Thursday, February 25, 2010


I'm not often moved by art - well not art of the paint and brush variety anyway - but as the doors opened and I stepped off the tube train this evening, right in front of me was a poster advertising an exhibition that's just opened at The National Gallery highlighting the work of Paul Delaroche.

The poster featured a close up zoom of what is obviously the major work featured in the exhibition. As soon as I saw the picture and the name Lady Jane Grey I knew what was being depicted. I've tried to reproduce the zoom in the jpg below.

For those of you not quite up to speed with your 16th century Eng. Hist., Lady Jane Grey was our shortest reigning monarch. She was on the throne, depending on how you interpret the dates, for between nine and thirteen days before being beheaded and that's all most people generally know about her.

Given that one is drawn to the eyes in any portrait work, seeing a painting where the main subject is blindfolded would, you instinctively think, detract from the effect but in this piece it absolutely is the effect.

Lady Jane Grey was it appears, something of a patsy. Her card was marked the moment the machinations of state got to work and decided she was to become queen at the age of only 16 or perhaps 17. Intelligent, elegant and sophisticated at a time when none of these attributes were particularly required, she appears to have been sanguine to her fate although you could look at the above picture for hours and wonder at what her state of mind might have been. Yes, you can say that there may be a great deal of artistic licence going on here but in the absence of photography 400 years ago, artistic licence was the order of the day. As was tradition, she was obliged to pay the executioner who then asked her forgiveness which she gave.

I am moved.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Where's the Remote?

There are films you instinctively want to dislike before even seeing them. In fact, you often actively avoid them - they have all the warning signs that tell you they will be a Bad Thing. Inevitably these films creep up on you when your guard is down and you end up watching them. And you know, some of them ain't so bad. In some cases, good even. So I've tried to name a few of them that surprised me. It's an extremely subjective and judgemental list but it's my time I'm wasting here so I don't expect a hard time if you don't agree with me. It's my party and I'll blah blah blah if I want to.

In my case, they tend to fit into a few key categories.

Romcoms. If you actually don't want to dislike them then your inner snob will certainly tell you that you're far too clever to enjoy this kind of lo-brow papp. The law of media osmosis means inevitably you end up seeing most of them and dammit, I suppose there are a few out there that are not so bad.

Disney. Bleahh.

Issue films. Films you know are just itching to lecture and patronise you about some worthy subject. They tend to be issue-driven rather plot-driven, and seem to exist solely to crassly misinform you about some mighty subject such as....I dunno...war, cancer, mental illness, political suppression etc. You get the idea. What happens is, instead of you learning something about the subject, a few facts (and quite a few complete falsehoods) are wrapped around a cheesy melodrama and clunking dialogue and the film solely exists to sledgehammer you with somebody's highly personalised view of events.

Star vehicles. That is, films that seem solely to exist because they've got a notoriously two-dimensional actor who for some reason always brings home the bacon at the box office. Adam Sandler. Eddie Murphy. Steve Martin's entire body of work for the last 20 years. Etc.

Add to the above all Christmas movies, all made for TV movies, and all movies that are spinoffs from TV shows.

I'm a bloke. I like making top ten lists and stuff like that. Just remember, these are NOT my favourite films so I'm not some dolt who has some sort of oatmeal based substitute for brains. These are films that have just appeared in front of me and I frankly couldn't be bothered to switch channels or read a book so I just let them float past and was surprised that I really rather enjoyed them. None of them are great films in any sense of the word but they're all films that caught me on the hop and I'd probably waste a few hours watching again. And they're all better than the bloody Shawshank Redemption.

In no particular order and not with a great deal of forethought, here goes.....

Starship Troopers
I saw this in Ecuador for the first time. Rotten acting, plot and dialogue but I don't think this film was pretending to have those in the first place so no point in attacking it it because it doesn't. Mindless and entertaining fun. There are a lot of politicians out there who I suspect would be happy to run the world along similar lines.

Tin Cup
A Kevin Costner, golf-themed movie. It's got Don Johnson as well. What more is there to hate? Entertaining stuff.

LA Story
Steve Martin. I really don't know where to put him. He has made some truly awful films, and then been allowed to make a sequel that was even worse. There are sufficient people out there who will go and see him just because he's Steve Martin. This means he can sustain not only his own career but an entire segment of the movie industry dedicated to turning out really, really bad films. LA Story doesn't fit that rule. Utterly ridicules the LA media/celebrity lifestyle and the people who inhabit it.

Nobody's Fool
I'm not sure this film fits my rules because it's got Paul Newman in it and I'll watch him in anything. But what's Paul Newman doing in a film with Bruce Willis and Melanie Wassername? He must be just padding out his retirement. I'll try and pretend it doesn't exist in his greater body of work cos I know I'm going to be disappointed. With any luck it'll sink without trace and be conveniently forgotten. No, I had to watch it in the end cos it's got Newman in it. Phew, so relieved to discover it's actually very good.

Mercy Mission: The Rescue of Flight 771

The title says it all doesn't it? "Mercy Mission" - no subtlety there at all. It's a made for TV movie as well. A bad start on two counts at least. Mawkishly sentimental in parts but it'll keep you on the edge of your seat right up to the end. And it'll make you get out your atlas and try and find Pago Pago.

Bridget Jones's Diary

How can an American do a plausible English accent? Damn - extremely well as it turns out. Not only was the accent good - it was exactly correct for the social circles in which she moved. And like most actual Londoners, she was portrayed living in a poky little flat and not the spaciously converted warehouse/ballroom that most films would have us believe is the average city dwelling.

And Renee Zellweger is sexy as hell. She apparently gained 25 pounds in preparation for the role - which as far as I'm concerned made her just about perfect. Without those 25 pounds she loses every ounce of that sexiness.

Bad Santa

A Christmas movie. The worst possible premise on which to base a film. Has there ever been a good one? It's a Wonderful Life is ok I suppose but you just know it's going to have a happy ending so what's the point?

What you really want to believe is that underneath every in-store Santa, there is an incontinent, foul-mouthed, degenerate, drunken thief. Who likes to beat up little people. This film delivers.

Cool Runnings

Not got a lot going for it has it.....a Disney feature (as oppposed to animation) so it's on shaky ground already and carries the dreaded warning "based on a true story". You know this usually means it'll bear little or no resemblance to the original events and the Americans will always emerge as the heroic rescuers. Because of the Disney connection, it'll probably be sentimental, riddled with cliches and clownish overacted performances.

Actually it wasn't. The Jamaican characters portrayed were not complete stereotypes. John Candy turns in a proper acting performance and it's a couple of hours of light entertainment with a reasonable nod to the original events.

Oh jeez, Oliver Stone having a go at the establishment....again. I'm tired of being told I'm being lied to but through the medium of feature films. If I want a documentary I'll watch a documentary. I don't want my factual events shot through the prism of someone with a massive chip on their shoulder. We're gonna be in for a real telling-off here aren't we.

Well actually, just watch the movie and forget real events have been fictionalised, dramatised and over-exaggerated. It's got some cracking performances from a bunch of people. Joe Pesci, Tommy Lee Jones, John Candy (again), Donald Sutherland, Gary Oldman and others.

There are probably more but I can't think of them right now.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Let's face it - the Summer Olympics get all the coverage but the Winter Olympics have got all the action.

The Summer Olympics seem to be all about endeavour, fortitude and honest toil.....simple stuff like who can run faster, jump higher, or chuck various Grecian household objects the furthest. It's all in the highest Corinthian spirit but frankly I find it all a bit dull. I've been known to switch channels midway through a 200m race cos I got bored.

Compare this with the Winter Olympics which is just balls out speed and raw terror. Downhill ski racing....have you any idea how steep that hill is that they ski down? They go flat out for about 2 minutes on the absolute ragged edge of adherence where they could crash at about 80mph at pretty much every single turn they make. You don't get that sort of thing in the 1500m.

The Summer Games have got nothing on the luge, skeleton and bobsleigh racing. This is genuinely deadly stuff as was sadly seen recently. The fearlessness required to fling yourself down a solid ice downhill track at close to 100mph on nothing more than a tea tray is incredible.

How about speed skating? Not only is it exciting, it's actually quite beautiful to watch. Can you imagine watching the 400m where the runners were in danger of being flung sideways off the running track at 40 mph? Now that would liven up the athletics a bit wouldn't it.

The downside? Figure skating. You can't really call it a sport if you get points for artistic impression now can you?

Friday, February 12, 2010


There's just been a great show on TV about infinity. Basically, a bunch of mathematicians trying to explain infinity; well perhaps not explaining it, but simply trying to understand it.

Try and think of a number. The biggest number you can possibly imagine. However big you imagine that number is, you can always add one to it. The potential size of this number is therefore infinite. It follows that you therefore cannot actually express infinity as a number. This is why they use that symbol of a figure 8 on its side. You cannot express it as a real number so you have to express it as a symbol.

If you accept the above concept of infinity as an infinite number then even though it is a number you cannot express because it is infinitely large then you can still use it in calculations.

Imagine you have a hotel of infinite size and therefore it has an infinite number of rooms. If it has an infinite number of rooms, then it can always accommodate another guest. But where do you put the guest when he or she arrives? Simple. The person in room one moves into room two, the person who was in room two moves into room three, the person who was in room three moves into room four and so on, ad infinitum. The new guest is therefore able to walk straight into room one. This therefore produces the formula

Infinity + 1 = infinity

Clever eh.

But what happens if an infinite number of guests arrive and wish to be accommodated in the infinite hotel? Simple again. This time, the person in room one moves into room two, the person in room two moves into room four. The person in room three goes to room six, the person in room four goes to room eight etc. Each person therefore just moves into the room number which is two times their original room number. If you double any number you always get an even number therefore all your odd numbered rooms will become free to accommodate the infinite number of guests that have just arrived. This therefore produces the formula

Infinity + infinity = infinity

I love this stuff.

Our mathematician friends then moved into cosmology which is where the concept of infinity becomes really mind-bending. First you accept that space is infinite. You then take the concept of Earth and our own known universe being a finite object. Given that our known universe is a finite object and given that our known universe is simply a very large (but finite) number of molecules arranged in a particular order, then in the infinity of space, sooner or later another set of molecules will arrange themselves in the same way and create another universe just like ours.

I don't mean a universe just a bit like ours, I mean a universe that is EXACTLY like ours. It will also contain you and me - identical copies of you and me. Because, in an infinite space with the possibility of an infinite number of things happening, that means an infinite number of the same things happening will happen an infinite number of times. If you accept the infinity of space, you therefore have to accept there are an infinite number of universes out there that are totally identical to the one we live in now. It's mathematically provable.

Heavy man.

One of our mathematician friends then got out a piece of paper and calculated how far away from us it is likely that our closest identical known universe is. He could do this......on a piece of about 30 seconds.....and the maths involved was not that complicated - the numbers were quite big though.

I apologise in advance to any mathematicians or cosmologists reading this who want to disagree with some of the finer detail of what I just said but I think I've got the spirit of it right.

The programme is here - I hope you can see it wherever you are. It's a little dry to start with but then it gets very interesting.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Guilty Pleasures

It's a terrible indulgence to be sitting at home on Saturday and see a film in the TV guide that's three and half hours long and think, sod it, I'm going to watch this. When the film in question is Ryan's Daughter then it's not such a difficult decision.

This film's got everything, murder, betrayal, infidelity, revolution, nationalism and love and hate of course, all set in a remote Irish village during the First World War. Some of the scenery, particularly the beach and a storm scene are also stunning.

It's also got some great performances from Sarah Miles, Trevor Howard, Leo McKern, and even the famously wooden Robert Mitchum turns in a fair performance as he wrassles to get himself on the plausible side of a pretty poor Irish accent - not as bad as Tom Cruise in Far and Away but close.

The marquee performance has to be from John Mills as the village idiot. One of the great actors of his generation, he turns in an incredible performance and throughout he does not speak a single word or utter a sound.

Being a stiff upper lip, British sort of chap, I am of course immune to the emotional content of any film. Those occasions during the watching of the film when there seemed to be some moistness in the corner of my eye were simply a trick the light. I'm sure you understand.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Crossed Lines

Sitting quietly at home the other day my mobile phone rang. It was my ex girlfriend who would instantly lose her ex status if she would only come around to my line of thinking. I'm still crazy about her. She is not English. She speaks very good English albeit with an East European accent and a few grammatical slip-ups now and again. The line was poor - we were speaking mobile to mobile across a distance of about 500 miles. The conversation went roughly as follows...

She: "Hello, it's me. How are you?"
Me: ""Bune, multumesc. Ce faci?" I learnt a little Romanian during my time with her.
She "Haha, you're funny sometimes."
Me: "Awww thanks. Where are you?"
She "I'm in the bath." She's phoned me from the bath before.
Me "Grrr....I wish you hadn't told me that."
She: "Why?"
Me: Because now I will spend the rest of this conversation imagining you in the bath."
She "Why would you do that? You're weird."
Me "No I'm not. You know I'm still crazy about you and now you phone me while you're in the bath and expect me to act normally and not have my imagination run wild."
She "You are definitely weird."
Me "OK, if you say so. What's all that noise in the background?"
She "Oh, it's just some people."
Me "What people? Where?"
She "They're here with me. In the bath."
Me "What? There are people with you in the bath? I can hear children as well."
She "Yes, there are lots of children here."
Me "What? Are the children in the bath with you?"
She "Yes"
Me Whose children?"
She "I don't know. They're just some kids. They're very noisy aren't they. Sorry."
Me "What? You're in the bath with lots of people and also somebody's kids but you don't actually know whose kids?"
She "Yes. Why are you asking me these strange questions?"
Me "They're not strange questions. You're in the bath....with a bunch of complete strangers....and some kids as well."
She "Yes. So?"
Me "What? Eh?"

The conversation continued along this thread for a minute or two more.......remember the line was extremely poor. I finally worked out what was going on.

Try rereading the above conversation substituting "on the bus" whenever she says "in the bath". To her, it is more logical to say "in the bus" rather than "on the bus" and I just misheard this as "in the bath".