Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Which came first, leg-warmers or Fame? Leg-warmers are back in fashion, so it's no surprise that the cycle continues and Fame is back in our cinemas, albeit remade and modern. Set in the New York School of Performing Arts, we follow a group of talented young performers over their 4 years in the school. They have to balance a demanding schedule of artistic and academic work, while also coping with friendships, family, romance and failure.
It's clear that the young actors in this film are talented performers, but it remains to be seen if they are talented actors. The film is shot docu-style with several storylines spliced together at any one time. This splicing technique works pretty well at times, allowing more of the story to be told. However, despite all the effort to portray the characters, I left the cinema feeling that the film never dwelt long enough with any one character. The film delivers in bite-sized chunks, which may be a comment on the attention span of the potential audience.
On the plus side, there are great choreographed scenes of singing and dancing which uplift the film and showcase some of the young cast. Ultimately, this version of Fame isn't all bad. It's quite good in fact - it's fame for the Twitter generation.
Kate Beckinsdale plays U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko who is stationed at the South Pole. Up to now, all she's had to deal with are minor misdemeanours from drunken scientists, which suits her just fine. However, one day, a pilot spots something on the ice. One dead body later, Stetko is facing the first murder in Antartica, which plunges her into a plot involving a long-lost Soviet plane and a race against time with the harsh, brutal environment of the South Pole.
Ultimately, this movie's plot is no more than you'd get in an episode of CSI, except here it's been expanded and bloated into a movie. Beckinsdale is gorgeous, as ever, but without any vampire killing action or leather catsuits, the film just falls flat. It's predictable. However, there are some gorgeous shots of scenery and life at the South Pole.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Hobbies are addictive aren't they? My father went through a phase of fishing where he ended up owning a rubber dinghy and a share in a boat on one of the Killarney Lakes. Then he switched to campervans. He's been tootling around in campervans for over 13 years now, eventually turning it into a business.
Photography is turning out that way for me too. My latest purchase is a proper tripod - a Manfrotto 718B to be precise. I use a Nikon D40 which is about as heavy as this tripod is graded for. I chose it because it was described as being light and compact but yet extends to a quite reasonable height. The three extendable sections per leg means that it does take a few seconds to get set up, but once standing, it's firm. The pan and tilt head is easy to control with no slip-back. It also comes with a quick-release head (just pull down a small lever to release) which can be left screwed permanently into the base of your camera.
The whole deal folds away neatly in a small bag which you can sling over your shoulder and take with you. It's a great tripod for the money (about E70 from a dealer on eBay) and should last quite a while.
After the success of buying my first Tadashi dress, I went straight back onto eBay and bought another one. Originally priced at approx US$350, I bought it for about E75 including P&P. This one is more figure hugging (and is a bit of an incentive for me to continue on my diet) but it is as lovely and as flattering as the navy dress.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Pick up a box today and put them to the test.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Stuart MacBride is the author of the Logan McRae series of Scottish thrillers, but he has added an initial to his name (a la Iain Banks) and struck out in a new direction with the tense and visceral Halfhead.
Halfhead is set in the near future in a world which has started to break down. The poorer elements of society are confined to massive communal blocks and many of them spend their time plugged into Virtual Reality. In order to deter crime, people convicted of serious crimes are forcibly lobotomised by the state, along with the removal of their lower jawbone, sexual organs and other identifying features. These zombie-like halfheads are then set to work in municipal buildings, where they can be seen by all.
One such halfhead is Dr. Fiona Westfield. A prolific serial killer, she was lobotomised, but 6 years later, she regains her mind and starts to kill again, but this time in the guise of an anonymous halfhead. She is seeking vengeance from Will Hunter, the Network operative who captured her but Hunter, still haunted by Westfield and his part in the VR wars, is on the trail of another series of apparently unrelated killings. However, the terrible web that Westfield wove in her earlier life soon ensnares them all.
MacBride has created a horribly wonderful vision of Glasgow in the future. High tech machines and weaponry litter the pages, yet the real focus is on the people. He has managed to marry the serial killer genre and futuristic sci-fi with aplomb. My only gripe would be with the fundamental concept and reasons for creating the halfheads - I can't believe that any society would do such a thing. But putting that aside, I was truly trapped by this gritty, gory story. Word of warning, it's not for the faint of heart.
Gamer is yet another movie that tackles the concept of a dystopian future, where convicted criminals are used for public entertainment. First practiced by the Romans in their arenas, Hollywood has used the idea for films such as The Running Man (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Death Race (Jason Statham). Now Gerard Butler, from 300 and more dubiously, P.S. I Love You, takes the lead role in Gamer, where the bodies of convicted murders are controlled by gamers and used in vicious, bloody battles.
Kable (Butler) has captured the hearts of the public as the only fighter to come close to completing his allocated quota of 30 battles. Soon he will fight his final few battles and leave a free man. But, it soon becomes clear that someone high up does not want him to complete his battles and earn his freedom.
Coming as it does from the same factory as Jason Statham's high-octane Crank films, it is no surprise that Gamer is a non-stop assault on your senses. It features relentless action, visceral violence and more than a heavy dose of technology. It is entertaining and Gerard Butle shows off the muscles that he acquired for his role as Spartan King Leonidas. Despute its failings, I could see this becoming a little bit of a cult classic. But don't expect a masterpiece.
Monday, September 21, 2009
The Fire King is part of theDirk & Steele romance series from American author Marjorie Liu. This was my first venture into this series, but I have to admit at the start of this review that romantic novels are not my thing. For a littl bit of background, Dirk & Steele are a detective agency who employ 'gifted' or 'supernatural' people.
Soria is a 'universal translator' who is recovering from a horrific incident where she lost one of her arms. She is sent by her former boss and lover to China/Mongolia where an amazing discovery has been made in a recently unearthed tomb. Little do they know that this discovery will reawaken an ancient feud.
The discovery in the tomb turns out to be Karr, a tall, handsome man who is surprisingly alive, despite having been buried in the dark for over 3,000 years. Karr is a chimera, one of the forbidden offspring when two different shapeshifters breed. In Karr's case, he is half-lion and half-dragon, but now he has reawoken in a completely different world, where his kind are very few. He has to battle his basic urges and present a human face.
Ultimately, this is a romantic novel, but somehow it failed to engage me. I found the characters a bit dull, and even all the action and mythology failed to bring much excitement to the proceedings. It's definitely a book for a niche market, but judging by other positive reviews online, it does appear that Liu has her market.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I'm confused as to the purpose of this book - it is supposed to provide etymology and origins of words, or act more as a casual dictionary?
There are definitions of English mustard (mustard), english breakfast (a large fry) and English Breakfast tea (surprisingly, tea). To me these words are nouns, not phrases.
I suppose I should have guessed that it might not be the best when I saw the defition of the phrase "pushing the envelope" that features on the cover. "A pilot's term for flying an aircraft at or beyond its reasonable limits". That's the definition alright, but what about the origin as promised at the top of the cover?
I went straight to the definition of one of my favourite phrases - "mind your p's and q'". Kipper gives the definition as being an admonishment used by teachers monitoring students' handwriting. There's no mention of two other widely-accepted theories. Firstly, a warning to typesetters in the days of printing presses when the letter 'q' did not feature its characteristic tail, and hence could be mistaken for a 'p' in reverse. The second hails back to the days of drinking pints and quarts in public houses and recording of such on the slate.
For me this was the acid test, and the book failed it.
Ultimately, it's a novelty book, and you probably will learn something from it. But you'll probably be better off searching on the internet.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Ocho's is a brand new tapas bar, located in Ranelagh on the former site of Nectar. We visited one weekday evening about 2 weeks ago. The 28 seater restaurant was close on full when we entered, but the friendly hostess pointed us towards a free table towards the rear of the space.
We ordered the traditional patatas bravas (€4.50, the sauces could have had more punch, but the potates were cooked divinely), cold octopus salad (€6.50, delicious and flavoursome), mussels (€5.00, lovely, but very thin-shelled as if they came from the North Sea), manchego cheese and honey (€5.00, nice, but a very small portion) and saffron prawns (€9.50, delicious, but again a small portion for the money).
If I have one grudge about Ocho's, it is the use of space. We were crowded and elbow-to-elbow with the people located to either side of us. It's not pleasant to be part of other people's conversations, as was the case that night. Also, you can't have a relaxed conversation with your companions as you're concious of the fact that your neighbours can hear you. The owners of Ocho's could have placed one less table along that wall and spread out the remaining tables a little more.
I mentioned this spacing to the hostess and she replied along the line of "it's a tapas bar". Hmm... I think it's just a desire to maximise the money-earning capacity rather than providing a comfortable dining space. I know that we ate our food quickly and got out fast rather than relaxing and taking our time to enjoy the food.
Overall price, including sparkling water for one and a glass of red wine (€6.50) came to €37 exactly. Good food, but I wouldn't be in a hurry back to experience the compressed dining atmosphere.
Ochos, 53 Ranelagh Village, Dublin 6. 01 - 496 8825
I ordered this body-con dress recently from asos.co.uk for about £18 and it just arrived in the post. It's surprisingly nice and the thick fabric means that bulges etc don't show through too easily. It's a little too short for my liking, but winter is coming and that means black tights. :D
Sunday, September 13, 2009
When I was a child and teenager, I had read a decent proportion of the books available in my local library. This was due to the fact that the library in Macroom used to be quite small, and also due to the fact that I was an insatiable reader. I chose a lot of books without ever reading the dustcover and as a result I had some successes and some misses. One legacy of that random sampling is that I still consider Faber & Faber to be publishers of some of the vaguest, critically-lauded but still unreadable literature ever written.
This childhood observation of mine was unfortunately confirmed when I received a copy of The Bradshaw Variations from the Amazon Vine program. It's a nice slim hardcover book but it still took me a long time to read it. I literally had to drag myself through it.
The book centres on various members of the Bradshaw family and in particular, Thomas, Tonie and their daughter, Alexa. The traditional family roles are reversed when Tonie accepts a promotion to chair the English department in the university where she lectures and Thomas becomes a stay-at-home father to Alexa. Other characters are Thomas' brothers and their families as well as their respective parents.
The book tries to capture the tribulations of family life, but the writing is so detached that I found it hard to form any affection for the characters or their problems. Extremely unsatisfying.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Charming Noodles has got the be the best-named restaurant on Dublin's Parnell Street. Located in the midst of Dublin's mini-Chinatown, the restaurant specialises in noodles as well as offering a range of other dishes.
The first thing that impressed me when we entered was the brightness and calm in the restaurant. The second thing that impressed was the pleasant and attentive service from the "Charming" waitresses.
We were a party of 4, so I think it would take too long to go through the dishes we enjoyed, but suffice to say that I will be returning to Charming Noodles to try out some of their speciality noodle dishes. Total cost for 4 mains, three beers, one red wine, one green ice tea and one soup came to approx €70. Very nice indeed.
Charming Noodles, 105 Parnell Street, Dublin 1. 01 - 872 9340
I found a beautiful dress by Japanese designer Tadashi in a Dublin boutique which fitted beautifully but the €400 price tag was a bit rich. So I turned to my trusted shopping sidekick - eBay.
Now, I didn't find the dress that I had tried on, but I did find some other gorgeous Tadashi dresses and I purchased this beautiful silk taffeta and jersey navy dress.
It's absolutely stunning on with the jersey top fitting my bust beautifully while the silk taffeta silk flares out slightly stiffly. And the best part, the total cost inclding shipping from the states, came to about €75.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
For the sake of a decent comparison, I went to the Value Breaks section and entered the same criteria. Only two hotels in Wexford displayed this time (compared to 5 in the previous section). St. Helen's was listed as €356 in the Special Offer section, but as €178 in the Value Break section. Likewise, the Ashdown Park is listed for €378 and €756 respectively.
I emailed the website, and they replied stating that it was not an error on their part but reflected the pricing set by clients. So there you go, different value available on two sections of the same website.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
We picked up these fantastic little stainless steel espresso cups and saucers in IKEA yesterday. Priced at E5.59 per set, they are double-walled, meaning that the outside stays nice and cool, while the espresso inside remains piping hot.
Super smart and super sleek at a nice price.
The aliens in District 9 appear to be the workers (i.e. a bit dumb and mindless) of their civilisation and soon murder and other crimes are blamed on the "prawns". True or not, Jo'burg residents protest at the location of District 9 and in true NIMBY form, demand that the aliens be moved somewhere else. Even the South African black community want these social outcasts, who have replaced them on the bottom of the SA social ladder, gone.
Taking advantage of the aliens, are a group of Nigerian gangsters who sell meat and catfood to aliens (alien catnip apparently) at exorbitant prices and who are keen to acquire as much of the powerful alien weaponry as possible. This is despite the fact that alien technology is keyed to their DNA and is therefore useless to humans.
The film focuses on Wikus van de Merwe, an MNU employee who leads an operation to serve the aliens with their eviction notices, informing them of their forced relocation to District 10. He appears to be a man of two sides; loving to his wife and friendly, while displaying that peculiar cruel disregard that South Africans possessed during Apartheid.
While searching the shack of a more-intelligent than usual alien, he comes across a container holding a strange fluid. When he manages to spray the fluid on himself, he begins to undergo a metamorphisis, ultimately turning him into a commodity which MNU seek to exploit.
van de Merwe goes on the run from MNU and seeks shelter in the one place where people won't look for him, District 9. Here, he becomes entangled in an alien scheme to escape from Earth, as well as avoiding the Nigerians who seek to use him for their own purposes. We are treated to glorious battle and fight sequences and excellent CGI effects (especially considering that this is a relatively low budget movie). Shot in a documentary-style, the pace is unrelenting, making this 112 minute film pass in a blur.
This movie is truly innovative, telling as it does a strong tale on xenophobia, racism and greed. Most of the characters portry a disturbingly casual apathy and cruelness to the aliens, as if they are sub-creatures Ultimately, van de Merwe faces his own cowardice and prejudice in order to do the right thing but sadly humanity in the film does not appear to learn any lessons, leaving the viewer to wonder how events will unfold.
Warfare has changed a lot and modern war films bear little resemblance to the classic war films of yore. Recently, I had the pleasure of reading the excellent Joker One by Donovan Campbell, an account of a front-line soldier in the insurgent city of Ramadi in Iraq. Now, from director Kathryn Bigelow, we have what critics are calling the first great film about the Iraqi war.
Set in 2004, the film focuses on Bravo Company, an Ordnance Explosive Disposal unit. Everyday they are called upon to clear explosive devices from the streets of the city. It's a thankless, risky task. Sergeant James (Renner) joins Bravo company following the death of one of the members and immediately rubs up his new colleagues with his loose and easy style. But one thing is clear, James is gifted when dealing with explosives and a close experience with a sniper brings the team together.
The Hurt Locker is a pressure-cooker film. It is tense and unrelenting and sharply highlights the immense psychological pressures faced by the soldiers. What is never addressed though, is why these soldiers do what they do, and why the war is being fought. But then again, maybe that's not the point of the film.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Anway, after buying a few small pieces, we looked through the shelves of Swedish food and I picked up some Marabou Daim chocolate. My god, but this stuff is addictive. It the crack of chocolate. Get some and try it out for yourself. But don't blame me.
There were several tables occupied by Chinese people, but as always we got the English menus and knives and forks. Ah well. We headed straight to the small section of traditional food and ordered beer duck (€9.80) and crispy king prawn and pork with spring onion (€8.20). For starters we ordered 6 steamed dumplings (€3.80) and shredded chicken with chilli (€4.50). Both starters were delicious. In fact, the little steamed dumplings of pork and cabbage were some of the best I've tasted.
The crispy pork and king prawn was a large plate of crispy pieces of meat fried with a little soya and spring onion and very nice. Personally, I would have added some chillis to the mix, but that's me. The beer duck consisted of a nice, strong sauce flavoured with beer and ginger. Again, it wasn't spicy, but a decent dish. Both portions were quite substantial and we ended up leaving a decent amount of beer duck behind us as we just couldn't finish it.
2 iced green teas (€4.00) and 2 diet coke (€3.00) along with a fried rice meant the bill total was €33.00. Not bad for a very filling meal. Chinese Ma Ma's seems to be of a form of Chinese cooking that doesn't use too much heat and has a small traditional section, all of which means that I'm unlikely to return. But the food is good and quantities are generous.
Chinese Ma Ma's Restaurant, Parnell Street, Dublin 1. 01 - 873 3472
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
I was browsing through Pigsback.com the other day when I came across at 2 for 1 voucher for the Gourmet Burger Company in Ranelagh. Burgers are always good and free burgers are even better.
We visited there tonight and found the restaurant to be moderately busy. It's nicely decorated with dark tables and comfortable seating.
The menu offers a large selection of beef burgers, chicken burgers, non-meat burgers along with more gourmet options including boar and the star attraction, a Kobe beef burger (€39.95). Kobe beef is the king of beef, coming from hand-reared Japanese Wagyu cattle. We settled for burgers that were a little more mundane. I chose the Chilli burger (melted Dubliner cheddar, Jalapeno peppers and homemade chilli relish) while he had the Avocado and Bacon burger, both cooked to medium. We also chose a side order of onion rings to finish our meal.
When the burgers arrived, they were stuffed full and held together with wooden skewers. Once we removed the skewers and some of the unnecessary salad, we got the burgers down to a size that we could physically fit into our mouths. The patties were perfectly cooked and made from tender beef and very tasty. I especially loved the chilli relish in my burger with its spicy and sweet flavour. I had looked forward to the onion rings, but they seemed to have been cooked in oil that was slightly off. Pity, as they came in a massive stack and are great value at €2.25.
Overall, with our voucher included, the total cost for the most expensive burger, one diet coke, one glass of merlot and onion rings came to €23.30. Home delivery and takeaway is also possible.
Gourmet Burger Company, 97 Ranelagh Road, Ranelagh, Dublin 6. 01 - 497 7821