Leonard Nimoy – R.I.P.

spock live longI wasn’t going to post this weekend and I don’t usually write RIP pieces, but the death of Leonard Nimoy yesterday did bring a tear to my eye, and a smile too as many fond memories were evoked.

Although he had a varied career as actor and director, he will forever be Mr Spock for me. I grew up with the half Vulcan, half human who kept Captain Kirk in line, made it alright to be different, yet had such dignity.

The Telegraph has put together a wonderful collection of clips, tweets, tributes and links here, but below is Nimoy’s last tweet…  LLAP is, of course the Vulcan greeting ‘Live Long and Prosper’. We’ll miss him.

nimoy final tweet

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A brief blog post about time

Just a quick blog post today to say that yesterday I went to see the film The Theory of Everything – the story of Jane and Stephen Hawking.

IT WAS BLOODY BRILLIANT!

Its two young stars – Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones were exceptionally good.

Theory-of-Everything_612x381Redmayne’s transformation as Hawking’s disease took hold was masterly, but Jones’ steely determination to make the best of their lives together, then later frustrations shone out of the screen too. Both have been nominated for Oscars – my fingers are crossed.

The film was well structured and beautifully shot with a great supporting cast including David Thewlis and Emily Watson amongst a group of other younger actors I am less familiar with.

I took my 14yr old daughter and she was transfixed throughout the whole film too. My eyes did brim with tears at several moments, but did manage to hold them in.

GO AND SEE IT IF YOU CAN!

Travelling to InfinityIt so happens, and not coincidentally, that I’m about quarter of the way through reading the new edition of Jane Hawking’s book Travelling to Infinity, which the film is based on.

Jane’s book is quite a chunkster at just under 500 pages, and carries on beyond the film, which stops in 1987 when Stephen was made a Companion of Honour. Originally published in 2007, this new edition published to tie in with the film has been abridged and added to.

I’m enjoying it so far, and can recognise many of the stories within from the film, which although having to compress things seems true to Jane’s life story. I hope the book continues to hold up.

Have you read the book or seen the film?

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Source: Publisher – Thank you.
To explore further on Amazon UK (affiliate link), please click below:
Travelling to Infinity: The True Story Behind the Theory of Everything by Jane Hawking. Abridged edition pub Dec 2014 by Alma Books, paperback 490 pages.

Bookish and not so bookish distractions…

Usually I’m a serial monogamist where reading books are concerned. I have no more than one novel at a time on the go, with just occasionally a non-fiction book on the side.  Stupidly, I started three novels and have got a little stuck with all of them at the moment. The first was because I didn’t want to carry a larger book filling my bag, so I picked up a physically smaller volume, then I wanted a lighter read that I could read in smaller doses and picked up book number three. Now I’m a bit stuck on all of them, although perversely, I am enjoying all three, but can’t decide which to finish first! (Choose, Annabel, choose! – Ed)

I am also taking a serious look at my bookshelves (again), and playing with my books finding the odd volume or three for the charity shop piles (I’ve taken in three bags this week, nearly filled a fourth). I’d like to reduce the number of bookshelves in my spare bedroom which I used to use as a study, so I can redecorate and ultimately put a bed back in. It’s got four Billy bookcases, which all used to be double stacked – now down to two doubled, two not  – so I’ve a way to go, but am definitely making progress.

Then I realised I missed World Cat Day on August 8th – so I have to make amends! Here is Ginny, asleep in the beanbag in the conservatory. All snug and warm now the sun is out after the torrential rain this morning. Her fur is still dyed pink around her neck where she chewed her collar so much one of the pigments from that or the permanent marker we wrote her details on the inside of the collar with ran into her fur. (Chromatography in action folks – cat spit is obviously a good solvent).

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I’ve also been catching up with recorded TV series rather than reading … the hard disk is full so was time to get watching.

FargoFargo with Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton was absolutely fab – very funny, very dark indeed. I didn’t think they could stretch the Coen brothers’ film concept to a ten episode season – but they did, and it worked. Allison Tolman as the deputy Molly Solverson was also great.

Tom HollanderYesterday I watched A Poet in New York, which was a BBC4 film drama from months ago starring Tom Hollander as Dylan Thomas on his last weeks in the city where he died aged just 39. Made to celebrate the centenary of Thomas’ birth in 1914, Hollander, whom I adore in Rev, put on two stone to play the part. Sad, but I enjoyed it a lot – and I guffawed at the filthy limericks he came up with in one scene.

I still have two more whole series recorded to watch – Broadchurch and The Honorable Woman, plus the DVD of the first season of Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards.

Those are my excuses for not getting much reading done – what are yours?

Still more Shiny linkiness

I know, it’s getting a bit like Monty Python’s Gondolas around here… but I have to highlight my last two new reviews in Issue 2 of Shiny New Books for you, don’t I? Again, it’s one fiction, one non-fiction:

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The Way Inn by Will Wiles

wiles

I really enjoyed Wiles’s first novel Care of Wooden Floors (which I reviewed here) – a quirky farce about flat-sitting for a minimalist with new flooring.

His second novel is equally quirky, but he has moved into much darker territory. The Way Inn satirises lookalike hotel chains, trade conferences and the business types that frequent them, and be warned, it will definitely mess with your head!

Needless to say, I really enjoyed this one. (9/10 and I bought my own copy.)

Read my full Shiny review here.

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The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman

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You may have heard of Lightman before from his quirky novels and stories. However, first and foremost he is a physicist and has published many books of essays.

This is his latest – a survey of the latest thinking on the origins of the universe. Each essay takes a different aspect and alongside the technical discussion (which is lucid and understandable to the non-scientist), he illustrates it with his own life experiences and how nature does it. Fascinating stuff (8/10, Source: publisher – thank you.)

Read my full Shiny review here

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To explore either of these books further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Way Inn by Will Wiles, pub Fourth Estate, June 2014, Hardback 352 pages.
The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew by Alan Lightman, pub Corsair, May 2014, Hardback 176 pages.

OK – you’re wanting to see the ‘Gondolas’, aren’t you. Here’s the full Python travelogue, narrated by John Cleese. It was originally shown as a short in the cinema before Life of Brian

The Grand Budapest Hotel – what a film!

The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel-PosterImaginthe-grand-budapest-hotel-featurette-the-storye one of those old grand spa hotels from the early 1930s in an Eastern European alpine setting – a destination in its own right, busy, happening and very posh. Fast forward a few decades to faded grandeur marred by 1970s orange everywhere, near-empty, peopled just by the curious, or those on a bargain package… such is the plight of The Grand Budapest Hotel in Wes Anderson’s latest film.

What happened to the hotel? What was it like in its heyday?  Framed as a story within a story within a story, Anderson tells the story of Gustave H. – the best, the most attentive hotel concierge you’ve ever seen, and the events that got him into trouble.

Ralph Fiennes is Gustave, the concierge with an attention for detail nonpareil, who keeps all his old lady clients, including an unrecognisable Tilda Swinton as Madame D. a dowager on her last legs, ‘entertained’.

The hotel has a new Lobby Boy – Zero, played by Tony Revolori, whom Gustave takes under his wing. Gustave will teach him to ‘Anticipate the needs before the needs are needed.

When Madame D. dies, they go on an adventure together.  Against the wishes of her sons (Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe), she had left a priceless painting to Gustave.  In a moment of impulsiveness, Gustave takes the painting and runs – leaving him open to being prime suspect when it becomes clear that Madame D was murdered.  A series of hilarious capers ensues as Gustave is caught, escapes, and seeks out the truth.

The look of the film is sumptuous. All the interiors are plush and lush, or dark and brooding as needed. It is always snowing in this alpine region, but it never feels cold – strange that.  However, having made the wonderful stop-motion Fantastic Mr Fox (my favourite Wes Anderson film until now), the director has built in some animated sequences too – the hotel from afar is seen as a cut-out against a screen backdrop and there are trademark scenes of running characters seen in silhouette against the sky – they blend perfectly into the action.  References abound too – from the police inspector’s fox head badge to scenes of long, and I mean really long, ladders. I loved all this.

Then there is the cast – I can honestly say that I can’t think of another film that has so many cameos of star quality as this one.  Apart from Gustave, Zero, the nasty brothers and Jeff Goldblum as the lawyer, the other main parts are all small but lovely – Harvey Keitel’s tattooed prisoner, Ed Norton’s police inspector, Tilda Swinton possibly stand out, but they are all wonderful.  All of Anderson’s usual collaborators are there, including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman too.  (Doesn’t Adrien Brody look a proper gorgeous villain with that ‘tache?)

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Dominating though is Fiennes as the normally unflappable Gustave, who when flapped is totally hilarious, other times effortlessly charming, the perfect host, and always just slightly camp, darling.  Revolori makes an excellent foil – although he does get cross when Gustave can’t help flirting with his girlfriend (Saiorse Ronan).

zweig

I haven’t mentioned the music yet either – lots of balalaikas – I adore balalaikas so much I’ve bought the soundtrack album.  In fact I want a balalaika too!

Now I can’t wait for the book of Stefan Zweig writings that inspired the film to arrive now…

This film is vintage Anderson, quirky, quietly hilarious, brilliantly acted, and with an exceptional attention to detail. It was utterly, utterly fab, and I’d go and see it again without a doubt (if I wasn’t too busy).

The Art of the Comb-over & American Hustle

American Hustle (15)

It is a brave film that spends its opening minutes with its overweight paunchy, balding superstar acting lead perfecting his comb-over.  Christian Bale put on 40 lbs to play Irving Rosenfeld, a small-time Bronx hustler who gets caught by the feds and offered immunity if he helps them in a big scam down in Atlantic City in the late 1970s.

american-hustle-poster-2Bale’s partner in crime is Sydney Prosser played by Amy Adams, who perfects a cut-glass accent as a British aristo with access to a good line of credit to haul in the marks on their get rich quick scheme. Amazingly Sydney falls for Irving – obviously not for his body, but his brain and ability to talk himself out of nearly anything.

The pair get trapped by agent DiMaso – Bradley Cooper in a poodle perm. Together the plan is to take on all the crooked politicians in Atlantic City, led by the likeable Robin-Hood of a Major (Jeremy Renner).

However the scheme gets out of hand when a) the Mafia get involved, and then later when b) Irving’s wife Rosalyn, (Jennifer Lawrence in blonde bombshell mode) can’t keep her mouth shut.

It gets good and twisty, and Irving has to work harder than he has ever done before to tread water and keep the sting alive. There is a magnificent uncredited cameo in the Mafia boss from Miami by … well I’m not going to spill the beans!

Adams and Lawrence are both magnificent – but Lawrence in the smaller part gets the amazing scene in which she is angrily cleaning her house in yellow gloves whilst singing along to Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die.

If hairdos are the main recurring visual (hair-rollers also feature big-time), the soundtrack is to die for – from Steely Dan’s Dirty Work over the opening credits, to Elton John, ELO, David Bowie, plus Horse with no name, White Rabbit, Delilah and I feel love and plenty of jazz too, I was singing along all the way through (I went to the afternoon showing this afternoon which had about 30 people in the big screen).

At 138 minutes it is a little long, and a little self-reverent,  but I revelled in the sheer late 1970s-ness of it, the level of detail was phenomenal, as was the on-going homage to Marty Scorsese. I never thought I’d want a fat, balding guy with a comb-over to survive what I thought would be the inevitable ending either, but by the end of it I did, Bale made Irving almost loveable.

For fans of the late 1970s and Scorsese, American Hustle was fab, and will doubtless get Oscar nominations for its stars.  I really, really enjoyed it.

Another visual stunner from Luhrmann

The Great Gatsby – directed by Baz Luhrmann

The-Great-Gatsby3

The moment that Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway finally met Gatsby, when Leonardo Dicaprio turned around and smiled that smile, my heart did a little leap, and it confirmed for me that he was perfect for the role, and that this film was going to be totally worth it for me.

The story is framed by a narration by Carraway as his rehab doctor encourages him to write it all down after the end to that summer. Maguire plays the insider-outsider with either constant wide-eyes and goofy smile, or zonked out – still with those wide eyes but staring. Carey Mulligan as Daisy is all doe eyes, shallow and fun-loving, yet trembling and weak, showing us another side to this actress who wowed as the confident young lead of An Education.  Australian actor Joel Edgerton, who looks like a slightly ravaged Guy Pearce here, is suitably boorish as Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan.

Co-starring with the principal actors is Luhrmann’s artistic vision. No-one does parties on film like Luhrmann, and the raves at Gatsby’s mansion are jaw-droppingly amazing, and here the mainly contemporary soundtrack with inclusions from Jay Z and Beyoncé works really well.

the-great-gatsby party

There are no musical set pieces as in Moulin Rouge though.  Here the music comes in little strains throughout, intertwining pop songs with jazz, blues, and notably Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

There was a pervading air of melancholy throughout and even when people were ostensibly happy, it was that kind of brittle happiness – except for the flashback of when Gatsby first met Daisy.  I can’t think of anyone else other than DiCaprio that could have played the title role – it’s his film.

Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby is not subtle – at all!  
It won’t be for everyone – the critics didn’t really like it …
But I did!  

Most importantly, it made me want to re-read the novel – pronto. So, I’m just going to riffle my bookcase …

Benedict, you’re a very baaad man!

star-trek-2-into-darkness-poster

I couldn’t wait! Just back from the first screening (bar last night’s midnight one) at my local cinema of Star Trek: Into Darkness, the second outing for the young classic Trek crew.

I’m not going to tell you any of the story except that Benedict Cumberbatch, with a spectacularly basso profundo voice, was truly wonderful as Kirk’s adversary. However everything else was in place – here are a few slightly cryptic notes:

  • The crew from the previous movie are all present and correct;
  • Kirk breaks the prime directive – again;
  • Uhura and Spock have sparks flying off them!
  • There are plenty of laughs;
  • Simon ‘Fat boy’ Pegg gets to do lots of running as Scotty;
  • The Enterprise gets shot up of course;
  • It’s no tribble at all for Bones;
  • Future adventures are (retrospectively) set up, and references abound;
  • Spock gets to be an action hero – he melds, he pinches … and he cries.

LOVED IT!!!  Want to see it again.

Sci-Fi Sound Effects

BBC Sci-Fi Sound Effects (Vintage Beeb)

Having built up a few reviews on Amazon, a couple of years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to be a reviewer for Amazon Vine. I get to pick items from lists they send out of all sorts of things. Usually I stick to books, but just occasionally I branch out and pick something different …

Sci-fi sound effectsI couldn’t resist this CD, which features sound effects from four classic SF programmes from the BBC: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (radio version), 1980 vintage Doctor Who, Blake’s Seven and the radio series Earthsearch.

Sound effects recordings are strange things. In its 45 minutes duration, this CD has 81 tracks, some a couple of minutes long, some just a few seconds. From alien soundscapes to various techy noises, and of course the Tardis from Doctor Who, it was easy to have a little nostalgia trip listening to this CD, and if I’m honest, I won’t listen to it in full again.

It is a shame that the Doctor Who effects by Dick Mills are only from series 18 (the end of the Tom Baker era), which apart from an encounter with the Master, only had the Marshmen to cope with monster-wise, else we could have had more interesting noises – there are no Daleks here sadly. (There are dedicated Doctor Who sound effects CDs available too it turns out).

blakes7gang3It was Elizabeth Parker’s effects for Terry Nation’s Blake’s 7 that I enjoyed the most.  Although it was a cheesy space opera with rickety cardboard sets, it lasted for four series from 1978-81 and for me it was must-watch TV. Political renegade Blake may have been a goodie, but the baddies in power were badder, especially Jacqueline Pearce as the dictator Servalan (centre left).  This brings me to the sound effects…

Towards the end of the first series, our crew of galactic freedom fighters acquired Orac – a perspex box with flashing lights that masqueraded as a super computer and had the irritating personality of a real smart Alec.  The good thing about Orac was that you could switch him on and off, two wonderful little sound effects – both on this CD.  I particularly liked the Orac Off one!  If you’d like to experience Orac for yourselves, watch this clip (they turn him off about 3 minutes in)…

This CD was previously available on vinyl, this is its first outing on CD. Although I won’t sit and listen to it as a while again I shall keep it for you never know when an alarm klaxon, laser blaster, alien soundscape, or indeed Orac off sound effect might come in useful!

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I received a review copy from Amazon Vine – to explore further please click below:
BBC Sci-Fi Sound Effects (Vintage Beeb) – BBC records, 2012.
Doctor Who Sound Effects (Vintage Beeb)
Blake’s 7 – Complete Collection [16 DVD]

Who’s your Doctor?

Doctor Who: Dreams of Empire by Justin Richards

We will get to the book eventually, but first I want to talk about Doctor Who a bit.

Royal Mail - Dr Who Stamps Booklet

Things are hotting up for the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, and the memorabilia stakes are high. The Royal Mail have issued a set of eleven stamps with the eleven Doctors, a Monsters Minisheet, plus first class stamp booklets now (until stocks run out). I’ve bought one of each, plus a set of postcards of all the stamps – I’m such a geek!

Patrick Troughton - the 2nd Dr WhoBut then I have grown up with Doctor Who.  I was too little to really appreciate William Hartnell, the first Doctor, but I can remember it being on the telly as my parents watched it.  The first Doctor I actively watched was the second doctor – played by Patrick Troughton from 1966-69, whose persona of the Chaplinesque recorder-playing ‘cosmic hobo’ makes him My Doctor.

There are two serials (most early Who stories had 4 or 6 half-hour episodes) featuring Troughton that have remained imprinted in my memory since childhood – The Underwater Menace, and The Web of Fear.  Tragically, neither of these serials remains complete in the archives – episodes having been lost or wiped.

The Underwater Menace is set in an underwater city in which dwell the survivors of Atlantis. There was a horrifying scene in which the Doctor’s companion Polly, was going to be taken for conversion into a fish-person. Naturally she escapes, but as a not-quite seven year old, this scared me half to death – I couldn’t imagine a worse fate than being made into a giant pilchard – and I’ve never eaten that fish!

A Yeti - Dr Who - The Web of Fear (1968)The Web of Fear from 1968 however introduced another foe – The Yeti.  The costumes are laughable by today’s standards (the eyes glowed red), but the combination of Yeti and London Underground made me scared stiff of going on the old red tube trains (the newer silver ones were safe!) on trips up to London for several years. I was petrified.

Of course, part of the premise of Doctor Who has always been for the monsters to scare young children witless!  My daughter, now 12, is just about getting over her fear of the Weeping Angels from the current incarnation.

Finally, this brings me to a book.

There have been loads of Doctor Who adventures written, and as part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations, BBC books have chosen eleven books – one for each doctor, to re-publish in an Anniversary livery.  There are some well-known authors – Mark Gatiss, Ben Aaronovitch for instance, on the list but I opted for the novel chosen for the second doctor, by Justin Richards who is new to me.

50 Anniversary cover

Original cover

Dreams of Empire was first published in 1998 (right).  It’s slightly unusual for Doctor Who in that there are no monsters; instead it’s a novel of politics, that takes its inspiration from the Roman triumvirate of Caesar, Crassus and Pompey, and a power-play staged as a game of chess.

The Haddron Empire is being torn apart by civil war. The one man, Hans Kesar, who might be able to unite the factions is held in a cell on the prison fortress of Santespri, sited on an asteroid.  Kesar is one of three Consuls, and had been imprisoned following impeachment after his habit of going it alone resulted in the loss of the Republic’s fifth legion of robot warriors.

Two sets of visitors arrive on the barren rock. The first, unannounced, dematerialising in the depths of the castle, is the Doctor with his companions Jamie and Victoria; the second, official, is another of the triumvirate, Consul Milton Trayx come to visit Kesar. Trayx is an honorable man, and it has become clear to him that the other Consul Mathesohn is trying to outmanoeuvre them to reinstate the Empire under his control.

So the Doctor arrives into this tense political situation, and after some cat and mouse games with the guards, is finally captured having entered Kesar’s cell, where he is playing chess with Cruger, Kesar’s second in command.  Of course, he soon proves that he is no threat, and will prove useful to Trayx.

Eventually there will be a battle on the asteroid when the lost fifth legion of robot soldiers arrives to either kill or free Kesar (we’re not sure which), but before the shoot-out there is much politicking, a little espionage, and a lot of chess.

I’m not a chess expert, but after the chapter in which we were introduced to ‘The Knight’s Tour’ it became clear that the Doctor is the white knight.  For he arrives, goes everywhere, get’s his fingers into everything, then arrives back at the beginning, whereupon he leaves!

knights tour (from Mathworld)

The Knight’s Tour is a chess problem in which you have to move the knight around the board in legal moves, never landing on the same square twice, except for returning to the starting position in a ‘closed tour’ comprising 64 moves. There are hundreds of thousands of different possibilities apparently.

This was, like a chess game, a complexly plotted novel in which not enough really happens. There was, however, more than enough blood and gore. This, and its complicated nature definitely make it a novel for older teens and adults,  people rarely die nastily on the TV.

I thought that the author captured the personality of the second Doctor rather well.  He was slightly batty, yet obviously learned, keen to educate the boorish Jamie and to protect Victoria, never letting on how much he knows – or doesn’t know, playing his recorder to give him thinking time.  He can also be a clown, and there is a running gag involving sandwiches.

It did lack real villains of substance though and there was too much politicking and not enough of the Doctor himself ironicall. It all seemed quite familiar somehow too  – I’ve watched too much Doctor Who and Star Trek over the years.  So, this is not the novel in this series to start with – unless the 2nd Doctor is ‘your doctor’ and you like chess.  However, I will happily read a couple more …

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Doctor Who: Dreams of Empire by Justin Richards, BBC Books paperback.