Sunday, September 30, 2007

Last Sunday in Limerick (DVD Catchup)

Well today is my last Sunday in Limerick. I'm back in old blighty next weekend for my regular fortnightly trip back to check the mail and bills (with a dental appointment on Monday meaning I don't fly back to Ireland until Tuesday) and then it's a short three and a half day week before offical contract end on 12th October.

Rent on the company flat (which I'm sharing with a recent new hire from Slovenia) is paid up only until October 12th which means there will be a somewhat premature departure of the two remaining developers (a Slovenian and a Russian - what an international group we are!) to Scotland where the project is now looking likely to run until some time around May next year under the 'control' of a new software development company whose chairman is on the board of the company that currently employs my services. At this stage of the game I'm under considerable pressure to go to Scotland, if only for a couple of weeks to help with handover, but the writing has been on the wall for a while now and I've finally come to the same conclusion that most of my former colleagues came to: that for my own health and sanity, if nothing else, it's time to move on. It feels like a personal failure in many ways, but not one I can rescue or have any real control over so despite the temptation of guaranteed employment for several months with a boss I'm really appreciative of, it's become a case of 'I tried my best. Time to move on rather than waste any more time'. So I'm looking forward to a return home and some time off to get to grips with some of the new technologies, hopefully getting the long-promised Shiny Discs web site off the ground before looking for another contract after Christmas.

With crazy work hours pretty much on hold for the last couple of weeks I've been able to use evenings and weekends in Ireland to catch up on the backlog of DVDs that have accumulated, thanks to the trusty laptop and WinDVD software....

Heroes, currently airing on the Beeb and about half way through the first season, has had its entire first season released on a lavish HD-DVD boxed set in the States, and is every bit as good as people have been saying it is. Think 'Harry Potter page turner' and you've pretty much got the gist of the TV series with its cliff-hanger endings and plot twists. Think X-Files or Lost before they got too formulaic. The thing about the twists in this show is it's clear they've been planned right from the beginning, unlike the last-minute 'what could we do to shock the audience and turn the world upside down?' nonsense that shows like Lost have resorted to as the pressure for more episodes has grown. Admittedly the final 10 minutes of last episode ARE a bit flat, but when a show's this consistently good through a 23 episode run, how could a 'finale' NOT be slightly disappointing?!! The HD-DVD package is excellent and (quelle suprise!) significantly cheaper than buying the scummy standard DVD 'half box' sets that are going to be released in the UK (the first one apparently hits UK stores tomorrow) so it's disappointing to read that it's pretty much disappeared from the 'high definition' Top 10 in the US just a couple of weeks after release. At the asking price of just under £50 on import, including delivery and customs charges, it's a complete steal and is a great showcase for the advantages of high definition viewing over standard DVD or terrestial TV viewing if you have a high definition TV. Heroes, despite its comic book-based premise, counts as some of the best character-based drama I've seen all year.

Not that I'm an expert when it comes to critical reviewing of course. I'm beginning to seriously question my faculties for accurate observation when so many of the professional critics seem to have opinions so much at variance with my own. What many of them are in total agreement about as being brilliant (Knocked Up, already out on HD-DVD, is OK but nowhere near as good as people keep saying it is just because Judd 'Superbad' Atapow is current flavour of the month) I find extremely mediocre, and what most of them regard as a missed opportunity I've regarded as excellent.

Highlights on British DVD (aside from the excellent third season of Battlestar Galactaca which I'm about half way through now) have been largely unexpected, given luke-warm critical reviews or just apathy from the cinema-going public. This week's highlights have included Chumscrubber which is a quirky gem of a movie. My friend Brian Sibley did such a good job on reviewing this when it got a limited theatrical release just 3 months ago that it seems pointless me trying to repeat what he's already done so eloquently (you can read Brian's blog review here). Chumscrubber is definitely worth a rental or purchase, even if the subject matter does at first glance seem a little 'off' and the title so damned lame.

Jindabyne, a story about the impact the discovery of a dead aboriginal girl on a men's fishing trip comes to have on their community is one of those 'worthy-and-quite-interesting-but-frankly-a-little-dull' art house movies that the critics go ga-ga over, but which left me a little cold, despite the presence of the ever-wonderful Laura Linney, and an excellent performance from Gabriel Byrne. It's a slow-paced 'back to Nature' story that's given plenty of time to breathe, but the planted little obscure seeds of character back-story just seemed too contrived and too vague. There were too many characters with problems that never really resolved themselves I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed. This one is worth a rental definitely, but given all the critical raves I'd expected something a little more original with a bit more depth to it. It felt like a variation on a theme that I've seen far too many times before.

Factory Girl was the real surprise of this week's watch list - a purchase I'd nearly avoided because of lack of interest in the subject matter, Andy Warhol who I've always felt had far too much of the Emporer's new clothes about his so-called 'talent'. Guy Pearce is an actor always worth following and was ultimately the reason why I gave this one a go - he has a nack for avoiding the mainstream and choosing obscure little gems of films, and so it's proved with this one too. The film received luke-warm response, although most critics praised Pearce's performance, so the real surprise was not only Sienna Miller incredible performance in the title role, with what must surely be a career-best performance, but how much I enjoyed the film itself. Others seem to find the film too much of a mess, trying to cover too many areas unconvincingly, but I found it engrossing, original and highly moving. Given the current obsession with 'cult of celebrity' figures like Paris Hilton (yawnerama!) and Pete D'oherty it seems particularly relevant today. This one is, in my opinion, well worth a rental despite the lousy 20% review on Rotten Tomatoes and lowly 6.1 score on imdb, and although others found the visual style as 'pretentious' or 'distracting' as I find Mr Warhol himself, I thought it really helped to make the film something unique. Definitely one of the more enjoyable films I've seen in the last few months.

Like I said, I'm clearly out of touch!

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Advance Warning: There are no film or DVD reviews at all in this blog post!

Last weekend I took a trip to Dublin with a couple of my co-workers, Richard and Vitaly. I've been sharing the company flat with Richard for a few weeks but his contract ended on Friday and he decided not to renew (with the lousy weather, long hours and weekend working, and this being his first contract nobody could blame him). Vitaly is a Russian contractor who has worked for the last couple of years on the software that we are producing a new version of. His wife Nadia came along too.

Saturday was great, even though we were all exhausted after another difficult week at work. A quick early evening nap meant Saturday evening went really well and Dublin was what friends had told me it was - a fun, friendly city with lots of drunks (including us), but all of the friendly, smiley kind. A stag party from Manchester helped make the evening and I posted photo's from the weekend on an internal company 'social' web site which I've also posted here (beware three 'pages' of slow download and company 'in jokes'). What the photo's don't really convey is a sense of what a nightmare Sunday became when Richard's car broke down late Sunday morning in the middle of Dublin on a busy match day.

Using the internet to try and find a breakdown service on a day when an important national match is being played is not a wise idea. Two idiots wasted several hours we didn't have before towing us (in a battered old Ford Fiesta) to their 'premises' behind three off-road rubbish tips complete with roaming packs of rabid dogs, mad barking locked-up Alsations and the supposed office being a trailer home. It felt like we were about to become the participants in a bad Hollywood 'horror' flick, and far scarier at the time than any photo's I managed to grab (the mere act of which caused another altercation). A 170 Euro bribe had not been in my budget but was needed to get the car towed to the more public location of Dublin airport, where the RAC were joined and called out, with me thankfully managing to get a hire car for a week despite only having my photo passport without the accompanying paper license. The moral of the story is: if you're going to take your car abroad make sure you have recovery there!

Sunday was an expensive and wasteful (not to say stressful) end to what should have been an excellent weekend, and for Richard it was pretty much the last straw in what he has come to see as the 'nightmare' of his first contract in Ireland. Thankfully we have the pictures to remind us that we'd loved Dublin itself before the nightmare started!