn out not to be terribly good. Inglourious Basterds, however, turns out to be rather fun. Dark and occasionally gruesome fun, but fun nevertheless.  As ever, you can tick off the various pastiches and source material as well as his own particular tropes as you go - but the alt-war setting and set up is surprising and works.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Mini-review: Sherlock Holmes - Game of Shadows

Ritchie's muscular interpretation of Sherlock Holmes gives you a cuff around the head with its confidence second time around - and is all the better for it. A twisty plot, more bromance and other character moments between the leads, and better staging of the action makes for a surprisingly satisfying sequel.

I'd much rather see more of Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes than the various superhero movies he regularly appears in.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Mini-review: Doctor Who - Knock Knock

There are some borderline horrific movements in this spookily effective haunted house mystery.  In short, Bill and friends are looking for a new place to stay and feel they might have found there perfect place in the form of a rambling mansion which is in need a little modernisation, and comes complete with a rather odd landlord.

I've always found Suchet to be rather creepy anyway so the part of weird landlord suits him well.

The Mackie/Capaldi dynamic continues to impress. I feel the student/mentor relationship really suits Capaldi's older Doctor while Bill's inquisitiveness and smarts shows she's already incorporating what she's learned into her questions and analysis of the situation.

Only the resolution feels slightly weak, but it does draw upon a classic series approach to solving problems - talk the monster to death.  Meanwhile in the basement of the university, it's clear that someone or something is being kept in the vault.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Mini-review: Klymit LiteWater Dinghy Pack Raft

For years, I've dreamed of having my own boat - and that's a feeling that's only got stronger since I moved back to North Wales around five years ago.  There were only two problems:
  • I only have a bicycle or my own two feet for transport.
  • I know almost nothing about boats. 
So why did I want one? It simply boiled down to being able to do something more than swim when I came across a mountain lake  - and maybe do a small amount of noodling around in calm sheltered coastal waters. In both cases, the water is far too frigid to spend a lot of time swimming in it for much of the year. 

Last year, I became intrigued by the idea of inflatable kayaks - and even now I still rather like the look of them. But they were definitely on the stick-in-a-car-boot, rather than bicycle pannier or rucksack size of things.

I needed something a little smaller and lighter to carry. 

Enter the Klymit LiteWater Dinghy Pack Raft

The pack raft is basically a tougher and better designed version of the children's dinghy toys you sometimes see at the seaside. It rolls up into the size of large loaf, and weighs probably a little more.  It comes with an inflator, and a puncture repair kit. Note that it doesn't come with a paddle, so I paired it  with a matching (in terms of colour) telescopic paddle.  Together they fit into a small 25l rucksack with plenty of space spare for food, water, waterproofs etc.

It is inflated with an ingenious bag that you scoop air into, and then squeeze down and force air into the dinghy. It also doubles as a dry bag.  When inflating, make sure you blow up the seating area first. I found it best to inflate the seating area through blowing into it. It doesn't take much puff. It's not absolutely necessary to inflate the seating area at all, but it provides some insulation from the cold water beneath.

Maiden voyage

Getting in/out. I found it best to get in from the front, sitting down into it, and then shuffling back until you are the back of the raft with your feet out in front of you. Getting in/out via the side is almost guaranteed to let water in. Not enough to affect the buoyancy, but enough to get a soggy bottom.

It don't have huge amounts of experience, but I felt it tracked pretty well for a dinghy of its type.  Generally handling is good, and confidence inspiring to this beginner.

In terms of upgrades, I'll probably add some cord to one of the tie off points to make it easier to handle getting it in and out of water. Being quite light, a decent wind can make manoeuvring it about on-off dry land a bit tricky without something to hold onto.

Overall, I am very pleased with my new "boat" as it gives a new dimension to enjoying the countryside around here without taking up too much space in the rucksack.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Mini-review: Sherlock Holmes - The Voice of Terror

A wartime outing for Basil Rathbone's Holmes sees him hunting down a radio propagandist. The story is somewhat hokey, but rattles along well enough to plenty of atmosphere.  He's been styled slightly oddly with combed forward hair that would not look out of place in a modern production of a Victorian costume drama and thickly painted on eye brows.  It concludes with a now groan worthy rabble rousing patriotic speech.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Mini-review: Ghost in the Shell

While it doesn't quite reach the heights of Bladerunner in terms of gritty urban vision of the future, this live action remake of the anime classic, comes close at times. It is truly visually spectacular in places, and crucially is populated with plenty of background action.  Johansson gives a nuanced and restrained performance with an occasionally thoughtful script - but unfortunately beyond the opening sequence the action never quite delivers the goods that its competitors do. The plot is essentially a retread of Robocop.

Mini-review: The Amazing Spider-man 2

This second outing features a more mature and wisecracking Spider-man. He's not quite in Deadpool territory, but clearly having fun with his powers. Sadly, he's as conflicted as ever about Gwen.  Foxx certainly offers us a unique performance as Electro.  Overall, it's an enjoyable adventure and Garfield brings a charm that his predecessor never quite managed to capture.  It only becomes a little muddled towards the end with the introduction of a second villain which might have been better served in a third film.