Tuesday, 28 February 2012

True Rubbish

Having heard good things about the recent version of True Grit I recently watched it, only to discover it was yet another Coen Brothers mess of pointless tripe.  After The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men and Burn After Reading, I should have learned; evidently I have not.
It starts, like most of their films, interestingly enough, with fourteen year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) coming to claim the body of her father who has been shot by one of his hired hands, and who has then ridden off.  She shows off her resourceful character by negotiating a reasonable sum of money from a horse dealer, before going off to look for someone to track down the man who shot her father, and bring him to justice.
Sadly, although the set up is intriguing, the story is pulled off badly.  The men are all hard and hard drinking, mumbling their lines to the extent that the dialogue is hard to follow; I imagine that this was meant to imbue ‘character’, but in the end becomes annoying.  But it proves the fact that the characters are all very one dimensional, including Mattie who turns up with pluck but with no back story to confirm why.
As the film progresses it turns more and more into a generic western, with men showing overblown heroics, who earlier in the film were getting drunk and arguing like old ladies.  And when the ending finally comes you are left with a feeling of being robbed of two hours of your life.
The book itself may be as pointless as the film, I don’t know since I haven’t read it, but if it is then you wonder why it has been made into a film.  If not, then this would have to be described as a poor rendition.  I give it four out of ten, even taking into account the good performance from Steinfeld.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Wednesday one, United didn't

The steel city derby at Hillsborough and my second bout of nervousness for the weekend.  Wednesday came into it with three defeats out of the last three, while United had won eleven of the last thirteen.  Moreover the Owls were five points behind the Blades in the league, having played two games more; it was a must win game, with the manager’s job at stake too.
The first half was even, with Wednesday missing with two headers and United going close with a free-kick that bounced down from the crossbar.
The second half began scrappy.  Neither side appeared to want to win the game and couldn’t put a move together.  Until Wednesday went down the right, Buxton put in a perfect cross and Chris O’Grady scored with a header.  The ground erupted on three sides, with only the Leppings Lane end quiet.
United came back with attack after relentless attack, but Wednesday held them off, although arguably inviting pressure onto themselves a little too much, and Bywater was forced to make a couple of outstanding saves.  But with the game into injury time they managed to keep the ball down in the opposition half until the final whistle blew, with much relief all around.
The Blades may still be favourites to take the second automatic promotion position, but they will know that the Owls are breathing down their necks, and the slightest slip up will leave them ready to swoop.

Robbing against Lawes

This weekend saw the middle weekend of the Six Nations rugby tournament and a key match between England and Wales who were both unbeaten from their first two games.  I know a post about rugby may not mean much to any Swedish readers; however I do know that you play rugby since one of my co-workers plays his weekend games alongside the Swedish captain.
The game was at Twickenham, where Wales had not won since 1988, but on a clear sunny day they started the brightest, almost conjuring a try from a well worked lineout.  They continued to dominate the first quarter and even had the chance to score the first points, until Leigh Halfpenny fluffed the penalty.
England, vastly improved from the World Cup with a new coach and set of players, duly came back into it with some excellent passing moves and strong forward play, and should have scored a try themselves but for an excellent last ditch tackle and some good Welsh defending.
There followed a series of penalties back and forth, all converted by England’s Owen Farrell (son of Rugby League’s Andy) and Halfpenny, and England led 9-6 at half time.
England had won their previous two games with last minute interceptions, and at the start of the second half it looked as if it would continue to be a winning tactic, as first Rhys Priestland had his clearing kick, right in front of his own posts, charged down and although England couldn’t score the try, Priestland himself gave away a penalty for offside and found himself in the sin bin for ten minutes.  England duly scored to lead 12-6 and Wales were down to fourteen.
Usually the side who are down a player will concede seven points and last time the two met at Twickenham, Wales had a man sin binned and they shipped seventeen. But here they played their best rugby of the match.  They kept possession, kept England pinned in their own half and were rewarded with a penalty of their own which Halfpenny slotted over.  And when Priestland returned they had technically conceded no points at all.
It was easily the turning point of the game.  England began bringing on their replacements, much less experienced than the Welsh and Owen Farrell after missing a penalty also found himself injured and had to leave the field himself following a great performance.  Suddenly Wales found themselves stronger and after relentless pressure earned themselves another penalty to level the scores at 12-12.  There were eight minutes left.
For years this was where the Welsh weakened but they have won tight matches already in this tournament and here they did again. England were attacking, but Courtney Lawes was tackled and Scott Williams wrestled the ball out of his grip.  With a smart kick forward into acres of space behind England, he set off in chase.
Now, a rugby ball with its odd shape can bounce in all directions but he got the luck he needed as it continued to bounce forwards but in a slight curve too, evading the English defence.  It jumped up perfectly into his arms and he dived over the line, just by the posts, amid roars and strains of ‘Bread of Heaven’.
Wales were ahead for the first time in the match, Halfpenny converted and it was 19-12 with five minutes to go.  England unsurprisingly counter-attacked.  They moved the ball left and right, won penalties on either wing, but they needed to score a try.  And then, as the clock wound down, it seemed that they had.  David Strettle had dived over, surrounded by Welsh bodies and the referee called for the video replay.
The wait was agonising.  Had he touched down or hadn’t he?  Would England have the chance to level the game with an unlikely Toby Flood conversion from the right touchline?  In the end the replays proved inconclusive, the ref blew the final whistle and Wales had won.
They now have the chance to secure the championship and Grand Slam if they can beat Italy and France in their final few games, but England should be pleased.  This was a much more attacking, intelligent style of rugby than they have played for many years, and come next year with some more experience, really will be the team to beat.

Friday, 24 February 2012

The Negotiator

A couple of stories have come out over the past few days which show a ridiculous lack of British government ability to negotiate on behalf of the people.
The first is with regards to extradition laws, which has been thrown up by a request by the US government over a man suspected of supplying weapons to Iran.  I have no comment to make over whether the man is guilty or innocent since I know nothing of the full facts.  However the problem is with the lack of equality with extradition between the two countries.
If the US has a suspicion of guilt of a UK citizen then Britain has to extradite them.  However for the opposite to happen then the UK courts have to provide very strong evidence before the US will agree to extradite to Britain.  You have to wonder who negotiated this deal since it is so strongly in favour of the US.  Are we really so bound to them in other ways that we have to give up British subjects on an American whim?
The second story is more absurd than anything.  In a London office used by MP's there are twelve fig trees in a room which provide shade for the occupants.  The cost of maintenance of these fig trees is £30,000 per year.  How is it possible that the price for keeping a dozen fig trees alive is £4,000 a year greater than the price for keeping one human being alive, housed and clothed (since the new cap for benefits will be £26,000)? Either the person who negotiated this was an idiot, or more likely could not give a fig for those who struggle within this country.
I believe these deals were negotiated before the present government took office and are probably just the tip of the iceberg.  Since the government can make any law they wish, is it not possible for them to renegotiate everything that does not benefit the greater good, or in their words, the big society?

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Not so revolutionary

The latest film I watched was Revolutionary Road, the second of the Kate Winslet films which came out almost back to back, but this time she was paired with her Titanic co-star Leo DiCaprio.
In this they play husband and wife living in the suburbs with two children.  He works in a job he doesn't like, for a firm that his father spent years working for, while she stays at home failing to become an actress.  The life they envisaged for themselves several years earlier hasn't quite materialised.
One day it get's too much for Winslet's character and she reminds her husband of his previous dream of moving to Paris and after a short while he thinks its a great idea and they start to plan it. Except he's suddenly been offered a promotion and she gets pregnant and he calls the whole thing off.

To me it was just another 'unhappy couple' film.  I prefer films without some sort of moral, but on the other hand these films just feel somewhat pointless. I'm never quite sure whether to feel pity for the characters or nauseated by their whining.  It would be impossible to set the film in the present day, since the pressure on people staying together in a marriage, happy or otherwise, isn't the same, and in some ways this is one of the films greatest pitfalls.  A truly good film and story should be able to take place whether it is the present day or medieval times.
As a plus, the acting is very good and some of the dialogue can be quite engrossing.  The characters, for all their annoying traits, are somewhat believable, and there is a certain irony in the only person who actually makes sense being someone who is considered mentally ill.
There are a few unanswered questions in terms of DiCaprio's relationship with the father he talks about, along with how they got to first meeting to the situation they are now in.  There is never any evidence that there wasn't any alternative to it, but if life teaches you anything there are always alternatives.  The ending also is somewhat predictable and depressing, and really makes you wonder what the film was trying to say, if anything at all.
My rating is (raised mainly for the quality acting) is six and a half out of ten.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Seriously? Britain a Christian country?

If he had one then I think Jesus would be turning in his grave over the thought that Britain could be described as a Christian country.
Surely a basic requirement of such a soubriquet would be a continual intention to help the poor and outcast members of society, just as Jesus was supposed to have done himself?  Conversely we live in a country where the vast majority of the land is owned by the few and the vast majority of earnings are earned by the few, and more importantly, all of this is kept by the few.
From my bible teachings I seem to remember Jesus was not the most encouraging towards money lenders, and yet the British economy runs more on money markets than anything else these days.  He also taught us to turn the other cheek, and yet in the last few years we’ve started fighting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, not to mention the amount of weapons we sell to other countries.  Is this really a Christian attitude?
Being able to call yourself a Christian country has nothing to do with church attendance, whether you want to say prayers before council meetings or even whether you believe in God.  It is simply based on your actions, at whatever level of society you live in, and judging by the actions of a large section of society you would be hard pushed to call it Christian.
Since the introduction of the NHS, few governments have done much to help the poor and the needy, and although we may have been a Christian country back then, are we really a Christian country now?  Not only does all this hyperbole smack of hypocrisy, it also risks alienating an increasingly large majority of society made up of different religions, as well as those who have none at all.
Britain is far far better off calling itself a secular society, but with freedom of religion and would do well to look across to its Scandinavian neighbours for inspiration.

Monday, 13 February 2012

The Reader

I read The Reader a couple of years ago when the film came out, but only recently received the film itself to watch.  Pleasingly, it is faithful to the book with key elements of the plot, and with actors like Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes it is also a pleasure to watch.  It is such a shame that they only have one small scene together.
The story itself concerns a young German boy just after the war, who through a bout of fever meets an older German woman with whom he has an affair.  When she suddenly vanishes he is distraught.  However he sees her again several years later, but in a courtroom where he discovers that she is a former SS guard.
I won’t give any more of the plot away if you have not read or seen it, since it is worth enjoying the story as it’s meant to be enjoyed.  Not that it is necessarily enjoyable, it is actually quite a sad story, and one that stays in the mind for several hours afterwards.  The sign, I think, of a good story.
The themes within the story are also quite powerful, too powerful for me to really discuss here in any way that would do them justice.  I think you should see the film for yourself and make your own conclusions, or even better, read the book.
As for the film it was excellent, with only two small points of contention in that there was more sex than strictly necessary to the plot, and the film itself was slightly over long.  All in all 8 out of 10.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Experimentation in Dessert

With Valentine’s Day on a Tuesday this year it was agreed to celebrate at the weekend.  Therefore, with my fiancee working yesterday, it was the perfect chance for me to get creating with a dessert.  A dessert completely made up.

The base is a scone pastry (without baking powder which I inextricably forgot) but rolled very thin before being baked in the oven.  I broke this up into pieces before arranging it in the bowls so that it still resembled a ‘cup’ shape. 

After washing some blueberries, I cooked them with a little sugar in order to make a fruit sauce.  This I poured over the pastry and chilled it for a while in order to get the pastry to stick together.

I then melted some dark chocolate, which I mixed with mascarpone cheese and creme fraiche, to create a kind of mousse.  When the fruit had chilled I spread the chocolate mixture over the top, which I then chilled for several hours
Finally, when we were ready to eat it, I whipped some cream and it was finished.  Ta da!

In hindsight the pastry wasn’t quite the right thing really, although it might have been tastier if I had remembered the baking powder.  A biscuitcrumb base, a la a traditional cheesecake would have been much better, and I may attempt this in the future.  The chocolate mousse was delicious however.