Cinema freebies are getting weirder. This morning we went to see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and a couple of slightly bored freebie-away-givers ambushed us on our way out. It seems that Warburtons (a large UK bread bakery) are doing a big ad campaign, and so they were handing out…loaves of bread.

The tagline for the campaign is: “Rise with Warburtons.” (Rise…bread rises; early morning cinema-goers are early risers… Geddit?) Each freebie bag contained a small white loaf, five or six (!) Warburtons-branded ballpoint pens, and three vouchers for 20 pence off our next purchase of “any delicious Warburtons product”. Any “disgusting” Warburtons products that might be on the market are not included in the promotion, I suppose.

Also: “product”? This doesn’t exactly fill me with cozy images of home-baked bready goodness. It makes me think of “juice drinks” which can be made with as much as 5% real fruit juice, or “potato snacks” that are more closely related to extruded plastic mouldings than actual potatoes.

Still, it’s free bread. I wonder what next week’s promotion will be. Milk? Butter?

Films Reviews

ScreenSelect first impressions

I signed up for on Tuesday evening. I added sixty-odd films to my queue that first evening. On Wednesday, their web site showed that the first three had been posted, and on Thursday morning they all arrived. That’s quick!

The ScreenSelect web site is, at first glance, pretty good. It’s light-weight, and fast-loading, and the process of adding DVDs to your queue is one-click simple. What it lacks, though, is a better way of finding interesting DVDs to watch.

The main way to find a film is by its name, of course. Alternatively, you can look up an actor or director and see a list of all their work that is available. But one of the joys of a service like ScreenSelect is the process of snuffling around to find hidden gems, films of which you say, “I’ve always wanted to watch that!” and adding them to your ever-growing queue. You can browse by genre/category, but the sorting and filtering options are poor, and so far I always find myself with a selection that is too small or too big.

Alternatively, you can browse their “featured collections”, such as their “Top Picks”, “Recent Releases”, or “100 Top Thrillers”. The problem with these collections is their quality, or lack of it. “100 Top Thrillers”, for example, contains such gems as Nightstalker and Jaws 2 on the first page of results. Ummm. Could they really not find two better thrillers to pad out their top 100? In their desire to have the UK’s largest collection of DVDs to rent by post, they seem to have forgotten that the vast majority of films on release are actually rubbish.

It would be nice if the service could help me get past that junk, and help me select films I might like, but wouldn’t know to find on my own. Fortunately they do seem to have some kind of ratings and recommendations engine, but with only two films watched and rated so far, it’s too early to tell if this works.

The service allows you to submit little (up to 500 words) reviews of films you’ve seen, but their copyright terms are brutal: “Please note that all submitted reviews become the property of ScreenSelect Ltd., which reserves the right to edit or delete any submissions.” I’m happy to submit my ratings, but I can’t see myself contributing to their reviews database.

It would also be nice if reviews were indexed and hyperlinked by reviewer. That way, if you that someone liked a film, you could look up and see what else they liked. Likewise, it would be cool if you could link to other people’s film queues, or expose your own to the public. No go on on both of these ideas (yet), though.

(However, there are Movable Type plugins for screen-scraping and exposing a Netflix movie queue, so it shouldn’t be hard to knock together a similar thing for ScreenSelect. Except that I’ve given up Perl. Nngggnng….)

Overall, though, these are just niggles. It has been very easy to put together a queue of over 100 films in just a few days, and that ought to see me through well into 2005. Their delivery service seems to be fast and efficient, and £14.99 a month is an excellent price–especially when you consider that you don’t pay any postage charges. So would I recommend ScreenSelect? Based on these first impressions, definitely yes.


DVD rentals by post

I’ve just signed up for ScreenSelect, a postal DVD rental service. From no such service being available at all in the UK in mid-2001, there are now a couple of dozen to choose from. I chose ScreenSelect because they have one of the largest collections of DVDs available (including lots of TV series), and their prices are good. (CompareBox helped whittle down the short list.) £14.99 a month allows unlimited rentals, and three discs on loan at any time.

I’ve been having a great time browsing through the service and adding films to my rental queue. So much to choose from! And unlike buying DVDs, or renting them from the local Blockbuster, I don’t have to restrict my selection because of how much I can afford, or how much I can watch in a single weekend. I can just add and add, and my queue just gets longer and longer…. I’m up to 67 at the moment, but I’m sure I can bump that up to well over a hundred in no time! Woo!

(Hmm… John Woo… Which of his films have I not seen yet?)


Redeeming Bill

This post concerns the last half hour of Kill Bill Vol.2. It contains MAJOR SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen both films, I recommend you turn back NOW.


2003 in review: Films

I saw 38 new films in 2003. (New to me, that is–not necessarily films that were released in 2003.) Although 38 is only one more than the 37 books I read, it feels like a more substantial number. Maybe it’s the way that movies are leased into the cinema in a relatively small trickle–a couple of new films every week–as opposed to the sheer volume of books you are confronted with when you enter a typical bookshop.

Maybe it’s just that I don’t hunger for films the way I do for books. I do love the whole movie experience: from seeing a trailer for the first time, through reading advance press on the film, to actually showing up at the cinema, buying a bag of sweets, and sinking into a deep comfy chair for a couple of hours. I think DVDs are great, but there really isn’t anything like the experience of seeing a film on the big screen. The darkness of the theatre, the sound all around you, the way the film fills your whole field of vision…it’s just magical.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve started bringing Alex along to the cinema with me. He’s all about the magic. The two films we saw together were Finding Nemo and Brother Bear. In both cases he came away utterly entranced, and chattered about the films non-stop for weeks. Much of his play acting right now consists of him telling Abi and me to take on the roles of his favourite characters: “You’s-a Marlin, anda you’s-a Dory, anda I’m-a Nemo!” Whenever he climbs up on my back for a ride, he’s a tiny bear and I’m a big bear. Hello tiny bear. Hello big bear.

There are a bunch of movies I’m looking forward to in 2004, but most of all I’m looking forward to Saturday or Sunday matinées, and seeing all of the silly kids’ films I would otherwise avoid.

Looking back on 2003, though, how did the year pan out? The average review score I gave for those 38 films was 3.2 stars out of five, which is okay. There were two really appallingly bad films that merited not even a single star, and I saw four that were worth a full five stars. Curiously, I saw both of the zombie turkeys at the start of the year, and all of the five star films in November or December. Here are the ones I rated highest and lowest at the time:



I’m actually happier with those ratings than I was with my book reviews. With hindsight, the lists above really do stick out as the best and worst films I saw in 2003.

Performances that have stayed with me:

Worst performance: Christian Bale in Equilibrium. So bad it was funny…for a while…then it got worse.

Actor/Actress I most enjoyed wacthing: Colin Farrell. With highly entertaining turns in Daredevil, The Recruit, Phone Booth and S.W.A.T., he is quite simply a classic Movie Star. The publicity stills for next year’s Alexander look dodgy, though.

In 2004, I will be mostly looking forward to:

All sequels. (Well, apart from The Incredibles, of course.) Hmm. I suppose that’s why they’re on my radar already, though. I’m also rather looking forward to the extended edition of The Return Of The King. If it’s anything like the extended version of The Two Towers it’ll be a completely different film than the one we saw in the cinema.


BMW Films

If you have a broadband connection, or if you’re willing to tie up your phone line for a good few hours, head over to In 2001, BMW funded a series of short films, collectively called “The Hire”, as a branding exercise. They pulled in directors like John Frankenheimer, Tony Scott, John Woo, and Ang Lee, and put together a fantastic collection of 8-minute slices of Beemer Lovin’, filled with intrigue, car chases, and Clive Owen. Clive plays “The Driver” in all of the films. Cracking stuff. (Via Tagliners)