Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mandatory Minimums: I've seen this West Wing episode

Real life huh? Certain West Wing episodes seem to be working as templates for each new day in the Obama presidency...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Remember The Golden Girls?

RIP Bea Arthur.

Multiple Sclerosis Week

I know most of you will associate the lovely Swiss Toni with all things earwormy and Shuffleathony -- some of you will even still treasure the gloriously listy Alphabeticon he did (search within 'pointless cataloguing'!).

But this week ST is turning most of his thoughts to promoting awareness of MS Week.

MS Week 27 April - 3 May

Whether your awareness of MS comes from from your own experience, from friends and family, or even The West Wing, raising awareness is something that is important for a condition whose symptoms may not be visible to others.

Raise money if you can; raise awareness at the very least.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith - Book Review

With approximately 85% of the original text intact, Seth Grahame-Smith's romping re-visioning of Jane Austen with a zombie plot hilariously exploits the potential for out of copyright texts to be reworked in imaginative ways.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has delicious illustrations and more incongruous elements than your average Austen fan could have nightmares about. I'm rather fond of Austen, so seeing her work transformed in this way makes me want to go back and read the original, which may not be entirely what is expected by S G-S. But no matter. Because with its excellent adapting of characters and sub-plots (poor Charlotte!) what he has done is make the manners and gender politics of the period come to life in a new and vivid way.

Unfortunately, any possible film of this text is unlikely to work, as I suspect that they will fail to take the original seriously enough to make this adaptation function as hilariously as the book succeeds. That is a real shame, since it is already possible to visualise Lizzie taking down the Japanese ninjas of Lady Catherine de Bough with elegant ease and the 'unmentionables' emerging from the soft ground to threaten the Bennet family.

I raced through this in a day and loved how many long passages were retained from the original but sat so easily in the midst of the zombie retelling. Very entertaining.

PS this blog post also includes one of the pages with an illustration. It really IS a real book!

Monday, April 20, 2009

BAAS - including the 'Snow-moment'

Mixed feelings really post-BAAS (as ever), not least returning to the fray of work.

BAAS is always delightful (good to see friends and contacts that I only see at the annual conference) but it was tempered by seeing the lovely C - who was organising the conference - run ragged by grumbly academics. She did a fantastic job of keeping all the plates spinning (not literally) but I really just wanted to hug her by the end (which I did - and gave her some chocolate buttons: her request!) The panel of papers I chaired on Ben-Hur went well and I managed to not totally disgrace myself when taking up a last-minute chairing of a session on contemporary US fiction. Friends and colleagues gave excellent papers, including one who gave an incredibly accessible but nevertheless erudite paper on Emerson and Shakespeare. The banquet went well and the jazz band were highly enjoyable (we also had some live jazz on the first night which made for a very entertaining backdrop).

But the highlight of the conference - aside seeing friends and their families - was the arrival of Jon Snow, newscaster.

As he is connected to Oxford Brookes Uni, Snow has contacts with one of the BAAS elite who had been selected to deliver one of the plenary lectures. Instead of just a single voice then, we had a double act of first her briefer academic lecture followed by Snow's eloquent, witty and utterly partisan political take on some of the issues she raised, drawing on his extensive experience and observation of the USA.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable pairing which the audience seemed to lap up (a celebrity in our midst!). And, as mentioned, what was especially enjoyable was hearing Snow 'off-the-political-fence' so to speak: let's say he wasn't a Bush fan).

Even more pleasurable was that instead of legging it away from the conference straight after, he mucked in by travelling on one of the double-decker buses hired to take us all up to Nottingham Castle's art gallery for a wine reception. It was here that he continued to charm and chat to many of the attending academics -- including me.

Shucks. I have to admit he is a delightfully charming man: tall, distinguished and engaging. Fair made me giddy!

So, now it is back at work. If I can keep my head down and moderately out of trouble for the remainder of the term I will be very happy.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Opop and uhfdf -- translation?

I can't tell if opop and uhfdf are just untranslated comments (in which case, thanks but er, I have no idea what you are saying) or if they spambot annoyances (in which case please just F.O.)

Advice please!

BTW am at BAAS conference but as it is in my home town am well behaved and staying at home. No late night revellers to lead me into bad habits!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Play review: The Tempest RSC touring production

A key benefit of having a friend who works in the theatre business is that it is very handy for getting word of and to see great shows. Mucho ta!

Four of us went to see the current RSC touring production of The Tempest at Nottingham's Theatre Royal (rest of this week and then at Sheffield - go see it if you can get a ticket!)

This version of The Tempest produced in association with South Africa's Baxter Theatre Centre is a visual spectacle and is also aurally incredible. Puppets, music, masks, singing: it was a sensual treat.

I confess that it is not a play that I know well - Bloody Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books didn't help warm me to the text, although the elegant ending to Neil Gaiman's Sandman books* thankfully did. But this production certainly made me want to read the play proper.

Sher as Prospero is brilliant - as you would expect an actor of his calibre to be - but his equivalent John Kani as Caliban (and perhaps even more so Kani's son Atandwa as Ariel) were astonishing. A sumptuous feast full of verve and delight, real magic and spectacle. A complete privilege to experience.

* I've done my annual re-read of The Sandman this weekend -- and it felt rather apt to end on 'The Tempest', issue 75 at the end of the finale volume 'The Wake' just as we went to see this RSC production. Neil Gaiman and all your compadres: I salute your brilliance.

Film Review: Let the Right One In

I had thought it was only last year when I read the wonderful book 'Let The Right One In' -- turns out that I'm going loopy, since it was actually nearly two years ago now.

Blimey. Time flies (so do buses apparently).

Anyway, after hearing there was to be a movie of this (I'm la-la-la-ing the inevitable US remake as a 'not-going-there' thing), I started prowling around for a release date. It was frustratingly long in coming and I kept hearing tantilising reports that the Swedish film was to be a breathtaking adaptation by the book's author.

By this spring I was getting angsty for the film to arrive - and then, BANG. The film promotion was EVERYWHERE. Could it live up to expectations?

Hell, yes.

What really pleased me was just quite how much of the sentiment and feel of the novel the film retains. Sure, there are changes, some that I missed more than others (Eli's ambiguous identity) but the film brings some magnificent sequences to life.

It's not all horror - there is a delicacy to the portrayals that I really liked - but when the horror comes it does make you suitably wince.

I went home and immediately re-read the book. It hadn't lost any of its power though I was especially pleased with how the final Swimming Pool sequence was adapted to the screen.

A brilliant book and a brilliant film. As I said before, recommended. Thanks again for the complimentary copy.

Primeval 3.3 -- fare thee well (Spoiler heavy)

This is a spoiler heavy review. Yeah, well, whatever.

Well, it was nice whilst it lasted.

For the last three late winter / springs I've been fair spoilt for TV pleasures on Saturday evenings: Douglas Henshall in Primeval and David Tennant in Doctor Who. Frankly it was almost as if someone had looked in my head and asked 'what would make Lisa's start to the year really great?'

So it was with conflicted heart indeed that last year I checked out the on-set and pre-promotion starting up for Primeval - Dougie looked awesome (after the hair debacle of S2), in part thanks to filming his role in a forthcoming Dorian Gray film and his work for the play 'The Last Days of Judas Iscariot'. Yum. It looked too good to be true.

As the promotion materials and casting started to ooze out, there was a definite sense of 'this doesn't bode well' that I kept trying to repress. Hey, that hair looked great. But there was an awful lot going on with other (new) cast members appearing in the photos....

So whilst it did rather punch me in the gut to read it in black and white in the TV Times a couple of weeks ago, I wasn't entirely shocked to find that Dougie was leaving Primeval. It made the need to watch episode 3.1 on schedule at the hotel rather than on Catch-Up after the weekend feel all the more urgent since it was also clear he wasn't going to be in much of the series and I really wanted to at least know he was in all of episode 1 and hopefully 2.

Well, Professor Nick Cutter was there and there were some prime scenes. And he did, tauntingly, look more lovely than is decent (there's a lush gallery of pictures at the Douglas Henshall fansite). But it was limited reward and come episode 2 he was scarcely there at all.

By now it was clear that 3.3 was going to be his grand finale. Nice work there ITV in scheduling the series so much later than originally planned (don't pretend any different) so it was doomed to clash with the Doctor Who special.

So what did we ultimately get?

Well, we got TWO Nick Cutters -- even if one was an-only-just-about-communicative photocopy (if Mrs Mad has any spares she can send them my way: Cutter proper proved that with some attention they could be won over at least a little). And we got a couple of cute dinos for Abby and Connor to play with. Ferdy tried to be a journalist (badly - even I got that the photo he took would be rubbish as evidence), Cutter proper got to prove he could be nice some of the time (even if he didn't get a baby named after him -- maybe Connor will name one of the cute dinos after his mentor in his honour?!) and Jenny and Ms Eypyt got to share thoughts on how hot Cutter proper was (with you both there sisters).

And bloody Mrs Mad lost her complete box of frogs and shot Cutter.

Very dead.

I've had several texts from friends consoling me (and sobbing with me) about this demise. Chrissie- bless her heart - is determined to believe that it isn't the end for the character but as much as I loved the grouchy, clever, crap-luck-with-women Cutter I know that he's gone. He will no doubt live on in fan-fics (where many have scarcely forgiven them for killing off Captain Ryan in S1 and certainly feel aggrieved at losing Stephen Hart at the end of S2), but it looks as if it would take quite a lot to lure back the itchy acting feet of Henshall who has always built his career on making and taking up interesting choices and challenges in his acting. It was nice to be spoilt for a while with his presence in Saturday evening family TV but in truth was it ever going to last?


And I will try and ignore that Cloud keeps saying 'Dougie saw a shark and he jumped it'...

Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead (Easter 2009 special)

It's going to be a long wait until the autumn --- yes, AUTUMN --- for the next of the specials. And we know they're going to get darker and more Cloister Bell-driven as the end approaches.

But this: this was about a final hurrah of pleasure, a froth of scary silliness, an array of 10th Doctor tics with limited consequences.

Licking - check
Glasses - check
Unnecessary snog - check

We also had a silly scientist (a brilliant turn from Lee Evans), a suitably hawt 'never-to-be'-companion (an appealing performance by the all black tight garment and a tolerable turn by the woman within), UNIT saluting (hee) and a great get-out clause for the by now well-reported destruction of the bus in transit.

Without a TARDIS to translate there was a slightly different approach to creatures - so we got the flies in full click-click mode rather than in English. And the main monsters were too busy wondering how to get back in touch with their cousins in The Matrix eating to do much communicating. But this worked. They were just a little bit scary - enough to unnerve me, even if most of them did take the A52 by-pass at Nottingham on the way through the wormhole from Dubai to Cardiff.* And I did feel sorry for the flies.

So what if it wasn't utterly memorable. As a 200th story (on your marks, get set, SQUABBLE to all you Who fans) it certainly wasn't a ground-breaking way to commemorate the series - but it was somehow apt. It was funny, it was a bit scary, there was a proper alien planet, some aliens (both blokes in costumes and effects), some chasing, stupid humans, good humans, pseudo science and gadgetry, and a Doctor who wasn't (really) moping or being too manic. Just nice.

A very pleasant way to boost my spirits indeed. And even if the Mars trip forthcoming is the start of the gloomy descent into losing the Tenth Doctor (*SOB!* WAIL! GNASHING OF TEETH!) we will at least have the lovely Lindsay Duncan for company.

*We could have visited the Bute Tunnel set in that rain given they were filming overnight when H and I visited Cardiff. *sigh* And I've flown through Dubai. Vicarious pleasures in watching TV...

Saturday watching

Saturday evening presented tough choices for me.

We'd been painting most of the day (nice company from David Tennant and Catherine Tate on the radio) and tea was getting delayed. (Home made fish-pie: very nice)

So would I go with heartbreak (Primeval) or desert-pleasure (Doctor Who) as priority?

Well, thanks to the delay in me preparing tea and a very early start for Primeval, I went for the following compromise:
  • watch the start of Primeval from 6.15pm
  • go and eat tea
  • grab an extra few minutes of Primeval from 6.35-6.45pm
  • delay what I know will be the inevitable tears by watching Doctor Who for the full hour
  • find Primeval not yet on 'Catch Up TV' (grumble)
  • watch Robin Hood
  • watch Doctor Who Confidential
  • watch Primeval on Catch-Up (thank you Virgin)
  • after some extra tv and wine have meltdown over decorating (and probably over my psychologically shite week at work and the impact of Primeval)
Poor Neil: he was so lovely to me all Saturday and I did have a very indulgent day of loveliness. But it had all come at the end of a very long week at work (four days can be long when you know you're in the doghouse) and my emotions are frankly all over the place.

I feel a bit better now.

Marie's Book Club - 500th blog post as 'The Woman Who Talked Too Much'

Marie's book club is onto its second book - and both have been gems so far. What a great pair of short and utterly enchanting texts.

I would heartily recommend adopting this as your personal online book club, not just because Marie has made two delightful choices so far (and I trust her to make more) but also because the club allows such a flexible approach to contributing.

The only thing it lacks that I know many book clubs enjoy having access to is a glass of wine with the host.  Nothing to stop you having one anyway and metaphorically sharing it with Marie, either whilst reading or whilst making your online responses (just watch the keyboard though!)


Apologies in order folks: contrary to popular thought I have not fallen off the edge of the earth.

Forthcoming are:

  1. Doctor Who Easter Special review
  2. Primeval episode 3.3 review
  3. Film review: Let the Right One In
  4. Play review: The Tempest RSC touring production
  5. General updatery 

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Time wasting - humour quiz

Why do I do these things?

The temptation of quizzes and such are sooo compelling. Must resist!

Your result for The 3 Variable Funny Test...

the Prankster

(43% dark, 31% spontaneous, 21% vulgar)

your humor style:

Your humor has an intellectual, even conceptual slant to it. You're not pretentious, but you're not into what some would call 'low humor' either. You'll laugh at a good dirty joke, but you definitely prefer something clever to something moist.

You probably like well-thought-out pranks and/or spoofs and it's highly likely you've tried one of these things yourself. In a lot of ways, yours is the most entertaining type of humor because it's smart without being mean-spirited.

PEOPLE LIKE YOU: Conan O'Brian - Ashton Kutcher


The 3-Variable Funny Test!
- it rules -

Take The 3 Variable Funny Test
at HelloQuizzy

People on holiday with a stupid hat on

That should read a 'stupid' hat on - boy it makes you despair of the British on holiday...

I think the one about being locked in the room - or perhaps the confirmation of worst opinions about hairdressers - are the most depressing...

I love strings

As many of you know, I'm a sucker for strings - both in classical music and popular music contexts.  So thank you Tom Robinson for playing us this superb track on Friday evening.

Surfing Dreams & Chaos from Philip Clemo on Vimeo.  See - Ysanne Spevack's own website.

Beautiful video and stunning piece of music.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Things I learnt from attending the Left Lion Quiz this week

  1. the Golden Fleece isn't as far up Mansfield Road as I thought
  2. there really are 6 triangles in a Dairylea box
  3. songs by Toto from one's youth have an uncanny ability to stick in the mind
  4. Adrian Mole is now 42 and 1 day old (I should have written this post yesterday - Thursday)
  5. we really do not know enough about the geographic distribution of the world's Jehovah's Witnesses
  6. at my age I can scarcely manage to light the candle at both ends let alone burn it

Did I mention our team won by the way? Thanks to Sarah for the invite!