Friday, July 29, 2011

The Other Guys - DVD review

I picked this up in the supermarket a couple of weeks back.  It's a throwaway comedy cop duo movie starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlenberg with an A-list supporting cast (Samuel L Jackson, Eva Mendes, Steve Coogan).  Most of the humour in the film is just daft but it did make me laugh.  This is not a film that is full of artistic merit but it was entertaining.  I won't even try to remember the plot.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sometimes there are good things about being a doctor.

Every so often you do manage to do something worthwhile as a doctor.  Today we managed to get a young woman home after more than 80 days on the ward.  The woman had an unusual diagnosis  (anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis) and I managed to guess what was going on.  I did the right test quickly and we confirmed the diagnosis early.  We managed to deal with all the problems that can occur in this condition and we managed to deliver the correct treatments (or at least what are hopefully the correct treatments).

I cannot say that we got everything right all the time but we did our best and the patient seems to be better.  Her partner and her family were very happy.  I got a bit embarrassed and slightly teary when they were saying goodbye.  As a doctor you don't really expect people to thank you.  I'm just there to do a job to the best of my ability and I get paid well for it.  People are often unhappy with their doctors and I'm always a bit surprised when they are nice to us.

So, despite being run off my feet and working like a blue-arsed fly it was a good day.  We got a good result.  We don't always get them.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Godspeed you! Black Emperor live at the Arches, Glasgow.

This was the third time that I've seen GY!BE and it was certainly a warmer experience that in December.  I nearly broke my wrist slipping on the ice that day and I'm sure that the temperature in the Barrowlands was well below zero. 

This Arches show was sold out and they would probably have sold out the Barrowlands on the night if the promoters has not changed venue due to slow ticket sales.  The Barrowlands is probably a better venue because of the warmer sound from the wooden walls of the venue.  I always feel that the Arches has a bit of a 'cold' sound and I certainly think this was the case at this show.  It's also slightly uncomfortable standing on a concrete floor for 3 hours.

RM Hubbert was a good support act, more enjoyable in supra-zero conditions.  He tells good stories and plays guitar well.  I look forward to seeing him play again.  If I ever have a dinner party I would consider hiring him.  According to legend he will play at your dinner party for food.  I'm not really someone who has dinner parties or someone who has a house where I could host a dinner party but if I were that person I would perhaps offer Hubbert some gainful employment.

GY!BE gave us a 2 hour set.  I have trouble remembering all the different song titles for Godspeed stuff but I really enjoyed Sleep and Blaze Bailey.  I also liked the unreleased track Armenian.  I have heard that they plan to record/release a new album in the near future and I'm interested in hearing it.  I probably need to pick up a couple of the older records too.

A good show but it would have been better in the Barras.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Good Shepherd - DVD review

This was another DVD that I borrowed from my dad.  It tells the story of an intelligence officer working for the American goverment during the second world war.  The officer is recruited as a student at Harvard in the late 1930s and the story continues until the mid-1960s.

The cast is good and the film is well made.  The main character played by Matt Damon is difficult to read.  Damon has a real poker face in the film which is probably appropriate for a counter-intelligence boss.  A lot of cold decisions are made during the film and it's all a bit morally murky.

It's a decent film.

The Ghost Writer - DVD review

I borrowed this DVD from my Dad last week.  I'd seen a couple of trailers for the film and I thought it looked pretty good.  It tells the story of a man hired to act as a ghost writer for the memoirs of a disgraced British Prime Minister.  The Prime Minister is a thinly veiled caricature of Tony Blair.

There is an element of murder mystery to the story as the original biographer employed to co-write the memoir has died in mysterious circumstances.  The cast is strong with Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams and Pierce Brosnan.

I enjoyed this film.  It was better than I expected.  I only realised that it was directed by Roman Polanski when the end credits began to roll.  The film is very much in his style and well worth seeing if you enjoy his work.  Polanski has done some bad things in the past (in a life sense, not an artistic sense) but his films are often good.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

This blog is 6 years old

I've just been looking at some of the old posts on this blog and I realised that  I've been  writing this blog for  six years now.  The first post was written in July 2005 and I've written almost 600 since then.  I've done a lot of stuff in  that time.  I've moved from the Midlands back to Scotland, I've worked in a few different places, I've bought a flat, women have come and gone.  It's been a busy 6 years.

I'm not sure why I keep writinng this blog.  It's habitual in many ways.  It helps me remember what I've thought about things at the time.  It serves some diary  purposes but it isn't really too personal.  I enjoy writing and it gives me a chance to practice it.  I do some writing professionally for work and it has  been published but technical scientific writing is less fun than just doing my own thing on here.  It is nice not to have an editor although that probably means that most of the stuff on this blog is self indulgent shite.

So I guess I'll just take this opportunity to once again laugh at the current plight of Rubert Murdoch and News International before I  stop writing.

See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody by Bob Mould and Michael Azerrad

This book is the autobiography of Bob Mould, singer/songwrighter and key member of Husker Du and Sugar.  I've been listening to his music since the age of 12 or 13.  He has created a solid body of passionate indie rock music.   Zen Arcade is one of the greatest punk albums ever and he has released several others that are nearly as good.

I think it is important to remember that you can like the music that a person creates without actually liking the person that much.  A classic example of this would be Pete Doherty of the Libertines who appears to be a repugnant human being despite having written one or two good songs.  Bob Mould has written a very open and honest autobiography and he does not always cast himself in a good light. 

Mould treats the former members of Husker Du with contempt although if his version of events is correct they certainly were not angels.  The description of Grant Hart trying to seduce the hetrosexual bass player from Sugar is fairly funny.  Mould also desribes how badly he dealt with the suicide of one of the administrative team for Husker Du.  He seems to have a tendency to walk away from difficult situations and end long term relationships abruptly and permanently.  At one point in the book he describes how he learned of the death of his former partner, a man he lived with for several years, on the internet eight years after the event.  I guess things like that happen but it is sad.

At times Mould seems to take strange turns in his life.  He spent almost a year working as a scriptwriter for a wrestling show that starred Hulk Hogan among others.  He also started abusing steroids during that period.  Mould was no stranger to substance misuse having abused alcohol from the age of 13 and amphetamines during the early years of Husker Du.  Despite this he managed to be unaware of the heroin abuse of Grant Hart despite sharing a room with him on tour for many years.

Towards the end of the book Mould appears to be more comfortable in his own skin as he comes to terms with his homosexuality and becomes more involved in gay culture.  He still plays the music of Husker Du and Sugar when he tours but he has moved on.  I  was lucky enough to see him play an acoustic show in Glasgow 5 years ago and I wouldn't mind seeing him with a live band.  I've made a mental note to check out some of his more recent music.

This book is an unflinching portrait of Bob Mould.  I don't think he wants us to like him but at least now we probably understand him a bit more.  I certainly learned a few things.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Grant Morrison signing and an addendum to the Forbidden Planet Book Group discussion of Final Crisis

Grant Morrison is one of my favourite comic book writers and by happenstance he was signing copies of his new book Supergods at Forbidden Planet on Buchanan Street this evening.  My spare room contains an excessive quantity of books by Morrison so I had to just pick two favourites.  I settled for my hardback copy of Absolute All-Star Superman and my ancient copy of Zenith book one.

The queue at Forbidden Planet was fairly long and I had to wait in line for nearly an hour.  Thankfully it wasn't raining and the combination of my iPod and random encounters with a few people I know helped stave off boredom.

Morrison was by all accounts friendly and chatty with everyone.  After the Book Group on Monday night I asked him if he managed to achieve everything he wanted with Final Crisis.  He said that he had wanted to go further with the ending and make things even more crazy at the end of the book with dialogue breaking down.  He pulled back from this after reading some negative feedback on the internet.  He seems like the sort of bloke that you could talk about his work with for a long time but that isn't really appropriate at a signing.

So I went home happy with my signed books.  I just need to track down Frank Quietly to get my All Star Superman book signed.

Luchadoras by Peggy Adam - Plan B Books graphic novel book group

I've been having a serious geek out during my annual leave this week.  After going to the Forbidden Planet book group I went to the Plan B Books group last night.  It was held in Mono again.  Mono is always a good venue for these things - there is a very low ned count.

The book for discussion was Luchadoras by Peggy Adam.  Peggy Adam is a French comic book creator who has been producing comics since 2000.  Luchadoras is the first of her books to be translated into English.  It was apparently written to raise awareness of the plight of women in the Mexican city of Juarez.  Juarez has a population of 1.5 million and according to wikipedia there was a homicide rate of 229 murders per 100,000 people in 2010.  There is also a high rate of sexual violence against women with 400 murders (described as sexual homicides on wikipedia) and an additional 400 disappearances in the past 10 years.  This occurs on a background of high rates of domestic violence.  Several books have been written on the topic but while several people have been arrested the crimes continue. 

For local comparison in 2002 Glasgow had a homicide rate of 58.7 people per million of population (approx 6 per 100,000) more than twice the level of the other Scottish cities.  If you were to move to Juarez you would 40 times more likely to be murdered.  source

Apparently there are 116.000 abandoned homes in the city  suggesting that approximately 400,000 people have fled the city.  This would suggest to me that it's a bit of a shit place to live.

Additional information about Juarez can be found at the wikipedia page or at a page about the murders.

So Luchadoras is a book with a purpose.  It is meant to make people think about Juarez.  I guess that by way of this book group it has made me think about it a bit more.  However I am not convinced that Peggy Adam has been completely successful in the execution of Luchadoras as I had to do a bit of investigation to learn about Juarez.  Without the book group I am not sure that I would have bothered to do much additional reading beyond what I had gleaned from Sunday newspapers and Radio 4 in the past.

The 96 pages of Luchadoras offer a grim slice of life in Juarez.  It starts with Alma, the main female character speaking to a counsellor about her violent ex-boyfriend.  She is then stabbed in the street by her ex-boyfriend as her sister watches from his car.  A tourist, Alma's new boyfriend also watches from across the street.  I had to read the book twice to pick up on all the aspects of this scene.  The remaining pages continue with an atmosphere of near constant oppressive misery.  There are one or two brief moments of respite in a children's party and in the relationship between Alma and the tourist but generally everything is grim.  This grim atmosphere may be normal if you lived in Juarez.

People had varying opinions on the book.  Some people just didn't like it at all and some people thought it was great.  On a personal level I didn't really like any of the characters in  the book and I thought they  were all bad people.  Every adult character does something unpleasant.  I found the casual violence and personal betrayal a bit alienating.  Despite that I think the book is fairly effective.  It's easy  to read and it lets us clearly observe the lives of these characters.  The art is minimal and at times it is difficult to tell some of the characters apart.  Despite that there is some nice use of visual imagery - vultures and owls watching dead bodies, Alma and the tourist connecting as wrestlers, transitions between scenes.  I think the book probably would have benefited from colour as this would have enhanced the feeling of passing time  but I understand that books like this are produced with a limited budget. 

So Luchadoras is a decent comic book but not my favourite.  It is readable but depressing.  It might make you think.  I handed it to a non-comic book reading friend after the meeting and he read it in 30 minutes delivering the verdict that it was 'alright'.  I would agree.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Final Crisis at the Forbidden Planet Glasgow Book Group

I went along to the first meeting of the Forbidden Planet Glasgow Book Group this evening.  I think it was inspired by the success of the Plan B Books Book Group although the two are very different beasts.  The Forbidden Planet Group was held in the shop after close of business on Monday evening.  This had advantages and disadvantages.  It was slightly more intimate than Mono (which was good) although there was a lack of alcohol.  I think about 10 people were there (a couple of whom I had met at the Plan B group before).

The initial book was Final Crisis, a DC comics crossover story written by Glaswegian comic god Grant Morrison with art from JG Jones.  I had picked up the individual issues of the comic as they were released a few years back but I had only bought a copy of the trade paperback on Saturday.  I quickly re-read the series over a couple of hours before the group started.  I didn't get right to the end of the book but I managed to remind myself of the themes of the story and the construction of the book.

Final Crisis is not an entry level comic book.  If you had never read a superhero comic before and the first one that you picked up was Final Crisis I suspect that you would be disinclined to ever read another comic book.  Final Crisis is not easy for readers and assumes an in depth knowledge of 70 odd years of DC comics.  This is great for fanboys, with rich art providing many knowing nods for those in the know.  However, a comic book virgin (pun not intended) would find much of this unintelligible. In many ways, DC comics represent one of the greatest soap operas in existence with 75 years of constant publication of comics like Superman and Batman and dedicated readers probably deserve more sophisticated stories but at times Final Crisis is almost unintelligible.  While many of the attendees at the Book Group enjoyed Final Crisis nobody seemed to think that it was perfect.

Grant Morrison is a favourite writer of mine.  I pick up most of his comic books and I greatly enjoy much of his work.  Zenith was one of my favourite stories in 2000ad and it has provided a blueprint for much of his subsequent superhero output.  In Final Crisis he returns to many of the themes first seen in Zenith - Nazi superheroes, multiple parallel universes, apocalyptic evil gods.  Like a jazz musician Morrison brings out riffs he is comfortable with and deploys them at the right moment.  However I don't think that Final Crisis represents his best work.

One of the ideas raised at the group tonight was that Morrison may have been subjected to a certain degree of editorial interference towards the end of the Final Crisis series.  I don't know if this is accurate but it may explain the dip in quality and lack of coherence in the final episodes.  Several people said that they felt the book went crazy at the end.  Opinions varied as to whether this was intentional or not and, irrespective of intentions, whether this was a good feature of the book.

 So we had a good discussion about an average book.  People appeared to enjoy themselves and I will go again if I get a chance.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Darkness at the heart of British culture

I think I dislike almost everything about The News of the World and the Sun although I have to admit to reading the Sunday Times.  I admit that I am a liberal (although I'm not wanting to vote for those turncoat bastards at any point in the near future) and I'm a bit of a socialist/left wing type.  I'm a doctor so it's in my nature to give a fuck about those who are less fortunate than me.

I have dislike NOTW and the Sun for many years.  I don't like page 3 girls.  I do like naked women, just not when I'm reading a newspaper.  Page 3 girls are fucking pointless.  Buy a wank mag or use the internet for sucks sake.  I don't like braindead bigotry.  I don't like the Islamophobia/closet racism that I see in the tabloid press.  I don't really give a shit about what an ignorant footballer does with his penis. 

I do like investigative journalism. I like to know about bad things that corporations and governments do.  I think that is important and that the negative feedback system of a free press keeps our sleazy politicians in line.  A good journalist will work for a good newspaper and let us know what we need to know.  However, I suspect that a good journalist would not cross a moral line by breaking into the answering machine of the family of a dead soldier or a murdered schoolchild.  A good journalist would self regulate and step back.  The public does not need to know that much.

Something seems to have been rotten at the heart of the News of the World and the News International corporation.  Why would you fire 200 people and end a 168 year old newspaper instead of firing the chief executive who has failed to maintain decent standards?  Why would the Prime Minister employ an advisor who appears to have bribed police officers?  Will Rupert Murdoch be allowed to gain further media dominance in our country?  I don't want anything like the American Fox News in the UK. 

I will not miss the News of the World.  I would be happy to see the rest of the output of News International follow in its path.  We could do with a few less tabloid newspapers.  It would be nice if they were replaced by some intelligent journalism.