Sunday, October 30, 2005

Durham Treasure Trap Reunion Banquet

Another well received weekend for our catering shenanigans, this time for the Durham Treasure Trap Reunion Banquet.

The usual A-Team: Ellen (the boss, plus organizational and all-round catering genius), Pig (breakfast eggmeister and ‘the griddle’), me (breads, gen prep, and veggie guff), Adam (general and pot boy) and Catt (fancy girlie desert stuff and t-towel goddess). This is our 5th or 6th banquet now, not allowing for hog roasts and stuff, and we've got it truly sussed.

Golden Apple played (spot on lads, cheers for the kitchen serenade) and everyone had a fab time. Muchos cleaning. Muchos alcohol. Nada sleep (despite the clocks going back). Righteous graft.

Best dishes of the weekend? It’s hard to pick out of the 30 or so, but a fella has to have his favourites: the Pigeon Breast En Croute, the Chestnut Carbonarde and (predictably) the Tansy Cakes with Peppermint Cream (also Chaucer’s favourite, which makes them officially ' the daddy').

There were some priceless costumes, with people digging out kit they hadn't worn in a decade. Special mention to Phil 'Prog Rock' Todd.

For more info on other stuff Ellen is doin', keep an eye on the best in banqueting and catering services, The Banqueting Club.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

DVD Review - Star Woids

“A long time ago, in queue far, far away…”

Remember when we were all looking forward to Phantom Menace? Back in the days before Jar Jar and before George Lucas made the longest toy advert in history? The buzz? The hype? No? Well, some of us do.

My name is Lactose, and I like Star Wars. I like Star Wars a lot. Back in ’77 Mr. Lucas put stars in the eyes of us generation x’ers and changed my movie going world forever. I was looking forward to Phantom Menace, but not looking forward to it enough to queue outside a cinema for 42 days with a sleeping bag to satisfy my curiosity. That would be madness.

This documentary is about a queue. An epic queue like no other...

We are taken through the experience of the obsessives fans who are wrapped in this staggering cultural phenomenon. We meet the likes of Daniel Alter, the schoolboy zealot holding the prestigious number one in the line, and the chaps from Star Wars: The Musical (I jest you not) and the girl who drives round town in an x-wing. This is a window into the lives of hundreds of people, from all walks of life, all of them waiting to see the most eagerly anticipated motion picture in cinema history.

Documentary filmmaker Dennis Przywara joins these intrepid young fans, and the result is funny, somewhat sobering, coherent, oddly sympathetic and sometimes a bit darn sad and cringe-worthy.

There is heart-warming sacrifice. There is fellowship. There is charity. There is a lot of doughnuts and pizza.

The end result is a warm and compelling documentary that probably deservers wider support than the niche audience it will get.

Regarding the subject matter; I agree with Kevin Smith (see the extras) and
I am happy to note that while these people were queuing, they weren’t breeding.

Movie: 3.5 out of 5
Extras: 3 out of 5

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Aurora Over Redhill

Took this photo last night from the side hatch.

As you probably know, we live on a narrow boat in the sticks, and there’s very little light interference down here on the marina. This is looking over the opposite bank at around 22:45.

I’ve never seen a proper aurora this far south (we live in The Midlands now, on the junction of the Soar and Trent, which is the Nottingham/Leicester/Derbyshire kinda area).

Back in the days when I lived up north, it was pretty standard this time of year, but you had to get out of the city and sit on a hill somewhere to see it.

Makes it feel like Winter’s coming. Time to sweep the chimney, put on extra ropes, and batten down some hatches.

NB: You can get info on daily northern hemisphere auroral activity from the Space Environment Centre in Boulder, Colorado.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

DVD Review - Journey to the Centre of the Earth 1976

“Get it before the flies do!”

When this film arrived on the desk I begged our editor, hoping I could do the review. I presumed that this was the 1959 movie with the same title, starring James Mason. I should have looked at that cover closer.

So, on Sunday afternoon, I sat down hoping for nostalgia born of that Doug McClure era. I was geared up for my own private matinee of tat fantasy and cheesy dinosaurs, comparable with ‘The Land That Time Forgot’ and ‘At the Earth's Core’. But no, this was the 1976 version. I must have been blind and as mad as bag of cats. This film was probably the worst adaptation of a Jules Verne novel that I’ve ever seen (and that’s saying something). I was sadly disappointed.

The casting is abysmal and the performances weak. Poor Kenneth Moore (as Prof. Otto Lindenbrock) has to drag the others along, feeding them dialogue like some brood of screen hungry cuckoos. How on gods green earth did Pep Munné (playing Axel, the military love interest) ever work again?

Not that this version of ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ is particularly untrue to the story, well, not until the time travelling bearded clones turn up (I jest you not). Basically, one Professor Lindenbrock and his niece Glauben (Ivonne Sentis) discover a map in the back of an old geological journal, and set off with her fiancé to Iceland. Picking up an ovine obsessed muscle-man along the way (Frank Braña, used here in his usual role as a caricature) they discover an entrance into the earth in an inactive polystyrene volcano. Following the old journal, inevitably, they find themselves trapped under the earth with prehistoric gribblies, forests of giant mushrooms, and a vast underground sea (of which we never see the ceiling). For me, the highlight of suspense was surely the moment when they were chased by recently woken tortoises…

While many films of this era can look somewhat worn nowadays, this looks threadbare. Overall, the movie was a poor substitute for genuine nostalgia. Even if I’d been expecting what it was offering it has aged so poorly it has begun to turn up at the edges.

Movie: 2 out of 5
Extras: 1.5 out of 5

Monday, October 10, 2005

DVD Review - Alone in the Dark

“Things mortal man was not meant to watch”

The only positive thing I can find to say is that it's a marginal improvement on the directors debut flick, the truly abysmally cringe-worthy and flop-tastic "House of the Dead".

In 'Alone in the Dark', the director (Uwe Boll, and how the name should instil terror in the hearts of film lovers everywhere) has adapted yet another video game (you’d have thought he’d have learnt the first time) in another impressively botched attempt to produce a workable movie. The end result is no more than an ultra-low budget, wooden and rather amateurish, low brow, somewhat sad, clone of the 1997's (far, far, far superior) museum gribblie thriller "The Relic". Add to this the occasional “Starship Troopers” action sequence, presumably thrown in to distract from the distinct lack of any meat upon this movies somewhat cadaverous bones. Lovecraft must be, somewhat appropriately, spinning in his grave.

There are no characters, just a few tired role-play stereotypes wandering around getting themselves eviscerated or narrating exposition. Character development is achieved by giving people a name and an occupation, that's about it. Even the overtly long opening text crawl was added after test audiences reported that the plot confused the b’jesus out of them. Er, what plot?

The action scenes, occasionally passable as they were, begin randomly on their own, coming from nowhere with a pounding track of hardcore Amsterdam techno. I found that I was asking myself questions such as "Where is this happening? What's going on? How did they know about that? If I commit ritual seppuku will it be worth it so that I don’t have to sit here for another 95 minutes of this unspeakable tosh?"

Even the synopsis is excrement beyond belief, and I quote: ”Edward Carnby (Christian Slater, of all the people who should be wise to toilet paper in script form), detective of the paranormal, unexplained and supernatural, investigates a mystery (the recent death of a friend) comes face to face with bizarre horrors that prove both psychologically disturbing and lethal, as he discovers that evil demons worshiped by an ancient culture called the Abskani are planning on coming back to life in the 21st century to once again take over the world... "

For heavens sake. If you are offered the chance to view this movie, I humbly suggest that you gouge out your own eyes with a pencil.
It’s rubbish without kitsch value. This is so poor that it’ll never even be hip for being bad. It saddens me that the medium of DVD has given such films a refuge instead of going 'straight-to-video'.

Movie: 0.5 of 5
Extras: 2 of 5

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

DVD Review - Escape From New York (Special Ed)

”… the definitive version of a classic.”

In the twenty-four years since it was released, John Carpenter’s ‘Escape From New York’ has grown a well-deserved following. Back in 1981, it was a ambitious action story, brought to the big screen with a gob-smacking level of ingenuity, a seriously solid cast (including the likes of Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef and Adrienne Barbeau), and all on a shirt-button budget. It’s dark, dirty, and pulls few punches, earning it weapons-grade cult status.

Manhattan Island has been converted into a self-contained maximum-security prison. Cut off from the mainland US by water, land mined bridges, 30’ walls and shoot-to-kill police patrols. New York City has become a dangerous and lawless hell-hole filled with scavenging murder gangs and misfits where precious petroleum and the lives of the inmates are controlled by ‘The Duke’ (Isaac Hayes, “he’s A number 1”).

Recently convicted former Special Forces operative Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell, in this career-changing and iconically cool role) is about to be locked away for the rest of his life, but he’s offered a pardon if he can rescue the stranded President (Donald Pleasence), from Manhattan Island, in less than twenty-four hours.

As a sizable John Carpenter fan, I’ve always liked ‘Escape From New York’ and this Special Ed version is the icing on the cake. Considering when the movie was made (look out for Snake landing his glider on the top of the Twin Towers), the DVD extras and the revamped audio and video are nothing short of excellent.

The DVD is chock-full of extras, including some good informative and personal directors/actors/producers commentaries, documentaries and a whole Missing Reel, which is the film’s original opening sequence that was cut prior to release, comic books, Snake Plissken montage videos, galleries of production photos and lobby cards, interviews and plenty to keep fans and newcomers glued to their remote control.

This is the definitive version of a classic.

Movie: 4.5 out of 5
Extras: 4 out of 5