Monday, 17 November 2014

Rochester & Strood By-Election

Living near the borders of  the Rochester & Strood constituency, so near that we've had a few errant phone canvassers ringing us up, it has been interesting to watch the by-election unfold. It is clear that the old two party politics of a centralised government system is no longer appropriate for local issues. 
Difficult and expensive road infrastructure making it hard to reach a hospital in special measures, delays in regeneration of the waterfront, the threat of airport expansion and loss of green spaces, concerns over primary education and special needs provision, a constituency split by a river and hemmed in by motorways and part of the much larger urban conurbation of the Medway Towns... 

This by-election has seen the emergence of many candidates, UKIP may have thought they'd be smiling all the way to another seat but it is more likely that the major parties will lose votes to a host of smaller parties. It is not so much a litmus test for next year's election but an example of how the political goodwill of a community has been worn thin by the relentless pressure on living standards and a lack of understanding of local issues. 

List of candidates ~ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-29616021


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rochester_and_Strood_by-election,_2014

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Movie Review ~ Interstellar

Interstellar 12A

Director: Christopher Nolan

A long and detailed look at one man's mission to save a future Earth and his family from slow starvation by travelling through a worm hole to a new galaxy where life-supporting planets have been identified by an earlier mission, well, that's Plan A anyway... This beautifully languid piece of science fiction feels like some of the 70's classics of the genre, I'd place the mood somewhere between Solaris and 2001: A Space Oddity which probably isn't too bad a place to be. The real drawback is the soundtrack, presumably meant to be lofty, soaring and infinite but, in a cavernous cinema with only thirty people in it, became deafeningly intrusive and dialogue obscuring. (It's a shame cinemas can't adjust the sound for the right amount of noise absorbing bodies.)
For me, I'd have liked the movie to explore the 'gravity equation' and Plan B a bit more and seen a glimpse of the future humans that created the inter-dimensional trap inside a black hole and placed a wormhole near Saturn (why not Earth?) but I'm guessing I'm in the minority when I say the movie could have been longer... The film is saved from space fatigue by Matthew McConaughey in fine form, supported by Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine and Jessica Chastain.

Four out of five massive plasma spheres, so big they are held together by their own gravity.

*****



Wednesday, 29 October 2014

DVD Reviews Autumn Round-Up

Rust & Bone (15)
Director: Jacques Audiard

Gritty tale of survival in a tough economic climate set in a beach-side town in France. (Subtitled) Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) is a killer whale trainer who suffers a life-changing accident throwing her into a relationship with aspiring boxer, Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) who is caught up in illegal boxing and security work trying to provide for his young son. Realistic and uncompromising but ultimately uplifting a rewarding five out of five stars.

*****

Her (15)
Director: Spike Jonz

Sci-fi love story about a lonely ghost writer who falls for the operating system on his computer. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson and Amy Adams. Stylish but to the detriment of the plot, three out of five stars.

*****

Robot & Frank (12)
Director: Jake Schreier

Another sci-fi interpretation of human interactivity with technology, this time an elderly cat-burglar is given a robot to look after him as his son is too busy to deal with his dementia. Frank Langella plays the incorrigible thief who embarks on one last job with the help of the robot. An engaging four out of five stars.

*****

American Hustle (15)
Director: David O. Russell

A big, brash, no-holds barred movie based on a 1970s true story of a con-man and his partner forced to work for the FBI in a sting to catch Mafia and crooked politicians. Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence shine in last year's guilty pleasure. A hair-raising, wing-collared five out of five stars.

*****

The Wolf Of Wall Street (18)
Director: Martin Scorsese

Another true-life story set in the mad money world of Wall Street in the 1980s. Corruption and greed get the better of aspiring stock broker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) as his hedonistic lifestyle spirals out of control. An eye-opening roller-coaster of excess. Four out of five stars.

*****

Dallas Buyers Club (15)
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Matthew McConaughey gives an extraordinary performance as Ron Woodroof, an AIDS patient who takes on the FDA to smuggle unapproved drugs into the USA. He sets up the 'Dallas Buyers Club' as a way to get experimental drugs to fellow sufferers during the 1980's when AIDS was still misunderstood and few treatments were available. Jennifer Garner is the nurse, Eve, caught up in the unjust legalities of the medical trial system and Jared Leto is the fragile Rayon, an aids patient Ron befriends. An intensely moving true-life story, five out of five stars.

*****


August: Osage County (15)
Director: John Wells

Adapted from a play, any hint of bleak comedy has been boiled out in a stiflingly oppressive story of the dysfunctional Weston family gathering for the funeral of Beverley Weston, writer and alcoholic husband to the despotic matriarch Violet, who terrorises her family using her cancer as a weapon. An all-star cast includes Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Julianne Nicholson and Margot Martindale as the quartet of subordinate women trying to deal with Violet, monstrous in her grief played brilliantly by Meryl Streep. A mention for Chris Cooper whose understated hen-pecked male presence is a much needed foil. An achingly dry three out of five stars.


*****

Monday, 27 October 2014

Last Dog Standing ~ Episode Five

Countdowns...

As night approaches, the last dog pauses and sniffs the cooling air. There is a carcass lying near to the edge of the road he is travelling on. The New Forest pony is little more than a pile of bleached bones and stretched hide, picked clean long ago by crows but something to chew is better than nothing to chew and the dog pulls a section of the carcass free. He trots off to a nearby thatch of scrubby gorse to gnaw the night away. At sunrise he'd continue on the trail, it's a strong trail, with little else travelling on the road to confuse it. As night falls, behind him the forest stretches away, back towards the big towns where no lights burn, only the slow smoke pyres of desperation.

'THREE...FOUR....'

'Another countdown, what is it with the countdowns today!' Something inside Daisy seems to wake up, as though the day has been a dream, a sleep walk through a nightmare landscape but this, this now is too much. Enough is enough. A point has been reached and she can take no more, indignant rage takes over. 'STOP IT with the counting!'
'Open the door and I'll stop... FIVE...'
Daisy is about to scream a reply when the most extraordinary sight appears on the monitor. Into the glare of the headlights leaps a stag. In the space between the bloke and the ICL it canters past, nostrils flaring, spittle foaming from its mouth, whites of its eyes rolling, a wild creature flashing past. For a second Daisy and the bloke are shocked into silence and stillness. Then the blood-curdling howls of a pack of dogs reaches them and before either can move a slavering, clamouring posse of what once were pets streams across the front of ICL, yelping and baying, oblivious to them, absorbed only in the chase and their quarry.
'Dog pack!' The bloke whispers under his breath, he had dropped his guard, stopping on the road is never a good idea. The yelps almost die away and then one or two grow stronger, returning. On the monitor, Daisy can see the dark shapes of three dogs, slinking round, just on the edge of the headlights reach, stalking the bloke.
'You have to let me in.' The bloke whispers, edging towards the door.
'Piss off! You were about to shoot me! You're the one with the gun, shoot them instead.' Daisy whispers back.
'I can't shoot them! I don't have any bullets. I just use it as a deterrent...'
'As a deterrent?'
'Well, sometimes it works... you have to let me it, they'll eat me alive... please...'
Daisy is about to tell him to get lost when the image of the last dog standing, arm bone in it's mouth suddenly leaps into her head and she knows she has no stomach for murder. Outside the dogs are beginning to edge into the light, more confident of a kill. She makes up her mind and slides out of the cockpit and back through to the door, picking up the fire extinguisher on the way.
'Can you still hear me?' she whispers.
'Yes!'
'OK, move to the door, I'm going to open it, leap in.'
She hits the release button and the door slides open, the bloke leaps in just as the dogs launch their attack in a frenzy of barking. Daisy fires a burst of the extinguisher into the air and the dogs back off in surprise, long enough for the door to slide shut again. Daisy leans against the door and sighs then turns round, gripping the cannister tightly to find the bloke sprawling in heap on top of the soggy mess of her pink onesie still lying where she left it on the floor. The semi automatic is at her feet. She picks it up and walks over to him, fire extinguisher in one hand, gun in the other.
'Now, you and I are going to sit down like civilised humans and you are going to tell me exactly how the hell the world has gone, quite literally, to the the dogs because I am absolutely at the end of my patience...' There is something in her tone of voice that makes the bloke just nod dumbly in reply as she motions to a nearby chair with the gun.

Outside, on the motorway to London, the dogs circle the ICL but soon lose interest once they establish there is no way in. As one, they turn and follow the rest of the pack, the image of the stag still fresh in their minds. 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Last Dog Standing ~ Episode Four

No time like the present...

Daisy slams a fist onto the panel of the bulkhead, aware it won't open it but at least it vents some frustration and fear as the capsule rocks slowly from side to side. 'What's making us shake?'
After some seconds the reply from the computer program. 'It is some people with what look like metal poles, trying to push over the ICL... Daisy, I'm going to let you into the cockpit and then talk you through an emergency evacuation procedure...'
'I am not going back out there, it's that cannibal and his cronies... I knew there'd be more, there always is...is the dog there?'
'No, I mean yes, the dog is there but I am not asking you to leave the safety of the ICL, just to drive the capsule away from the present situation.'
In front of Daisy the bulkhead panel slides open and reveals a small cockpit, complete with a joystick, leather upholstered chair and a heads up display on a split screen monitor showing four different views of the exterior of the capsule.
Daisy slides into the seat and straps herself in. In front of her is the joystick and the screen. Two of the camera angles show a group of four or five people, as thin as skeletons, trying to lever the capsule over with long scaffolding poles. Nearby stands the old man and his dog, shouting instructions. A closer look at this gang of walking skin and bone in their filthy clothes reveals they are tethered together with lengths of chain similar to the dog's lead. These are what...his pets...his slaves...his next meal? An image of the arm bone springs up in her mind and the thought stays in Daisy's head as the computer program talks through the start, drive and speed procedures.
The capsule rocks particularly violently and Daisy hits the start button and the engines quietly start running. 'Where to?' she asks.
'I would suggest anywhere but here!'

As the capsule speeds away across the warehouse towards the large bay doors, Daisy watches on the monitor as the metal poles are suddenly catapulted out from under the moving ICL and the gang is torn from their feet, falling like ninepins into a heap of chains, twisted metal and screaming. Running after her is the old man and his dog. In front of her, on the forward camera looms the closed bay doors. She closes her eyes and pushes the joystick to its full extent as the capsule picks up speed and hurtles at the metal. The doors are ripped open and one flies back over the capsule roof as Daisy opens her eyes in time to see it hit the man square on, pinning him under it as the dog dodges it and races after the capsule. Daisy steers the ICL through the jumbled masonry in the car park and out onto the avenue, weaving in and out of the abandoned vehicles littering the way as the capsule careers its way up to the dual carriageway, the dog barking as it races to keep up.

'I don't think they are following.'
The computer program waits for a response from Daisy but gets none.
'I don't think we need to keep driving so fast. We are not being followed. The dog stopped when we reached the dual carriageway.'
Still there is no reply as Daisy keeps the capsule driving at full speed, swerving every now and then to avoid empty cars, trucks and tanks .
'DAISY, STOP NOW!'
But Daisy drives on, oblivious to everything but the road on the monitor in front of her.
After several miles through the bleak landscape of the New Forest the dual carriageway merges into a motorway and then the motorway begins to empty of abandoned vehicles until it is just the ICL on the empty three lanes heading northeast to London. Night is falling and it occurs to Daisy that none of the motorway lights are working.
She loosens her grip on the joystick and asks, 'Do we have headlights?'
'Yes, we do. Try the yellow button on the console in front.'
Daisy presses the button and the exterior lights flood out, pushing back the night. She eases up on the speed and the capsule slows to a crawl and then to a full stop as she slumps back into the seat, the adrenalin pumping around her system from earlier fading away. 'So what now?' she asks, almost to herself.
'I thought you wanted to go to London, to the SpaceLife Science headquarters to contact the team.'
'London? Yes, yes if anywhere survives it will be London. There will be contingency plans and protocols, you know for the Government and stuff. They are probably all down in the underground, like during the wars.' Daisy sits up at he thought. 'London it is.'
She turns on the engine again.
'You don't want to wait till tomorrow morning? Till daylight?'
'I've spent the last five years waiting around. No time like the present.'
The engine purrs into life again and Daisy settles at a comfortable speed of thirty-five mph as the motorway slips past in the night. Far behind them, in the warehouse, the dog sits by the metal door pinning his master down. But his master isn't breathing and after a while the dog gets up, ignoring the chained gang still in a writhing heap on the floor and sets off back up the avenue in the direction of the motorway following the scent of the ICL.

Daisy is dreaming. On the road in front of her, beyond the arc of the headlights is a bright light, like a flame, then two flames, like a shining pair of wings. An angel! There is an angel here to meet her on the road.
'Daisy! Watch out! You're going to hit it!' The voice program overrides the controls and slams on the brakes as the capsule shudders to halt but not before the sound of an ominous thud.
'What!' Daisy starts awake. Had she been asleep at the joystick? 'What was that?'
'Something on the road, you hit it.'
'I saw an angel!'
'No you didn't.'
'Well, something that looked like an angel.'
'I am comparing images from the cameras with my database, it looked like a pair of solar panels attached to something moving. They reflected the headlights back at you.'
'It could have been an angel.'
'Or not. Go and see what it is.'
'What? Go out there again?'
'Yes, you'll have to clear whatever it is out from under the wheel anyway.'
Daisy glances at the monitors, it is still dark beyond the arc of the lights.
'Can't we just wait till morning?'
But before the voice program can reply, the sound of an irate voice can be heard through the display screen cameras.
'Oy! Look what you've done to my solar trike I was only trying to hitch a ride, ROAD HOG!'

'Did you just hear that?'
'Yes, Daisy, I did. That is definitely not an angel.'
'OY! You in there, what the hell d'you think you're doing? Look at my trike! How am I gonna get anywhere now? HEY, In the tin can, can you hear me?'
On the monitor, a lone figure appears in front of the ICL on the monitor, illuminated by the headlights. Daisy stares at the good-looking bloke yelling at them. 'Body of an angel, though.' she thinks out loud.
'I heard that.'
'HEY! What are you going to do about my TRIKE?' The bloke kicks the ICL and then hops about holding his toe. Daisy smiles. 'Look, he's hopping mad. Can we talk to him? Through the monitors?'
'Um... yes.. I can reroute the internal speakers... just a moment. Try that.'
'Helllloooooooo?'
For a moment the bloke stands still as Daisy's hello echoes out across the motorway in the dark.
'Sorry, too loud. Try again.' whispers the computer program.
'Hello? Can you hear me?'
'Er... yes. I can. You ran over my trike.' The bloke shades his eyes from the glare of the headlights but can see no door or window opening on the capsule. 'I was just trying to hitch a lift.'
'So you said. How do I know you're not another cannibal... with a gang, how do I know this isn't a trap?'
'Do I look like I'm a cannibal? Look I'm unarmed.... I'm just trying to get home.' The bloke stretches out his arms and turns around so that whoever is in the capsule can see he is not hiding any weapons in the close-fitting cycling outfit he is wearing. 'At least move you're.. your whatever this vehicle is back off my trike.'
Daisy sighs and slowly reverses the capsule back a few feet. In the headlights she can see the crushed remains of his trike.'
'Look what you've done to it!' The bloke kneels beside the trike and tries to stand it upright.
'Sorry! It's just that it's been a bit of a day today and...'
'And now it's going to get worse!' The bloke springs back up to his feet with a large semi-automatic weapon he has pulled out from the wrecked trike and points it directly at the ICL.
'You have exactly ten seconds to exit the... the vehicle thing or I start blasting holes into you...ONE...TWO....'