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The Limey

This is one powerful little movie. Although it’s billed as a kind of gangster/crime film, it’s really a highly concentrated character piece about a father’s grief over his lost daughter, whom he never knew well enough. Don’t watch it with expectations of another Reservoir Dogs or Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels.

Terence Stamp plays Wilson, a crook who has just been released from prison in England. He gets word from someone in Los Angeles that his daughter was killed in a car crash, and he goes out to California to find out what really happened, and to punish the man he suspects is responsible. Ultimately, the man responsible is punished–but not in the way you’d expect. (I don’t think I’ve given too much away there!)

If you’re familiar with some of Steven Soderbergh’s other films (Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Kafka, Out of Sight), you’ll know that he has a very quirky, unique way of telling a visual story in such a way that you feel right inside the characters’ heads. In The Limey he goes almost overboard with tricks like playing the audio track from one scene while cutting back and forth between flashbacks, flash-forwards and flash-completely-sideways. The story may seem disjointed during at first, but that’s because Soderbergh is not really unfolding a plot: he’s showing you the world from Wilson’s point of view. Wilson has been inside for nine years, and now his daughter is dead, and he’s in big bad LA. His thought processes aren’t exactly rational and linear.

Throughout the film, the only character that never says a word (even in the flashbacks) is Jennie (Wilson’s daughter). Yet by speaking with her friends in LA, and by learning about her life, he is carrying on a wordless dialogue with her, remembering the times he spent with her when he wasn’t locked up. (Some of the flashbacks show a very much younger Terence Stamp. At first, I thought the casting director had found an uncanny look-alike; it wasn’t until the credits that I realised that some of the clips came from the 1967 film Poor Cow.)

An action movie, this ain’t. What it is, is a classy, stylish and innovative piece of cinema and storytelling. I haven’t even touched on the beautifully natural performances by Peter Fonda and Lesley Ann Warren, or the haunting piano score, or the astonishing cinematography that jumps from classy panoramic shots to edgy, NYPD Blue style hand-held work…. As for the story, I had a lump in my throat at the end, and there aren’t many crime stories that do that to me.

There is just so much meat in this film, so much to like and to examine over and over again, that it’s hard to praise it highly enough. The only thing wrong with it is Terence Stamp’s cockney accent, which is just too highly stereotyped. But that is really the only fault I can find.

If you love film, you’ll love this film. I guarantee it. And if you’ve got a DVD player, you’ll get a stack of bonuses like a director’s commentary, cast and crew commentary, interviews with the cast, and a behind the scenes featurette. Fantastic!

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Reviews

Election

When I brought Election back from the video store, my darling pumpkin of a wife turned her nose up and sneered at what she thought was going to be yet another teen/high school comedy packed with impossibly beautiful young actroids, cringeworthy humour and adolescent hormonal innuendo. So I watched it on my own after she’d gone to bed. And how wrong she turned out to be!

Reese Witherspoon (Pleasantville, Cruel Intentions) plays Tracy Flick, an extreme overachiever who has set her prissy little heart on becoming president of the school council. Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Freshman, Godzilla) is Jim McAllister, her civic studies teacher. A colleague and friend of his had had his career ruined by Tracey after entering into a misguided emotional affair with her. When McAllister sees that Tracy is running unopposed in the election, something in him snaps. He persuades one of his other students, Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), to run against her, and proceeds to do all he can to make sure that she loses.

Running alongside the core of the story are two sub-plots that add to the emotional depth and satisfaction of the film: Paul Metzler’s younger sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell), jumps into the election race at one point as a radical abolish the council candidate. Tammy is an angry, intelligent and romantically unfortunate teen, while Paul is a star football player and (at first) the stereotypical dumb jock. With the two of them running against each other, we see a tense but ultimately very sweet brother-and-sister relationship played out.

The other sub-plot takes in the breakdown of McAllister’s marriage, and his somewhat pathetic attempt to have an affair with his ex-colleague’s wife. There is humour here, too, but of a more grown-up nature.

In amusing contrast to some of his previous roles as charismatic and slightly cheeky hero, Broderick plays McAllister as a frustrated middle-aged teacher with a mediocre marriage and a crummy car: he has become one of Ferris Bueller’s teachers. It’s a much more mature role for him, and he pulls it off very well. Reese Witherspoon is perfect as the obnoxious, spoiled Tracy Flick, and the rest of the cast put in solid character performances. Jessica Campbell is definitely a young actress to watch out for, I think.

The film is adapted for the screen (from the book by Tom Perrotta; I haven’t read it, but reviews on Amazon indicate that it’s very good) and directed with flair by Alexander Payne. Occasional freeze-frames isolate comical poses and expressions while voice-overs by the main characters give witty and concise insights into their thought processes. (A series of scenes with all of the characters praying on the night before the election is particularly funny.)

I don’t think it’s really aimed at a teen audience, but it will resonate with anyone who has been through high school. It’s like a cross between American Beauty and Heathers with a lower body count. Alternately funny, tender and cynical, it’s a sleeper classic, with a few pleasant twists at the end. It didn’t receive much attention in the cinemas, but I think it ought to down as one of the better films of the late nineties.

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Reviews

Nargile

Hanover Street has traditionally (well, for as long as I can remember) been the place to go if you want an Italian meal in Edinburgh. With about five restaurants to choose from in the space of two blocks, pizza and pasta lovers are well catered for. (In fact, Edinburgh has a huge selection of Italian restaurants scattered all over the city. There are concentrations on Lothian Road and Clerk St, both near the theatres and cinemas, but Hanover Street has the benefit of being located right in the centre of town. It also has The Patio, which is probably the best Italian in town, but that’s food for a different review.)

Nargile sits right in the middle of this Mediterranean enclave, and blends in well with the atmosphere of the area. As in all the Italian restaurants, you get a friendly welcome when you walk in the door, and the staff are quite happy to chat and joke with you. The first time I went there was with a party of twelve, and there wasn’t enough space for us all to sit together. We hadn’t booked, but the manager very kindly asked a smaller group if they would move so he could push a couple of tables together for us–very nice, and very accommodating. The restaurant has only been open for a few months, and it still has a slightly tentative feel to it, like they’re really concerned about you enjoying your meal. (This may be because the closest brush most people will have had with Turkish food is at the local kebab shop.)

It had been a long time since I’d eaten at a Turkish restaurant, and most of the food on the menu looked unfamiliar. What I tend to do in situations like that is go with the house specials. In this case, that worked out very well: the house recommended starter is Meze, which is a variety of small starter dishes to be shared. For £5.50 per person you get a huge spread that–like Dim Sum in a good Chinese restaurant–just keeps on coming. First, you get the cold dishes, which include things like steak and mint salad, tomatoes and aubergines, chicken salad, spiced chopped beetroot, houmous, and more, with plenty of pitta bread. Just when you think your appetite has been nicely whetted, they tidy away the plates and bring out goats cheese and phyllo pastry parcels, slices of spicy sausage, and chicken wings. All of them delicious, and great if you’ve got a group of people all tucking in.

On both occasions I’ve been there now (we went back last weekend), I took the Nargile Special for my main course (£12.95, but most dishes are between £6 and £9). This is made up of chopped, stuffed pitta bread covered with thin strips of lamb and baked in a sweet, rich tomato sauce. It comes on a huge oval plate, straight out of the oven, and I defy anyone to eat it and not feel completely stuffed afterwards.

Not so stuffed, though, that I couldn’t try their Baklava (£3.95) for dessert. (To keep from exploding, my darling wife and I shared one.) The pastry was crisp, the layered filling nutty and not too sweet, and when I cut it with my fork a syrupy, honey sauce oozed out, just begging to be wiped up and licked off with my fingers. The whipped cream it came with (a change from the ice cream advertised on the menu) was the only thing that didn’t work: it probably wasn’t, but it tasted like it came out of a can. And the chocolate sprinkles on top were a little tacky.

Nargile prepares a lovely meal, and one that I can heartily recommend. Although the food is completely different, the style of the meal is along the same lines as the more traditional evening out at an Italian, Indian or Chinese. If you’re in Edinburgh, and you fancy being a bit different, why not try a “Turkish” instead?

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Personal

Activity central chez Sutherland

Activity central chez Sutherland

30 July 2000

Wow, it’s been such a busy couple of weeks that it’s hard to know where to start. I think I’ll lead with the thing that’s most prominent in my mind (and body) right now: pain. Vast amounts of it. Muscular pain, from my neck, through my back and thighs, all the way down into my feet. I don’t think I’ve ever had muscle pains in my feet before. And it’s all SARAH HENRY’s fault.

See, back when I was still working for the Royal Bank, she convinced me to take part in a friendly mixed netball competition that took place yesterday at the Pleasance sports centre of Edinburgh University. We had two evening practice sessions, one two weeks ago (Tuesday 18th) and the other Thursday past (27th). I thought I knew pain after the first of those sessions, but that was nothing compared to the sheer agony that comes from five tough 20-minute games in a single afternoon. Anyone who says that netball is a girly sport, I can now with some degree of confidence brand a clueless nutter. It’s very fast, requires heaps of tactics and technique, and enormous amounts of physical fitness (qualities which I don’t possess, but I tried to make for with raw enthusiasm.).

We did actually manage to win the competition, though! This was probably because Sarah Henry and Lynsey Malcolm both play for Scotland, and our other guest star James (whose surname I’ve forgotten) plays for the England men’s team. Having such star quality on board might have helped us along. Greg McAllister, all 6’2″ of him, played some great attack and defence as well, and I just ran up and down the court like a crazed ferret, trying to get my hands on any ball that came near me. Because we only had five players, we had to borrow two extras from some of the other teams. Because Sarah knows everyone, she was able to poach the best and the brightest from elsewhere to come and play for us. Seems to have worked!

Exam Fever

About two years ago I convinced the Royal Bank to pay for a set of Microsoft exams that would qualify me as a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD). I passed three of the four necessary exams (two core Windows exams, and one on Visual Basic 4), but failed by one measly percent on the MS Access exam. I always intended to re-take the last one, but I was too busy with work at the time to be thinking about even more work things extracurricularly.

Now, though, I’m working for Cedalion, which is a Microsoft Solution Provider (MSP). To maintain this status, they must have a certain percentage of their developer employees qualified at MCSD or MCSE (MS Certified Systems Engineer) level. Part of my job duties now include making sure that I attain this qualification as quickly as possible, and maintain (or improve on) it. To this end, I sat exam 70-152, “Designing and Implementing Web Solutions with Microsoft Visual Interdev” last Monday (24th July). This was right after our anniversary weekend (more on this later), and although I didn’t have much time to study, I still managed to fly through it with a score of 84%. (The pass mark was 71%.)

Next ones up are Visual Basic Desktop and Visual Basic Distributed, which I’ve got lined up for Monday August 28th. I’d taken the Interdev exam first, because this is what I’ve been working with most over the last couple of years, and I knew it was going to be my strongest subject. I’ll definitely need to put in more work for the VB exams, though!

The continuing story of a car

Not too much to report on the car front right now. Toyota UK have sent us a brochure on the Picnic, and we’ve sent back our colour selection. We’ve been advised that the 7-seater model in Pacific Blue (600 x 290, 36K) is in plentiful stock, so we’ve gone for that. This means that we’ll probably get the car a little bit faster, but of the available choices, it was the nicest one, too. Toyota should get back to us soon with a delivery date, and after that it’s just a matter of waiting… More details as soon as we have them.

Yet another romantic weekend

Last weekend was our 7 year wedding anniversary! I can now definitely say that the first seven years of a marriage are the hardest ones. To celebrate, we hired a car for the weekend, and drove down to our favourite restaurant, The Plumed Horse. Saturday 22nd July was a glorously hot and sunny summer days. We set off late, and meandered through the Borders, stopping off for a picnic and a mid-afternoon nap at St. Mary’s Loch, before zipping the rest of the way to Crossmichael.

When we got there, we checked into the Deeside B&B, and got cleaned up before hiking all the way across the street to the restaurant. As usual, the food was fantastic. For starters, I had a medallion of goose and duck foie gras embedded in a muscat and calves foot jelly, and Abi has a warm goats cheese salad. Main course was lamb for Abi and sea bass for me, and for dessert Abi chose the chocolate tart, while I went for the banana brulée. (See my full review of the experience on DooYoo.) We had another bottle of the splendid 1988 Tokaji with the dessert, and because by that time the restaurant had emptied out (it was a very quiet evening–apparently July has been a quiet month for them overall, but they seem to be booked up for most of August already) we asked Charles and Tony (the owners) if they wanted to share a glass to the Tokaji with us. Charles smiled and declined politely, but such tempting bait did manage to lure Tony out of the kitchen. We then spent the best part of an hour just chatting away, and having a splendid time. We wandered back across to the B&B feeling full and happy.

The next morning, being gluttons for culinary punishment, we had a full cooked breakfast before setting off for Hadrian’s Wall, which runs roughly from Carlisle to Newcastle. Neither of us had visited this part of Britain before, and we were amazed by the unspoiled rural beauty of the countryside. Rolling hills with crags and little lakes, small villages with country pubs and people sitting on the steps up to their front doors in the summer sunshine. It looked like a marvellous place to spend a walking holiday, or a weekend break, and I’m sure that we’ll be back at some point in the future.

Music Fest

And if all this activity wasn’t enough, on Thursday evening this week (just after netball practice) we went out to the Port O’ Leith pub to see my drum teacher (Craig Hunter) playing with his band Monkey House. They were playing mostly rock and blues covers, and sounded great even in the tiny space they had to fit into. (The Port O’ Leith is a small pub–if you just stick your head into it, you’d be surprised they’ve got space for the bar, let along a band.)

Then yesterday evening we were out seeing Courtney Pine as part of the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival. He had a truly awesome band on stage with him, and they gave up their all on a fantastic set of funked-up jazz that had even me (who doesn’t dance) swinging away during their encore. Courtney Pine is a man who loves his music, and loves playing live. When he really gets into his solos he looks like he’s throttling every last note out of his sax, and placing every ounce of his heart into the effort. One of the highlights of the gig, though, was Mary Pierce on vocals giving a truly stunning performance on Curtis Mayfield’s “Hard Times.” Sent shivers up my spine.

And no, that’s not all. Tonight we’re going out to see Dr. John at the same venue (Queens Hall), also as part of the Jazz & Blues Festival. Yes, folks, the Edinburgh Festival season is fully upon us. As always, we intend to make the most of it, but as always, we’ll just have to wait and see if we have the get up and go to actually get ourselves to more than just a couple of events.

Until such time as I have more to report, it’s over & out from me.

-Martin.

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Reviews

The Plumed Horse

**UPDATE (23 February 2001)**
Just last month the Plumed Horse was awarded their first Michelin star! Although the AA hasn’t upgraded their two-rosette rating (yet), the nod from Michelin acknowledges the Plumed Horse not just as one of the top restaurants in Scotland, but also as one of best in Britain.

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Reviews

Gomez – Liquid Skin

I’d been aware of Gomez since the won a Mercury Music Prize for album of the year in 1998 (with their debut, Bring It On). I’d never listened to them a lot, but every now and then I’d catch them on late-night radio, MTV-2, or playing live on “Later” with Jools Holland. Then, a couple of weeks ago, as we were tidying up our office, one of my colleagues put on this album: Liquid Skin

Right from the very first track “Hangover”, I was hooked. With its jangly guitar work and up-beat blues rhythm, it feels like it has stepped straight off the streets of New Orleans. The second song, “Revolutionary Kind” follows in similar footsteps, but at a more relaxed tempo. The third track, though (“Bring It On”), is completely different, and made me go out the next day and buy the album. It still sends shivers up my spine every time I hear it–especially with the volume cranked up as far as common sense and neighbourly courtesy allows.

Gomez has three main vocalists, Tom Gray, Ian Ball, and Ben Ottewell. On “Bring it On” they all join in, alternating and interleaving the lines of the first two verses, before giving way to Ottewell’s gravely roar for the choruses. And just when you think the song is going to carry on at a full rolling boil, they bring it back to a simmer and play it out loud but calm. It’s a masterpiece of tightly controlled raw energy.

The rest of the album is all about contained energy, too. Even at their most laid back, on tracks like “Blue Moon Rising” and “Rosalita”, you always feel like there could be a ripping guitar solo just around the next musical corner. Although they’re young guys from England, they maintain a very mature American sound throughout, partly Southern blues, partly Californian rock. But really, their style is uniquely their own. (The best comparison I’ve been able to come up with so far is Aerosmith crossed with the Neville Brothers. They trick you into thinking that they’re playing much harder rock than they actually are.)

My other personal favourites on the album are “We Haven’t Turned Around”, a hauntingly melancholy song that makes for great late night listening, and the last track, “Devil Will Ride.” Just as the album starts with three attention-grabbers, so they leave you with a wild ride through burning guitars, mixed-up vocal effects, ending up marching through the streets of New Orleans, with horns and clapping and everything. Majestic and absolutely marvellous.

(Now I’m going to have to go out and get their first album, too!)