Friday, 29 September 2017

Broken ankle: three weeks on

I was out running three weeks ago and slipped on some cut grass on a local footpath. After a bout of nausea and a few deep breaths I somehow managed to make it back home with a rapidly swelling leg. Although I thought my ankle felt a little floppy, I assumed since I could walk on it that it wasn't broken - but likely a bad sprain.

After nearly a week, I was finally persuaded by one of my bosses to go and get it checked out.  They tactfully suggested that swelling all of the way up to my knee, an ankle that was twice its normal size and being unable to stand or sit vertically due to pain from blood pooling was probably more than a simple sprain.

The next morning saw me somehow clamber onto my bike and pedal/scoot it to my local clinic a couple of miles away.  My GP suspected a fracture of the fibula but I'd need to visit my local hospital for an X-ray to confirm.  All of the staff I saw there were impressed, but not necessarily in a good way, that I'd managed to cycle the four miles there.  They confirmed a broken fibula and gave me some crutches and a Darth Vader boot to hold everything together.  I was allowed to go by the nurse practitioner in A&E on the strict understanding that she didn't want to see me back in there on a stretcher after crashing the bike. I gave her a grin that suggested more confidence than I actually felt.

Week two saw steady improvements - especially once I bought some compression socks to help reduce the swelling related pain.  The first night of wearing those resulted in what looked at least a litre of water in the bucket doubling as a night time commode. Impressive, most impressive - as Darth might have said in during his own recovery after being boiled by larva.

A follow up visit to the hospital was sobering as the break looked rather nasty and I narrowly missed surgery.

Week three has brought considerable improvements in mobility (I can walk around the house avec boot - and outside with a single crutch), pain (this might be my first painkiller free day) and swelling (much reduced on everywhere except the break area).  But surprisingly, it's also been a week of exhaustion.  Monday was a near wipe-out and I had to take the day off and Thursday started off utterly dreadful with my normal morning activities taking at least four times as long to complete - but I did begin to feel normal towards the end of the morning.  Sometimes I've been to bed as early as 6.30pm.  Apparently, it is not uncommon for bone healing to be extremely tiring.

Week four is supposedly the last full week of Darth's boot before I can wean myself off it. We shall see.

So what have I learned from the experience so far?

My habit stack routine has really helped. Sure, I've not always been able to complete it due to mobility problems, pain or tiredness - but it has helped give some momentum and sense of progress to each day.

It probably also helps that the stack includes things which can be with little or no physical effort or mental overhead as they happen semi-automatically.

Finding a non-physical displacement activity has also helped. I've picked up my Duolingo Welsh course again and am enjoying making progress on that.  It also feels easier to focus on it than previously.

Unfortunately, I haven't managed to keep up momentum on the CreativeLive challenge. Perhaps one new habit was enough.

Headspace, those purveyors of fine mindfulness activities, have a 30 day guided meditation course on pain management which has started to allow me to consider a different relationship to it.  I'm into around day 20 now and feeling somewhat of a fraud as most pain has gone now. But it has been an interesting exercise.

Treating it like an adventure.  I generally avoid doctors and hospitals like the disease ridden places of death that the Daily Mail would have us believe they are.  As it turns out, my local NHS is startlingly good. I was seen by my GP within half an hour without booking an appointment and haven't waited for more than ten minutes at each hospital encounter. Every contact I've had has been friendly, professional and efficient with even the odd flash of humour.

Substitution. I've managed to find manageable alternatives for most of my physical activities except running e.g. floor yoga rather than weight-bearing.

I'm obviously keen to get back to running, but between walking with crutch, cycling and chair cardio from Caroline Jordan - I am not going stir crazy.

Friends. It's been wonderful to have friends visit, sympathise and offer help as well as via the wider social media community and neighbours. I met one neighbour in the local supermarket at the checkout - and they kindly drove me home complete with bike and shopping - which while it wasn't necessary was certainly appreciated.

Similarly, young people have regularly offered to help while I've been stumbling around loading up my bike with shopping - and older ones have given me plenty of sympathetic looks.

Review: Day Shift

The second of Harris' Midnight trilogy ups the ante a little in this whodunnit paranormal series as there are several mysteries to solve and it no longer has to do any scene-setting.

I guessed more than one of the reveals in advance, but was mystified by the conclusion to the main one and I'm pretty sure another was never explained at all. Perhaps that'll come in book three.

Overall, it makes for a more satisfying read than the first book, Midnight Crossroad - and I enjoyed the introduction of at least two characters I recognised from the Sookie Stackhouse series.

But it's still no compulsive page turner and the characters, despite glimpses of fascinating backstories, are just too ordinarily presented. Harris has also created something of a bind for herself in that the set up requires characters to keep their distance which tends to result in functional dialogue rather than witty or sparky exchanges.

Beware, I was spoiled for one of the reveals by searching for details of the television series. One of the images that appeared in the search results immediately revealed the true nature of one of the characters.

Verdict: Low-key cosy mystery

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Review: Midnight Crossroad

Midnight Crossroad is the first book of the latest series by Charlaine Harris.

I've previously only read Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series - the misadventures and romances of a waitress in a world where vampires have come out of the coffin and live amongst us.  That series was fun mystery initially and very effectively built a believable world of supernatural fantasy.  Unfortunately for me, the fantastical and romantic elements came to dominate increasingly convoluted and yet somehow skimpily drawn plot lines coupled with tedious descriptions of what the main character was wearing.  I bailed out around book eight. I similarly gave up on the television series, True Blood, around the fifth season.

Midnight Crossroad is rather more stripped back and probably better for it. But it lacks the descriptive power of the previous series, and is by comparison a real slow burner of a cozy mystery rather than paranormal romance adventure. Nothing really happens in the first sixty or so pages and it chooses multiple viewpoints which often don't feel distinctive enough.

The setup - a small Texan town - inhabited by unusual people who have secrets to slowly reveal is a good one as is the plot and some of the characters become more appealing as their true selves are revealed.   The conclusion feels overly quick, even a little pat but does add a little bite.

I am hoping the second and third books of the trilogy deliver more oomph.

Verdict: Flat fantasy mystery.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Review: Nosferatu

Nosferatu is an eerie silent movie retelling of the Dracula story. It was made when the original book as still in copyright and so makes numerous changes to the original story and characters. Not enough, however, for the Stoker estate which successfully sued the makers and the court ordered all copies to be destroyed. Thankfully, they weren't victorious in this respect, and we can still watch this iconic image-laden tale.

I had to laugh when an estate agent turns out to be one of the bad guys who comes under the spell of Dracula Count Orlock. Nothing changes there then!

It does suffer from some of the outside night time scenes obviously being shot in brilliant sunlight although the locations are often evocative. This is a problem Hammer would later share.

The tinting adds some clever touches. For example, there is a shot of Hutter going to bed and lighting a candle. The tint abruptly changes from blue to orange adding genuine atmosphere.

But it's Shreck as Nosferatu who really stands out. He gets all of the best trick shots and most thoughtful expressionist compositions - and frankly is one of the ugliest vampires committed to celluloid. It's hard to imagine any teenage girls fawning over him.

The blu-ray from Masters of Cinema makes this near one hundred old film look amazing for its age, and the additional inter titles improve the narrative considerably.

Verdict: Haunting vampire classic.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Review: The Divide

Unremittingly grim tale of life after a nuclear bomb is dropped on New York. Biehn still looks remarkably  youthful as the building supervisor forced to shelter some of the building's other occupants in his well-provisioned basement nuclear shelter.

It probably comes as no surprise that the community slowly descends into a Lord of the Flies/Mad Max/Apocalypse Now madness.  It's a decent and involving addition to the genre.

But it's not without its problems. There are plot holes a plenty e.g. the basement seems incapable of storing sufficient amount of food and water for the occupants' extended stay and it's not clear where they get their electricity. Some plot developments are never satisfactorily explained and only seem to be there to ramp up the tension.  Lastly, some characters are well drawn, while others are completely bland.

Lastly, be warned the cover is hardly representative of what's on screen.

Verdict: OK base-under-seige tale.

Review: The Man Who Saved The World

Story of how one night in 1983, a little known Russian, called Colonel Stanislav Petrov, saved the world from nuclear annihilation.  As he modestly puts it, he was in the right place at the right time.

The documentary covers both the story of how he managed to avoid nuclear war in the face of overwhelming evidence that the US had launched five missiles at the USSR as well his current life including a tour of the US where he is feted by celebrities and his estrangement with his mother.

Modern Petrov comes across as a real life Ove - thoughtful and retiring at times, bitterly angry and rudely suspicious at others - and not without reason.

Verdict: Insightful Cold-War story

Quote: The nourishing power of compliments

I can last two months on a good compliment.

Mark Twain

Monday, 18 September 2017

Review: Baby Driver

Self-confident and highly entertaining multi-heist movie.

Elgort as Baby draws comparisons with Schwarzenegger in Terminator as they both play near wordless, and effortlessly cool & quotable, titular characters while others, like Spacey, Hamm, Foxx and James, do the acting heavy lifting.

Particular praise must also be awarded for whomever chose the soundtrack and the editing certain parts of the film to the beat of it.

The film meanders slightly towards the end, but even I still finished it with a smile on my face.

This is how I imagined the Fast and Furious franchise to be like before I watched it - instead of the turgid humour-free zone it actually was.

Verdict: Be my baby.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Review: Jurassic World

Another outing for this missus-pleasing favourite.  It's twenty years since the events of the first movies and Jurassic Park World is thriving. But like any business it's struggling to find the next big thing. The next big thing in their terms happens to be a genetically modified uber-beast.

It is not too long before things go awry and the Swiss cheese failure model comes into play.  I was surprised at the effectiveness of this new outing as returning to the well isn't always successful - especially so long after the last movie. This feels fresh and original and is a strong contender for best of the series.  I liked the sly subverting of the original baddie as well as the various plot borrows - most noticeably - from Aliens.

Verdict: Old magic recaptured.

Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Quintessential fantasy explorer adventure sees action-archaeologist, Indiana Jones, on the trail of the ark of the covenant.  It's a beautifully constructed blockbuster which taps into the 1930s serials with regular cliffhangers, evil Nazis and Egyptian mythology.

Ford is well cast as a brainy everyman hero - not too beautiful or heavily muscled - and brings a weary seen-it-all before wit when dealing with the various obstacles he encounters.

Verdict: Perfect adventure movie.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Review: The Handmaiden

Erotic romance thriller set in Japanese occupied 1930s Korea - and what a bizarre set up it is. If I understood it correctly, a scam artist recruits a street urchin (the Handmaiden) to carry out the ultimate con. He'll pose as a Japanese count and persuade a loveless woman in a remote country house to elope to Japan where he'll then have her committed and split her inheritance with said urchin.

Add in a weird old uncle with an unusual taste in book collecting and awe-inspiringly rich palette of locations and costumes, and you have the makings of a film that treads the fine line between genius, voyeurism and culture-shock.

It is never anything less than attention grabbing, and despite the unusual topic, by the end it has earned its place as a recognisable, if not the best, of the director Chan-Wook's work.

Verdict: Weird Korean beauty.

Review: Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon is a made-for-TV film of the classic sci-fi book of the same name.  Charlie (Modine) is someone of sub-normal intelligence and he's offered the chance of increasing it through surgical intervention.

The story is an interesting one raising ethical questions about the treatment of the disabled, the role of intellectual intelligence in happiness and whether there is a trade off between intellect and emotional intelligence.

Modine isn't really an actor I've paid much attention of before, but he brings sensitivity to this emotional  tale as does Williams. From memory, there were some significant changes from the book which was probably unfilmable in the original form, but overall this is a good translation to the screen.

Verdict: Thoughtful ethics story.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Creativelive: 28 to Make: Day 4 - Draw What's in your bag

Creativelive has a 28 to make challenge where you get a prompt for something to draw or make every day for 28 days.

Day 4: Draw what's in your bag. 

Here's my attempt:

Today it's the turn of my trusty phone to be immortalised as it is one of the few things I regularly carry. The case if you were wondering is this one.  It does add a significant amount of extra protection to the phone although is somewhat utilitarian in look. Heavy rain will penetrate the case after an hour or so too.

I don't know that this was the most interesting challenge. Hopefully tomorrow's will be more fun.

Fancy joining me? Check out the free series of video tutorials*.

*This is an affiliate link. I get a small commission if you go on to buy anything using it.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Review: Carlito's Way

Opening a film with narration from the lead is often a bad sign (cf the original release of Bladerunner).  Usually, unless it's a documentary, it feels incongruous - even forced or it's an admission that something went wrong in the creative process and we're back to tell rather than show.

In Carlito's Way though, the narration is like the rest of the film. It's not terrible, but there's a sense of tiredness about the project.  That's kind of fitting given the topic.

Pacino puts in a good performance as a 1970s New York gangster given a second chance and who wants to take it. His dream is to run a car rental firm with a friend on a Caribbean Island.

His girlfriend's (Miller) take on the situation is that he'll never escape while he feels obliged to old friends, is following the rules of the street etc. A variation of what got you here won't get you there.

The question is: Can he shake off his old ways to pursue his dream?

Verdict: Good unexceptional experiment

Creativelive: 28 to Make: Day 3 - Draw your favourite album art

Creativelive has a 28 to make challenge where you get a prompt for something to draw or make every day for 28 days.

Day 3: Draw your favourite album art. 

Here's my attempt:

This was a tricky one because I don't listen to much music, and certainly not actively. But this invokes memories of my twenties, of houses shared with inmates much more passionate about music than I was - and you know what? Some of it rubbed off when it came to Mezzanine by Massive Attack.

Fancy joining me? Check out the free series of video tutorials.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Review: Ender's Game

Undeservedly maligned teen sci-fi adventure. Sure it follows the by now overfamiliar story - oddball kid is destined for greatness if only they can discover it within themselves, a wise mentor believes in and guides them.

But it does have a good twist towards the end as well as a compelling vision for a future Earth after it has been attacked by aliens (Independence Day 2 also does to less successful effect). Butterfield stars and is sufficiently odd, with good support from Steinfield and Ford (the mentor).

Any sequels, should they materialise, have some potentially interesting directions to go in too.

Somehow despite it having recognisable elements from Harry Potter, Star Wars and The Last Starfighter - I like this movie.

Verdict: Space Potter

Review: Scarface

Bloody, violent retelling of a street-level thug rising to the top through raw intelligence and brutal ferocity. When the much anticipated "Say hello to my little friend" moment finally comes, it does not disappoint.

Pacino is exceptionally good in this. His anger is much more controlled than later coke-fuelled characters he would play (cf Hanna in Heat) and all the better for it.  Pfieffer plays the long suffering wife in a breakthrough role.

Verdict: Top-notch Pacino.

Review: The Wind in the Willows

It's been a long time since I read The Wind in the Willows, or watched the iconic 80s TV series - and this isn't the book I remembered. Before it was an adventure peopled, or animaled, by characters such as Rat, Mole, Badger and Toad. Now, it feels more like a prose-hymn to the deep and transitory nature of friendship, community, the natural world and life.

It's quite a long time since you did any poetry,' he remarked. `You might have a try at it this evening, instead of--well, brooding over things so much. I've an idea that you'll feel a lot better when you've got something jotted down--if it's only just the rhymes.'

The Rat pushed the paper away from him wearily, but the discreet Mole took occasion to leave the room, and when he peeped in again some time later, the Rat was absorbed and deaf to the world; alternately scribbling and sucking the top of his pencil. It is true that he sucked a good deal more than he scribbled; but it was joy to the Mole to know that the cure had at least begun.

Strikingly, there are almost no female characters as those that do show up have minor parts and are mostly not named. I guess this reflects the times (Edwardian) and the original audience (Grahame's son).

The vocabulary is also richer than simple story suggests. I enjoyed looking up some words which are now out-of-common use and may never have been given their obscurity.

Verdict:  (T)ode to friendship.


Creativelive: 28 to Make: Day 2 - Draw a Houseplant

Creativelive has a 28 to make challenge where you get a prompt for something to draw or make every day for 28 days.

Day 2: Draw your a houseplant. 

Here's my attempt:

This challenge was a little harder because there's a lot more complexity in the shape of my jalapeƱo chilli pepper seedings. In the end, I decided to go with something which was a bit more impressionistic rather than accurate.

And at least it reminded me to water it today!

Fancy joining me? Check out the free series of video tutorials.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Creativelive: 28 to Make: Day 1 - Draw your beverage

Creativelive has a 28 to make challenge where you get a prompt for something to draw or make every day for 28 days.

Day 1: Draw your own drink. 

Here's my attempt:

I enjoyed this challenge as it made me think about which vantage point to draw my early morning mug of green tea from. I choose below because due to injured ankle I'm doing a lot more crawling at the moment and it's making me think about the world from a dog or small child's point of view. I also liked that the base of the mug was obscured from this angle, and the top was convex - confounding my mind's expectations.

Fancy joining me? Check out the free series of video tutorials.

My workout for a little while

I'm off my left ankle after falling and landing on it during a run on wet grass -and that means a bit of adaptation while I'm recovering. I tried this out this morning and it seemed to do the job of getting the  heart rate going and improving my mood:

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Review: Sunrise

Sunrise is regarded as one of the last great silent movies, and Academy awards aside, it's easy to see why. Film had come a long way by 1927.  Director Murnau manages to pull off both technical and creative brilliance in the form of (mostly) naturalistic performances, some outstanding montages and animated  inter-titles to realise an expressionistic world which is by turns horrific, amusing and romantic. Gaynor as The Wife, who resembles Drew Barrymore at times, gives a particularly emotionally deft performance.

Some silent film tropes never quite go away though as the rescue dog makes an appearance, but this time it is subverted to add additional suspense.

Verdict: Silent and deep.

Review: The Firm

Slow, but decently made, lawyer procedural thriller starring Cruise, Hackman, Tripplehorn, Hunter and a host of other 90s character actors contributing small .

The setup is a good one. A young hotshot lawyer is made an extraordinary employment offer by a relatively small firm. But as soon as you spot some of his colleagues (including alumni from the X-files), you realise he's got himself in with some bad 'uns.

Only the mostly piano based soundtrack grates and makes this seem even longer than its two hour plus running time.

Verdict: All it seems

Review: Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions

This short book like all good fables contains a profound message in an easily digested and memorable way. In this case, it is a colony of penguins facing disaster which acts as a metaphor for the process of how to successfully drive organisational change.

As someone who has only partially succeeded in attempting organisational change, I recognised many of the underlying difficulties as well as some of the solutions.   It would have been very helpful to have read this earlier!

Is this a complete guide to managing change? No, of course not. Could it be used for harm as well as good? Definitely. One of the reviews on Amazon about how this was used to soften staff up for redundancy sadly reflects that.

Verdict: With some power...

Review: The Bucket List

At the heart of The Bucket List is the question of what would you do with your remaining time if you knew how long you had.  While I'm sure this film didn't exactly invent the concept of a bucket list - a  list of things to do before you "kick the bucket" or die - it will have certainly helped further popularise it.   There are now hundreds, if not thousands, of webpages describing the perfect bucket list - which seems to rather miss the point.  There is something rather odd existential wise about having a bucket list when you are about to die as you have limited time to savour the memories. Perhaps it's better to start when you are young.

The film itself brings two heavyweights, Freeman and Nicholson together as two men, one rich and the other not so much,  who both have terminal cancer diagnosis.  They decide to go on a globe trotting road trip and tick off as many things as they can on their joint bucket list. It's a good pairing and while the story is a slight one, the script and performances are moving, thoughtful with the odd flash of gallows humour at times.

Verdict: A good pairing.

Review: The Smallest Show on Earth

McKenna and Travers make a handsome couple (as they did in real life) in this light British comedy about a husband and wife who inherit a run down cinema complete with equally creaky staff (Miles, Rutherford and Miles). Phillips is the suave solicitor who advises them.

There's more than a little vibe of the later Goodman vehicle, Matinee, as well as the classic Ealing comedies in the resulting escapades.  Anyone who is a fan of silent film and old cinemas will find something to enjoy in this harmless and undemanding comedy.

Verdict: Fun period piece.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Review: Tale of Tales

Tale of Tales is a series of loosely woven together fairy stories. There's a tale of a queen desperate for a child, that of a king trying to find a husband for his daughter, and two old women fooling a king.   A cautionary note for those thinking about sitting small children in front of it - there are moments of real horror. Although the original 17th Century collection they come from was known as "Entertainment for Little ones". Evidently, the children of the 1600s were likely made of tougher stuff than many of todays.

The cast is largely a mixture of character actors like Salma Hayek, Toby Jones and Vincent Cassel - and some amazing Italian locations are utilised which adds to the fresh and authentic feel of the stories.

Verdict: Darkly fun fantasy.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Review: American Gangster

This is Scott's answer to Casino and it slightly suffers from comparison. Where Scorsese is bold and hallucinatory, Scott is workman-like and down-to-earth. Another comparison might be The Wire, but it's more distant than that.

But it's still a gripping story and a big wonderful sprawling epic. The version I watched was getting on for three hours long, and the time just flew by.

The film also mirrors the experience of the investigating police force. Initially difficult to penetrate, but more than pays off towards the end.

Verdict: Lucas rising, falling.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Learning: The Power of Small Habits

This is an excellent talk by James Clear which summarises some of the changes I've made in my own life over the last year.  They include:

Making it harder to carry out bad habits. For example, I now place my phone at the other end of my bedroom so I don't immediately grab it each morning. This has two results: I have to get out of bed to turn the alarm off, and since I'm out of bed, I'm not inclined to interact with it.

Making it easier to carry out good habits. I'm vegetarian, but I figured I could probably do with eating more fruit and vegetables, plus as James says in his video - many of my vegetables would go bad and forgotten in the fridge. Each morning, I now stack all of the fruit and vegetables I want to consume each day next to my microwave.

Both of these are changes to my physical environment to make it easier to do the right thing (TM).

Aggregation of margin gains through repetition and tweaking. I tweak my morning habit stack to improve results. Most recently, I've taken to using Mel Robbin's morning framework of questions to upgrade my productivity:

1. Today, my project I'm working on....
2. This project matters to me because....
3. One small action I can take to move forward is...
4. Today, I will stop working at...

Review: The Astronaut Farmer

From the opening shots of a middle-aged man striding through farmland wearing a Mercury era spacesuit, you know you are in for something pleasingly offbeat with The Astronaut Farmer.

Thornton plays Charlie Farmer, a man who for family reasons had to leave the NASA astronaut programme.  But the urge to go to outer space has never left him, and so he decides to build his own rocket.  The endeavour sits on a suspenseful line between quixotic and credible.

The wordplay in the title works on multiple levels. There's the slightly groan-worthy allusion - the principle character is a farmer called Farmer who wants to be an astronaut. But Charlie's obsession has also come to dominate his family's life and is perhaps cultivating future space ambitions in his offspring.

Thornton plays his role with quiet determination. Special note must go the two Polish sisters who give some of the most naturalistic child performances I've seen on screen.

With judicious use of lens flare, stunning location photography and grading, the production team manage to conjure up a sense of the majesty of space without leaving Earth.

Verdict: Eccentric space-dream drama.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Review: Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel

After reading the novel recently, I was interested to see what Anne of Green Gables would look like in graphic novel form.

Prose-wise it has been sensitively condensed by Mardsen, but inevitably it has lost some of the main protagonist's early garrulousness so her voice doesn't come through quite as strongly as the original book.

Where it does succeed is in the illustration which evocatively captures the beauty of Avonlea's location and the richness of Montgomery's descriptive prose.

Verdict: Anne reimagined.