Monthly Archives: March 2004

Hawes Inn, South Queensferry

We’ve been visiting this pub for several years, and it seems to get better every time we go. It’s situated just underneath the Forth Rail Bridge, and is a great place to stop off after a pleasant walk along the shore, or with visitors we want to wow with some classic Victorian (over)engineering. The food is good pub grub, with battered fish that hangs over the edge of your plate, and steak and ale pies decorated with crispy puff pastry lids. The atmosphere is friendly and family-oriented, and the service is good, if occasionally a bit slow. Not somewhere to go for a hard drinking session, but a lovely place for Sunday lunch.

Austin Powers In Goldmember

Funny but unspectacular. Lots of good scenes with memorable gags and one-liners, but plenty of overworked lesser characters, too, and most of the set pieces suffer from excessive build-up. Much of the humour is self-conscious, with a nod and a wink to the audience, which is fun once or twice, but by the end of the film is just plain tiresome. Not really my cup of tea.

Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed

Alex and I saw the first Scooby-Doo film together just a few weeks ago. It was fun, and I actually found myself looking forward to seeing this sequel. I’m very happy to say that my anticipation was justified. SD2 is a more confident and accomplished film. The actors are much more comfortable with their characters: Matthew Lillard just is Shaggy, and Linda Cardellini, despite being better-looking than the cartoon Velma, hits the shy, geeky nail right on the head. Freddy Prinze Jr and Sarah Michelle Gellar as Fred and Daphne don’t do as much showboating this time round, which suits them much better. It’s a more coherent ensemble film, which is what Scooby Doo is about: the gang. The plot is a bit more twisty than the first film, and feels truer to the spirit of the original cartoon. The fart jokes are still there, and they’re still funny. The visual gags are good, too–including a classic poking-heads-around-corner moment, and some synchronized tip-toeing. It’s all just good. There are some scary moments, though, so a ready parental hand in front of a toddler’s eyes is definitely recommended.

Jimmy Chung’s (Grindlay St. Edinburgh)

We’re rapidly becoming connoisseurs of “Chinese Buffet” cuisine, and Jimmy Chung’s is a good ‘un. Good selection of dishes, including crispy aromatic duck, for which some buffets require a surcharge. The restaurant is large, and decorated in cozy colours, which also makes a change–most buffets are stark and minimal. We went on a Thursday evening, and the place was positively heaving with people. Despite this, the service was still remarkably quick. The only downside is the price: at £10.99 a head for dinner, it’s one of the most expensive buffets in town. On the other hand, it’s definitely one of the best.

Intolerable Cruelty

As one-joke films go, it’s not bad: hot-shot divorce lawyer falls in love with serial fortune-hunter, and they begin a merry dance that will eventually lead them into each other’s arms. I’m sure it would have made a charming 1950s romantic comedy with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. The Coen brothers, however, have managed to turn this promising idea into a stilted, passionless slapstick. In their drive to show how crafty and scheming the two protagonists are, they fail to build any sympathy for them. There is on-screen chemistry between George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones, but I couldn’t see any reason to care about it. This is what happens when you take “quirky” and “clever” a couple of steps too far. Entertaining and funny, but lacking in warmth and wisdom.

Spy Kids 3D

Juni Cortez (one of the Spy Kids) has left the Agency vowing never to return. But when his sister Carmen is trapped inside a hyper-immersive virtual reality videogame, he just can’t refuse the mission to rescue her. Most of the film takes place inside the game, and that’s where all the 3-D gimmickry comes in. However, the effects aren’t good enough to distract attention from the cliché-ridden plot and severely lacklustre acting (even by the standard of kids’ films). Many kids will never have seen a 3D movie before, so they may well like it for its novelty value. But remove that, and you’re left with nothing but junk. Even the vast numbers of cameo appearances become tedious and annoying by the end. (One bright light, though: George Clooney doing a Sylvester Stallone impression. That was funny.)

Bill Bryson – Down Under

I can’t imagine anyone reading this book and not coming away with the impression that Australia is a cool and funky place to visit. Bryson adores the country and its people, and this love shines through even when he is explaining just how bizarre the place can get. He makes Australia sound like the best kind of adventure: relaxed, civilised and friendly when you choose to stay in and around the big cities, yet wild, unpopulated, outlandish and frankly dangerous when you stray from the beaten track. He finds delight in everything he encounters, and relates even the dullest encounter with relish and glee. Down Under is a pleasure from beginning to end.

Good Boy

Talking dogs from outer space should be funnier than this, but unfortunately this film tries so hard to be inoffensive that it is nothing more than utterly bland. The idea is that dogs came to Earth thousands of years ago to colonize the place, but instead became friends with humans. Hubble (the main dog character) is an inspector from the home star (Sirius, natch), come to evaluate Earth dogs on their control of the planet. He is appalled at their domesticated status, and would have sent back a scathing report, had he not crashed his space ship and wrecked his interstellar radio. A further accident with UFO technology allows the boy Owen to understand what the dogs are saying. The rest of the film is a predictable attempt by Owen and a group of local dogs to impress Hubble, and to prepare for a visit from the Greater Dane, ruler of all doghood. It’s almost amusing in places, and almost touching in others. For the rest, it’s dumbed down pap.

Lostprophets – Start Something

A fun, energetic, light metal album but not a terribly memorable or original one. The songs are easy to rock out to while I’m listening to them, but as soon as I turn off the music, the hooks and melodies drift away like smoke in a breeze. There are a couple of outstanding tracks (the single “Last Train Home”, and the radio-friendly top-down driving anthem “Last Summer”) but the rest is an over-produced mish-mash of modern rock and metal influences. Throughout the album, I find myself constantly thinking, “oh, that sounds exactly like A…no, it’s Good Charlotte…no, it’s Mansun…no, it’s….” You get the picture. That’s not to say that the fusion of influences is bad–I do like it a lot–just that it’s about as edgy and in-your-face as, say, Starbucks. It’s an album that will bring Lostprophets a lot of popularity, but it won’t earn them a place in rock history.

Gregory Benford – Eater

A sentient black hole passes through the solar system, and decides that it wants to have a friendly chat with the people of Earth. Or maybe it just wants to eat the planet and suck our brains, instead? Benford specialises in old-skool “scientist as hero” science fiction, and Eater is just that. A group of astronomers studying the Eater get drawn into the politics surrounding its approach. As well as trying to figure out the Eater’s motivations and capabilities, they also have to navigate the hazards of earthy power struggles, and a society on the brink of collapse in the face of a potential apocalypse. Unfortunately, Benford doesn’t catch the balance quite right with this one. It’s too heavy on the science, and the characters’ reactions don’t get much beyond fruitless emotional pleadings. It’s a fast read, but apart from the core idea, a forgettable one.