The Box Trolls – A Short Review.

A quick disclaimer. This post may contain spoilers.

A Warm Hearted Animated Film.

We took my daughter and five of her friends to see this film as her birthday treat. I would consider any children’s film which manages to hold the attention of six 7 and 8 year old children for an hour and a half to be a success, and The Box Trolls definitely met that criteria. And as a bonus it was good enough that my wife and I both enjoyed it too.

The film is a stop-frame animation, though I suspect there may have been some CGI post processing. But there is a lovely section right at the end of the film where two characters are standing talking, and one of the animators begins to be ghosted into the shot as the camera pulls out. This allows you to see both the characters and the set that they are being filmed in, but also the painstaking work of the animators. The speech that one of the characters gives about someone moving his arm in tiny movements is both amusing and full of pathos.

The Story.

The story takes its sensibilities very much from fairy tale type stories. A child has been taken, and is presumed to have been killed by the subterranean Box Trolls of the title. We are given reassurance that the child is safe, and is being raised by the Box Trolls. The child grows up, becomes known as Eggs (from the name written on his box).

Then an exterminator, a social climber who longs to join a Guild devoted to the love of cheese, takes advantage of a public outcry to obtain the commission to rid the town of the Box Trolls once and for all. The Box Trolls, peaceful and kind by nature are no match for Snatcher and his unpleasant crew, and their numbers dwindle rapidly. Eggs decides that they must fight to save themselves.

In this fight it is revealed how Eggs ended up being raised by the Box Trolls, and just how wicked Snatcher can be.

As is befitting for a children’s story, the good triumph, and the bad are vanquished, and those who were uncomfortable with their involvement are given the chance of redemption.

Final Thoughts.

A great film for children that parents can enjoy too. My only complaint is that I found myself trying to identify one of the actors from their voice for almost the whole film. It was a relief when the credits came round and I was able to identify Richard Ayoade.

Writing 101: Three Songs That Matter To Me.

The latest blog101 challenge is to follow some other blogs and some tags. I’m guessing that others who have taken to following my blog over the last couple of days have done so as part of the same challenge. This might explain why, when I write about how I don’t have a faith, and in fact reject the notion of a faith I end up with two new religious bloggers following me. Ho Hum.

Time to Face The Music.

In the absence of a writing challenge for blogging101, I’m falling back to the writing101 assignment. This calls for me to write about three songs that matter to me. Of course, the issue with a post like this is that it is entirely reliant on the day, mood and recent musical exposure. What did I listen to on my iPod on the way to work this morning? is the sun shining (actually, yes, yes it is) etc.

So I’m going to have to go for today’s picks, with the caveat that it would probably differ in at least one track a week from now.

Song 1: Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd.

The album, also called ‘Wish You Were Here’ is, without reservation my favourite album. Unfortunately my wife hates Pink Floyd (preferring entirely disposable pop), so I tend to listen to it when I’m on my own.

I love this particular track because it puts me in mind of my time at University. It reminds me of my old house and class mates, and of my early adulthood. It reminds me of when I moved on in my musical tastes from the stuff that the radio was playing.

And when I was able to see David Gilmour live in London some years back, he walked out onto the stage, stood in the spotlight and started to play this, and the hush in the audience was electric.

So this is a song that speaks to me about my memory, about my life.

Song 2: East Easy Rider – Julian Cope.

Another song with strong memories. In the early nineties I spent the Christmas holidays in Morocco with four friends. We had gone primarily to surf, but there was also a local motorbike rental place, and a few times we hired bikes to explore the country. All but one of the bikes were 125cc trail bikes, the other was a 250cc bike with a more laid back chopper styling. One afternoon I had an hour to kill and decided to take this bigger bike for a spin on my own. I headed out of town, following the coast road northwards.  Like many coast roads this was cut into a steep descent down to a rocky shore, so as I rode along I had the Atlantic to my left, and a cliff to my right. Being late afternoon the sun was low in the sky casting my shadow against the cliff.

When I look back at the experience it was one of the points in my life when I was most at peace. I wasn’t wearing a helmet, or protective equipment, but the road was quiet and I wasn’t going particularly quickly, just enjoying the wind in my long hair, the sun on my skin and the experience in general.

As I rode along I began to sing, and this was the song that felt appropriate. It wasn’t long after the album (Peggy Suicide) had been released and I’d been listening to it pretty continuously, so that, combined with the title and the sentiment seemed to fit.

Good Times.

Song 3: Blood Wedding – Oysterband.

I wrote above that I was going to struggle to narrow this whole thing down to three tracks, and I really have. The only one that was obvious was number 1. I ended up picking this because the three ‘go to’ acts that I listen to when I don’t know what to listen to are reflected in this list. And when it came to picking an Oysterband song, there were many I could have chosen, but the one that was played at my wedding made sense.

Our wedding wasn’t anything like the one in the song by the way. No drunken uncles pissing up the walls or anything like that. And it is worth pointing out that it wasn’t our ‘first dance’. That was the far more romantic ‘Thankyou’ by Dido. But after the first dance this was the one that got the party started!

Reflections.

When I was trying to choose the tracks to write about I spent a lot of time scrolling around on my iPod, and it was a timely reminder of how consuming music has changed. I had vinyl records that required you to sit, almost reverentially around a stereo. I had cassettes which were robust in terms of being able to move the playing equipment around, but which relied on fragile tape which I was practised at repairing when it broke or got scrunched. I had CDs which were robust, and had excellent sound quality, but held only one album each. I had an MP3 CD player where you could play MP3 encoded CDs which could hold ten or more albums on a single disc. And then I had an iPod, smaller than a CD case, but holding every single CD I own, as well as downloaded podcasts and audio books. And because of that I could try different songs, test what they meant to me and write the above. It isn’t profound, but my 12 year old self would have thought it was fantastic.

Other Racers and Riders.

There were tens of songs that I would happily have included on a different day, or in a different mood. A short list:

Thankyou – Dido

Put Out The Lights – Oysterband

Mother – Pink Floyd

World Shut Your Mouth – Julian Cope

Reward – Teardrop Explodes

Love Will Tear Us Apart – Either Oysterband or Joy Division version

Duelling Banjos – Any version

Benzadrine – Thea Gilmore

She Sells Sanctuary – The Cult

Pictures of You – The Cure

Victim of Love – Erasure

Tom’s Diner – Suzanne Vega (the original, non-beatbox version, I saw her live in Birmingham, and she just walked out to the microphone and sang it without any accompaniment)

Homophobia – Chumbawamba

Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana or The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

And I really could add to this list pretty much all day…

Writing 101: Unlock The Mind.

I signed up to do this years blogging 101 and writing 101 sessions on the web. And here I am.

The first writing assignment: Just Write.

Where do you start? There is a Monty Python sketch where writing is a spectator sport complete with an excitable crowd and breathless commentary. But writing obviously isn’t something done in front of an audience. It is done in your head. With an audience of one, and they are, in all likelihood your  worst critic.

The cursor flashes. Inviting you to press the keys. Taunting you with how little it has moved. But what can you put down on screen.

And does the screen help or hinder? On a screen the ability to go back, to tweak, to massage or to procrastinate are almost limitless.  The promise of being able to change not just the words, but the font, the colour and the page size can mire a user in options.  This is why when I am really trying to write, not blog, I go off-line and start writing in a system that doesn’t support those fripperies.  When talking on this subject I can wax lyrical about an old word processor ‘WordPerfect 5.1’. It had a lot going for it. It ran in DOS, so when you were using WordPerfect that was all you were using, there weren’t any other programs available to flip back and forth to. The screen when you opened a document was almost entirely blank, with just a single line of text in the bottom right hand corner which provided a word and line count. Finally, you could mark things as being of a particular style (heading, body etc) but the text on the screen changed only slightly. You weren’t invited to make judgements about the space taken up on the page, that was for the program to worry about. The point was to write words. The words would be processed into a document later, but the words came first.

Other media suit different processes. A diary or a record of thoughts and feelings might feel more natural if it is in your own handwriting, which might change to reflect your moods. Adding doodles, exclamations or scribbles give an insight into something in parallel to the words, just like non-verbal communication matters when it comes to talking with real people. But there are issues with this type of document. I read a comment once about how writing in a notebook feels like a supremely audacious action. Taking a pristine, beautiful piece of paper and saying ‘I’m important enough to defile this paper, what I do to it matters more’. I find the action of posting blog entries easier as the paper that is defiled is electronic, essentially limitless, and somehow no-one expects blogs to matter anyway.

That is all I have to say about this. Writing is something I want to do, and would like to be better at. I am aware of some of my flaws, but I think practice will highlight a lot more. I think writing, editing and learning from the process is important.

 

Blogging 101, Day 1: Who Am I, and Why Am I Here?

I have had this blog for a while, and I sporadically update it. However, I received the notification regarding the latest blogging course being provided at The Daily Post, and I thought that it might offer me the opportunity to develop a better blogging habit.

It is September the 15th and the first assignment is in. Who am I, and why am I here?

This is a timely assignment. My daughter has just started at a new school, and has been given her very first piece of homework. There was some maths, but there was also a page where she was asked to draw a picture of herself and to write a little bit about herself. I was helping and encouraging her, so we got some scrap paper and wrote phrases about her. These were things like ‘Likes and Dislikes’, ‘What others think of her’ and ‘What her aspirations are for the future’. Sadly she chose to write only a very little on the page itself. Like most of us, I suspect she was nervous of putting herself  ‘out there’ for her teacher to see.

I thought it would help to do something similar.

Likes:

I am an unabashed geek. I love to play around with computers and gadgets of all kinds. I love to push the envelope on the way that I use kit. I tend not to run the default system where it is practical to hack things. I’m a huge fan of Linux, and I use it as my main operating system at work (on servers and my own desktop computers) and at home (though my laptop is dual boot so my wife and daughter can use it).

I love Italian food, particularly pizza.

I would spend most of the day where I wasn’t using a computer reading. I like to read a weird plethora of books, often ploughing my way through instruction manuals and user guides for software, but I also love fiction.

My favourite author is Jane Austen, and my favourite book is Pride and Prejudice. I’ve read it so often that I can recite sections of it, I can pick up a copy and pick a page at random and start reading, and will know exactly what has happened beforehand and what is yet to come.

I like animals, especially dogs. I also enjoy walking the family dog, especially in the morning when I take the time to think about the day ahead.

Dislikes:

I’m firmly of the opinion that life is too short to waste much time on hate. But there are some things which will cause me to get my soapbox out and go on a rant. Today isn’t the day to be so negative.

What People Might Say About Me:

Of course, the real answer is that you would have to ask them. I aspire to many things. How well I succeed I simply don’t know.

Aims and Aspirations:

I’m not a particularly ambitious person. I like my job, and I love that I get to spend time with my family who are the most important thing for me. I aspire to collect knowledge and to learn every day. I watch my daughter and enjoy the fun and pathos that she brings into my life.

There you go. A little bit of introspection about who I am.

Why Am I Here?

The answer to this depends on how profound you want to be at this particular juncture. I’m here, writing this blog because I like the idea of writing. I like the idea that ideas shape language and language shapes your ideas, and I want to pummel my ideas to see what happens. I am also here because if I have one major weakness when it comes to writing it is that I am hopelessly verbose. I think the best cure for this is to develop a less verbose habit, and that is best done by practice.

The other answer is that, as far as I’m concerned I’m here, like all of us because of an accident of cosmic happen-stance. As far as we can tell there was a rapid inflation of space-time about 13.6 billion years ago. As the space expanded it cooled and condensed into elementary particles which clumped together into simple elements which then clumped into stars which lit up the early universe while turning lighter elements into heavier elements. The stars exploded scattering their remnants into space where they clumped again to form other stars. Some of the elementary material clumped into smaller balls of matter which rotated around the stars and cooled and coalesced as planets. One of the planets, nothing special just happened to have the right conditions for the formation of very simple self replicating molecules. These molecules began a race which would eventually be labelled ‘The Survival of the Fittest’, and began to change with replication, eventually forming simple cells, then multi-cellular life and then a myriad of life forms each ideally suited for the conditions found on the planet.

Eventually one of the higher life forms on the planet developed a slightly different mechanism for survival. Whereas other life always relied on bigger teeth or stronger muscles this animal relied on a brain which was capable of modelling the world around it and cooperating and making tools. The human race took this ability and ran with it, and soon (in geological and biological terms) this species covered most of the world and were more successful than any other species apart from bacteria.

And then came the computer, and the internet and the infinite number of monkeys battering an infinite number of keyboards…

I don’t believe in any deity. And even if you were to provide information which showed that there was a finger on the button that triggered the big bang I would not consider any of the claimed gods worthy of worship. They all reflect the bigotry of their creators and the social mores of the time they were dreamt up.

 

My First Book Club Meeting.

For someone who really likes to read, it is strange that I have never been to a book club before. Of course, it helps that this particular book club meets in lunch time at work.

There weren’t a lot of us, but that helped in not feeling overawed. It is a fact that working at a University (particularly this University) means it is easy to feel like you are a long way from being the smartest person in the room!

The book we were discussing was Regeneration by Pat Barker. It tells the tale of Siegfried Sassoon and his time in a hospital in Scotland during the First World War.

I found that the book was an excellent read. I hesitate to say that I enjoyed it. A story centring on men both physically and mentally scarred by their experiences feels like something I wouldn’t want to label as enjoyable. But the story was compelling. There was plenty to talk about too.

Lots of things to digest. The multiple meanings of the title, the nature of war and propaganda and what feels like a morally justifiable war.

I will add my thoughts on the book in another post, but I will definitely want to attend the book circle again.

 

It Wasn’t A Graduation, But It Was Lovely.

Yesterday was my daughter’s last day at her infant school. She has been there for three years, and has been happy there almost all the time.

To mark the end of their time at the school they held a special leaver’s assembly. It was a simple affair. Once all the parents and other children were seated there was a procession of each of the children down the aisle of the church (it is a Church of England school), while their teacher said something about what sort of pupil they were, and what their memories of the child would be. It was very sweet, each child wearing a hand made cardboard mortar board.

I’m very glad to say that the school wasn’t silly enough to use terms like graduating, graduation or graduate. These are seven year old children who are leaving one school and moving on to another. They have come a long way in the time they have been at their current school, but they have a long way to go as well.

The wonderful parts of the whole event were:

  • The understandably proud look on each child’s face as the proceeded down the aisle while the teacher sang their praises.
  • The multiple photo opportunities for individual children, groups of friends and families.
  • The fun ‘throw your hats in the air’ photo opportunity.
  • The chance to say hi to the former teachers that the children had had, but who had moved on in the interim.
  • A yearbook full of wonderful memories and sweet biographies. The spelling is sometimes hilarious due to the use of phonetics, but the sentiments ranged from sweet, through funny to full of pathos and almost heart breaking sadness.

A new, exciting, and sometimes scary adventure awaits the children who left the school yesterday, but a great deal has been done to prepare each child for a bright future.

New Life and Not Life.

A weathered grave stone and a small drift of snowdrops.On my morning walk with the dog I was struck by the juxtaposition of this weathered old grave stone and the snowdrops at its base. I’ve just signed up for BlipFoto and it made for a good photo of the day for that too.

The head stone is in the church yard of St. Mary’s in Linton, Cambridgeshire. When standing in front of the stone you can just make out that there is text carved into the stone, but it is so weathered it is difficult to make out. Maybe I will try one morning to read what it says.

The church yard in Linton is very much the classic country church yard that you might imagine when reading or listening to Gray’s Eulogy Written in a Country Churchyard. Most of the head stones date from the late 1800s or the early 1900s. They come in a range of shapes and sizes and states of repair. This one caught my eye partly because of the rich lichen colouring around the upper section and partly because it lies just to one side of the path I always use through the church yard.