Abominable

After watching Abominable at the weekend, we all trooped into a restaurant for an early dinner and to remind ourselves of the best bits of the film. It was surprising to realise just how many times variations on the phrase “because he/she is the bad guy” cropped up in the conversation. This, for me, sums up the core problem with the film.

The film centres on teenager girl, Yi whose father has died and who has become less close to both her mother and her grandmother because of it. Yi, a talented violinist, harbours the ambition to take the trip across China that she had always planned to take with her father. While playing her father’s violin on the roof of the apartment block in which she lives she encounters a yeti, who has escaped from the villainous Burnish Industries. Through a sequence of events, Yi finds herself, along with her former childhood friend, Jin and his ten year old cousin Peng, on a journey across China as they attempt to return the yeti to his home.

The yeti himself is a delight and, of the human characters, both Yi and Jin are very well drawn and develop, pretty much as you’d expect, over the course of the film. Peng provides plenty of comic relief, especially when playing against the yeti. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast, as well as a large part of the plot, feels like something of an afterthought.

This makes for a perfectly serviceable adventure film, but one that is often let down by some badly underdeveloped villains. It’s a fun film, but one that could have been so much better.

What Is Love

What Is Love, as I’m sure everyone remembers, is a 1993 dance track by the singer Haddaway. The song was popular with club DJs and reached #2 in the UK top 40.

Skameleon is “Germany’s only Ska CoverBand.” They have a cover of What is Love.

It’s quite good, although I’m not entirely sure what is going on with the bassist.

Five Things #9

Between the Dark and the Dark by Deji Bryce Olukotun is a powerful story about hard choices and the potentially calamitous consequences of failing to recognise cultural differences.

Five hundred years ago, Leonardo da Vinci came up with a radically different bridge design to connect the city of Constantinople with its neighbor city Galata. Now, researchers at MIT have proven that his bridge would have worked.

Daniel Crown looks at Hnefatafl, the board game at the heart of Viking culture.

Dean Burnett explains, scientifically, why “Edgy” comedy can get fu*ked.

And finally, Nick Barlow reviews the various parties’ prospects in the upcoming UK general election and concludes that things are far too volatile to give predictions about what the result of the election might be.

Election

When I walked into the office yesterday, the first thing that anyone said to me was: “Has the UK managed to organise an election yet?” It comes to something when even Belgians (six months after an election, and still no federal government) are finding British politics amusingly dysfunctional.

But now everything has changed and the UK Parliament has very nearly agreed to hold a general election… Just before Christmas.

Inevitably, the pundits are out in force but I really don’t think that anyone can predict what will happen next. Both of the main parties have rendered themselves unelectable. Labour are, deservedly, tanking in the polls and, as far as Brexit is concerned, the Tories have managed to both disappoint Leavers and alienate Remainers — it’s difficult to see where they expect to find any votes at all.

This all suggests that the misleadingly named First Past the Post electoral system that Britain insists on retaining is liable to deliver an utterly random result. But probably not so random that Lib Dems win a majority and finally bring an end to this whole Brexit mess.

So, as this laughing stock of a Parliament dissolves itself I am left with the dilemma of whether to stock up on popcorn or just try to ignore this next chapter of the English farce called Brexit.

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

We’ve enjoyed a bit of a Shaun the Sheep weekend this weekend. On Saturday we dropped a broad hint to the boys by digging out our DVD of the Shaun the Sheep Movie, and still none of them realised which film we were intending to take them to see on Sunday. Even with the uncertainty, though, the film was enjoyed by all.

Farmageddon (I’m not typing out the full title every time) delivers the same gently surreal humour as the first film and there are plenty of laugh out loud moments. That said, though, this film didn’t feel as effortlessly superb as its predecessor.

The plot centres on the arrival of an alien spaceship in Mossy Bottom Farm. Inevitably, the intergalactic traveller, Lu-La encounters Shaun and our ovine hero decides to help the visitor to return home before the villainous boss of the can get her hands on her. Meanwhile, the farmer has decided to cash in on the interest Lu-La’s UFO has caused by setting his dog to build a theme park.

It’s a pretty simple plot onto which can be hung an endless stream of in-jokes, visual gags and film references (starting with ET). None of this, though, really held my attention in the same way that previous Aardman outings have managed. Part of the problem, I think, is the character of Lu-La, who is a little bit too cute for an Aardman character. Of course, “not the best film Aardman has made” still translates to “easily better than most of the animated films you’ll see this year” and there is a lot to enjoy in this film.

This being a Shaun the Sheep film, there is no dialogue (obviously — have you ever met a talking sheep?) which makes for a film that stands as a tribute to the era of silent films and one that clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of truly visual storytelling. Everything is both clear, and clearly expressed, without a word needing to be said by anyone.

Farmageddon is not the greatest film that Aardman Animations have ever released, but it is a cracking 90 minutes of entertainment that stands head and shoulders above the generic CGI that so often passes for animation these days. For this alone, for the fact that this is an original film made by people who clearly care about their work, makes this a film that is well worth seeing.

Also I was tickled by the fact that the Dutch version of this film (not that there is any need for subtitles) has been given the puntastic name of The Spacesheep.

The Magnificent

According to Last.fm:

The One World Orchestra Featuring the Massed Pipes And Drums of the Children’s Free Revolutionary Volunteer Guards is the name that The KLF went by for the recording of ‘The Magnificent’ for the Warchild charity album ‘Help’. The song is a drum ‘n’ bass cover version of the theme from The Magnificent Seven, with contributions from Belgrade DJ Fleka from Serbian radio station B92.

Having pulled a bunch of old cassettes out of the basement, I am now in the process of recovering and cleaning up a whole stack of old CDs. The CDs have been there for a while and we had a bit of a flood a few years ago, so drying out the disks and removing the mould is proving to be quite a slow process. But I am getting there and am discovering a fair few forgotten gems in the process. One of these has been the War Child CD help, which I bought back in the 1990s.

There are many outstanding tracks on this CD, including The Magnificent by The One World Orchestra Featuring the Massed Pipes And Drums of the Children’s Free Revolutionary Volunteer Guards, also known as The KLF.

Enjoy.

Hnefatafl: The Viking Game

Although Hnefatafl is a recent acquisition for me, this is a very old game indeed. The game goes back to medieval Scandinavia and became popular across Northern Europe during the Viking era.

When newer upstarts, like chess, started to become popular during the Middle Ages, Hnefatafl lost out and the rules of the game were slowly forgotten. All was not lost, though, and in the 1900s various attempts were made to reconstruct the rules based on the Sámi game, Tablut. These had been written down at some point in the 1700s and translated (quite badly) from Latin into English somewhere in the 1800s.

This brings us to the game that I now have, from Masters Traditional Games, which both looks and feels solidly retro. The resin pieces have a suitably medieval look to them and feel nicely solid to handle. Even the linen board felt appropriate and has the additional advantage of allowing for a relatively compact box.

In terms of the actual game, Hnefatafl — and the class of games to which it belongs — is not balanced by design. This is a two-player game in which the white king starts in the centre of the board surrounded by his 12 pawns. The dark pawns (who have no king) are arrayed around the edges of the board.

For white to win, his king needs to escape to one of the corner squares. Black wins by trapping the white king, which is q lot more difficult than it sounds.

Because of this, it’s generally best to play the game as two rounds so that each player plays as both attacker and defender.

This is the sort of game that is right up my street. Although the rules are very straightforward, the design of the game is such that it has a huge amount of depth and there are a wide range of strategies that can be tried and discarded. It can be a quick game, but when the attacker starts building a blockade to slowly close in on the king it becomes a truly challenging strategy game and one that will keep you (or me, at any rate) playing again and again and again.

Whistling in the Dark

I mentioned last week that I had been clearing some junk out of the basement and, in doing so, stumbled across a number of my old cassettes. On Wednesday I caught myself humming a tune that I knew (obviously, I was humming it) but couldn’t place.

I have finally managed to identify the song: it’s Whistling in the Dark from the They Might Be Giants album, Flood.

It’s an annoyingly catchy tune that has been buzzing around my mind for most of the week. Now it’s your turn.