Monthly Archives: November 2006

Flushed Away

I had been apprehensive about this before going in. I wasn’t concerned that Aardman’s quirky stop-motion style would be lost in the transition to CGI animation; I was concerned that it wouldn’t. Aardman have pushed the boundaries of the stop-motion form, but there’s no hiding from the fact that the form imposes restrictions on the filmmaker. I like Wallace and Gromit, but W&G is enough claymation for me.

As it turns out, with Flushed Away they took all that was good about Aardman’s character design, and went wild with everything else. The action is dynamic, the backdrops are large and elaborate, and the supporting cast are varied and obsessively detailed. But if you pay close attention to the animation, you’ll see that the characters’ mouths don’t move smoothly from frame to frame: their expressions retain the same slight jerkiness that comes from the claymation technique of using a limited number of mouth shapes. Likewise, some of the skin textures bear a striking resemblance to molded clay: in close-up, the animators have actually gone out of their way to make the CGI look like stop-motion.

Aside from the visuals, the story is highly entertaining (posh domestic rat Roddy finds himself in the sewers of London, and caught up in a chase to retrieve a stolen ruby), with plenty of excitement, lots of laughs, and some great running gags involving sewer slugs. It is also very tightly scripted and edited. There were several obvious opportunities for the characters to drift off into long speeches explaining the plot for the hard of thinking, but they didn’t exploit any of them. The dialogue was always enough–and no more.

I can’t see this winning the Best Animated Feature award at this year’s Oscars, but if you want to know which I would prefer to watch again: Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, or Flushed Away, I’d pick this one.

The Compass Bar and Grill, Leith

In a previous job I worked two blocks away from The Compass (44 Queen Charlotte Street, Leith, Edinburgh) for about three years, and never set foot in it. From the outside it looks like a typical Leith drinking pub, i.e. not terribly inspiring. It was only when I saw its entry in Peter Irvine’s Scotland The Best guide as one of Edinburghs best “Pubs with Good Food” that I thought I should pay it a visit. As it happens, it’s really nice inside. Stone walls, wooden tables, comfortable chairs. And possibly the best fish and chips I have ever had.

The haddock was flavourful, even after deep frying. The beer batter was thick and crunchy, and still retained some of the taste of the beer–a delicious rarity. (Not a strong taste, mind, but just enough to let you know that it was prepared with great care and attention.) The chips were long, broad and thin, and cooked to perfection: not too crispy, not too soggy. I felt like Goldilocks: everything was just right.

I was having lunch with Matt, and he had a lamb burger that looked delicious, too. I’ll certainly be tempted to try some of their other dishes next time I visit The Compass, but when they have shown me fish and chip perfection, is it even worth the risk?


Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) is flying home with her daughter to bury her recently deceased husband. She falls asleep in her seat, and when she wakes up, her daughter is gone. She talks to the crew, but they can’t find her. Not only that, but they can’t even find any record of her being on board at all. Is she delusional, or is there something else going on?

I felt ambiguous about this film from the moment I first saw the trailer. I like Jodie Foster, but the hideous memory of The Forgotten still lingers, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to deal with another “children who never actually existed” plot. Curiosity and my admiration of Foster won out in the end. Oh well.

What’s good: it’s not an alien abduction scenario, and the ending doesn’t rely on magical pixie dust.

What’s bad: the actual explanation for the situation is still ludicrously far-fetched. As Mr Scott once said, “the more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.” Likewise, the crazier a plot is, the easier it is to find holes in it, and that’s what I found myself doing for the last half hour. (The first hour is spent setting up doubts about Pratt’s sanity.) And seeing as I didn’t go into the film with a terribly positive mindset, this kind of blew the whole thing for me.

Max Brooks – The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead

You may have seen this hanging around in the “humour” section of your local bookshop, and at first it is easy to mistake it for one of those throwaway near-funny books that appear en masse about two months before Christmas and are never seen again afterwards. The very idea of the book is funny: that’s the first impression.

If you actually start reading it, though, you quickly realize that it isn’t written as a comedy. There are no zombie fart gags, no step-by-step instructions for building a zombie-powered washing machine. It is a completely serious survival handbook that pivots around the assumption that zombies are real. It weighs up the benefits and drawbacks of a wide variety of weapons. It outlines strategies for escape and evasion, and for long-term survival under siege conditions. If zombies really were real, this is the guide you would want by your side. The fact that Max Brooks has not taken the route of easy comedy, but has instead taken the idea to its logical conclusion, is funny on a different level.

Then, about three-quarters through the book, he deviates from the survival guide template, and starts presenting case histories of various zombie outbreaks throughout history. And this is where the veneer of comedy starts to come off. Of course zombies don’t exist, but if for the sake of suspension of disbelief you buy into the author’s premise, he now starts making the case that zombie outbreaks have been on the increase throughout the 20th century, that they are starting to reach a worrying level, and that information about them is being suppressed. Now you realize that the book isn’t just a common-or-garden survival handbook, but that the author persona believes that a book like The Zombie Survival Guide is genuinely needed. He believes that the world is in imminent danger of a Class 4 outbreak. Is he a conspiracy nut, or a prescient voice of reason sounding the alarm?

And suddenly you realize that the book you just read was not humour at all, but horror.

It’s very clever, but to a large extent it feels mostly like an introduction to a bigger piece, which is probably the follow-up book World War Z: An Oral History. This tells of the aftermath of a global zombie pandemic. I’m intrigued, and looking forward to it.


I had somehow got it into my head that this was a gritty spy thriller like Spy Game; it isn’t. It’s a complex economic and political drama involving some characters who are spies. George Clooney won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Bob, a hardened but frustrated operative in the Middle East. Jeffrey Wright is a Washington lawyer involved in an investigation of a massive merger between two oil companies. Matt Damon is an energy analyst who finds himself appointed economic adviser for a progressive Arabian prince (Alexander Siddig). Mazhar Munir is a young Pakistani living in an (unnamed) Middle East country, made unemployed by the merger between the oil firms, and recruited into a terrorist cell.

The four stories are tied together by oil, the greed that desires it, and the corruption this greed produces. It never attempts to portray the global tensions as anything other than unfeeling and cruel, yet it shows how these forces are set in motion by ordinary men and women with whom we feel a close bond–even the ones whose actions we may despise. It’s an uncomfortable film to watch, because in the end it leaves little room for hope. But its emotional honesty is a powerful force, and all the cast give extraordinary performances. I don’t know how the film will be seen in ten or twenty years’ time, but right now it stands out as exceptional and highly significant.

Open Season

Boog is a domesticated grizzly bear who leads a pampered life in a small mountain town. One day, crazy hunter Shaw brings a wounded deer called Elliot to town strapped to his car, and Boog makes the mistake of freeing him. Elliot is a madcap runt of a deer who has been ejected from his herd for being annoying. He proceeds to annoy Boog to the point where he goes rampant, and the townspeople decide that he’s too dangerous to stay there any more. So his keeper Giselle takes him high up in the mountains, and lets him loose in the wild.

Cue mismatched buddy antics as Boog and Elliot try to make their way back to town while avoiding Shaw, trees full of aggressive squirrels, and other madcap diversions.

The trouble is that Elliot really is annoying, which doesn’t translate into a whole heap of funny, and the other characters don’t have enough interest to compensate for him.

Despite this, I think we’re in the middle of a new Golden Age of animation. The quality of the visuals are excellent (although the animators are a bit too much in love with Boog’s fur). Now if only the filmmakers would start spending some of their budgets on better scripts…

Malcolm Gladwell – Blink

Malcolm Gladwell has a wonderful writing style that makes complex concepts easy and interesting. Blink talks about how people are capable of making snap decisions that may be better than those made by experts who have taken ages to come to a conclusion. But we can also be betrayed by these instant judgements, because our behaviour is much more susceptible to subconscious influence that we may realize. Fascinating ideas, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.