The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

The Lost SymbolThe Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not bad to start with, but gets incredibly waffly as it goes. Brown’s characters’ dialogue is better than some previous novels, but still stilted and unnatural in places.

The pace is great up until around half way when the chapters suddenly double in length and all the excitement seems to leave the story. Quick action gives way to long, boring philosophical arguments and the final “reveal” of the secret being searched for is incredibly underwhelming.

Also – page 578 – a progress bar and a task bar are different things. You’d think a guy who wrote a novel about the computer systems being used within the NSA would know this. Actually, remembering how poor that book was, perhaps not.

It still surprised me that Dan Brown is given so much credit for this genre of novel when he wasn’t the first to write one, and when his are certainly not amongst the best. I guess he has a good publicity department.

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Pirates of the Caribbean 4 / Blitz

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsIf I see films on different nights I usually give them different posts, but I wanted to ensure these two were compared. We saw Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides on the Friday after the Tigertailz gig (see separate post), and fortunately found ourselves available to see a film the night after. This allowed us to wash away the lingering scent of cine-shit with a far superior film.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

“Did everyone see that? Because I will *not* be doing it again.” (I wish this were the case, but I gather there’s at least one more film being made)

See if if you like: watching franchises take not one, but two steps too far and disappear up their own arseholes. Also if you really think that Johnny Depp deserves a new wing on his house in exchange for buggering about on a movie screen without even bothering to make it look like he’s trying.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Not sure. Fell asleep. Something to do with mermaids.

Good grief, this was awful. Really awful. “Watched two different couple leave before the halfway mark and considered following them” awful. “Fell asleep shortly afterwards and woke to the end credits” awful.

I was looking forward to the film, especially as there was a 2D version so at least I wasn’t forced to pay extra for the privilege of wearing sunglasses and squinting for over two hours. However, I’d happily have worn a pair of Joo-Janta 500 Peril Sensitive sunglasses for this monstrosity.

I’ve read reviews that claim the relationship between Depp and co-start Penelope Cruz “sizzles” on screen, and I’d love to know what version of the film those people saw. It wasn’t a patch on the “will they / won’t they” scenes with Kiera Knightley in the first film. Mind you, this sums up the whole film. Damp squibiness abounds.

I gather Johnny Depp is a nice guy – popping into a local school in full pirate dress for a surprise, and blowing $65,000 on raincoats for the crew. However, it doesn’t excuse a completely lacklustre display of a character well-known for his flamboyance. It just doesn’t look like he’s trying.

The story is apparently based on a book from 1988 with the same title, a book which also influenced LucasArt’s excellent The Secret of Monkey Island game. For your money, I’d say get hold of a copy of that and play it instead. It’s far more entertaining.

Blitz

“Do I look like I carry a pencil?”

See if if you like: really, gritty, violent thrillers chock full of violence.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: a psycho nutter starts going around London killing police officers. A copper with a dodgy reputation for having slightly violent tendencies is out to get him.

The entire budget for this film would probably just about cover Depp’s laundry bill for POTC4. In exchange you get a movie that’s countless times better, with a taught story, good acting, at least as many amusing quips and far more blood and gore. Plus, there’s no sodding 3D version.

Blitz is also based on a book, also filmed in London – but gifted with a good story, although I did think it ran just a little too long. It kicks of very swiftly, brings you up to speed with the characters and gets quite violent very early on.

The characters are a little “off the shelf” (the good, but violent cop (Jason Statham); the high-ranker nobody else likes (Paddy Considine); the vulnerable female (Zawe Ashton)…) but they fit together well to make a drama that could have been spread over a few weeks by BBC1 in hour-long episodes. Well – it could if the Beeb were OK with the word “cunt” being used less then two minutes into the first act.

What makes this film a little different from most is that the “whodunnit” aspect is done away with very early on. “Blitz” (Aidan Gillen) is unmasked fairly early on so that we can witness his increasingly brutal murders. And they are brutal. Not Saw or Hostel brutal, but personal, close-up and bloody. The woman next to me was visibly shaken by one in particular.

The film then follows the chase and the attempt to build a case up against someone the police are already sure of, while a reporter gets involved and Blitz is still out there.

It’s not often Gillian and I agree on a film so much. Less so that we agree about two on the trot. Be both thought POTC4 was a yawn-fest and we both thoroughly enjoyed Blitz.

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Tigertailz – Glasgow Cathouse

Kim Hooker
Kim Hooker (Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr)

[more photos can be found in this Flickr set]

In 1990 (maybe 1991), I bought my first ever single. On vinyl – that’s a 7″ black disc of grooved plastic for you youngsters who aren’t aware of the concept any more. That single was “Love Bomb Baby” by Tigertailz – Wales’ answer to the US glam metal phenomenon Poison.

In 2011, I finally got to see the band live. Well, half of them. Ace Finchum left his drumming position quite some time back, and Pepsi Tate (bass) sadly died almost four years ago. However, they were ably replaced by Robin Guy and Sarah Firebrand for this tour, joining founding member Jay Pepper and long-server Kim Hooker.

It was to be quite a short set, a little over an hour, but virtually non-stop. Opening with “Sick Sex” and passing through crowd-pleaser “Heaven” before finishing with an encore that included the aforementioned “Love Bomb Baby”. Hooker certainly still has that voice, despite the time that’s passed. Pepper looks like he’s never left the stage. Firebrand is one hot chick, and Guy looks like he’s been taking lessons from Nicko McBrain in “how to be a drummer stuck at the back of the stage, but still be a huge and obvious part of the band by arseing around and being entertaining”.

Sarah Firebrand
Sarah Firebrand (Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr)

If I had a problem it was that the sound was rather muddy, something that Gillian says is a known issue with the Cathouse. A shame, but it didn’t stop me singing along to the songs I knew and having a great time. The band were straight over to the merchandise area the moment they walked off stage and were more than happy to chat to fans, have their picture taken and so on. A genuinely nice bunch. Kim commented on my beard and how it rivals Jay’s. Apparently they’re touring on motorbikes and Jay’s often end up all over the place by the time they get to their destinations!

Credit also to the two support bands. Openers Rare Breed didn’t look old enough to shave, but it takes balls to get on stage at any live venue in front of someone else’s fans. They did a great set with a couple of perfectly acceptable covers as well as some of their own stuff. Good luck to them!

Spit Like This were entertaining enough and certainly had a fair bit of energy for the small stage. I actually own one of their t-shirts from a few years back. Nice to see them live at last, as well.

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Win Win

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsCourtesy of the Cineworld mailing list, I managed to wangle two preview tickets for the new Paul Giamatti film. I knew nothing about it before screening, and sometimes this is a good thing. It meant I was all the more pleasantly surprised by…

Win Win

“Whatever it fucking takes!”

See it if you like: heartwarming dramas with genuinely funny moments

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A well-meaning but skint lawyer takes on guardianship of an old man, and finds things somewhat snowballing from there.

I like being surprised by films. It’s one reason I’m not a huge fan of watching trailers, especially not for blockbusters or comedies where they insist on showing you every single good moment. I think that’s part of the reason I liked Win Win so much – I had no preconceptions.

Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a rarity amongst lawyers in that he’s not dodgy, nor is he rich. In fact, business is bad. When the chance comes up to take guardianship of old Leo Poplar (Burt Young) in exchange for $1500 a month, he takes it. Then dumps the old fella into a care home anyway. Tut tut.

Things become complicated when Poplar’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) appears out of nowhere, looking for grandad. He’s trying to escape from life with his drugged-up mother (the as-ever gorgeous Melanie Lynskey), and the Flaherty family end up taking him in.

The disaffected youth turns out to be a bit of a wrestling prodigy, and Flaherty’s life starts to look up – the “win win” situation of the title. Of course, as in every film, the lies start to trip our protagonist up…

Win Win is very well scripted. It’s almost like a TV drama in the lack of extremely tense moments, or huge focal scenes. Instead, it’s just a nice story with some wonderfully believable characters. Mike’s wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) is a wonderfully varied character, unsure whether to punch Kyle’s mother in the face, throw the somewhat unusual boy out or let her maternal instincts take over and look after him.

I could have watched this film for another hour, I was so engrossed. Genuinely entertaining, clever, funny and well-acted. Oh, Shaffer didn’t have to act too hard in the wrestling scenes. He won the New Jersey State Wrestling Championship last year, aged 17.

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Priest 3D / Attack the Block

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsSomehow I stayed awake enough to catch two films this week. Partly as the second one was so entertaining.

Priest 3D

“Though I walk through the valley of…” *yawn*

See it if you like: wearing stupid glasses for no apparent reason and listening to actors whisper rather than talk properly.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: deposed cleric dusts off the cruciform shuriken to kick vampire ass – against the Church’s wishes.

Oh dear. We saw this one because Gillian has a thing for Paul Bettany. Yes, I’m blaming her for this one. Completely. Not that I’d have avoided it had I been on my own with my Cineworld Unlimited card, but then I’d have been blaming myself. Priest isn’t that good.

Something happens. People get on bikes and drive to the next place. Something happens. Bikes. Something… etc. Bettany isn’t even that good and I usually like him. The visuals are OK and the basic plot acceptable, but the whole thing just doesn’t hang together very well.

The single worst thing about it, though, is the compulsory 3D. I’m sorry, but I’m going to rail about this again. While I appreciate that someone in an office has decided that 3D is the new way forward, Priest is a prime example of why it shouldn’t be. In huge portions of the film, the 3D levels “nearest” you move. The background 3D moves. But there was a constant stationary layer which just “stuck” there and made viewing the film actually uncomfortable.

In its favour, the film isn’t too long coming in at 80-some minutes plus credits. This is a good thing as it is essentially just a string of effects scenes. Lots of clichés abound, and enough physics ignored to last an entire series of Mythbusters. I’m no mechanic, but I’m fairly sure that electric engines won’t go any faster if you squirt nitro into them.

There are better films out. Go and see one of them instead. Like…

Attack the Block

“This is too much madness for just one text!”

See this if you like: low budget horror, kids swearing and fluorescent teeth.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: asteroids bring big-toothed ETs to earth in a dodgy part of London – and they certainly don’t come in peace.

Now this is more like it. A low-budget British effort with a very young, inexperienced cast which manages not to be painful to watch. Despite a slightly shaky start with some dodgy acting and effects, the film swiftly gets going as the big, bad aliens arrive – all glowy teeth and policeman-rending claws.

Like Priest, it’s not a long film but it fills its length with far more entertainment. And it’s not in bloody 3D.

The only actor I recognised was Nick Frost, who plays a rather dodgy drug dealer. Pretty much everyone else is a teenager, tooled up with the random weapons you’d expect any child thug to have to hand with which to fight huge scary beasties.

There are some genuinely funny moments, quite a few jumps and a couple of cringes from the early dialogue. The film does get better as it goes on, and doesn’t outstay its welcome. There aren’t any real surprises, but one benefit of an unknown cast is that you never really know who’s going to get “offed” and when. Enjoy this luxury!

Definitely worth a look. Support the British film industry, seeing as our government can’t be arsed.

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