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Now for a long time I have been a committed Hewlett Packard man when it comes to printers. The one provided by my employer as my printer for working from home is a HP Office Jet and I have no problems with it. My old home computer printer was a HP too, a 640C. However as you can read in my review of that whilst it was good, well made and reliable it was not fast enough. Of course like most things connected with (and to) computers new and better products are launched all the time.
I now have a Canon S800 and I bought it mainly to indulge in my new passion of digital photography. The Canon is a little bigger than the HP was. It is about the same width but a little deeper and higher. It is finished in a high quality two tone effect which looks quite attractive. Overall the printer appears to be more solid than the HP did but the HP was a budget printer and the S800 runs in at £100. The paper feeds in through the rear and before you can say 'Wow that was quick and such good quality' the printed page appears.
It has standard USB parallel connections and the paper feeder will hold about 100 pages. Setting up the printer is about as easy as it could be. The instructions are all perfectly clear and within minutes its ready to use. Once set up it also ease to use in day-to-day use . It is also as Bjork might say 'Oh So Quiet' in comparison with the cacophany of noise the old HP made. The Canon scores though in providing the best quality inkjet quality I have ever seen. It is practically at laser standard but without the exhorbitant cost. It is also good because the running costs of the Canon are reasonable too. The ink cartridges seem to last quite a good time in comparison with the HP. One problem I often found with the HP was its tendency to over-ink things. The Canon does not do this.
Another good feature is that the Canon can (what a good saying that is) still print at high speeds even for colour photographs and complex text and picture combinations. It is true to say that I did not know how inadequate my old printer as until I got the Canon. Of all the things I have bought recently the Canon S800 ranks among one of my better purchases.
On arrival at Center Parcs we unloaded everything at the Chalet and left our car in the central car park. Here the car would stay until it was time to depart. This is great, a chance to holiday without driving everywhere. Better still it makes it a safe place to cycle around. When you arrive you get a book which includes a plan of the site and how to get the most out of your stay. It includes a daily planner as you will need to be quick and efficient if you want to play some sports at peak time.
The first tip would be to take your own bikes - as we did - as hiring them can be expensive. Make sure if you are taking them on the back of your car that you have your number plate, lights and indicators visible. Just how many cars do you see where the owner has just put a bike rack and the bikes on the back without any regard for lights or indicators. The other attraction is to be able to walk with everything you need within a reasonable walking distance.
It was winter when we went to Sherwood but the chalet was warm enough. It was reasonably spacious for a young family and had satellite TV and anopen fire. It also had a barbecue but it was too cold for that. I would imagine at other times of the year there would be a bit more wildlife about but it was too snowy for that. Another drawback was that the heavy snow had closed a lot of the outdoor attractions. This had 2 effects one that you were not able to do them and also that the indoor attractions got busy. In fact for busy, read almost impossible to book.
The subtropical swimming complex got very busy and I must question the subtropical bit here. They must know some pretty luke warm tropics. The floor was heated but I felt another 5 degrees on the water temperature would have been nice. It also has some great Wild water Rapids which I could have enjoyed all day and there is also a spa within the same complex. You can also try Archery, Badminton, Squash, Golf Driving Range, Bowls, Pool, Tennis, Ten Pin Bowling, the lot.
As well as eating in your chalet you can try one of the many restaurants. Food quality was a bit iffy for the price. Huckleberrys is an American themed diner including Fajitas, Steaks etc. Then there is a trattoria with Pasta dishes and pizza and Le Caprice which pretends to be an up market restaurant which welcomes 'well behaved children'. If you have kids stick to Huckleberrys which has an excellent play area which is supervised and also has close circuit TV's should you wish to eat in peace while watching the kids.
Of the 3 Center Parcs locations in the UK we visited the Sherwood Forest complex near Nottingham. The facilities make it an excellent place to enjoy a weekend break. I would have to say a 3 or 4 day break is enough though. It does get tiring if you are in a sedentary job all year and you suddenly do a years exercise in 3 days. Its not cheap and it has the atmosphere of 'middle class England' at play. Its full of over-parenting dads who hardly see their kids for 11 months of the year and over-enthusiastic mums charging about and exhausting themselves. Bit like us really.
Over many years I have visited the shop in Warrington and bought a few things. Overall though I have never been very impressed. The furniture at first sight looks well designed and to be of good quality. Unfortunately to my cost I found it wasn't. In the final analysis it is no better than MFI. No, I will qualify that it is not as good as MFI. The prices for furniture are higher like-for-like compared with MFI but are cheap and not robust.
In addition to furniture they also sell household accessories such as lamps, table cloths, bulbs, rugs, plants, candles and kitchen equipment. Some of these are well designed, different and cheap.
The Warrington shop is on 2 floors and I do not like the layout. Everyone seems to go round in a loop, up the stairs along through the furniture and out through the bottom floor. You seem to become part of a chain like going to see the Crown Jewels in London. The store always seems to be busy and the parking is just about adequate enough. We have though had to queue before now to get in by the access road.. We do not get chance to go at off-peak times and the crowds can be huge. They seem to be doing something right and I suppose a big part of that is daring to be different from all the other home furnishing shops. Their popularity is self evident as they cannot all be there for the first time.
IKEA produce a free catalogue which is useful to take home and browse through before deciding what to buy. The staff are quite helpful and not half as scary as the IKEA adverts would have you believe.
I have to say though that IKEA leaves me cold. I am left wondering what there is about it people like. Is it cool to shop at IKEA, some sort of in place. As we travel around more are we still so gullible about what the continent has to offer. Will we go on believing that because it is Swedish it is somehow superior to a British shop. I don't know but I can't help thinking IKEA is a triumph of marketing above reality.
The DVP has a neat stylish silver finish complementing the video and TV we have.
Setting up could not be easier just plug it into the mains system (plug provided, of course) and connect the SCART socket (not provided) through the video into the TV.
The DVP plays DVD films and discs obviously but also plays CDs. As we have a stereo TV this is very useful. The remote control handset is black and thin and provides all the functions and features which are de rigeur for the credible DVD player. Fast forward, rewind, shuffle as well as access to the DVD menu for the disc you are playing if you want a specific section.
The picture quality and sound are excellent. The still picture is particularly good. The set seems well made and robust though it hardly gets knocked about. It is guaranteed for a year but at such a good price and with the constant march of planned obsolescence they are practically disposable items nowadays anyway.
Definitely one to consider.
It was a daring innovative idea when the first series of Not The Nine O'Clock News was shown as it was scheduled at nine o'clock right up against the main news bulletin. The programme has been repeated on BBC and is sometimes on the satellite channels. Having watched it again I was surprised at how many of the punchlines and gags I remembered and perhaps that is testament to the quality of writing and its continued relevance today.
The main core of the presenters have all gone on to be in major series of their own. Though Pamela Stephenson is no longer in show business she is married to Billy Connelly and is a successful psychologist working in America. Stephenson was an extraordinarily attractive and versatile comedy actress and in NTNOCN used this versatility to great effect. As a spoof newsreader she mimicked Angela Rippons tortured delivery perfectly probably to the extent that Rippon later toned her pronunciation down. Stephenson also did a very acceptable mumbling Moira Stewart and a passable impression of Jan Leeming.
Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones also featured before moving on to become a very popular comedy duo. Rowan Atkinson has probably become one of Britains favourite comedy actors since the programme ended in 1982. Atkinsons range of characters is extraordinary too. He can convey pomposity, distaste, excitement or boredom by use of his uniquely expressive face. This was used to great effect in NTNOCN. Atkinson tended to be used as an alien or a weird odd sort of person. Chris Langham also featured in the programme. Since the programme he has tended to devote his time to writing rather than performing.
NTNOCN presented spoof items of news which showed current events in an amusing way. It was in some ways an early version of The Day Today or a forerunner of Have I got News For You but tended to be less political than the latter and a lot funnier (and took itself a lot less seriously) than the former. In some respects its approach was similar to the newsreader sketches of The Two Ronnies which ran simultaneously with NTNOCN. However the NTNOCN team took the comedy into much sharper and critical areas and was much harder on politicians, the Royal Family and public institutions than the Two Ronnies would ever be.
The programme always ended with a humourous song one of which 'Kinda Lingers' was tortuously pronounced to reveal its true subject matter. They also had a fine way of parodying current pop videos. The programme also parodied other TV programmes and generally mocked the nature of life at the time. Coinciding, as it did, with the start of the Thatcher era it had a ready huge target for social, politically correct comedy. With such a target they rarely missed.
With 2 of Britains greatest ever comedy actors Open All hours should have been a masterpiece. Sadly although occasionally funny it never really climbed above the level of an extended sketch. Although written by the very capable Roy Clarke for once the gentle home spun humour did not fully fire together. Clarke would have more success with Rosie, Keeping Up Appearances and Last Of The Summer Wine. As you would probably imagine from this list Clarke is not a writer of cutting edge sharp comedy. Rather he prefers to craft his characters and the situation. Open AllHours first appeared on BBC2 in 1976 but it was not to reappear until 5 years later on BBC1 after Ronnie Barker had completed Porridge and its follow-up Going Straight.
In the programme Ronnie Barker played Arkwright an extraordinarily mean tight fisted Northern grocer. He ran a corner shop which sold practically everything a modern hypermarket would sell but from within the space of a terraced house. Arkwright though regaled against the modern advances in retailing and struggled to cope even with his overly aggressive till.
David Jason had worked with Ronnie Barker before in the series Hark at Barker and more famously as an aged old lag Blanco in Porridge. David Jason played Granville who was Arkwrights nephew and had to be errand boy, shop assistant and skivvy all in one. Granville was a daydreamer who imagined he would go on to better things but was ultimately brought to earth by Arkwright. Granville was supposed to garner sympathy from the audience but it did not quite come off. Of indeterminate age Granville was a bit of a loser but the writing did not do enough to draw humour along with the pathos. Arkwright lusted after the buxom Morris Minor driving nurse Gladys Emmanuel (played by Lynda baron) who lived over the road with her ailing mother. This was a highlight of the show as it was one of those smouldering unrequited passions which can work so well. Arkwright used a lot of subtle, and less than subtle, innuendo on Gladys who always turned him down. There was though an affection between them.
The programme started and ended each episode with Arkwright working early in the morning putting out his wares and ended with him putting almost all of it back into the shop. In between various customers came in to be fleeced and much of the comedy was built around these exchanges. There were also memorable schemes such as a coal fired converted ice cream which was supposed to be a mobile fish and chip wagon. Ultimately though the characters were not as strong as they needed to be to carry it all off. Sadly also the writing was just a little too gentle and the situation just too under developed to be considered anywhere near the best of Ronnie Barker and David Jason. As in Clarence where Barker was short sighted, he relied on a physical disability - his stammer - to glean laughs. If you do find stammering funny then I suppose you will love Open All Hours.
am an inveterate credit card churner. It seems the only way to get a decent credit card rate is to change it at a regular interval.
First of all it goes without saying it is simply not good money management if you have an outstanding amount on your credit card bill and have to pay interest. However there are occasions when even the most well managed household budget needs to spend money it does not immediately have to hand. If you do and you are caught make sure you have one available with low interest.
I had an RBS Advanta card because I had an RBS current account. I have now got rid of my RBS account for reasons that can be seen in my review of that Banks performance. I decided at the time to get rid of all RBS products and so the credit card has now gone. Next in line are the insurances we have with Direct Line. When I fall out with someone I do it big time. Of course the replacements will have to be cost effective but in what is still a competitive market that should not be a problem.
The RBS Advanta card is not attractive if you are beyond the introductory period with interest at 13.9%. Of course credit card suppliers tailor their interest rates to suit your personal circumstances so perversely the less credit worthy you are the more interest you will pay. I do not like the way they calculate interest either which is done on the statemented balance if not paid in full the previous month.
There is a website like all the others (www.rbsadvanta.co.uk) but it provides little personal information. You are better to go to the proper internet providers for that. All things considered the RBS Advanta card cannot be recommended. There is just no positive side to it.
In the competitive market of today the best offers are coming from the internet providers so I would recommend egg.com or cahoot.com as better providers.
I have to say the service was just about as bad as you can possibly get it. It started off well enough, we were soon found a table and we settled down with the Sunday papers. Then we waited, and waited. Eventually a poor waiter for whom we later felt sorry for took our order. It was a simple enough order, we did not want starters and my wife and I had Omelettes whilst the boys had Ribs and Lasgane slightly complicated by a side order of garlic bread. A round of drinks was ordered.
Then we waited, and waited. After 10 minutes the drinks duly arrived. And then we waited, and waited. After 40 minutes the poor waiter returned to inform us that the chef (meaning microwave operative and salad tosser) (delete salad and replace with complete) had lost our order and so could we order again. We did and expecting that some priority would be given to our order we settled down to wait. Our expectation that we would now get our food in reasonable time was misplaced, a further 20 minutes elapsed before the food arrived.
Now any restaurant can have an off day. However if they do its what happens when they do that will decide whether you will return. How do they try to make up for what has been a poor show in terms of service. What happened at Garfunkels? A round of free drinks while we waited interminably? Nope. A reduction off the bill perhaps? Nope. Profuse apologies? Well yes but that's just manners that's not business.
All this is a pity we have been here before and found it reasonably priced. The service last time was pretty good but the restaurant business is competitive. If you do not make it up to scratch there are many other places to try.
Garfunkels on this occasion suffered from NOBODY ACTUALLY CARES syndrome which afflicts many chain establishments. Weak management, poorly paid staff without motivation spoil a place like this. Serve the food quickly with a cheery smile and people will return. Is it that difficult?
It was obviously beyond the wit of Garfunkels Cambridge.
I am getting very concerned about the current plethora of entertainment shows on TV. It seems we as a nation have eschewed the qualities of light entertainment, we have turned away from well crafted and constructed comedy and we have ceased to value wit and intelligence. All this has now gone because what we really want to see is ritual humiliation, nothing seems to entertain more than someone putting someone else down. Whether its They Think Its All Over seeking to belittle our sports stars, Never Mind The Buzzcocks perpetually biting the hand that feeds it, The Weakest Link putting down any poor sap who cannot answer a question in 2 seconds flat or the dogs breakfast of Dog Eat Dog.
The occasional show where pomposity is pricked is fine but we now have a constant diet of bitching, people being superior for no apparent reason and members of the public seemingly willing to do anything for 15 minutes of fame and £10,000.
The premise for Dog Eat Dog is that in order to gain the prize thy have to metaphorically walk upon the bodies of those they are competing with. To triumph you have to prove yourself capable of disregarding any feelings you may have for anyone else after look after No 1. This is indeed a contest where victory is unsatisfyingly pyrrhic. You have £10,000 and a certificate to everlastingly prove you are half egocentric half bastard.
The contestants are eliminated through a series of tests which are done by the ones assessed as most likely to fail. This assessment is based on the previous days tests which show their individual dexterity or mental agility. But this is a show where it is important to develop relationships but only if they are negative ones. For at the end all those eliminated can still win if they win a general knowledge quiz at the end, again with the twist of being nominated on the basis of potential failure.
It is a celebration of laddish and laddette culture. The sight of boorish men and young women slagging each other off is not edifying. I wonder how many of them secretly go home wishing they could curl up and die at their silly antics or perhaps I am out of touch and people really do act like this today.
The programme is presented by Ulrika Jonsson who seems to be ageing before our eyes like Ursula Andress at the end of the film of Ryder Haggards She. The eternal flame seems to have lost its powers and she looks as knackered as she does bored. It's a shame because I think Ulrika is worth a lot more than this and a lot more than a bimbo foil for Vic and Bob but she first needs to accept she is not 25 any more. I am sure Ulrika has a lot to say but how can we hear it when she is just there as a cute butt and a blonde smiling face.
I abhor Dog Eat Dog and all it stands for. Domestic violence, school bullying, road rage, anti-social behaviour can all be traced to a lack of respect for your fellow man. What chance have we got of establishing self worth and personal values if we are going to bay at and be entertained by programmes like this. Enough of this its time to march on the broadcasting houses of Britain and demand our light entertainment back.
For a directors first movie to be such an absorbing spellbinding production is amazing. The film has the feel of a number of cinematic gods who have combined, used all the known wisdom gathered over a century of film making, and produced a near perfect film. Sam Mendes deserves every honour he has gained from this film.
The story is told is a comparatively simplistic way, there is no deviation from the view that this is a well written story. The story itself is not simple and has a number of complexities in story and character which draw you in to the world that has been created. The view is of normal suburban American life, the actions and consequences credible and believable, the emotions familiar to anyone who truly lives in our world rather than merely exists in it. This is a film capable of making you look around the cinema, the street, your home afterwards and see things a new way. It is that powerful a film.
On the surface the film revolves around Lester Burnham who is married to Carolyn
And they have a teenage daughter Jane. They remained married almost in name only and their relationship is collapsing. While Carolyn seeks fulfilment in her real estate business Lester feels a failure trying to be a telephone salesman. Jane like many teenagers does not understand or like her father. Lester quits his well paid job to work in a fast food joint and Carolyn has sex with her main rival (Buddy Kane) whom she considers to be a triumphant success.
But the main changes in their lives come about when Lester meets Angela Hayes a blonde seductive teenage fantasy figure who he meets when she appears as a cheerleader with Jane at a college basketball game. Meantime the Fills family move in next door comprising the strange drug taking son Ricky, his anxious mother Barbara and certifiably mad army fixated father Colonel Fills.
What undoubtedly helps make it such a good film is the extraordinary performances by the cast in what are fairly ordinary lives. Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham is the first example. His performance is simply fantastic. His transformation from unfit, unhappy, bored husband to a man totally at one with his new life is a marvel. His interactions in the film with his daughter and with Angela Hayes have a vibrant charm about them. Annette Bening is a marvel too as Carolyn Burnham. She carries the desperate need of Carolyn to be successful selling a house and the ultimate failure superbly. Her brief affair with Buddy Kane is also brilliantly done. Peter Gallagher is well cast as Kane making him sleazy and charmless.
Thora Birch plays Jane Burnham and excellent she is too. Jane is horrified at some of her fathers behaviour and turns to Ricky Fills for affection. The development of the relationship of these two is well done. Ricky Fills is played by Wes Bentley. Fills has a past which involves drugs but also an odd relationship with his father who seems incapable of any affection for those around him. It is Ricky though who first introduces the concept of how beautiful life actually is when you look for that real beauty. His views influence not only Jane but Lester too. Bentley plays this role to perfection being at first disturbing, then sympathetic and finally odd again.
Rickys parents are played by Alison Janney as repressed mom Barbara and a menacing violent Chris Cooper as Colonel Fills. Colonel Fills is a man turned into a hateful psychopath by his army days and he has a hatred of gays. His suspicion that his son may have had gay sex is a turning point in the film.
Without question though the greatest performance comes from Mena Suvari as Angela Hayes. Hayes is first seen as a spoilt sexual predator fully aware of her effect on men and aware of her apparent physical beauty. As the film goes on though we see her as a vulnerable child who is not beautiful in the sense of her sexual attractiveness but as a person. The sublimely subtle way the film changes the focus of the viewers perceptions of people, of beauty and of life itself is joyous. Full marks to Sam Mendes and to Alan Ball who wrote the screenplay.
I did mention that this film was nearly perfect, so where is the flaw? My only minor gripe is its reliance on the use of Rickys camera to film into the Burnhams house. I cannot help wondering how much less of a story it would have been if the Burnhams kept their curtains closed.
The Beautiful South don't you just love em. Well actually it seems from the odd occasions when we have had friends round and sought views on what to put on as background music a mention of The Beautiful South brings polarised reactions. There are as many 'Oh God Noes' as there are 'Yes that would be great'. It does also seem to be split on gender too. Women love them, men hate them. To give them their due they have ploughed their own furrow. This album is a showcase of their hits all of which bar one have been written by band members Paul Heaton and Dave Rotheray.
The songs though are very individual and the ballads make a nice change from the joyless dirges vomitted out by the plethora of characterless boy bands. The more up tempo numbers have a deft light touch. We are not in guitar rock territory here, we are in relaxing mode. The songs have a bittersweet, ironic value to them and seem based on real experience of real life and love how it really can be. The band emerged from the ashes of the Housemartins (best known for Happy Hour) and featured Heaton and Dave Hemingway from the first band joined by Rotheray on guitar with drummer Dave Stead and bass player Sean Welsh. This album covers the period up until 1994 when the lovely Briana Corrigan was the female vocalsit before going on to do other things and Jacqui Abbot took over.
You may be familiar with many of the tracks aleady including the opener "A Song For Whoever" which was a big hit. It sets the pattern of many TBS songs, quirky verse, bouncy light tune and singalong chorus. It speaks of simple love and how the writer writes songs about a number of girls who give him inspiration.
"You Keep It All In" follows and is about how men do not communicate their feelings. Again this is typical TBS territory and is a well constructed song with Heaton and Corrigan (did I mention she was lovely) swapping contrary verses.
The next track is "I Sail This Ship Alone" which deserved more success than it got despite being not as strong as those first 2 singles. The bittersweet lost love lyrics are charming and the song has a nice rounded feel to it. A problem which often does surface with TBS is they are accomplished musicians but Corrigan apart the singers are not the best. If Paul Heaton had ever turned up at PopStars or Pop Idol he would not have got past Round 1, for many reasons. As a songwriter though he excels And 'A Little Time' is another super song about relationships and what happens when they do not run smoothly. A nice laid back track which has a neat constructed song in front of it. 'My Book' makes it to the Best Of tough it was only a minor hit single. As was 'Let Love Speak Up For Itself' which was disappointing for such a catchy upbeat track..
The following year in 1992 they came back strongly with 'Old Red Eyes Is Back'. Again built on a minor tweak of a line it is a neat song about a boozer who dies but is instantly forgotten. His eyes red due to the tears he has shed from his wasted life. A sad but effective song. 'We Are Each Other' tells of a love so close they become inseparable to the point of being each other. It contains quirky lyrics which do not quite come off but with TBS I do think you should not over examine some of the songs. Heaton is good but he is no Cole Porter.
"Bell Bottomed Tear" would perhaps be better known as This Is The Woman You Laid. It is about a one night stand and the morning after as they contemplate what will happen next. Again a good effective song sung in a slow tempo. "36D" is about a woman selling her body and the fixation of those around her. Ostensibly about respect for women it misses its target by being too clever. "Good As Gold" could also be better known by another title - carry on regardless. I actually have not a clue what it is about but it seems a cheery enough song. The only song on the album not written by Heaton and Rotheray is "Everybody's Talkin" which was a hit for Harry Nilsson previously. "Prettiest Eyes" and "One Last Love Song" complete the album and are yet more relaxing middle of the road fare.
The Beautiful South have produced here a nice collection of gentle unthreatening pop songs. They are perfect for Radio 2 where they like songs where you can hear the words. There is though a problem for The Beautiful South in that they probably appeal more to a section of the population not necessarily known for being a huge record buying group. If they or those otherwise not committed to the band are tempted though this might just be the best album to buy.
t took almost 5 years to complete and in the end looked as though it might have benefitted from a few more months in the cutting room Apocalypse Now remains part brilliant part maddeningly infuriating.
The film is in part beautiful to see, yet in part awful to watch. There are brilliant acting performances part obscured by excessively dark direction and areas of acting weakness only saved by the grand sweep of the picture. The film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola who won Oscars for the first 2 Godfather films.
The film was an updated version of Joseph Conrads Heart Of Darkness and featured Marlon Brando as a renegade soldier, Colonel Kurtz, who has gone native becoming a hugely dangerous and mad soldier. Brando only appears in the half-light but his performance is as huge as his frame. He is full of menace and yet attracts some sympathy by quoting works of poetry. Kurtz is pursued into the jungle by a Captain Willard (Martin Sheen). Sheen is edgy and full of emotion. Totally sucked into the war he is a massive character. The film also features Robert Duvall as Lt-Colonel Kilgore who as his name suggests is as crazy as Kurtz but remains on the right side. Madness forgiven. Duvall as usual gives a superb performance as the steely demagogue. Alongside these is Dennis Hopper who gives his usual semi-mad performance seen in Speed and Waterworld.
The film was made in the Philippines and features in the helicopter gunship sequence one of the most memorable war action sequences in cinema history. Set to Wagners Ride Of The Valkyries it features lasting images of savagery not matched in the cinema to date. There are huge panoramas in the film shot in a seemingly unreal light which adds to the sense that this is not the real world. The film gives the viewer these images and yet still enables the viewer to add to it with their imagination. It is a film you do not so much as watch as experience. There are huge numbers of extras deployed in weird jungle costumes, there are massive pyrotechnics. Visually and artistically it is a treat, sadly as a total work it is not.
There are also parallels in the film that invoke a view that this is the Vietnam War through a particular view. That view is best described as the war as a mind bending experience. Whether this is through drugs or through the effects of stress of the psyche is not clear. This is though not a film which follows the usual conventions of a war film such as Saving Private Ryan. Whilst similarly brutal in some of its images Saving Private Ryan has a beginning , a middle and an end. Apocalypse Now has a beginning and then meanders around before the final credits appear. At over 2 and a half hours it is just too long. The brilliance of some of the performances only serves to underline the feeling that the end result is a series of fantastic yet unconnected scenes. However brilliantly those scenes are done the end result is less than perfect.
Directed by Clint Eastwood Space Cowboys rolls a space movie into cowboy ethic into buddy movie. The film opens in the late 1950s when a team called Daedalus is being prepared for a space mission. Just before they are due to go on their mission they are told that instead of them going a monkey will complete the mission. The film soon establishes the main characters and it has to be said you must not blink as the film races along at such a frantic pace you had best not miss a scene.
As well as directing and producing for his own Malpaso film company Clint Eastwood plays the team leader Frank Corvin. After their mission is cancelled we are reunited when the team is called upon to rescue a Russian communications satellite which has gone awry and threatens to cause major damage if it hits the earth on its return. Corvin himself is happily married and is brought back to the Space agency to meet up with Bob Gerson (James Cromwell) who had cancelled the mission and who Corvin despises. Corvin had designed the guidance system which had been stolen and used by the Russians. It turns out Cromwell was responsible. However the film is a buddy movie and it is the reuniting of team Daedalus which counts.
We soon catch up with pilot Hawk Hawkins (played with his usual brilliance by Tommy Lee Jones), with the lecherous Jerry O'Neill (smoothly played by Donald Sutherland), and Tank Sullivan (is that really James Garner). Of course they are all now really too old for the mission but Gerson is persuaded to allow them to train for it and if they pass can do it. We see a cameo of old person routines but it is all amiably done. The whole story is of course fantastic but also has a lot of tension, pathos and humour. A rollicking good movie in fact. The American public learn of their mission and take them to their hearts. Gerson cannot back out now after they appear on the Jay Leno show hamming it up. William Devane also deserves mention as the (inevitably) gum chewing mission flight controller Eugene Davis. As does Marcia Gay Harden as Hawks love interest Sara Holland.
Despite learning of cancer for one of the crew they do go into space with a couple of young minders. Once up there, there are more scrapes, mishaps and adventures before inevitably they succeed in their mission by a somewhat implausible plot twist. Actually it is all implausible, the plot twist is ludicrous. But that does not spoil it being a good film. You do have to suspend your normal judgements and let it flow over you. If you do you will enjoy it.
As I said it does go at a frenetic pace. After being advised they go in 92 hours, the next scene shows 15 minutes on the countdown clock and a scene later they are on board with 10 seconds to go. It hurtles along, every scene left in is part of the story either establishing the plot or character. The performances by all the main actors are perfectly adequate and there are no weak links. It is all a prefect fantastic story but in all one of the most enjoyable comedy films which does not rely on the unhygienic actions of dorks and pies for its laughs.
So after his huge success as Father Dougal the question had to be how does Ardal O'Hanlon follow that. Alternatively how far will he fall and how fast. The answer first came when O'Hanlon presented the Stand Up Sho In this he seemed lost and unsure of himself. His introductions were nervy and rushed and he almost seemed self consciously bad. Then, worse, indeed far worse, came My Hero. For as much as the character of Father Dougal was hilariously, blindingly funny then his character of George aka Thermoman was direly unfunny.
The comic possibilities of being an alien or superhero has been done before. We have had My Favourite Martian, 3rd Rock From The Sun and Mork and Mindy. The last of which bears some similarities to My Hero. The juxtaposition of someone unfamiliar to the ways of a new world offers huge comic possibilities but sadly none ever got explored in My Hero. O'Hanlon previous incarnation as Dougal is the first problem you come across. George is immediately both too close and too far from Dougal at the same time. O'Hanlon struggles to be the focal point of the comedy but at the same time he too often looks like Dougal dressing up.
The position is not helped by the performance of Emily Joyce as his nurse girlfriend Janet. Her telegraphy of every hopefully funny line and lack of comedic timing only worsen things. Hugh Dennis as the over bearing narcissistic Doctor is also hopeless. With much of the action based in the least busy doctors surgery in the Western world the comedy even began to take on a predictable medical thread as the second series got more desperate for laughs.
Better performances came from Geraldine McNulty as an archetypal stern and uncompromising receptionist but at least she had some funny lines to say. As did Philip Whitchurch as the neighbour Tyler who knows George is Thermoman. He will never be able to give him away though as he is already considered beyond eccentric and probably mad. That Tyler sees aliens is not seen as surprising. Janet too becomes aware that George is Thermoman but again this concept that one or more people know the true identity exists in all the other sitcoms I mentioned.
Thermoman does go off to perform miracles against the various crises in the world but again as the second series droned on this started to drift behind the love interest and surgery antics. Some humour is attempted by having George unfamiliar with the nuances of the language but it is truly feeble. The quality of writing is simply not up to it and again when comparing the characters and the situations in Father Ted and My Hero is shows how far Ardal O'Hanlon has fallen and how quickly.
To recover from this will truly need a superhuman effort.
Whose Line Is It Anyway was originally developed for radio and later transferred to Channel 4. It is based on the need for improvisation and assumes that the subject or topic was not previously known to the contestants. It launched the TV career of Clive Anderson and led to many of the contestants becoming household names such as Tony Slattery, Greg Proops and Josie Lawrence.
Clive Anderson presented the show in an unnecessarily breathless and energetic way. Although he had little to do other than introduce the sketches and ask the audience for suggestions he often tried a few jokes himself. It was probably better he left this to the contestants. The allocation of the points was always left to the discretion of Anderson and he would often gives thousands of points on a whim. As the prize is often to read the credits in an amusing way then I suppose it did not matter. Anderson is clearly a clever man and as a Cambridge graduate and barrister he will be but his humour is not well defined and he just appears to be a smart alec.
The format of the programme is simple in that four team members are asked to improvise a series of sketches, routines or songs along various themes. They were then judged by Anderson and awarded points.
The early series featured John Sessions who personified smugness. Though an excellent mimic of various acting styles he often appeared to be over rehearsed for someone doing an improv. Some might argue what a tremendous gift that is but actually with Sessions it appeared false. Tony Slattery was also a regular but soon became absurdly over exposed. It appeared for a time his answering machine must have said 'I'll do it' as he appeared in everything on TV. Slattery eventually seemed to merely revel in having the opportunity to swear or include sexual references. He soon became distinctly unfunny. Paul Merton was also on a lot at first but soon moved on to much better things. Josie Lawrence was easily the best of the female contestants having a very ready wit and sense of fun. Sandi Toksvig was also very amusing as she is now on Call My Bluff which has a similar unscripted format.
Oversize comic Mike McShane made his debut on the programme and has since appeared in other comedy programmes. Greg Proops has appeared many times but is annoying like Sessions. His knowing smirk is irritating and he is frankly not that funny. Another notable regular has been Ryan Stiles and the show often featured pianist Richard Vranch to provide the musical accompaniment.
The music rounds featured themes like the hoe down and they also had a song titles round. The England football team tried to do this during interviews at the 1998 World Cup. They were unsuccessful that year in so many ways. A favourite round would be The Worlds Worst or The Person You would least like to meet in certain circumstances.
The question must be actually how much was truly improvised and how much was on subjects previously advised. The same question has dogged Have I Got News For You and whether that is truly completely unscripted. Ultimately if it was funny it should not matter. Whose Line Is It was funny at first but in my view soon became boring and the presenters smug, self satisfied and conceited. Their initial striving for comedy was soon replaced by a swaggering cockiness which was not fun to watch.
The programme was later shown in its Canadian/US production. This was presented by an American comic called Drew Carey. If anything he was worse than Clive Anderson.
Whose Line Is It Anyway is a good game but was spoilt by the people on it.