More fun with Three…

OK, maybe not a huge complaint but a nitpick. I was checking my balance on My3 the other night and saw with my new package I had “100 Picture Mails”. Groovy, I’ve always had to pay for sending pictures, so I sent a quick photo to a friend.

A day later and I’ve still got 100 picture mails to use. And a charge of 25p on my account. So I queried it by giving Three a quick call.

It turns out that picture mails are not the same as picture messages, that is MMS. A picture mail involves taking a picture, going to the gallery and sending it using email to another email address. I get 100 of these. Which seems nuts when I also have a 1Gb internet allowance and routinely send pictures via GMail that way.

On the plus side, if I ever figure out how to use it, given that a 5MP image could be a megabyte in size, it could potentially save me 100Mb of internet. If I sent 100 pictures a month. And the people I sent them to had internet access on their phones.

In the meantime, it’s a decent package I’m on  but don’t expect any picture messages from me any time soon.

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Bodyguards and Assassins

No time to go to the cinema this weekend which is a little gutting, so instead I watched the tail end of a film I was enjoying on the flight back from Bangkok a few weeks ago.

Bodyguards and Assassins

OK, it’s a cheesy sounding title, but the film itself is anything but. It’s a high-budget Chinese effort set back in colonial Hong Kong at the turn of last century. I am not an expert on Chinese cinema, but by all accounts the cast is impressive (they certainly impressed me!) and the director, Teddy Chen, is renowned – deservedly so for this effort.

As I said, I’m not a huge expert in the field of Asian cinema. Most of my experience is in early Jackie Chan stuff, although the recent Red Cliff was absolutely spellbinding and proof that our friends out east can compete with Hollywood when they put their minds (and money) to it. Bodyguards and Assassins looks every bit as good – better, frankly – than many US films. The sets, costumes and so forth are simply wonderful. The production values are up there with any BBC period drama.

The story also, is gripping and based on a tempestuous time in Hong Kong’s history as civil unrest around the colonial grip is bubbling. Many of the characters are based on people who lived – and died – in this period.

In brief, a man called Sun Wen is to visit Hong Kong. He is a resistance leader there to discuss plans for revolution. The emperor of the day sends a band of assassins to kill him and prevent an uprising. The film focuses on the people in the city who support him, those who fall in with them and their attempts to get him to his rally and back out again alive.

For a film which received a lot of press for it’s action stars and sequences, the fights do take some time in coming, but the final 40 minutes or so are set piece after set piece. The slow build up is hugely worth it as we find out a lot about the characters and their reasons for believing in Sun Wen. As it all comes to a head he, along with decoys, is barrelled through the streets of Hong Kong in a fleet of covered rickshaws. The emperor’s assassins try to kill him as the freedom fighters attempt to stay one step ahead.

There are a couple of wire-worked scenes which I’m not a huge fan of, but there’s no doubting the skill and hard work put into making the fight scenes otherwise authentic. They’re fairly bloody without being excessively gory so shouldn’t upset those interested in watching it as a period piece.

I confess to finding the story a little hard to follow, partly due to the characters looking a little samey, but I was very tired on a flight for most of it – and the screens on the back of those seats aren’t big. Still, I was drawn in and enjoyed the story enough to get hold of a copy when I got home to see the end.

Definitely worth checking out, and ensure you get a subtitled version not a dubbed one!

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Hands off our stadium!

St James' Park, Newcastle (2)
As it is and should remain

Thanks to the guys at nufc.com for bringing this to my attention. And lots of other people judging by the comments on the planning department’s website.

What am I on about? Well, late last year the money-grabbing lunatics in charge of Newcastle United decided it would be a great idea to rename the stadium. This was universally met with derision and scathing comments… and seemed the be dropped. After one week stating that from that point henceforth, the ground would be (and must be by all press agencies doing so) referred to as “Sports Direct @ St James’ Park”, this reference was dropped in all the official press releases and it seemed as if the muppets had seen sense.

Apparently not.

Currently under review with Newcastle Council’s planning department are plans to hang several enormous signs from the stadium with the new branding on them. This would turn one of the best-known stadia in the country – which can be seen from miles around due to its elevated position – into an advertising hoarding for one of the tackiest “sports” shops in the country.

Please, take the time to visit the link below. At the time of writing, there were 56 objections to the plans, most of which had been entered today after the news was released on nucf.com. It takes a couple of minutes to register and you don’t need to be a Newcastle resident to do so (though given that locals will vote for councillors, I feel their opinions will be given more attention).

Once you’ve done so, comment on the plans and object. All comments are forwarded to the relevant planning officer. Let’s swamp his inbox!

The links in question:

Application summary and links to plans etc

Application comments posted to date

Pass this information on so as many people as possible know what’s going on. Thank you.

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Comedy-fest

PASADENA, CA - AUGUST 7:  Actor Henry Rollins ...
Rollins - Genius

Another backdated post. I saw all these shows on Monday gone, but haven’t had the time to write this up with all the school stuff I’ve been concentrating on.

OK, on Monday I had a ticket for Henry Rollins at the Edinburgh Fringe. I also had a meeting with someone from the council in the city so I was free afterwards from half three. With five hours to spare, what was I to do…? In the middle of a city hosting the world’s largest art festival? Several hundred artists involved in which were performing for free?

First up, before I get critical of anyone, let me just say that I appreciate how hard it is getting up in front of a crowd. To then add to that the challenge of making them laugh and it takes some special kind of guts. Or insanity.

I grabbed one of the booklets detailing a free festival schedule (there are at least two competing free festivals within the Fringe) and headed for a show starting at 4pm. First up was Diane Spencer (no, not the dead princess), a single lady stand-up who told a small audience (around 25 of us) of her life over the last couple of years. She wasn’t hugely funny, if I’m honest – but she was entertaining. More like a mate telling you some stories than a comedienne. Still, I’d definitely not call it a wasted hour.

Next up was another act in the same venue, half an hour of Cameron Davis followed by a further thirty minutes of Bonnie Davies. Cameron seemed like a nice guy, but honestly just wasn’t funny. His best joke was actually a pretty cheesy one which got a laugh and then became a running joke as he repeated it – at the audience’s insistence – each time latecomers slid in.

Bonnie was definitely better, though it’s a shame that her act had changed from the advertised travel-related humour as that’s what I’d stayed there to hear. Again, though, the jokes did fall a little flat. Perhaps people weren’t drunk enough yet – always helps when you’re listening to comedy!

Having said that – thanks for the biscuits before the show, guys!

I then had a change of venue, scarpering up North Bridge and over Princes Street to The Voodoo Rooms for “Richard Dawkins Does Not Exist. And We Can Prove It”, a mathematics-based show presented by two comedians. This was more my kind of things. Sure, it wasn’t hilarious, but it was smart and different – and entertaining.

It also finished quarter of an hour early, which meant I had time to grab dinner on the way to Cabaret Voltaire to see Yianni Agisilaou in “The Universe. A User’s Guide”. Now, this was a great show. Yianni’s basically a science geek who uses his hour-long show to basically say how great he thinks astronomy and physics are. Only he does it with a great use of language and a barrel-load of enthusiasm.

If he dropped a couple of the four-letter words and one or two of the jokes, this performance would be perfect for kids. There was only a small audience (maybe 10 of us) and he communicated with everyone without picking on people. Frankly, he reminded me of a very good physics teacher. With jokes.

With the rain drizzling down outside, I made my way over to the E4 Cow Barn to queue up for the mighty Rollins. As it was an unreserved sell-out all the seats had to be filled – which worked out well for Billy No-Mates here because it meant I got a spare second-row aisle seat.

Rollins was awesome. Seventy five minutes was all he was allowed by Festival authorities, which is a shame as I gather he’s capable of rattling on for 3 hours. Likely without moving his feet. I swear except for one moment around the hour mark, he stood stock still, right foot slightly in front of the left.

I was worried that he’d basically repeat his set from Sonisphere, but far from it. Except for maybe four minutes-worth of material, I’d not heard any of it before.

For a guy who’s done so much, he couldn’t be more down to earth. And not for a moment does it sound anything less than genuine. It’s difficult to pass on your opinion about weighty matters without sounding “preachy”, but Rollins does it with ease. It probably helps that I agree with pretty much all of his ideals!

75 minutes was too short, for sure. Especially as it means I just missed the second last train and had to wait 90 minutes for the next one.

Ah well.

Worth it.

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Expendable Salt

The Expendables (2010 film)
The Expendables

A quick two-review post (sorry, buried in other work) on the day I renewed my Cineworld pass again. Damn, I was trying to resist. But there are too many good films coming out. I’ve found one flaw with the Edinburgh cinema, though – it is on a leisure park with a paid car park and the validation at the cinema only allows up to 4 hours of free parking. No good for a full day at the cinema! In fact, not long enough for two films back to back without running out, circling theblock in the car and going back in!

Salt

Alright, first up was Salt, the new Angelina Joli film that I believe – like a huge number of films out these days – is based on a comic.

Good action sequences, Joli is very good at them (no surprise after her turns in the Tomb Raider movies and, more recently, Wanted), and a very predictable plot. If anyone who sees this film doesn’t spot the ending a mile away then they seriously need to start thinking about going back to school.

Enjoyable, but ultimately unfulfilling. If it hadn’t been trying to be a thriller I’d have been more forgiving, but it needs more of a plot to reach that level.

The Expendables

And onto a film that’s been followed by the press since its very inception was announced. Featuring not just director/writer Sylvester Stallone, but also Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis this is the first film to actually star all three. Only it doesn’t really. Arnie and Bruce have nothing more than overlong cameos.

Instead, main roles are taken by Jet Li, Jason Statham and Dolph Lundgren with an aging Mickey Rourke playing the cool older guy. Certainly no lack of muscle talent, then. The plot certainly has a lot less meat on it, but who cares?

The film really does hark back to the action films of the 80’s with a thin story, beefy lead (well, about 3/4 of a tonne of them) and sequence after sequence of mental action. The explosions are simply huge and the action segments ridiculously overblown to the point of utter incredulity… but it’s fun. Not as much fun as The A-Team was (it lacks the humour), but fun nonetheless.

Must be seen on the big screen with a cracking sound system and thumping bass.

Told you they’d be short reviews. OK, back to the lesson planning.

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