Tag Archives: legendshome

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.

Aeon Flux

Not nearly as bad as I was expecting it to be. Beneath the polished surface of outrĂ© costumes, stark futuristic architecture, and gratuitous solemnity, there is actually a half-decent plot. There are enough cool sci-fi gadgets to keep the novelty value going all the way through, and although the conflict between the various factions isn’t particularly sophisticated (the twisty betrayals only go one level deep), they were certainly enough to keep my attention from wandering.

Plus, you get to see Charlize Theron in a variety of skintight outfits. Which is nice, I suppose, if that’s your kind of thing.


Crank begins with a beautifully simple action movie premise: professional killer Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) learns that he has been poisoned, and only has an hour to live. But he finds that he can counteract the drug by raising his adrenaline level, and keeping heart pumping at full tilt.

It’s a recipe for non-stop mayhem as Chelios hunts down the men who did this to him, and the first half hour is a truly wild ride. Given that most people will be watching the film with some notion of the idea behind it all, the way he figures out the life-saving effect adrenaline has may seem a bit long-winded and clunky; but with everything else that’s going on in this short time–police chases, hold-ups, bar-fights–this is easily forgiven. Chelios has no time to plan an elaborate attack–he has to stay focused on where his next hit of energy is going to come from. The script handles this pace by sticking to a succession short, snappy, and mostly hilarious set-pieces. The editing is fast and jumpy, with lots of playful post-production effects.

Unfortunately, the middle part of the film flags a bit as Chelios picks up his girlfriend to try and explain everything to her. Although she is key to a few action sequences, she represents everything that Chelios wants, but can’t have, and that he must say farewell to. Her very presence is a dampener rather than a thrill. This also means that The Sex Scene (note the capitals) comes at a point in the film where the emotional tone has shifted more towards the serious and realistic.

The Sex Scene was clearly intended to be humorous. After learning that her boyfriend is a hired assassin rather than a computer games programmer, Eve (Amy Smart) storms out of the restaurant in Chinatown where they were eating. Chelios chases after her. Eve beats him off, he grabs on to her, and in the wrestling match that ensues they end up having fiery sex in front of a crowd of amused onlookers and a tour bus of Chinese school girls.

But at no point does anyone shout “rape” or try to intervene.

Given the complete lack of realism inherent in the rest of the film, and the blatant disregard shown for human life, perhaps I should have treated this scene with the same level of amused disbelief and detachment, but I couldn’t. It feels strange to say this about a film where I laughed at a gangster’s hand being chopped off and tossed around, but the Sex Scene felt inappropriate, and in poor taste.

It wasn’t the sex act itself, or the minimal nudity on display. It also wasn’t the way anger turned into sex; A History Of Violence has a far more shocking scene exploring the intersection of violence and lust, and it was not inappropriate. But elsewhere in Crank when Chelios pulls out a gun in the middle of a crowd or crashes a motorbike into a cafe, people run and cower in fear. The crowd reactions are correct in the context, and therefore remain inconspicuous compared to the action at the heart of the scene. In The Sex Scene, however, the reaction of the crowd is wrong, and therefore draws attention to itself. My suspension of disbelief was disrupted, and suddenly violence stopped being funny, and started being questionable.

I’m not going to condemn the whole film on the basis of a single mis-staged scene. But it sits right at the middle of an otherwise very good and cleverly constructed action flick, and it made me more critical of the remainder of the movie. It ends well, and appropriately, but it leaves behind most of the humour of the first half in a way that left me wondering whether its overall quality was down to luck or good judgement.

The Ant Bully

Lucas Nickel is a small kid, who gets pushed around by the local bullies and big kids. In retaliation, he torments a small ant colony in his front garden. One of the ants, Zoc, is a wizard who plans to save the colony by making a potion that will shrink “The Destroyer” (Lucas) to the size of an ant. What Zoc hadn’t counted on was the Queen’s decision about Lucas’s fate. Rather than sentencing him to death, she forces him to live with the colony, so that he can find out what it is like to be an ant himself. Adventures ensue. Lessons are learned. It’s a fun film.

But what bothered me about it is the billing the voice actors get. The big names on the movie poster are Nicolas Cage, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, and Paul Giamatti. I have no problem with Cage and Roberts being there. They do the voices for Zoc and Hova, two of the main ant characters. But Streep and Giamatti both have exactly two scenes each. And not big scenes, either.

Until I saw the film, I had no idea that the mighty Bruce Campbell does the voice for Fugax, an ant scout. Campbell has a big role in this film, with substantially more screen time and more lines than Streep and Giamatti put together, and yet he is relegated to a much lower billing.

The emphasis placed on the voice talent–or rather, the lack of such emphasis–is something that I like about Pixar’s animated films. If you look at the posters and promotional material for Cars, for example, you won’t find Owen Wilson’s name in big letters, even though he’s a reasonably big box office draw right now. The fact that Pixar itself is a guarantee of quality allows them to concentrate on finding the right voice for their characters, rather than the right star to put on the poster. Would Craig T. Nelson have been given the lead voice in The Incredibles if Pixar had been unsure of a box office hit? Would Brad Bird have been given the opportunity to play Edna Mode (one of the best voice performances ever)?

I know that the reality of Hollywood is that big names are what draw an audience in. I just find it disappointing that even in animated features, where the actual presence of a big name actor is less relevant than in a live action film, this is still so clearly the case.