Thursday, June 28, 2007

Soupy stuff

Last year at work, the introduction of Starbucks iCup machines in the kitchenettes was a big deal. While the machines are a definite improvement over the previous filter-coffee machines we had, I've often thought I'd be happier with something else...

Maybe some Tully's coffee instead of the rather sad Starbucks roasts? It looks like another software company in the Seattle area is poised to get Tully's coffee - I'm jealous!

But no, I think the best solution is a solidly South African solution to the problem: a cup-a-soup machine. It looks like soup improves productivity no end, so the big-wigs at work should be pleased.

I wonder how many readers grew up with cup-a-soup? Did yours come with croutons, noodles and other chunky goodies? (Note: Ramen / instant noodle bowls do not count)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

SIFF wrap-up

The 2nd week-and-a-bit of SIFF has come and gone, so here is my festival summary (see part 1 here)

The Ferryman: 3/5
A decent horror/thriller from New Zealand that starts strong and gets a little tedious near the end of the second half. Warning: There's lots of blood and violence, and a scene involving a dog that I really disliked - this film is not for the squeamish.
The introduction to the characters is nicely done, and the tension and slow unraveling if the relationships onboard the yacht is brilliant. The tight, claustrophobic setting below decks works very well, and the pervasive fog works to further ratchet up the tension. There's also a great performance by John Rhys-Davies as a Greek fisherman. The finale where the evil spirit gets its come-uppance was a let-down, and the titular ferryman was a bit lame, but the twist at the very end is nice.

2 Days in Paris: 4/5
Julie Delpy is amazing in this film, and does more than just act (she wrote, directed and composed the music!) An amusing look at what happens when Marion brings her American boyfriend to Paris to visit her family. Encounters with her numerous ex-boyfriends, crazy family, and American-in-France culture clash leads to some really funny stuff, all done in a natural, light style. The movie feels very much like a slice of real life, and the exploration of love, commitment and joie-de-vivre make this a rewarding and charming film.

Mushishi: 3/5
Based on a Japanese manga, this film was visually beautiful but too long and disjointed to hold my interest. The film stitches a few "episodes" from the magna together using one story as the backbone. Unfortunately the backing story is not that interesting, and the whole movie takes itself far too seriously. I kept expecting the reverent, hushed narration to explain things more sensibly than they did, and for the movie to somehow make sense, but in the end the film leaves the viewer confused and frustrated. Some nice visuals and interesting characters lift this from being a total waste of time, but go in expecting a slow, confusing, few hours.

Retribution (Sakebi): 2/5
Another Japanese film, this one billed itself as a "supreme psycho-thriller" from Japan's horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa. (I've not seen his previous films). This one started out promisingly, with the lead character, detective Yoshioka, investigating the murder of a woman. He quickly finds that he's implicated, even though he has no memory of the girl or her death. Other deaths indicate a serial killer is on the prowl, and as our sympathy for Yoshioka develops slowly we also start to doubt his own innocence more and more.

This is the movies strongest point, I think: the slow, careful development of the detective character and the way the audience is both attracted and repulsed from him. I did like the way the mini-earthquakes hitting Tokyo are used throughout the film, and the way ripples in puddles or bowls of water hint at the veil between this world and the sprit world. Towards the end, though, the movie devolves into a ghost-revenge movie, and at times becomes so campy/cheesy that the earlier atmosphere is squandered. The ending is really unsatisfying and leaves you feeling duped.

Broken English: 5/5
Featuring an amazing performance from Parker Posey, this film looks at the life of a single thirty-something woman in New York as she struggles to find a rewarding relationship and get out of a rut of one-night stands and loneliness. This film manages to balance the humour and pathos of her life beautifully and while it might be billed as a romantic comedy, the comedy is really just the icing on an uncontrived, refreshing dramatic look inside the main character's life. The ending is maybe a bit too fairy-tale-ish and the basic storyline has been told many times before, but as a whole this film stood out as being an interesting take on an old theme.

Lady Chatterley: 4/5
A French film based on the 2nd version of D.H. Lawrence's novel, with all the English names and places preserved. If you know the story, you know it looks at the class barrier, human relationships and sexuality. Those expecting a steamy, sexy movie will probably be disappointed (although prudes will also not be happy) - there's plenty of nudity and sex, but it's all done in a very natural, tasteful way. The two leading actors are brilliant, and pefectly cast. I've heard some people say that the gamekeeper, Parkin, is not attractive enough to justify Lady Chatterley falling for him, but I think he's perfect. Initially appearing gruff and not likeable at all, we slowly get to see him thaw and open up as the relationship develops, and the gradual maturation of the relationship is stunningly well done. By the end I truly was rooting for the two lovers, who develop much more than a physical bond, and the film ends on a much happier note than the final 3rd novel would lead you to expect.

Highly recommended to fans of patient, natural storytelling.

Cthulhu: 4/5
If David Lynch made a movie based on H.P. Lovecraft's works, this would be it. Filmed in Seattle, WA and Astoria, OR, this movie takes the Cthulu mythos as a basis and adds lots of small-town weirdness, family tension, and end-of-days gloom. Everything is mixed together in interesting, refreshing ways. I had a bit of a problem believing that the leading character's father was actually his father - somehow both men looked about the same age. Apart from that, though, the first 2/3 of the movie are great - full of interesting characters, including Tori Spelling as the local bimbo with a desperate need to have a child. The lead character, who is gay, finds himself the object or her desire, with some funny and macabre results.

The film makes careful use of actual monsters, going for the approach that what is imagined or half-seen is more scary than what is fully seen. The tension and level of unease build nicely as the hero learns more about the town's secrets. Things started falling apart for me towards then end though, and the final scene seemed to have been tacked on without any thought as to how the "hero" got there - either a big chunk of the film got cut for time, or I'm too dense to appreciate the final twist of the movie.

Read an interview with the film-makers here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Bayete Nkosi!

I just realised that the excellent South African TV series depicting King Shaka's life is available in the USA on DVD (Netflix have it).

This was produced in the mid-80's when I was a young teen, and made a huge impression on me. It was a huge hit in South Africa, and the theme tune found its way into many people heads, so that you'd find walking around singing "Bum-bum-bum BA-bum BA-bum BA-bum... Bayete Nkosi!"

There was an urban legend that the actor that played Shaka, Henry Cele, was a garbage collector prior to being discovered, but I see from the Wiki entry that's not true (he was a goalie for several pro soccer clubs)

Some advice: The "sequel" (Shaka Zulu: The Last Great Warrior) is really bad. But then you probably knew that already since is starts The Hoff.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Flight of the Conchords on HBO

I saw a teaser for the new HBO series "Flight of the Conchords". I've wrtten about these guys before (see this post). This is a new series following "the trials and tribulations of a two man, digi-folk band from New Zealand as they try to make a name for themselves in their adopted home of New York City."

Update: I just noticed Slate have a story on the show.

Hopefully it will make its way to DVD so I can watch it :)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Olympic Sculpture Park

A month or two ago, A and I went to the newly-opened Olympic Sculpture Park and took a few pictures. The one you see here is called "Eagle", and I'm quite pleased with the way the Space Needle is framed.

There are a few other pics in the set on flickr.

Cooking home-made pasta

Cooking home-made pasta
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
... and finally cooking! Yum! (Of course we didn't eat it plain like this - A made a great tomato sauce with some red wine, but the picture of the sauced pasta looks a bit like bloody guts, so I'll save you from the horror of seeing it...)

Drying home-made pasta

Drying home-made pasta
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
Here is the pasta drying...

Rolling pasta

Rolling pasta
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper

This past weekend A and I finally got around to using the pasta machine my mom gave us for Christmas. We used 100% semolina (durum wheat flour) from Bob's Red Mill and it turned out very nicely.

As you can see in this picture, A is quite deft at rolling out the dough!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Amazing video from Kruger Park

I stumbled on this incredible video footage shot in Kruger Park. It's long, but definitely worth watching...

Update: 6/11/2007

Apparently at the Webby Awards this past weekend, one of the founders of YouTube mentioned this video as one his favourites!

New Iain Banks sci-fi in the pipeline

I've been a huge fan of Iain Banks' work since my friend Craig introduced me to them a little over a decade ago. I think I started with his first Culture book, Consider Phlebas.

While in Canada recently, I noticed a new novel by Iain Banks on sale, titled The Steep Approach to Gabardale. I balked a bit at the price (it seems books in Canada are more expensive than in the US), but as a result I have to wait for the book to be published in America in October...-

While looking around on Wikipedia today I saw there's a new science fiction novel due in 2008, apparently titled Matter.

I can't wait!

Monday, June 04, 2007

SIFF week one

I saw my first handlful of SIFF movies last week, most of which were great!
Here's my quick review of them:

Outsourced: 5/5
A great movie by local writer/director John Jeffcoat. A Seattle-based online marketing execute finds out his division (and his job) have been outsourced to India, and he has to go train his replacement. The usual culure shocks and misunderstandings occur as West meets East, but the film is saved from being too sappy or cliched by the excellent cast, especially the lead Josh Hamilton. The film is funny, warm and uplifting without being saccharine.
Check out the movie's blog here.

Black Sheep: 3/5
A film from New Zealand that tells the terrible tale of what might happen if bio-engineering goes too far. This is a comedy/horror movie in the vein of Shawn of the Dead, with lots of over-the-top gore, gross humour, and some nice send-ups of the green/hippie movement. At time it drags a bit, though, and some of the fart jokes wore a bit thin.

Cashback: 5/5
A wonderfully quirky film about time, relationships and the beauty of the female form, seen through the eyes of a guy who develops insomnia after a painful break-up, and decided to work the night shift at Sainsbury's. He imagines he can slow and even stop time, and uses this power to capture moments of beauty (as well as have some fun with his boss). Filled with hilarious vignettes involving his zany co-workers and egotistical boss, as well as some very clever visual tricks. The movie makes you realize the value of every instant and the beauty that surrounds us, if we only take the time to notice it.

Death at a Funeral: 3/5
A British movie by director Frank Oz. This is a solidly-made comedy filled with dark humour (you need to be able to laugh at the misfortune and discomfort of others to enjoy this movie). Solid performances from the entire cast, and some hilarious scenes made me almost give this a 4/5, but the over-abundance of toilet-humour and people-on-acid-trips-are-funny scenes made me lower this to a 3.

Friday, June 01, 2007

I heard the news today, oh boy...

NPR's All Songs Considered has a rememberance from host Bob Boilen.

BBC Radio 2 will broadcast a two-part documentary on June 2nd and June 16th (Part 1 should be available for viewing online after 21h00 tomorrow)