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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in scotm's LiveJournal:

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Thursday, November 21st, 2013
4:47 pm
Letter for enshrining trans equality in marriage law
Dear Mr Chisholm,

I wish to thank you very much for your for your vote in favour of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill. This ensures that Scotland continues its progression as a country equal for all its citizens in her laws. Sometimes, absent of party hackery and tribalism, I can be in awe of the maturity and respect in the Scottish Parliament. I was deeply moved and delighted by the turnout and generally very high quality of the debate.

But the process isn't over. I write to you today to ask you to consider the amendments to the bill submitted to the Scottish Equal Opportunities Committee, which will further improve it for transgender and intersex individuals.

The Equality Network, headquartered in our constituency and with wide-reaching contributors, has proposed five amendments.

1) To end the spousal veto on gender recognition. Uncooperative spouses can deny gender recognition - requiring a divorce for the trans person to be legally recognised as the gender they live as.
2) A reduction in the age required for gender recognition. Although trans people could easily satisfy all of the conditions required to receive gender recognition by the time they are 16, they are barred from applying because of their age. This is discriminatory and unfair.
3) Alternative evidence requirements for long term transitioned people. Given the difficulties in seeking a diagnosis for gender dysphoria in the first place, and if the patient has been out of the process for a period of time, it can be even more difficult. Seeking reassignment after marriage compounds this issue.
4) Allowing gender-neutral ceremonies. In truth, removing gender from our marriage laws sounds like a simple remedy.
5) To allow people with foreign civil partnerships to marry. Reasonably straightforward.

These amendments are discussed in detail in the Equality Network's pamphlet, which I link to a PDF copy below.


I would also hope that support could further be raised for heterosexual couples to have a civil partnership ceremony should they so wish. That way, both straight and LGBTI couples can be said to be equal in relationship law.

I trust you will consider the amendments' remedies to each of these concerns. I'd like you to vote in favour of them.

With kind regards,

Scott Macdonald
Wednesday, April 10th, 2013
2:36 pm
Dirty Money: The Tory Millionaire Bankrolling Better Together
This is a copy of an article posted by Michael Gray on April 7, 2013 on the website: National Collective. National Collective has been removed from the Internet. Some people just don't understand The Streisand Effect! Copy, print, and share.

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Today ‘Better Together’ disclosed £1.1 million of donations to its campaign. Almost half of that sum came from one man: Ian Taylor, a long-term Conservative Party donor and Chief Executive of oil-traders Vitol plc.

Today’s Sunday Herald described Taylor as “a Scots oil trader with a major stake in the Harris Tweed industry”. They also gave Taylor’s views – who is reportedly worth £155 million – print space to justify his funding decision.

This raises several concerns. Taylor, according to The Sunday Herald, is not registered to vote in Scotland. This breaks Electoral Commission guidelines for general elections, which Yes Scotland has promised to follow. Secondly, Ian Taylor has given £550,000 to the Conservative Party since 2006. This is a further case of Tory donors – and their political interests – bankrolling the ‘no’ campaign.

These general complaints, however, are minor in comparison to more serious incidents – unmentioned in the media today – linked to Ian Taylor’s business background.

While Chief Executive of Vitol plc, his company has been involved in shady-deals in Serbia, Iraq, Libya and Iran. Furthermore, Vitol avoided tax to the tune of millions of pounds through an offshore trading scheme. Douglas Alexander, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, described Vitol’s relationship with Westminster as “curious”, and said there were questions to answer.

As Chief Executive of Vitol since 1995, Ian Taylor has serious questions to answer in all of these cases. Better Together have serious questions to answer as to what they knew about Ian Taylor before they accepted half-a-million pounds from him. Alistair Darling – who recently met with Taylor prior to the funding deal – must also confirm what his position is on the following cases.

1) Vitol Admitted Paying $1 million to a Serbian Paramilitary Leader

In 1996 Vitol paid $1 million to the Serbian paramilitary leader Arkan to settle a score over a secret oil deal to supply Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia with fuel. Ian Taylor’s director, Bob Finch, used Arkan as a ‘fixer’ after the oil deal in the former Yugoslavia collapsed. Arkan was assassinated in 2000.

Arkan was indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague for crimes against humanity. According to The Obverver which names Ian Taylor in its investigation into Arkan – “his brutality was well documented” when the meeting with Vitol’s representative took place. Arkan’s paramilitaries – ‘the tigers’ – were notorious for massacring 250 patients and staff in a hospital.

Ian Taylor was Chief Executive of Vitol when Bob Finch, as Vitol Director, went to Belgrade. Arkan was then indicted with 24 crimes against humanity.

What did Ian Taylor know about his company’s dealing in Serbia and their payment to Arkan? What is the position of Better Together in relation to this?

2) Vitol plc: Guilty of Bribing Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Regime For Oil Contracts

While Ian Taylor was Chief Executive, Vitol paid $13 million in kickbacks to Iraqi officials under Saddam Hussein to win oil supply contracts. The company pled guilty in a U.S. court to grand larceny in November 2007 and paid $17.5 million in restitution as a result. This undercut the UN oil-for-food program – 1996-2003 – that sought to trade Iraqi energy resources for humanitarian supplies.

Was Ian Taylor aware of his company’s actions at the time? To what extent did his company profit from these deals in Iraq and to what extent did he profit personally from the company’s success? Is Better Together content to accept Mr Taylor as a major funder in these circumstances?

3) Ian Taylor’s Company Avoided Tax ‘for more than a decade’

Vitol plc employed the controversial tax avoidance scheme known as ‘Employee Benefit Trusts’. (EBTs) Such schemes allowed employees to avoid paying income tax and companies to avoid national insurance contributions. Vitol used the scheme ‘for more than a decade’.

Tax evasion and avoidance costs the UK Exchequer tens of billions of pounds a year. EBTs were banned in 2011. Vitol then entered negotiations with HMRC over claims that it still owed millions of pounds in unpaid taxes.

What did Ian Taylor know about the company’s tax avoidance scheme? Even if it met legal requirements, does he consider tax avoidance to be morally just? Is Better Together aware of these claims against the company of its major donor?

4) Ian Taylor has been accused of improper political donations to the Conservative Party.

According to today’s Sunday Herald, Ian Taylor has donated £550,000 to the Conservative Party since 2006. He was one of the 70 millionaires who paid the £50,000 privilege to join David Cameron’s Leaders Group. Leaders Group membership led, in many cases, to a private dinner with the Prime Minister, which Taylor attended in Downing Street on November 2nd 2011. This was part of the “cash for access scandal”.

Taylor’s political donations have also been criticised by Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander. In 2011 questions were raised concerning Taylor’s relationship with Alan Duncan, the International Development Minister. Taylor and Duncan had worked together at Shell. Duncan lobbied for an ‘oil cell’ within the Foreign Office to control fuel supplies within Libya. For this the government received substantial support through Vitol plc. Civil service official were concerned that the behaviour was “encroaching too far on commercial purposes”. According to The Daily Mail, Ian Taylor “profited from the war in Libya” and his company received a $1 billion contract to supply oil to the Libyan rebels. This was described at the time as a “huge conflict of interest”.

Douglas Alexander, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary said, “Given Alan Duncan’s reported links with Vitol this curious briefing from within government actually raises more questions than it answers,”

Did Ian Taylor gain influence within government for his £550,000? Why was Douglas Alexander concerned about Vitol’s relationship with the UK Government? Is Mr Alexander happy for Better Together to be receiving financial support from the same source?

5) Iran and current business practices

Vitol recently conceded, in September 2012, that it had broken sanctions on trading Iranian oil. According to Reuters, the company purchased 2 million barrels of fuel oil. This undercut Western efforts to isolate the Iranian regime, and brought further attention to Mr Taylor’s close relationship with the UK government.

Is Vitol an ethical company and should Better Together accept support and funding from this source?

Better Together have serious questions to answer

  • This information raises serious questions – both for Ian Taylor and the ‘Better Together’ campaign.

  • There cannot be a fair referendum if money is solicited from outwith Scotland or from rich Tory donors who do not vote in Scotland.

  • There cannot be an open referendum if funding comes from unethical sources. Our politics is once again tarnish by ‘dirty money’ and vested corporate interests.

  • This information also raises serious questions for the Scottish and UK media, who have not raised any of these question in relation to today’s donation announcement.

  • There cannot be a fair or open referendum if the Scottish people are left in the dark. We need to have the facts. We need to know the truth.

I hope this makes the case for funding alternative media in Scotland even clearer on our path to building a more equal, prosperous and peaceful Scotland.

Michael Gray
National Collective
Saturday, March 23rd, 2013
11:31 pm
Debtbusting in an independent Scotland
I should qualify some of this. Kezia Dugdale MSP in the Scottish Labour Party has done a lot of excellent work as a regional MSP in her Debtbusters campaign against pay-day loan companies. She was also the No campaign's representative at a recent public debate.

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Dear Ms. Dugdale,

I'd like to state that I enjoy both our Twitter exchanges and keeping up to date with your activities and work. You came to my attention during your excellent regional work in Debtbusters. It is the complexities of this, as you highlighted in the Debating Scottish Independence public debate on 6th March, within the context of an independent Scotland, that I write to you today. I mentioned it to you on Twitter, and seek clarification now.

My interpretation is thus: The underlying regulation - rather than your outstanding campaign work for local amelioration - is unlikely to be faced until the Labour Party legislate UK-wide, or a Scottish Parliament can hold the full powers to do so. I was distraught to learn of the very poor debate in the Holyrood debating chamber, where independence was held up as *the* solution by MSPs within the government. You disagree that Scotland should be an independent country, and believe that as an independent country we would face other difficulties for dealing with this vile problem.

So, please can you outline the specific concerns and difficulties that would face an independent Scotland, with its full powers, to legislate against pay-day loans. If you have made speeches inside or outside the chamber, or had written correspondence with ministers which deal with this specific concern, I would like to read and consider them. Furthermore, I would appreciate your considered perspective in this matter should Scotland decide to become independent. I believe that social justice unites us regardless of party affiliation, or constitutional preference.

Thank you for your very welcome invitation to the Debtbusters public meeting in April. I shall be happy to attend, and will see if I can bring others. I support your regional campaign ameliorating as much as possible the reach of these predatory companies, and the deprivation and desperation they exploit and generate.

Yours gratefully,

Scott Macdonald

P.S. Your answer to my question about what should be enshrined in a written constitution of Scotland was the best answer of the night.
Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
9:14 am
Workfare vote
Dear Mr. Lazarowicz,

I write to you today to express my concern at my understanding that the Labour Party will not oppose the government's retrospective legislation on workfare. The bill seeks to retrospectively excuse the DWP from reimbursing wrongly sanctioned claimants.

This, to put it mildly, is illiberal hogwash and sets a dangerous precedent. When citizens defeat the government in court, it can overturn the court ruling retrospectively with primary legislation – effectively making the government above the rule of law.

I would appreciate that you vote against, or provide a detailed explanation as to why you will not vote against it.

I hope this email finds you well.

Yours sincerely,

Scott Macdonald
Thursday, October 11th, 2012
3:23 pm
Voting at 16 in the independence referendum
Dear Mr. Chisholm,

I write to you today to highlight a potential issue in what is likely to be an issue in the upcoming 2014 independence referendum. I note that the agreement has yet to be confirmed, but it has been widely reported in the media that 16 and 17 year olds will be eligible to vote.

Duncan Hothersall, a Scottish Labour activist in Edinburgh has astutely highlighted the difficulty in canvassing those 16 and 17 year olds. His opinions can be read here:


I believe that his central tenet - that it shall be of utmost importance that next year's Valuation Joint Board must ask for the names and birthdays of 14 and 15 year olds in a household - is quite sound.

If you agree, then please can you clarify, or discuss this matter with those selecting the means by which voters are empowered in the constitutional future of Scotland? If it is to be an inclusive and fair ballot, Mr. Hothersall's points make sense.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to your reply, and wish you every continuing success in representing Edinburgh Northern and Leith in the Scottish Parliament.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Macdonald
Monday, June 18th, 2012
9:46 pm
Reviewing movies
It's Edinburgh Film Festival time again. Every year, I end up writing loads of reviews all the while wondering how *other people* review movies. I find it difficult, but not impossible to churn out 3 or 4 pieces a day. Here's how I cope.

When watching, I keep scribbling notes, to remind myself of people, places and interesting lines. I stop doing this around halfway, and simply keep watching the movie.

Once the movie is over I find a comfy seat, transcribe the notes I've made to computer, and add whatever detail I can to them while writing them up. During this detail-adding, I invariably start writing in complete sentences, and some of the structure of the review reveals itself. Re-reading the mass of detailed notes, I try to divine some kind of structure to the piece (finding connective links, amassing evidence for my views and to give the reader a flavour of the film), and then copying and pasting the notes to suit.

I then eliminate useless text, write some tissue to unify the piece, and have a fight with how to begin and end the review. A final re-read, to ameliorate the over-written and "chewy" (ones that are nearly impossible to speak aloud without getting into a knot) paragraphs, and I'm done.

Method. What do you all do?
Sunday, May 13th, 2012
6:16 pm
Enjoying Twitter 101
There's little surprise that QI host Stephen Fry was one of the first major cheerleaders for tweeting. Twitter isn't in itself very interesting - but becomes interesting through being a source and user-driven broadcaster of interesting things from its users.

I hesitate to use the word recipe. Recipes involve doing things precisely and in order - Twitter is more like "just whack a bit of it in". It doesn't matter much as to the proportion, as long as you do them regularly and often.
  1. Follow interesting people and engage with them.
  2. Tweet things you find interesting, and you think others would find interesting. Don't be shy about it either.
  3. Propagate current interesting news, witter or events. (Either tweet your own spin on it, or retweet it for others who follow you.)
Twitter's smartest move is the ease of following and unfollowing people. It's easy to take a punt on an unknown person; should they be dull outside of a few choice tweets you can unfollow them quickly and easily with a minimum of social baggage. Following people who are experts in your interests gives a rich tapestry of interesting stuff of the here and now. Engaging with them benefits everyone - since those who are interested can join in the conversation.

Journalists tend to do well - the providers of regular digested news, gossip, astute commentary, pithy back and forth chatter and links to some of the most interesting stuff on the Internet. 140 characters need not be a limitation. It is sufficient for a single, carefully-considered thought, point or counterpoint - any one of which can be the beginning of an interesting, multi-dimensional tapestry of chatter within or around the here and now.

Trending topics are little pieces of text about which a lot of people have taken a sudden interest. These are mostly inane, but occasionally provide interesting social data on current issues and interests.

One of the interesting hacks that emerged from Twitter early on was the concept of hashtagging, and using Twitter's search to find common chatter. They were adopted, and now are part of the common Twitter lexicon.

Hashtags unify disparate commentary on commonly discussed current affairs - using a common shibboleth which begins with a hash sign (#). Reading live updates, adding your own chatter, retweeting points for your followers - it all contributes to a rich source of interesting media.

They range from silly word-punning games [0], through current happenings across the globe, to live television commentary from some of the wittiest, most enthusiastic and passionate people. The #bbcqt hashtag is for BBC Question Time, a UK political discussion show which covers the issues of the week with politicians, commentators and its audience. Add the drinking game, and it's like having a busy pub discussion with thousands of people.

It's all Quite Interesting.

You can reach me at @scott_eff.

[0] - Recent example: #popleveson. Write a tweet in the style of Robert Jay QC - lead counsel to the Leveson Inquiry - to a pop-star using their songs as submitted evidence.
Thursday, February 16th, 2012
4:15 pm
Fitness wahoozery
I was asked recently about how exercise is coming along. It went south over October and November, although I kept the PureGym membership and occasionally went to make heavy things move.

Over the past three months, I've improved. One of my co-workers is a personal trainer and martial artist, and with his help I've started kickboxing after a fifteen year hiatus - and I seem to have kept most of my earlier flexibility. It's utterly punishing stuff, with incredible emphasis on conditioning and cardiovascular work. By the end, I'm uncoordinated, tired and weak - and in pushing on, in spite of the dizziness and drenching in sweat I'm learning to enjoy it once more. It's weirdly rewarding. I keep walking out feeling like a million bucks; like I'm accomplishing something.

In early February, I hired my co-worker as personal trainer (at a considerably less expensive rate than I got from the gym) for an hour a week. In these sessions, I've been pushed for more conditioning, and learning how to handle kettlebells correctly. They're excellent for combining resistance training with gasping-for-breath cardio work. I seem to be blessed with buttocks of old mutton and iron. My lower back isn't thanking me, but it's the good kind of tired muscle pain, which is easily resolved with a good stretch. Not to be confused with the "AAAAARGHCANTGETOUTOFBED!" pain that requires Vicodin. I've gotten myself two steel kettlebells from left-over birthday money, do a short circuit every morning and I'm already looking for heavier ones.

In a moment of madness and their £29/month promotion, I've joined Edinburgh Leisure - mostly because I like Leith Victoria's swimming pool - and it's easy to sneak in a swim most days after work. Again, I've kept most of my skill from fifteen years ago, even if I don't have the puff to do much more than the occasional front crawl sprint.

Speaking of puff, in spite of several attempts (most of which annoy the shit out of my Twitter followers), the delicious fags remain. There is no excuse. I've been supplanting them with electronic cigarettes, the kind that make my mouth smell like a packet of blackcurrant Tunes. All hail helping me breathe less easily.

I pulled out the old pull-up bar from the closet (probably bought years ago on a dare), and combined it with a Pilates resistance band tied to the frame and using the band on my foot as assistance. This way, I'm training myself to handle the load, and I'll decrease the assistance from the band. Using a stool to assist in pull-ups requires me to split focus from the pull-up movement itself, whereas the bands are passive assistance.

So. Nothing much has changed. I'm still unfit; every session remains a challenge, but the real difficulties in keeping the routine remain. How do you all keep yourself motivated?
Saturday, August 6th, 2011
2:33 pm
Where the Scottie hires someone to make him fit
I often cycle to work. The bicycle is one of our greatest transport inventions, transferring up to 98% of the energy from the rider to the wheels, this means I don't really need to put a very large amount of effort into it, and coasting - stop pedalling and letting momentum take you forward - is common. It's not really making me that much fitter, but quick for getting me from one side of Edinburgh to the other in an hour (which is about the time I'd take on the bus). It also makes me strangely happy. I turn up raring to go.

Anyway, I've been a lardy guy for the better part of 20 years, and I'm getting sick of it. The only people I know AFK who have successfully changed from being fat to slim have either exercised hard or had surgery to make it so they can only eat a few mouthfuls of food. Good food is a great pleasure, and should not be sacrificed. My mum has lost a lot of weight in the past two years, through eating a lot less, but she looks weak - losing both good muscle as well as fat. As it happens, I work with a guy who moonlights as a martial arts and personal trainer, and after picking his brains over a few "water-cooler" moments, he suggested hiring a personal trainer to go over my lifestyle and training regimen. Around the same time I got a raise, and decided I could afford it. It's also the first time I've ever face-to-face hired someone to do me a personal service.

So, after asking at my local gym I got a trainer. He's a rugby player, and looks it, built like a friendly brick shithouse. As it turns out, it was entirely (if initially) painless - a couple of questionnaires and a conversation about goals. Taking "I want to be healthy, fit and strong" - and breaking it down into "running 2 miles without an oxygen tank", "being able to do unassisted pull-ups" and "losing fat, without losing muscle". I despise the word "tone" as a verb - it's a marketing droid's word that disguises the very real effort required to get in shape. Instead of saying "tone" from now on, say "making heavy things move and yourself for good measure". It's hard work, and using soft words to disguise it is foolish. </rant>

On to the first session - a basic program of calisthenics and simple equipment exercises. The trainer devised a program that avoids resistance machines, largely because the body does not work in the simple way that these machines force you to work. Hooray for science! I regretted it, but almost certainly won't over time as I get better. Going through the programme, it was an interesting if downright weird experience - relearning how to do this stuff properly, and feeling the body work as a functional unit. I have so many annoying habits, and physical tics to undo.

Lesson #1 - Getting it right is more important than throwing weight around. So, it turns out I had to relearn how to do a squat: bend at the hips, keeping knees in line with toes, driving through the ground with your heels, and keeping the back straight. Keeping that stuff in your head, and feeling it work - it was strangely satisfying.

It's worth saying out loud that a knowledgeable, encouraging and correcting-where-necessary human being is an enormous help.

Towards the end, the programme required gritted teeth, involuntarily shaking. and a small monsoon of hard-won sweat. But... I *can* do this. In the changing room afterwards, pulling off a sopping-wet t-shirt with some difficulty, and feeling the soft, sweet endorphin rush amid deep, rich oxygen refilling my body; it felt like an accomplishment - a badge of pride.

Now to do it again...
Monday, January 10th, 2011
11:33 am
An appeal to the well-read.
I am not very well-read. I know more about cinema than I do any other art form, and I suspect it's hampering my abilities to communicate - at least in appreciation of shared contextual comedy and avoiding general ignorance. Therefore my New Year Resolutions (yes, they're made to be broken - I'll try not to) include the following two.
  1. I'll write a blog post at least once a fortnight - including this one. Some may be friends locked, some may be private to me alone. All that psychological nonsense that clogs up my right hemisphere late at night when frantically trying to sleep will be dumped there. Apologies in advance if any of you should be exposed to it. I may also review films and Doctor Who.
  2. I should become better-read. Fifty books over the course of the year should be manageable.
So, my appeal to the groupthink. Please suggest books that will not turn up in those terribly dry "*arbitrary number* of X to Y before you die" listspeak books. I'll be reading stuff from the "long established classics" nodegel too, and would appreciate some suggestions to randomise it a little.
Thursday, January 6th, 2011
1:54 pm
For Gallifrey! For VICTORY!
For the least original blogpost in all history.

Someone pinch me, 2010 was the year that someone actually remembered that Doctor Who is supposed to be fun. When it's scary, it's fun. When it's light and funny, it's fun. Matt Smith is blessed with the kind of natural eccentricity and downright weirdness not seen in the Doctor since Tom Baker. Fourteen episodes down, and he is *my* Doctor, exposing the much beloved Tennant as a bit of a mopey git. In spite of budget cuts they shot in high-definition and had some very imaginative people manning the camera and production design - they really did make the most of what they had.

So, from best to worst:

1. The Eleventh Hour - A modern, retro and delightful fairytale. Gorgeous, efficient (watch how much information is crammed into this unfettered romp) direction from Adam Smith and a showcase for everyone else involved - just try not loving Eleven after a midnight feast of Fish Custard.
2. Vincent and the Doctor - The kind of thick, emotional richness that Russell T Davies was praised for, done right. If you don't at least swallow a massive lump in the throat, there's something blackened and dead where your heart is supposed to live. It was faultlessly acted to boot.
3. The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang - The greatest cliffhanger in Doctor Who's history. And it So Was. *points finger and glares at the disbelievers* Double-helpings of Rory being awesome, mixed with a fun, zippy and wonderful resolution - flying plot device A into plot device B has never been so lovingly done. The very idea that telling a story has such an important plot element was a touch of genius - showing up the cack-handed Last of the Time Lords.
4. The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone - Doctor Who does a terrific, cinematic thriller. Some of the best scares of the year accompany the return of the strongest New Who creatures we've yet seen, and a mid-season humdinger of the all-consuming Big Bad. Highlights include: A space-rescue spanning ten thousand years, some delicious body-horror, the Angels VDU adaptability, an easily missed bit of jacket timeywimey and a helping of sex comedy, just to royally fuck off the greybeards.
5. A Christmas Carol - Seen it twice, even better second time round. The Eleventh Doctor being simultaneously his most manipulative and hilariously blithe ("How do you do that?! Do you breathe out of your EARS or something!"). Like The Eleventh Hour, it delved headily into the vast scope of the modern fairy-tale, and the direction, photography and hissable nastiness sold the deal. The most Christmassy Christmas Special since The Crystal Maze brought the kids on board.
6. Amy's Choice - Imaginary worlds and alternate universes are no stranger to Doctor Who, and a terrific, quotable and funny script by Simon Nye deftly spices the inherent darkness. A ruddy marvellous new adversary in Toby Jones's Dream Lord - with a vicious revelatory sting for Eleven.
7. The Beast Below - Creepy, effective and off-kilter Tales of the Unexpected surreal and magical style storytelling. Loads of pulling the carpet from under us, with a light plot and some pretty full-on modern parallels. Hopefully this isn't the last of the British government commentary in Doctor Who - it's become more topical since our ConDem leaders sending underperforming children out of sight, out of mind or brain-damaging innocents by implements of the "Police State" for the supposed benefit of society.
8. The Lodger - Matt Smith does light, fluffy and charming so beautifully. And, yes - I identified with the unfunny, hopeless little man played by the unfunny, hopeless James Corden. It's a nice further refinement to the Love & Monsters idea of being touched tangentially by the Doctor inspires us to change and become that much more than we were before.
9. The End of Time Part 2 - Any time Tennant and Cribbins were talking was acting gold. They made up superbly for a mostly overindulgent, overserious, moronic and flabby script. The Total Bollocks Overdrive The End of Time Part 1 fell into the cracks - or was it pushed?
10. Victory of the Daleks - Cheerful fun - but with some care, it could have been more than a light pantomime, though. It's a strange misfire - clever and engaging for the first twenty minutes, then gets very silly very rapidly. I like the new Dalek Paradigm, chunky, substantial beasties, and the Doctor's stalemate with them was riveting stuff.
Friday, August 13th, 2010
4:41 am
I have ascended to the ranks of the gainfully employed.
I'm terribly happy. Right now, even as I type, I've got a glowing ember of joy in my chest; the kind of simple bliss that we all had when we were eight and knew Christmas was a couple of days away, or that first visit to a pretty girl's bedroom. Even the simple act of breathing kindles it and spreads the warmth and the endorphins. It's filling me up with pleasure and hope.

Let me explain. I've just gotten a job offer, for a role I think I'd be brilliant at - a Web System Administrator. It's a vague title, encompassing a reasonably broad, if not terribly deep skill-set. It starts on 1st September. The money is perfectly acceptable, it's full-time, permanent and it should be an excellent bike-ride to and from the facility. And I've accepted it.

I've been out of full-time work for just over three years after leaving a property company (in hindsight, at the right time). I was having anxiety attacks at work, and didn't know how to deal with them. Since then I've been doing bit parts in retail, seasonal postal work, volunteer work to keep the CV fresh - and to feel useful! - business eBay selling and up until ten hours ago, a telephone interviewer for a market research company - a job I'd been doing for six days.

My biggest issues in doing this kind of call-centre work are as follows.
  1. I am very easily replaceable - the stats are like a swinging scythe over everyone's head.
  2. I have no sense of ownership of my work. I'm the square peg in a room of cylinders.
  3. The entire job is structured so that I get zero decompression time after a call - no time to catch my breath, or lubricate my throat. I'm usually hoarse after an hour and a half.
  4. There is no chance to get to know anyone while at work. You're perpetually on call, or waiting for the next one to pick up.
  5. Most of my respondents are terribly, yet understandably, rude. Guys, don't be rude, or make excuses to pollsters - just ask them not to call you again, and do the TPS thing for sales calls. Simples!
  6. The money is not good enough - not for the unpleasantness of the job.
Even so, I like money - it buys nice things and services - and so I was planning on sticking with the job until the new one begins. Unfortunately, after handing my notice in, they asked me to leave the premises there and then. Even so, I've gotten things from the job, other than money.

I've never been good on the telephone - I find I witter nervously, rather than sticking to the point. Over the last couple of jobs, I feel I have gotten a lot better and more confident in my professional telephone manner. It's still tough to speak slowly, concisely and clearly; but the experience gained from interviewing and negotiating on the phone should put me in good stead.

While delighted, I'm trying a little to temper my overall joy. I'm not sure if this is my unconscious mind trying to sabotage my happiness, with a nagging and unshakable feeling that "This is usually the point where the ground falls from under my feet." But then again, maybe it won't this time. Maybe this is the one piece that everything else can hang on to. I'm going to hang on to it, and make it flower through skill and will.

Things are good, and I'm happy. And I'm still breathing, it still feels good.

Current Mood: hopeful
Sunday, July 4th, 2010
6:12 pm
The Karate Kid (2010)
Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) is a thin, wiry and likeable 12 year old from Detroit. Leaving America with his mother, who is relocating to Beijing for work (his absent father is mentioned only once, in a memory-laden height chart) - he's got his work cut out. He can't speak Mandarin well at all, he's got next-to-no-friends, he's bullied by particularly violent kids schooled by Master Li (Rongguang Yu), a "No Weakness, No Pain, No Mercy" mantra-spouting kung fu instructor, and Dre has from his time in America is a skateboard from his best mate, and memories of Spongebob Squarepants dubbed in English.

Like the original, there's even a rather atypical love story with Meiying (Wenwen Han), a sweet English-speaking girl Dre's age. They have a fairly nice meeting, and evolving friendship. She is driven by her strict parents to practice the violin constantly - a not terribly subtle comment on the high expectations placed upon modern Chinese youth. It works well, forming a charming prepubescent romance. After Dre suffers a particularly brutal attack from his tormentors, the apartment maintenance man, Mr Han (Jackie Chan) steps in, and promises to teach him “real kung fu” and train him for a tournament where he will face the bullies.

All in all, so 1984 - and it's at this point, too that you stop caring that it's a remake. The film, directed by Harald Zwart, is a great step up from his previous efforts The Pink Panther 2 and Agent Cody Banks, and is illustriously photographed by Roger Pratt (the first two Harry Potter pictures). It is about as good as one can expect - a faithful update of the source story by Robert Mark Kamen, by newbie screenwriter Christopher Murphey.

Jaden Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness) is a terrific find, with no "cartoon black kid" nonsense clogging up the work. He's particularly good at the alienated, sensitive and easily hurt kid who's longing for the past; he instinctively knows how to act for the camera - and is evolving into one of the most natural child-performers I've seen in a very long time. He's Will and Jada-Pinkett Smith's son - so screen charisma may be in the family.

The fanservice Miyagisims from 1984 are present and correct - Mr Han finds a new, and considerably more practical way of catching a fly with chopsticks, and lovingly restores a very special car with doses of wax-on wax-off. The fight scenes are mostly over-edited and undershot, with lashings of shots to the sternum and wince-inducing thumps on the soundtrack. Mr Han's defense of Dre is the best fight scene by far. Watching Chan take on six 12 to 13 year olds to humiliate, but not injure them is very clever, but it's a real fight, not at all a weak-sauce effort. The 56-year old Chan has still got it.

The training montages are obvious, present and correct - but the update of "Pat" Moriga's training is strains credibility at first - but like the original, it kind of works. "Kung Fu is in everything we do!" exclaims Mr Han - as Dre grasps the significance of picking up, putting on and pulling his jacket off with perfect form.

The movie features Jackie Chan's best English language performance. There's pathos, depth and honest-to-goodness acting - and he truly sells the idea that student and teacher fit together like the yin-yang. It's corny, but they're good enough to give the movie its humanity and depth. He doesn't remind us of Noriyuki "Pat" Morita's Mr Miyagi, the little clipped man from the original whom noone pays attention to until it's too late. Chan and the script make a halfway decent effort to combine the post-Imperialist China backdrops with the innate sense of being more than just Postcard Exotic Locations. There's a really good story thread where Dre and Han visit the Great Wall, on an equally potent voyage of self-discovery - and refresh themselves with waters real, and metaphorical.

The Karate Kid is a good movie, with a pleasant and engaging story - but it's about half an hour too long; at 140 minutes it tests patience. It's not particularly great cinema, it does nothing at all that's fresh or invigorrating and doesn't replace or outdo the original. It's just different - and equally worthy. Also, it's infinitely better than this year's other 1984 remake, A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Oh, and there's no Karate. Perhaps that's for part II?
Sunday, June 20th, 2010
2:04 pm
Toy Story 3

"When I became a man, I put away childish things."

Toy Story 3 is a dazzlingly confident and magical picture that recalls Paul of Tarsus's quote, but its makers have never forgotten what it feels like to be children. Pixar Animation Studios continue their near unbroken run of animation masterpieces with a colourful and emotional return to the best toy box in moviedom.

In the first emotional sting of the tale, the first scene delves into a loosely-tethered and spectacular imaginary recreation of the time where we all devised our own worlds and stories with toys. But Andy has finally grown up, and is preparing to go off to college. His toys (the gang's mostly here, though some have left, through age, breakage and yard sales) are devastated with his paucity of playing - going so far as to  contrive elaborate schemes to remind Andy of playtime. It doesn't work. They're heartbroken, but pragmatic - "Every toy goes through this".

The week before college, Andy's mother asks Andy to separate the toys he wants to keep for the attic, those for the trash. In a mixup, Buzz Lightyear, Mr & Mrs Potato Head and the rest barely escape from heading to landfill (under the untouched recycling bin) and head to the local day-care centre. The fluffy teddy-bear Lotso, driven bitter and angry by his owner replacing him, spearheads a chilling and wholly corrupt totalitarian regime within the centre. Our heroes are stuffed into the Caterpillar Room for toddlers and barely escape with their lives, if not their dignity.

Lotso enforces discipline with an iron will, eventually reprogramming Buzz to serve him - the effort to get him back to normal leads to the most inspired animation gags of the movie. The rest of the film is basically a wonderful mashup of Toy Story and Prison Break in the most exciting U-rated action adventure I've seen since, well, Pixar's last. (Some moments may disturb very young children - the all-seeing monkey should be a monster on Doctor Who!)

The character animation has come on leaps and bounds since Toy Story 2. Humans are far less plasticy and better animated. And the performances of all the main characters are richer and more nuanced. This is essential for the drama that is to come. Barbie and Ken ("I'm not a girl's toy!", "You're a purse with legs!") have their own delightfully amusing strand, and the voicework remains as invisibly wonderful as always. A particular standout is the Fisher Price Classic Chatter Telephone, an old timer in the centre. Teddy Newton's work combines with magnificent animation (acting by eyebrow has never been so sublime!) to create an incredible world-weary performance.

Pixar have always delivered magnificent scripts, and this is no different - what a delight it would be to be a fly on the wall of their story meetings. The storytelling mixes huge laughs and rich pathos, seemingly without effort, and leads to a finale that will leave few with dry eyes. Pretty much perfect.

And stick around for the credits, the gang all get their closures - including Rex's 'dominant predator' status and videogame addiction.

Friday, June 18th, 2010
2:32 pm
Evil In The Time Of Heroes

Ancient Greeks and modern life meets zombies in a timeywimey action horror. Sounds like a laugh, right? Wrong.

An ancient evil is released (don't ask how - the movie doesn't say), and a handful of survivors must hole up against a gargantuan zombie horde. The streets are deserted, other than the pockets of very fast-on-their-feet zombies. It's like 28 Days Later, but with better gore effects and an even weaker story.
This is almost certainly the goriest film you will see this year. Each of our main characters is introduced by a swift dousing in stage blood - think Noel Edmonds and the gunge tank in slow-motion. Start as you mean to go on, I guess. The messiness doesn't stop at the ceaselessly inventive Savini-shaming effects - the script is shockingly incoherent.

Evil In The Time Of Heroes feels like a manic storyteller who won't shut the hell up when he's whizzing off on a tangent, and knows nothing about storytelling ebbs and flows. Characterisation is minimal, the storytelling rushed and undercooked, dishing out (actual) Deus Ex Machinas - spouting "WTFs" when it should be inspiring "Woah!" There's a couple of good giggles - the before/after shots of a football stadium zombie attack have the rhythm of a well-told joke.

In definitely the coolest cameo of the year, Billy Zane does his best Time Lord meets warrior monk impression - "Like a Jedi? You know, Luke Skywalker". And admittedly, the filmmakers do their best to make him look awesomely cool. His scenes don't make a lick of sense, and often take on the appearance of a really bad LSD trip.

There's a dozen reasonable ideas, none of which are developed into fruition - especially the time-travel stuff. A bit of a waste, really. The script is a collection of a movie-loving fool's mad ravings. The movie is highly competent in the technical aspects, and is well-shot. It falls down towards the end, where shakycam upturned what was left of my stomach.

There's a strange lack of emotion in the affair. No fear, no big laughs, no social satire - if it had held on a couple of months, perhaps the story could have leached some timeliness from the economic situation in Greece's near-bankrupt government. You know, zombies being used for what they usually are - a satirical infection to be purged, preferably with fire.

A wasted chance, but hopefully it'll lead to more interesting and coherent things for all involved.

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010
10:55 pm
Superhero Me
Superhero Me immediately makes me think of all those deliciously sad people who wrote Jedi as their religion at the last census. They are such lovely, deluded creatures.

First-time documentary filmmaker Steve Sale decides to become a superhero. His journey begins by recruiting comic-book experts for basic intelligence, for various traits that superheroes must have. In desperation, he even interviews his parents; when asked about superpowers, his dad comes out with "If you call Luck a superpower, I've got that!"

So, to become a superhero, without obvious exceptional gifts, he recruits the help of a personal trainer - starting off with a 'Get Ripped in 8 Weeks' advert, and concluding with a funny Run Fatboy Run meets Team America montage. Also needed are a martial arts guru for dispatching evil swiftly (using Drunken kung-fu, of course), and most importantly of all, the costume.

Sale picks the pseudonym, SOS, based on his skills as a sound editor, ropes a mate for some seriously cool illustrations. We see Sale mooch around and trawling the internet for inspiration. After a lengthy gestation period, he starts making and remaking the costume out of brightly-coloured spandex and other such fun fabrics. One of the movie's best terrible puns happens when he's shopping for y-fronts - "this movie's pants". We also learn that he's considered the bathroom practicalities. What he has failed to consider is his weapons and skills - testing a loud oscillating alarm on his pet dogs, who just sit blithely and wag their tails. Also, transport is somewhat lacking, the first trip on the SOS-mobile is marinated in Fail.

To his surprise, Sale discovers there are many other real life superheroes. The reclusive Captain Ozone, "a time-traveller" who uses a petrol-powered chainsaw to make environmental fossil-fuel conservation points of note. Entomo, who fights  crime on the streets of Naples, opens the doors to many other superheroes. Funniest of all is Angle Grinder-Man, a deliciously anarchic scourge of parking clamps everywhere - he has a hilarious answer phone message.

There's even a musical band of superheroes - Justice Force Five, who inspire SOS to compose a rather catchy theme tune. In between placing adverts in local newsagents and searching for a sidekick, SOS makes a name for himself doing all manner of nice deeds, mowing lawns, charity fund-raisers, impromptu taxi services and chasing shoplifters. Even the sexually starved get a look in, a woman begs for attention with broken English:

"All the boys become gay. Save me!"
"I'm not going to make 'em straight. Look at me!"

Okay, it's funnier in the movie. Things take a darker turn with the story of a Los Angeles vigilante: Master Legend. He seems to breathe the ethos of Superman's origins back in the Great Depression - helping the poor and wretched. Clanking around in a roughly hewn suit of armour, balls to the wind, he fights the causes and effects of local crime. And those who "heal with the faith of the almighty crack-rock."

While occasionally amateurish and sloppy in its staging and interviewing skills, Sale's film also belies a certain engaging roughness - the footage was shot on inexpensive consumer video cameras and videophones, collected and edited on an old computer. Strangely, Superhero Me doesn't feel like "a story that needs to be told by any means necessary", as promised by the opening title cards, and could probably benefit from being about five to ten minutes shorter. Technical issues and filmmaking limitations aside, this movie is good fun, Steve Sale is an engaging and funny host, and doesn't let his movie's technical weakness get in the way of an entertaining time.
Sunday, February 22nd, 2009
7:20 pm
Oscar predictions
By popular request, both of you, and you know who you are - here's the list of what I hope wins (in italics) and what I think will win, if I were a betting man (in bold).

Best Actor
Milk - Sean Penn
The Wrestler - Mickey Rourke

Best Supporting Actor
The Dark Knight - Heath Ledger - bet the house. This is the closest to a lock I have ever seen.

Best Actress
Changeling - Angelina Jolie
The Reader - Kate Winslet

Best Supporting Actress
Doubt - Viola Davis

Best Animated Feature
WALL·E - Andrew Stanton - nearly as safe a bet as Ledger.

Best Art Direction
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Donald Graham Burt, Victor J. Zolfo

Best Cinematography
The Dark Knight - Wally Pfister - because it's the best photographed movie I have seen in 2008, nothing less. It is my favourite kind of blockbuster, luxurious and expensive stuff - expert cinematography.
Slumdog Millionaire - Anthony Dod Mantle

Best Costume Design
Australia - Catherine Martin - throwing it a frickin' bone, because it's the one thing it got right.

Best Director
Milk - Gus Van Sant - insanely good authorship of a movie.
Slumdog Millionaire - Danny Boyle - bet against the Director's Guild at your peril.

Best Documentary Feature
Man On Wire - James Marsh, Simon Chinn - Never before in a documentary has my heart thudded against my windpipe in delirious excitement, shock, suspense and full blown horror.

Best Film Editing
The Dark Knight - Lee Smith
Slumdog Millionaire - Chris Dickens

Best Foreign Language Film
Waltz with Bashir - Israel - Gommorrah from Italy was robbed! This makes the entire FL nomination list invalid.

Best Makeup
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Greg Cannom - because it was professional and brilliantly done.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army - Mike Elizalde, Thom Floutz - because it was imaginative and brilliantly done.

Best Original Score
Slumdog Millionaire - A.R. Rahman
WALL·E - Thomas Newman

Best Song
WALL·E - "Down to Earth"

Best Picture
Milk - best of a reasonable lot. Not since 1994 has there been such an insipid collection of Best Picture Nominees.
Slumdog Millionaire - The juggernaut continues.

Best Sound Editing
WALL·E - Ben Burtt, Matthew Wood - Like the animation, the sound editing lent unparalleled characterisation to all the characters. It is a milestone work.

Best Sound Mixing
The Dark Knight - Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo, Ed Novick - uniformly brilliant sound mixing choices. Professional, and backing up an incredible film.

Best Visual Effects
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton, Craig Barron

Best Adapted Screenplay
Doubt - John Patrick Shanley

Best Original Screenplay
Milk - Dustin Lance Black
Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008
3:55 pm
The mid-year ten best
Okay, I've not written anything in here for months. And for a mid-year ten best, I'm two months late. That's just tough.

1) The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
2) The Dark Knight (IMAX takes this to 1st place)
3) No Country For Old Men
4) The Fall
5) Man On Wire
6) 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days
7) Somers Town
8) Taxi To The Dark Side
9) In The Valley Of Elah
10) Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

Eleventh Place
Diary Of The Dead
El Baño Del Papa
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Shotgun Stories
Standard Operating Procedure
Son Of Rambow
Sunday, March 2nd, 2008
2:49 am
Diary of the Dead
Diary of the Dead - ***1/2

Diary of the Dead exists as a film within a film, admittedly a hackneyed story device these days - but diaries as horror devices are greatly effective. Who hasn't read fiction on which the monster reaches the writer just as the final words are written? Within Romero's treatment, he stamps it with multiple authors and several key viewpoints, which means the author's possible human death is not the end of the telling.

The overarching story returns to the first night of the zombie outbreak and begins with movie-brat Jason Creed (Joshua Close) shooting a student mummy movie. He is with his college friends and perpetually plummy and drunken English professor, who just so happens to be an archery crack-shot. The scene being shot is a woman being chased into the woods, and like Scream, knows the conventions of the obligatory tit-shot, the slow-moving nasties ("Wouldn't their ankles just snap off if they ran!"). Pockets of radio news report an outbreak of the dead returning to life, and the freaked out students decide to leg it to their loved ones in a large caravan.

Diary of the Dead feels most potently allegorical about recent events like Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. The media's feeble handling of telling the stories and the government's ineffective dealing with the human catastrophes hits hard. Romero himself even takes a starring role as the Pittsburgh chief of police, telling the story that authorities want people to know. One immediately recalls the brief spate of Internet bloggers as the Iraq invasion started after Shock And Awe, and the small rivers of stories bleeding out of New Orleans as the central news networks neatly edited it for mass consumption for telethons.

Anyway, Romero keeps doing these zombie flicks blending the carnage with social satire, and oodles of intertextual storytelling. In Diary, he shows a delightfully precocious (yes, I know this is a misomner in terms, given he's 68) fascination with the technology behind instant delivery of human stories. The filmmakers in his story are inexperienced amateurs who can use prosumer camcorders, laptop editing suites and the Internet to show (even only partially completed, yet self-feeding and evolving) work the mainstream media will never show. Also, he satirises their inexperience by dressing with cheerfully cheesy dissolves and overtly ostentatious voice-overs. The film does not linger on the social responsibilities of these youngsters, by leaking their stories, but provokes questions that have no easy answers. Although the camera's seduction emerges as the opening mummy chase is recreated with chilling and hilarious life-or-death effect.

Does the film deliver elsewhere? You bet! The opening scene of unedited footage, uploaded to the Internet by a news cameraman - is Romero's single most terrifying scene since the graveyard scene in Night of the Living Dead. Horror buffs are well catered for, with oodles of offscreen cameos from established celebrity horror fans, immensely creative and foul zombies and death scenes which shock and delight equally. A great sequence in a hospital, full of ravenous nasties waiting to be zapped with the defibrillator, is a standout.

Further additions to the look-like-zombies or sound like zombies roster is a delightful mute Amish chap who will doubtlessly bring the house down in his scene, and an elderly couple in a sickening downloaded movie spliced into the tale seamlessly. There's even a moment reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan's magnificent Signs (itself a great emulator of Night of the Living Dead in it's unrelenting final act) with a video of a birthday party gone horrifyingly wrong.

Romero knits these videos into his narrative expertly, making it a part of the movie we're watching, and cutting to his characters watching it on their laptop - this movie within movie integration is clever, tight and well orchestrated. Although again, and perhaps the greatest acheievement of his movie, Romero makes The Death of Death betray its core idea - documenting the unvarnished truth - with cheap music, complete with musical "stings" and manipulative editing. Sure, this might antagonise viewers that don't get it, but it's easily defended as satire.

The only real story flaw - and it's a biggie - is that his characters do not accept the dead are returning to life until it's far too late. For such a collection of ragtag horror moviemakers, I find it hard to believe that they do not know the rules of a zombie flick, and don't grasp it for a sizable portion of the runtime. Then again, they're rather well cast as the YouTube era misfits. That, and the coda - where Romero reuses the chestnut rednecks from Dawn of the Dead - "are we worth saving?" - as they truss up and blast zombies apart sticks as sheer gory unpleasantness for its own sake.

Youthful, energetic and lively as ever - George A. Romero's cinematic resurrection is a thinking man's horror delight. Stuffed full of ideas, low-budget, with a tight shooting schedule - unlike his slickly overblown and underwritten Land of the Dead - Romero returns with a reboot of his magnificent political zombie dynasty. The candy floss horror Cloverfield may use the same tricks, but Diary of the Dead in another league. It is startlingly delivered and shows the old hand can still teach the newbies a couple of tricks all the while delivering a fine entertainment and gives its genre audience plenty of fresh meat to chew on.
Sunday, January 13th, 2008
1:23 am
2007's best films
2007, while upon first memory didn't seem to have a lot in it that lingered, upon reading a big list of all the UK releases from 1st January till 31st December, there's been literally TONS of high-quality film splashing out on our screens!

  1. Zodiac - leading the pack by far is David Fincher's best film. Retreading Se7en ground without the shlock horror, but gains a shower of masterful performances, impossibly slick storytelling adapted superbly by screenwriter James Vanderbilt. Fincher has matured immensely from his enjoyable black comedy Fight Club, bringing every bit of technical excellence and filmmaking prowess. Bravo!
  2. Death Proof - Quentin Tarantino, only bound by Grindhouse shackles superficially has fashioned the coolest movie in years. He reinvents the slasher genre, the chick-flick (making it mean something again!) and gives us a treastise on the cinematic gaze that would make Laura Mulvey drop dead.
  3. The Fountain - The most awesome film of the year, dazzling ingenuity from Requiem for a Dream director Darren Aronofsky, very nearly equalling it. His great achievement comes from making a cohesive and yet elliptic story construct and making this hang together with faultless acting and grand operatic storytelling.
  4. Water
  5. The Lives of Others
  6. Ratatouille
  7. This is England
  8. Hot Fuzz
  9. The Bourne Ultimatum
  10. Michael Clayton

Twelve films that share Eleventh Place:
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
  • Atonement
  • Black Book
  • Breach
  • Control
  • Letters From Iwo Jima
  • Paranoid Park
  • A Prairie Home Companion
  • Rocket Science
  • The Serpent
  • Tell No One
  • Waitress
Best Director:
Brad Bird for Ratatouille - Impeccable handling of the audience through caricature performance, visual impact and storytelling prowess. (I have seen No Country for Old Men - it doesn't get released over here till next week. If the Coens don't get their Oscar, I shall be pissed off. Runner up: Clint Eastwood for Letters from Iwo Jima and David Fincher for Zodiac)

Best Actor:
Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson (Special Jury Prize for Peter O'Toole in Venus, and as Anton Ego - the Grim Eater - in Ratatouille)

Best Actress:
Amy Adams for Enchanted - she simply made my eyes shine in delight every time she was on the screen. (Julie Christie in Away From Her was also masterful.)

Worst Film:
Norbit - I was going to stick on Good Luck Chuck - a rank and noxious comedy, as juvenile and unfunny as any film I've seen this year. But, locked away in a dungeon of subconscious... there was Norbit. Just... ugh. It's been 20 years since Eddie Murphy got more than a chuckle. He didn't even manage an upturning of my lips this time round.

Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin Award:
Teeth - "They're sharp. They bite. And they're not in her mouth..." From the Edinburgh International Film Festival catalogue.

Biggest Disappointments:
  • Spider-Man 3
  • Tales from Earthsea
Biggest Surprises:
  • Hairspray
  • Stardust
  • Die Hard 4.0
Special Jury Prizes (for being just shy of great, but really good anyway!):
  • Apocalypto
  • Beowulf
  • Black Sheep
  • Black Snake Moan
  • Bridge to Terabithia
  • Die Hard 4.0
  • Eastern Promises
  • Ex Drummer
  • Fast Food Nation
  • Hairspray
  • In the Shadow of the Moon
  • Knocked Up
  • The Last King of Scotland
  • Little Red Flowers
  • Meet the Robinsons
  • Rocky Balboa
  • Sheitan
  • Shoot 'Em Up
  • Sicko
  • Stardust
  • Superbad
  • Them
  • Venus
Special Mention:
Blade Runner: The Final Cut - Simply awesome seeing it on a big screen in a print that simply takes the breath away. Four stars on the big screen, three off it.
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