Monday, March 10, 2014
My Favourite Movies: Lara Croft – Tomb Raider
OK, from time to time I like the odd cheesy movie – especially when they don’t take themselves too seriously or (conversely) don’t play things for laughs. Basically when there’s enough tongue-in-cheek self-knowledge that lets the audience know that they’re in on the joke. This is definitely one of those – indeed one of the better ones, especially when you consider the whole thing is based on a teenager boy’s idea of an ideal computer game. Now, of course, computer game/movie cross-overs haven’t exactly gone very well, indeed most of them belong firmly in the ‘worst films ever made’ category. Fortunately this is head and shoulders above the general background dross. The main reason for this is Lara herself played by the ever fun and nice to look at (if somewhat quirky) Angelina Jolie who very clearly had a lot of fun playing up to her larger than life role.
The storyline is suitably bizarre and completely over the top. It seems that every 5,000 years when the planets line up the two broken halves of an ancient object that can control time – and therefore give its owner ultimate power – can be recovered and brought together. Lara’s father (now dead and playing in dreams/flashbacks by Jon Voight) knows all about it and tells Lara to go find the artifacts so that she can prevent them falling into the hands of the evil Illuminati. That’s basically it – the whole story is there. Then again it’s not need to do much more that tie together some rather impressive set-pieces involving lots of gun fire, ancient monster type creatures, weird ancient impact craters, lots of slow-motion effects, the odd shower scene – both male and female (the male version of Lara is played by Daniel Craig), and a fair bit of humour, cool one-liners and more than one raised eyebrow.
The support cast are pretty good with Iain Glen playing a passable baddie (love him in Games of Thrones), Noah Taylor as the technical genius (also in Games of Thrones!) and the always fun to watch Chris Barrie (not in Game of Thrones) who plays Lara’s faithful butler.
This is not a great film by almost any category. It won’t make you think, it won’t pull at the heart strings and it won’t still much in the way of any deep emotion, it won’t make you sign up to a cause, donate money to charity and it certainly won’t change your life (or even probably enhance it all that much). What you will get, or at least what I got, is about 100 minutes of brainless, mindless entertainment. This film is quite blatantly designed for one thing and one thing only - to entertain, to be fun, to be throw away fluff that will amuse and then vanish without any kind of aftertaste. Sometimes that’s all a film needs to be, no pretentions, no agenda and no intention of winning or even competing for an Oscar in any category. Sometimes that’s all we, the audience, need too. Tomb Raider hit that make pretty damned well and has probably entertained me half a dozen times so far. It’ll probably do it half a dozen more too.
Sunday, March 09, 2014
Saturday, March 08, 2014
Shelf after shelf of unread books
From The BBC
6 March 2014
A survey to mark World Book Day has found that the majority of books found in British houses have not been read - but is that really surprising, asks Ben Milne.
The average British household has 138 volumes on its shelves, less than half of which have been read, according to research by storage company Shurgard. "It is a kind of peacock-feather display," says the writer and critic John Sutherland. He thinks that the proportion of unread books will depend upon their location in the house - "Living rooms are display windows." Sutherland says he suspects the volumes in the lavatory are more likely to have been read, as are those on the bedroom shelves. It would be a slightly scary household where every single book had been read. That said, there's arguably something suspicious about someone who hasn't read any of the books on their shelves. Those prominently displayed volumes of Karl Ove Knausgard or Margaret Attwood may make you look like a heavyweight intellectual, but inevitably there is going to come a point when a visitor looks at their unbroken spines and asks: "Just how many of these have you actually read?" On the other hand, one could adopt the defiant stance of Lord Redesdale, father of the famous Mitford sisters, who claimed to have only ever read one book in his life - White Fang by Jack London. "He enjoyed [it] so much, he vowed never to read another one," Deborah Mitford once recalled.
So, there's a balance to be achieved. "A book which is left on a shelf is a dead thing," writes Susan Hill in Howard's End Is On The Landing, her memoir of trying to read all the books in her house, "but it is also a chrysalis, an inanimate object packed with potential to burst into new life." And emotional attachment is one of the main reasons people give the survey for not throwing out books - they're "particles of ourselves", says Sutherland. If nothing else, they're decorative. In the words of a title by the novelist Anthony Powell, Books Do Furnish A Room. Perhaps you own a copy. Maybe you've even read it.
[I suppose that after learning that the average Brit reads 3 books a year the fact that the average household has 138 books on its shelves is moderately impressive. Of course, as I average about 70 books a year at the moment (with more in my youth) you would imagine that I have rather more than 138 books piled up on various bookcases. Indeed a quick ‘head’ count reveals around 100 books per shelf – 50 in front and another 50 tucked in behind. My total is probably in the region of 4-5,000 give or take a few hundred. Of these I’m probably running at around 1,000 – 1,500 unread. Not because they are on ostentatious display (for who exactly) but because I haven’t got around to them yet or, quite possibly, my interest has moved on from that particular topic/genre and I’m waiting to circle back to it at some point in the future. Book wise I always expect myself to be ranked in the top 5% of readers – with the probable exception of classic reading. Of course the frightening thing to consider is that if the average is 138 and I have 5,000 and I’m far from unique then there are a considerable number of homes with few or no books in them at all…. Now that’s scary stuff!]
Friday, March 07, 2014
Thursday, March 06, 2014
Just Finished Reading: In Search of Civilisation – Remaking a Tarnished Idea by John Armstrong (FP: 2009)
What exactly is Civilisation? This is the deceptively simple question the author asks at the beginning of this intriguing and thought provoking little book (a mere 195 pages long). Is it something as practical and as material as somewhere you can get a tire changed after a roadside puncture or where you can get decent broadband speeds? Or is it something more than advanced technology and 24 hour supermarkets or where you can get pizza delivered to your door at 3am?
Some think of civilisation as the rule of law, a place where you can feel safe in your bed and don’t feel the need to carry arms or band together for protection against other bands of like-minded individuals. Is it a place where the State can be assumed to look after your basic interests and at the same time leave you alone to flourish on your own terms – a place where you are protected against potential encroachment on your basic freedoms and are given further freedom to grow? Or is it still more than this?
Is civilisation a place where individuals or groups are given the time, space and encouragement to create objects or works that have no practical value but are appreciated for other things – what we call art, music, literature or simply 'the arts'? Is civilisation a place the produces decorative pottery, grand architecture, opera, poetry, paintings that cause their viewers to weep or shout in outrage? Is civilisation the kind of place that produces Wagner, Picasso, Bach, T S Eliot and Jules Verne? Could a civilisation be defined by the number, variety and output of its artists?
But what of the citizens in this civilisation, whatever we chose to mean by that word? Are civilised citizens the kind of people who consume art like tins of soup, who value art or great works of literature for their resale value or the kudos their ownership brings them? Or is being civilised something more than that? Is it appreciating art and literature for what it is rather than what it costs? Is it actually striving to understand the work in question, taking the time, effort and education to truly see the object in front of them in all its glory rather than be impressed by technique or simple effort? Or is it just elitist to build opera houses and art galleries to exhibit the works often designated as classic or world class? Is this idea of civilisation another way to oppress and denigrate the rest of us while a small self-selecting self-defining elite drink their wine in front of paintings that the majority would not give a second glance to?
These are some of the important questions raised and addressed in this frankly fascinating and thought provoking work. Armstrong argues, and I largely agree with him, that civilisation has for far too long been side-lined and demonised as something we have either grown out of – like a childish illusion – or that we have realised was just another way for the rich to look down on and distinguish themselves from the poor and ignorant masses – in other words an elitist idea held by those who viewed themselves as our betters. Although culture has been used like this – as a weapon and a wedge – this is not, the author argues – what civilisation is. Civilisation is the best part of us, not something locked away in darkened rooms for the delight of a few but something that should be on display to uplift, enlighten and amaze us all. Civilisation is something that everyone should be involved in, an ongoing project of societal improvement and education which is far from elitist. An appreciation of Beethoven or Shelly is something that can all have. An enjoyment of Shakespeare is nothing to be ashamed of and equally nothing to be superior about. Shakespeare, like civilisation itself, is for everyone. We just need to recognise that fact to keep civilisation civilised.