Tag Archives: Film

Heavy On The Magick

It was LA again a couple of weekends ago, because we had a few special things planned. Thursday evening I drove up as I often do, and as we couldn’t decide what to do for dinner, we just walked down the road to good old Dusty’s. Walking back up the hill with Cassie in the warm evening with a good meal and a couple of strong Euro-beers inside me was most pleasurable.

Despite having Friday off, I had to be up early, though not as early as Cassie, bless her. My job was to take Gordon to the vet to have his teeth cleaned. This involved a general anesthetic, which in turn involved him not eating, and being given blood tests and all sorts of palaver. I dropped him off, made sure all was OK, then went and hung out with my buddy Brian in North Hollywood. We went for brunch, then for a quick tour around the statues in the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame Plaza, including the Henson Wall. A nice afternoon of chewing the fat, playing with Brian and Stacy’s dog Camden (a beautiful Golden Retriever), exploring the Brian Kinney Museum of GI Joe, Star Wars, Batman, and KISS action figures, and then it was time to pick up Gordon.

He seemed pretty perky when the vet brought him out, but when I got him in the car he curled up on the passenger seat, and went to sleep with his chin on my arm, which is unheard of. Unbearable cute. He was so stoned, he was wandering around, his eyes all droopy. He had a dogsitter that night, because Cassie and I had got something cool lined up.

Our friends A and I had got us tickets for the Magic Castle in Hollywood, which is a bit of an institution. It’s a crazy place, and it does have a bit of a reputation for being esteemed and classy with one hand, and sleazy and naff with the other. They make a big deal over getting people to dress up, and Cassie actually phoned to ask if she would be allowed in wearing flip-flops, because she had an ankle bandage on (she wasn’t, but she wanted to try). She was recommended to ask a friend with bigger feet to lend her some shoes!

Anyway, the four of us made an effort, and it was nice to be there, everyone all dressed up. We were booked in for a meal at a set time (it’s all very “by the clock”), but we got there early so we were able to grab an earlier dinner, then see more of the shows. The shows were what made the evening fun. In one of the small auditoriums we saw a magic variety show with a new stylish act involving clothes that changed color, followed by a much more traditional “assistant in a box” routine. The compére was a live wire, with a great finale involving dozens of those snake-in-the-nut-can tricks, and a blue double-breasted jacket that I think used to belong to the keyboard player from The Jets. Elsewhere in the various nooks and crannies of the building, card tricksters and traditional ball-and-cup-meisters were plying their trade. You could just stop and catch a short act, then move on.

It’s kind of a weird place – all twisting corridors and stairs and dark corners with a couple more tables for dinner, then another bar, then some creepy doll in a box on the wall, then the magical piano that plays what you tell it to (we heard Sweet Child O’ Mine).

The clientele were a mixed bunch. Several groups of younger people, getting a bit rowdy on the monstrously expensive booze. And I don’t know if they were magicians, but several of the older gentlemen were definitely accompanied by their “beautiful young assistants”, if you catch my drift. Maybe they have magic wallets.

It was a great night though, and A & I are cool for inviting us. If you throw yourself into it, and enjoy the effort that the performers make, it’s a really fun evening, even if the actual atmosphere and environment don’t tally with the image they seem to want to project. It’s all smoke and mirrors I guess, the former especially outside waiting for the valet ($8!) to bring your car round.

Then this weekend just gone was a San Diego one. Cassie came down late on Friday, then Saturday lunchtime we went to see The Reader in Hillcrest. An excellent film – my hope for the Oscars, rather than that patronizing one set in India. Kate Winslet was great – a really subtle and strong performance, and the male lead was great too. I also loved the furniture in the scenes in the 70’s. And the professor’s leather portfolio. Seriously. After that we strolled through the drizzle (as in light rain, not some Snoop Dogg thing)  to Mille Feuille for a cup of delicious hot chocolate and a couple fancy macaroon things.

Sunday we actually managed to get to the beach again – Gordon was in need of a good run around after being cooped up out of the rain. The sky was blue with little fluffy clouds,the sun was warm, the sailboats on the horizon out towards the Coronado Islands – pretty fecking beautiful. I must get another camera. Gordon was enjoying running about with all the other dogs, and we walked up to the wire fence separating the dog beach from the Naval Air Base. Then the usual trip to the Dog Wash, then a soda, then some relaxing and TV, before Cassie headed home.

These weekends are the only time we get to spend together, so we try and pack them as much as possible. That’s easier to do in LA, because I know more people there, but that will change. It looks like we won’t be making a move north for a while, because of the work problem – Cassie would need to quit her job and find a new one in SF, which would be kinda dumb, given the climate. We’ll see.

Region Free DVD?

When I came over to the US, I had a bunch of stuff shipped, including my (small and predictable) DVD collection and my Panasonic DVD recorder. This had been unlocked to be region-free, so I could play legally imported titles, such as Battle Beyond The Stars, with the terrible yet strangely compelling Sybil Danning.

After it arrived in San Diego, I unpacked it and connected it up to my TV – a bulbous CRT beast which came with the apartment, which functions adequately for for now. Sadly all I could get was the sound, no pictures. The screen displayed a uniform grey, rather than snow or a distorted picture.

It was suggested that the TV connection was the problem. Perhaps the UK version of the recorder wouldn’t work with a US TV. I wasn’t about to go out and buy a new TV, considering I may be moving in with Cassie soon – she has a big flat TV already.

This was frustrating. I wanted to watch my UK DVDs, and also any US ones I pick up or rent. So while up in San Francisco, I bought an Insignia NS-DVD1-A DVD player from Best Buy (the US equivalent of Currys – alarm bells!) for $30 – the cheapest they had. The guy in the store, who happened to be a Brit, said that it would either already be unlocked, due to the small manufacturer not being so much in thrall to the big studios, or would easily be unlocked by finding a code online. It is a dreadful little box, but all I needed is for it to work for a while until I figure out an alternative.

When I got it home and set it up, I plucked a UK DVD at random from my shelf – The Armando Iannucci Shows. This played fine – things looked good! Then I had a nasty thought, and checked the back of the DVD case – it was Region Zero, non-restricted. I tried a second DVD – A Bit Of Fry And Laurie, Series 1 (noticing a trend?). This was marked as Region 2, and the player displayed the message “Wrong Region” on the screen. It couldn’t display it on its own display because it doesn’t have one, being that cheap(o).

Onto Google for an unlock hack. The previous version of the player, the Insignia NS-DVD1, seemed to be unlockable with no trouble, according to a forum post. But it would seem that the NS-DVD1-A has had this terrible weakness fixed. Insignia say its illegal to unlock a player. Cowards. How come the NS-DVD1 was unlockable then?

Serves me right for buying a product named after a rank-smelling plastic-bottled 80’s men’s grooming range with a jingle based on It’s All Over Now by The Valentinos. Check out that clip, by the way. A woman actually lets her hair down in a seductive way, and a computer blows a kiss. And is that Feargal Sharkey? No, it’s not.

Anyway, as it stands I can watch my new US DVDs, but not my library of UK stuff, which is important to me. Maybe I’ll take this machine back. Best Buy best give me my money back. What a pain in my ass.

November Beach Weekend

I’m now parking in the underground lot beneath my building, which cuts down on the time needed to get to work, and the amount of calories I burn to get from the car to my desk (uh-oh, gym tonight). My building has every convenience, it’s going to make life easy for me. It’s gonna be easy to get things done. I will relax, alone with my loved ones. And that’s what I did at the weekend.

Cassie took her turn to come down to SD at the weekend, bringing Gordon (pron. gor-DON, rolling the “r”). I had another Friday off under the every-other-Friday-off-in-return-for-longer-hours regime, which is working nicely for me, even after only a month.

I spent Friday running some errands and generally pottering. I had an optometrist appointment in the morning, which was a spur to getting up and about. I like going to the optometrist – all the technology and gadgetry, and they don’t even hurt you! He did that thing where he puffs air at your eye, which makes you blink, and he took photos of my retinas. As with my dental x-rays, I was tempted to ask for copies of the images and post them here. WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MY CAPILLARIES? My eyes are fine, my prescription has hardly changed, no I don’t want Lasik or contact lenses. I have to say my company insurance rocks for optometry.

My computer seems to have been fried by my putting 110v volts through it instead of the 240v it was expecting. Why that should fry the power supply is beyond me – this is why I failed A-Level Physics, and am not an electrical engineer. Anyway, I took it to a friendly repair place, who diagnosed the fried PSU, replaced it, and sold me a wireless router as well. Proteus2 lives again. Now to get the router working…

Cassie arrived early evening, and after the usual Zagat’s discussion we went to a nice Moroccan restaurant, Kous Kous. The food was great: Cassie had a chicken tagine dish, and I had beef, all washed down with hot mint tea. We declined dessert – she had a craving for ice-cream (!) so after a stroll round the trendy neighbourhood we stopped off at 7-Eleven.

We both wake up early during the week, so it’s hard to sleep in at the weekends, especially with Gordon whining to be let out. Unfortunately, “out” means getting up, dressed, and taking him downstairs and out of the apt-plex to pee and poo, so by the time you get back, you’re fully awake and dressed. So we decided to go straight to Coronado Dog Beach. It was a lovely day, altough the temperature hasn’t been as high, so we weren’t planning on swimming. Very wise too – the surf was quite impressive, crashing and booming, and paddling was very cold. The adjacent air base was launching some F-20’s, and Gordon had a great time dashing about, barking like a loon, and digging as predicted. After a good length of time playing, relaxing, walking up and down, and throwing the ball for G, we though maybe it was time for lunch. Then we saw that it was 9.45am. Hmm. We managed to drag it out for a while longer (I know, poor us), before taking the mutt to the scrub shop for a soaking. A slice of pizza and a coke later, we were home.

In the evening we met a colleague of mine and her husband for a couple of beers at O’Briens (“the hoppiest place on Earth”), which was really nice – the first time I’ve socialised with a colleague outside of a couple of happy hours and lunches. Must do more.

Sunday morning I made pancakes with Bisquick – my Americanization continues. I added slices of banana to the batter in the pan, so they were embedded. We ate them with Aunt Jemima’s Original syrup, hand-made by the lady herself in a gigantic stainless steel factory. I was horrified to see you can buy sugar-free syrup at the grocery store, which I’m sure is just like the real thing. Whatever, they were delicious, and I’ll be doing it again.

On Sunday afternoon we went to the horrid Mission Valley mall to pick out some frames for my new glasses. I took the plunge and chose some with very bold frames, a departure from the half-framed or frameless look I have sported for so long. The prescription wasn’t very different from my current specs, so I can keep my old ones for a choice of looks. I’ll be picking them up in a week or so, and I’ll post a picture.

While at the mall, we saw Role Models with the very funny Paul Rudd. The commercials really don’t do it justice. It veered from so-so crass comedy to the climactic surreal end sequence, where the guys dress as KISS to enter a LARP battle. I was laughing a lot throughout, especially when swear words were yelled – I’m a simple man.

They Call Me Loathsome

Cassie and I have been to a few movies recently, and we’ve been horrified to be forced to sit through this song and advert for the National Guard, sung by the UK number one artiste Kid Rock. It’s a full-length song, with an accompanying video showing what heroes the US National Guard are. The song is one of these Team America-style crowdpleasers, with the gravel-voiced Mr Rock crooning about how great it is to be a hero, with just a hint of sadness about why we need heroes at all, then kicking into a shouted chorus:

and they call me Warrior! They call me Loyalty!

That’s cheesy enough, but not insulting. The insults come when Mr Rock looks into the camera, mouth right up to the mic, stage lights shining through his whiskers, and sings

I’m giving all of myself, how about you?

Now I’m sure real National Guards are great chaps, but this seems to say, “What are you doing for your country? Elementary school teacher? Pah! You worthless lazy pinko“. This is all the more insulting coming from Mr Rock, with his hat pulled down to his eyebrows.

The video has the usual Army advert images, reminding me of the newspaper advert for the Army in The Young Ones – “Join the professionals its graet you can have a gun if you want”. Attack helicopters overhead, heavliy armed soldiers covered in cool electronics walking alongside bristling Humvees. The advert shows them doing their thing in the streets of what appears to be a Middle-eastern country. I thought this was strange – aren’t the National Guard only used at home, to suppress student demonstrations and the like? I was told the other day that the NG have been shipped out to the warzone, which must suck for them.

At one point in the ad, while the gang are cruising through the dusty downtown, a football (a round one, which proves we’re in some backward foreign country) bounces out in front of a Humvee. The nearest guard raises his hand, the entire convoy stops on a dime, he picks up the ball, stopping short of holding it up to his ear and shaking it. A kid steps up, wearing a a robe and kufi, and the NG gives him his ball back. No shots are fired.

The song and video also feature Dale Earnhardt, who is a Nascar racing driver. Don’t know much about him. The video shows him in a clearly computer-generated race, narrowly avoiding a spectacular crash with superhuman skill. He endorses this message.

But what is the message? Join the National Guard. OK fine. But making it look like being in the National Guard is a combination of rock star fame and race car driver excitement is a little bit patronising. And being forced to sit through the whole damn thing every time I see a movie is excruciating.

Geek Bonfire Burny Burny Fun Time

Went to a San Diego Geek Bonfire last night, organised by Mitch Wagner of Information Week, and Gina Trapani, editor of Lifehacker (which I comment on sometimes). We met at one of the concrete fire pits provided by the city in this lovely little cove. When I arrived, there were already a bunch of people there, and there were a couple of families with children playing in the water.

I stuck on a ‘Hello my name is…’ badge and dived in to talking to people. I met several nice friendly geeks, many of whom were told about the High Speed Rail link I’m working on – some were even interested. (joke) Vote yes on Prop 1a!

Among the new people I met and swapped geek info (Twitter usernames, moo cards etc) were the above mentioned Mitch and Gina, A Kovacs, Lightwave Will, and many more. (I left the cards I collected at home today, soz)

Small World Update – one of my current crop of blogs I read is Bad Astronomer, which I mentioned the other day, and it turns out A is a friend of Phil Plait, and was lucky enough to be on the recent Galapagos trip. It was fascinating hearing about that, especially the sea lions.

We hung out, ate toasted marshmallows and drank soda-pop-drinks, and discussed all sorts of stuff. Short incomplete list below.

  • What is a geek?
  • Ringtones
  • Cartones (I reserve a TIE fighter sound for me)
  • Twitter on iPhone vs Palm (iPhone wins because of weird code on the site)
  • Spaced
  • Doctor Who
  • Marine Boy
  • Speed Racer
  • Battle of the Planets / Gatchaman
  • Daleks
  • The Clone Wars
  • Trains
  • Maglev from LA to SF, suspended over the 5, and why it won’t happen
  • California High Speed Rail
  • Vote YES on Prop 1a this November
  • … and many other geek topics.

One set of photos is here. After the beach got a bit too dark, despite the roaring fire, I drove to O’Connells Bar for some “Tech Karaoke”, which was pretty good fun. Despite a huge range of songs, I couldn’t decide what to sing, and ended up doing My Life by Billy Joel again. I left before I was due to do Veronica by Elvis Costello, which is probably a good thing.

More geek fun please!

It Was Full Of Comics And Toys

Comic Con - Thursday evening Now that I seem to live in San Diego (don’t quite know what happened there) it only seemed fair to go to the famous Comic Con at San Diego Convention Centre. Brian’s friend got us free weekend passes, which was very kind, and he is staying in my guest room for the weekend. Sadly I had to work yesterday, but I scurried down the road (the Con is about 6 blocks away) after work, and met him after his full day of seeing the sights.

The place looked just as crazy as the news reports show, with swarms of people laden down with poster tubes, bags, badges and all the paraphenalia you would expect. By the time I arrived, it was winding down for the day, but there were still many people dressed up to the nines in appropriate (and some inappropriate) costumes.

We had a quick look round, and I took some photos of a couple of things that caught my eye. B knows so much more about this stuff than I do, so I’m happy to let him guide me around. I was taken with the film props for sale at $20,000 and up. Yes please!

Food was required at this point, so after braving the swarms from the Con overwhelming the Gaslamp Quarter, we drive up to Lefty’s Chicago Pizza in North Park, which is so word-of-mouth it doesn’t even appear in my Garmin! We enjoyed a couple of slices of delicious sloppy cheezy goodness, with fresh tomatoes and basil, then swung by one of B’s old haunts, the Zombie Lounge, which he was sad to see had been changed into The Radio Room by new owners. The old electric sign remains though, as does his old friend who is a barmaid, so if she’s there next time I go, it may be worth dropping a name.

Later in the evening, we got the call to drive out to Winston’s over in Ocean Beach, where klown-fi micro-circus crazy band Gooferman were playing, supported by Dr Madd Vibe, AKA Angelo Moore from Fishbone. The Doctor was playing when we got there around 12am, and he has an amazing voice, some keen moves, all over a laptop playing grooves and chunky instrumental backing. Then the klowns stepped up and did more of the laptop rock thing, with added guitar and deep bass, and a melody line played on a rubber chicken. All this with whiteface and leaping about.

Then home with the seabreeze blowing in the Volvo, and a possum crossed the road. B says they’re vicious.

Stop! Motion!

Cassie’s neighbour Matt made this stop-motion Lego (plus other toys) video with his son. It’s pretty cool, and the music is great. It’s called Physical Evidence, but I can’t make out the artist name. Any ideas?

Everyone Goes “Bye-Bye” from Connor T. on Vimeo.

Edit: I did have the video embedded in this post, but for some reason it broke the page layout. It may have been Vimeo’s embed code, or Adblock Plus adding bits to it, or whatever. The video is still definitely worth watching, though.

Minutes of meeting, Saturday 1 March 2008

I met James for a pint or x a few Saturdays ago, and we had the usual rambling, digressing, tangent-going-off-on, and thoroughly enjoyable and edifying discussion. Here are a few of the topics covered, in no order, but you may be able to see where threads link up.

  • Noise Music
  • Teleportation – Physical transferral or descriptive data transmission, in which case what do you do with the copy left behind? Socio-political impacts thereof.
  • Post-scarcity as described by Banks in his Culture novels, and Gene Roddenberry (or whoever) in Star Trek.
  • RepRap – an effort to build an open source 3D fabber.
  • ‘Jaunters’ as described in Bester’s The Stars My Destination (by the way, the unflattering mention of my namesake here is not me. I would have been trying to climb through the screen)
  • Jumper – a movie about teleportation.
  • Godwin’s Law – which says that as soon as you call the person you are arguing with
  • Cover versions
  • Faking It – a great book given to me for Christmas by Robin. It’s a series of essays about the myth of authenticity in music, something which I have always had problems with. It starts with Nirvana Unplugged, and goes on to talk about Elvis Presley (who wasn’t seen as “authentic” and loved it), punk, singer-songwriters, Billy Joel, Neil Young, Alan Lomax and his search for the “real” sound of the noble savage, Ry Cooder and the Buena Vista Social Club, World Music and much more. Refreshing and challenging.
  • Hawkwind
  • Live music
  • Effect of limited instrumentation on cover versions (and not just YouTube acoustic guitarists – “here’s my cover of blah blah” oh shut up)
  • Suicide – the fantastic band, with their sparse keyboard and drum machine sound.
  • Theatricality over talent, as demonsrated by KISS in this clip of God Of Thunder.
  • The ZX80 home computer.
  • The ZX81 home computer (my first computer). I got mine to make sound by changing the way it interfered with the TV. Related to noise music, above?
  • The Commodore VIC-20 (my second computer)
  • The Retro Computing Fair I attended in 2004.
  • ZX Spectrum (couldn’t find a link about this little-known early computer) .
  • The Early Matrix as seen by Lileks.
  • Halo – the computer game, with it’s great (if cliched) story concerning ancient megastructures in space built by an earlier race called The Forerunners.
  • Portal – another computer game with a wicked sense of humour.
  • Nexuiz – the computer game currently taking up my time. It’s a 3D deathmatch-style FPS, and it’s available for Linux.
  • Do Not Want – the web meme
  • The origin of the Do Not Want web meme.

As you can see, the discussion degenerated at this point, and last orders were called. Any other business? Only chips.

‘Tokyo Cowboys’ LA Premiere

My friends Daneeta and Patrick’s documentary film Tokyo Cowboys has it’s premiere at the Japan Film Festival in Los Angeles on April 14th 2008. I really wish I was in LA then to see it. Apart from anything else it’s Cassie’s birthday on the previous day. There’s a new teaser trailer up on the site – I recommend you view it.

No I Haven’t Seen Borat Yet

…and I won’t if Tom Coates’ review is anything to go by. It’s been over-hyped, and from what I have seen of it, it doesn’t have the genius to back it up. I’m with Tom Coates as far as being a prude is concerned – I liked South Park, I liked Team America, I like the Troma movies, I love the music of The Frogs. But I didn’t like Ali G’s series, and I didn’t see the film, once again because of the hype and the sort of people who were raving about it. I particularly didn’t like the boring, “Let’s embarass an ignorant politician” bits, and I gather that is the main thrust of the Borat character as well. But Chris Morris did it a lot better, and with more deserving targets. Even Dennis Pennis was doing it better back in 1995.

Does this mean I don’t like Sacha Baron Cohen? Does this mean I’m anti-semitic? Does this mean I’m a snob? Yes, no, and yes. But sod you.

I’m getting a little tired of people quoting Avenue Q (warning – poxy Flash interface) as well. As far as I can tell, there’s only two songs in it, and both of these only have one line in.

There have been several thing that I’ve been told I “simply must see!”, but years have passed with no ill effects from not seeing Human Traffic, Waynes World, or Austin Powers, so I think I’ll take the risk again this time.