25 February 2013

The Wall live in Berlin 1990 – Roger Waters

I’ve owned this DVD for a long time but only got around to watching it last night. I have the entire Pink Floyd catalogue, many CD bootlegs of concerts from the ‘70s, DVDs of Waters’ ‘In the Flesh’ and Gilmour’s ‘Pulse’ so you could say may expectations for Waters' 1990 concert were high.

Shame, because it’s a letdown. But why? It’s all there: the fabulous setting in no-man’s land by the Brandenburg Gate, site just the previous year of the former Berlin Wall; superb musicianship; a stage show of gargantuan proportions including the gradual assembly of the vast wall in front of the performers (only to be dutifully demolished after the Trial Sequence); and a cast of international musical superstars to help Roger out.

Perhaps it’s like trying to paint a better version of the Mona Lisa. You can’t improve on perfection. Instead what you get is something different and it’s not as good. Ten years after the original album’s release, musical tastes were already shifting away from the grand and pompous and although the show attracted a huge crowd there is no life, no soul.

It suffers from ‘too many cooks’ syndrome. Van Morrison is so out of place on Comfortably Numb, Cyndi Lauper is a crazy long-haired and hilariously overacting kid on ‘Another Brick in the Wall’, Joni Mitchell appears bewildered on ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ and Jerry Hall’s spoken part is just cringe-worthy. Research tells me the crowd was subdued on the night so every lull in the music was filled in the studio with a crescendo of multi-layered cheering and roaring. Some tracks suffered equipment failure and mistakes resulting in rehearsal performances from previous days making it onto the disc.
Waters is a renowned perfectionist. Perhaps that’s why so many performers are caught out lip-synching to backing tracks when their moment in the limelight comes. Bryan Adams is miming his guitar parts as are The Scorpions. Even Waters himself is nowhere near a mic for the start of one of his spoken parts.
On my surround sound system the DTS 5.1 soundtrack is loud and detailed. The video predates high definition and looks average. The whole thing is trying so hard to be Pink Floyd but it isn’t. It can’t be. 4/10

16 February 2013

prometheus (take 2)

This film polarises opinion. Want to know what I really think? It's a silly escapade on a distant world and bears no relation to reality. It’s daft fiction with a pseudo-science basis. Instead of genuinely seeking the truth of man’s creation, a trillion-dollar jaunt into outer space becomes a study in juvenile meddling.

The film opens on Earth with an alien humanoid erupting after drinking juice from a mysterious phial. His DNA breaks down and mingles with native material. So much for the back story of creation. Swiftly we move to a gigantic spaceship (flown by an android-cum-butler) carrying a familiar motley crew of social misfits and buffoons at the speed of light. The chums awake from their induced slumber, crack inappropriate jokes and some begin smoking.

Cave paintings on Earth have clued them into their destination and when they land they waste no time in jumping out to explore. Before long the helmets are off and they are declaring, “Mmm, this smells nice.” Never mind about gravity, atmospheric density or airborne micro organisms.

Inside a hollow mountain their android pilot finds some creepy goo which he decides to pocket. Soon they find an apparently long dead being whom they guess to be an Engineer – a creator of humankind. With his severed head in a bag they troop back to the ship. Naturally they leave behind a couple of twits who got caught in a dust storm.

Quarantine is for wimps, so they haul the head straight into a lab aboard ship to examine it. This procedure is left to the girls, who giggle and stick an electrode in its ear while they wonder how much juice is enough to revive it. Remember, this is the most exciting discovery in the history of the Universe. Re-animation doesn’t go so well and after some lip-smacking and eye-rolling, the head explodes like a watermelon hit by a sniper.

The dodgy android slips the goo into someone’s drink and he’s sure to be a goner, you just know it. Meanwhile the guys left in the mountain find an alien cobra thing. Do they run like the wind? No they get up close with it and then it bites a lot. A search party is dispatched headed by the infected guy. The cobra is down someone’s throat in next to no time and they all run back to the ship.

Naturally anyone knocking on the back door is granted admission and a fight ensues, a fight won by the mission leader with her flame thrower. Somewhere along the line a girl performs her own caesarean section and removes a squid-like object. No one seems bothered that she is smearing blood everywhere. And these are scientists, right.

A very wrinkly old man (the mission funder), played by a youthful but heavily made-up Guy Pearce, arrives on the scene to examine an alien space craft that’s all set for lift-off with a cargo of alien goo. Pearce wrestles with another Engineer and comes off worse. Actually, why not just have a real old-man-actor? The Engineer is so angry he tears the android’s head off next. They all decide to jump in their spaceship and escape the mayhem.

After launch most decide to sacrifice themselves by flying into the aliens’ craft as it takes off. One girl sensibly stays behind to try her luck in the obligatory escape pod. Remember the squid? Now it’s swollen to a crazy size and sets too with an Engineer. I forget which ship they are on or if it even matters.

Bottom line, this is beautifully filmed and the effects are outrageous but don’t expect an iota of common sense. All that glitters is not gold.

15 February 2013


Film franchises are not obliged to run chronologically forwards. This was pointed out elaborately but, in artistic terms, entirely unsuccessfully by George Lucas with his Star Wars prequels, not one but three. Ridley Scott has taken an altogether more serious and potentially more exciting approach.

The Alien trilogy is well known to science fiction aficionados for its merciful avoidance of slapstick characters in favour of gritty realism. (Jaja Binks relegated what remained of a tidy story to a cartoon. In my opinion.) It’s over thirty years since Alien and twenty since the second sequel. A lot has happened in the field of computer generated imagery and the public’s expectations are higher than ever.

Prometheus is not precisely a prequel but, after elaborating on some of Alien’s themes, actually appears to be heading further back in time, rather than catching up. Ridley Scott might have stumbled on a money-spinning notion whereby each of his creations delves further back in time to seek its own creator. And so On. Funded by a wealthy philanthropist, an unlikely assemblage of travellers (of whom more later) head to the outer reaches of the known universe where they believe they will find the Engineers who created life on Earth. What they find turns out to be a space ship loaded with Engineers who had died before being able to escape the dreadful biological life forms we now know as the ‘Aliens’.

The special effects are simply astonishing, the other-worldly scenes gigantic and entirely convincing, and the technological wizardry on board the spaceship Prometheus is mind-blowing. This is a real feast for the eyes and the imagination. That said, there are the usual and inevitable scientific loopholes although casual observers will easily overlook these. The intrepid crew consists of a couple of crazies whom no right-minded organiser of a trillion-dollar voyage would take along, members of several ethnic groups and of course a smidgen of female eye-candy. The earlier films gave us the memorable scene where a slithering parasitic creature burst from the belly of its host. It's fair to say there is no lack of such excitement in the latest instalment.
Prometheus is a current clear winner in this genre thanks to a number of genuinely tense protracted scenes and the very credible Alien life forms. There are chase sequences and titanic struggles of mind and body which are riveting. The face-clamping organism from the original films is there in a larger and quite frightening form, resembling a large squid with horrific tentacles. Its struggle with a reanimated ‘Engineer’ is masterful. Also of particular note is a scene where a female crew member, pregnant by a contaminated partner, arranges her own surgical termination with the aid of an automated operating room. Not for the squeamish.
Beneath the gloss and the excitement there are serious undercurrents of deeper meaning. Many scenes are based on eternal themes like beginning and end, death and resurrection, sorcery, narcissism, sacrifice and redemption. Without doubt this is a film which will reward subsequent viewings. 7/10

03 February 2013

winter running

Each breath pulls a knife into my chest and my lungs shrivel. The sidewalk is mostly clear but here and there ice lurks in treacherous patches like polished, grey steel. I hold my breath and run across, flat-footed and slowly. This is no weather for outdoor exercise but after a week of confinement I was going stir crazy.
I reach Ellens Creek after four minutes and already my toes are losing feeling and my eyesight is slightly blurred. I glance right taking in the view towards the harbour where the waters have solidified into broad, white slabs which rear at odd angles, buckled by the tidal pressure. Ducks stand resolutely at their posts to wait out the freeze, shoulders hunched under puffed feathers.
Over the past six years I have grudgingly come to accept the severity of winter in my adopted country. At first I shunned hats and gloves and dressed more for a balmy British autumn than a harsh Canadian winter. I know I drew suspicious glances when I ran hatless in shorts and vest. A crazy foreigner. Today at least I am properly attired for my run, that’s if you consider running at minus fifteen proper at all, and if you do you might be in a minority of one.
Are these leggings verging on the effeminate? Not so long ago I would have guffawed at the notion of venturing out in daylight like this but if you want to be a runner in mid winter you have to dress like one. It’s what people expect. Beneath all this skin protection is a base layer, my hat and gloves are thermally insulated and the soles of my socks have copper thread. But I am cold.
I leap over a frozen snow heap and cross North River Road. As I try to hold my pace up the steep incline, cars crackle by on studded tyres their drivers wearing puffy jackets and sensible hats. I reach the lights at Belvedere and turn around, circling on the spot with dainty little steps befitting of my debatable leggings. I realise my thick coating of lip balm has reconstituted into a layer of dense wax.
Downhill I reach a slow gallop like a tall, black giraffe. I check my watch and I’m on schedule because no run is purely for fun, least of all today. I need to monitor my time and pace. The Island marathon is far away but a winter of lethargy would make for a hard summer of reconditioning.
This is a short outing, just twenty minutes. Not long enough to get into ‘the zone’ but a chance to get the heart pumping and to blow out the cobwebs. As I re-cross the bridge over the bleak Arctic tundra of the creek, the late afternoon sky is darkening and street lights are struggling to penetrate the gloom. Home and a steaming bath beckon.