Thought I’d take a peek on my way into work today:

Shogun interests me, but given the fragile state of the book, I’d feel better if I were to buy the Kindle edition instead. But not a bad selection of books – usually the shelf is empty. But I wondered what happened to the VHS tapes?

Beep beep

This weekend was spent rewatching all 8 Harry Potter films. It’s nearly the 20th anniversary of the very first film, and I came onboard at MPC during the second film, the Chamber of Secrets when I was a mere pup of 26.

I own all 8 films on both Blu-Ray (HD only) and iTunes (4K). I bought both because I spent many of my 6 years working at MPC working on a Harry Potter film – in fact, I can’t remember a time when something relating to Harry Potter wasn’t happening. I went to Leavesden Studios a few times to set-up or remove kit too. One time I even had a bite to eat at the Warner Bros. cafĂ©, sitting outside and looking at the scaffolding that made up half of the Dursley’s house in Little Whinging, Surrey.

No film credit (boo – Warner Bros. are stingy with credit allocation), but MPC did a Nice Thing(tm) by taking out this page in Cinefex

Growing up, the film that got my imagination going most of all was, of course, Star Wars. It was a film primarily aimed at kids, so it wasn’t difficult to get into or enjoy when I was 3 or 4. Harry Potter was very much a series that starts off as a tale for younger kids, but the story grows with them – as do the characters. Star Wars is difficult to place in this regard- these days it’s still very much a PG thing (and so repetitive to boot), whereas the last three films in the Harry Potter series are quite a bit more dark & violent.

The Whomping Willow. Destroyer of Ford Anglias.

As I made my way through the films, it’s intriguing to see the stars of the film grow up as well with each film. The storyline is compelling, and the characters are believable and relatable, even if it’s set in a fantasy world of wizards and witches and other supernatural delights. Hermione, in particular, is the kind of friend everyone should have. She does tend to put up with a lot of shit throughout the entire story, so how she remains sane by the end of it is anybody’s guess (the same could be said of Harry and Ron, though).

Harry Potter is essentially the story of three best friends, along with a vast array of weird and wonderful supporting characters, fighting the return of a dark lord whilst simultaneously attending school and learning the very skills to be able to defeat him. It’s very impressive. J. K. Rowling sets up her ducks in a row with each film (or book) and then presses the FIRE button when it needs to be pressed. She’s not frightened to put her characters in very dark, very risky situations. And not everybody makes it through.

The Prisoner of Azkaban resonates with me a bit because we had a massive model of the werewolf Professor Lupin turns into towards the end of the film in the office. And it had a removable head. And people would wear it like a hat – just because. That said, The Chamber of Secrets was the first film I got my hands dirty with, especially figuring out the ins and outs of the VPN system WB had set-up (against a 512Kbs ADSL line at Leavesden – but thankfully it got better with subsequent films) and other VFX infrastructure matters.

This version does NOT have a removable head

I also went along to Shepperton Studios during Azkaban’s production, though it was for another film called Wimbledon. Somewhat ironic, don’t you think, that many years later I’d be working IN Wimbledon. Anyway, on my way to the office at Shepperton Studios, I came across the trailers for David Thewlis (who plays Professor Lupin) and IIRC, Professor Snape (Alan Rickman). But even more interesting was this monstrosity poking out the top of one of Shepperton’s sound stages:

It’s big. Seriously big.

It was all good fun (except I got told off for replacing a broken PC on Wimbledon when the resource manager was away – yet the artist working at the studio had to use SOMETHING and that was the only machine I had listed as a spare – I’m glad to be out of VFX because it was things like that which drove me nuts).

Anyway, it was late on Sunday when I finished all 8 movies. I felt sad because we followed the fortunes and misfortunes of a group of plucky youngsters who risked a lot to get where they were, and now we were going our separate ways. Nearly 10 years in the making. And I was also sad because without J. K. Rowling, and as such without Harry Potter, the British film industry would probably not have had such a resurgence between 2000-2010. VFX companies sprung up around Potter. But within that was darkness.

During the Order of the Phoenix, Warner Bros. essentially made an ultimatum – give us more tax credits or we’ll move to Eastern Europe. It must have been a big deal because when the managing director sends every employee an email that wishes the PM (either Gordon Brown or Tony Blair at the time) would increase tax incentives for the studios, it makes you wonder about whether you’re going to have a job later down the road.

And it’s that reason why I feel that we must do something to get away from tax incentives for major US film studios and move to something fairer for the taxpayer. Fairer for VFX vendors. Stop the race to the bottom, and stop the displacement this causes. Besides, these kinds of incentives can lead to tax dodgers (Just “Google” the following: HRMC film tax fraud). State handouts to corporations, especially the film industry, need better management.

Nevertheless, Harry Potter remains one of the most beloved characters and stories this country has produced. And the films are just wonderful. Here’s to another 20 years (but please – no enhancing VFX like Star Wars did).

I had originally written and long and waffly review last week, but I felt it was too nitpicky, but more specifically, too waffly. So I thought I’d try giving it another go.

I’ll start off by saying that alongside Peter Harness’ and Toby Hayne’s adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Good Omens is one of the most faithful book adaptations I’ve ever come across.

It’s been some time since I last read the book, and indeed, I gave my only copy away a few months ago at Woking Railway Station so that others can enjoy the madcap antics of the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley. But as the series progressed, it all came flooding back.

The Good Omens TV mini-series shares a number of people across different Neil and Terry projects. For starters, the director Douglas Mackinnon and executive producer Caroline Skinner have both worked with Neil Gaiman on Doctor Who. Not forgetting David Tennant, of course. Gavin Finney (director of photography) and Rod Brown (executive producer) have worked together across Terry’s previous television adaptations: Hogfather, The Colour of Magic and Going Postal.

Cast-wise, perhaps only a budget afforded by a joint production with BBC Studios could pay for the likes of an all-star cast including Frances McDormand, Nick Offerman, Jon Hamm, Michael McKean, Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Miranda Richardson, Brian Cox, David Morrissey, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Though given how well read Good Omens is with the cast, I’m sure they’d have given up a hefty chunk of their usual salary to appear in the show. Though given Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest man, planning on some major space initiatives, he could afford to pay everybody on this production handsomely – several times over.

But it is the cast which makes this show so much fun to watch. Clearly Michael Sheen and David Tennant are having so much fun playing Aziraphale and Crowley respectively. These two hereditary enemies form a close bond over the many centuries since humanity was kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and are very happy with the status quo of things in the world (occasionally getting involved to help things along a bit). So when the Apocalypse comes a-calling, they’ve got to do something about it. They are the ultimate odd couple.

During their adventures, we come across weird and wonderful characters such as Agnes Nutter, a witch, who has written the world’s only truly accurate book of prophecies, which is inherited by her ancestor Anathema Device who sets out to stop the antichrist. But it turns out everybody has misplaced him. He was supposed to be given to the American Ambassador, but it turns out that the antichrist was given to an ordinary couple who raised him lovingly in a small village near an American airbase. His name is Adam, and on his 10th birthday when he wishes for a dog of his own, hell sends him a hell hound. But as he doesn’t know he is the antichrist, he just wants a small puppy. And the hell hound must obey him. So we see this big, snarling, more-teeth-than-should-be-healthy-for-a-dog, suddenly transform into the world’s cutest puppy.

We meet Newton Pulsifer, a man who loves computers, but every time he goes near one, it breaks. He ends up working for Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell, who is absolutely convinced witches still exist and is recruiting people for his army. And it doesn’t require the use of computers.

We also meet the four horsemen of the Apocalypse who have modernised somewhat and now ride motorcycles. Except Pestilence has now retired and has been replaced by Pollution.

All these characters weave in and out of each other in order to find the antichrist and put a stop to the Apocalypse. Aziraphale and Crowley both have to contend with their relevant superiors. There’s a lovely scene in which Hastor, one of the Dukes of Hell, literally gets caught up in a telephone answering machine and is only freed when a cold calling “we understand you have been involved in an accident” agent calls Crowley’s phone. I feel a lot of people will be satisfied how that one plays out.

It’s such a fun show that the 6 hours simply fly by. It does very much feel like a 6-hour film – especially as it’s shot in 2.35:1 aspect ratio which is a much wider format than most TV shows (though an increasing number of TV shows are adopting that format – the most noticeable has been the excellent Fleabag).

I must admit I was moved to tears during the last episode. The last 30 minutes were mainly spent snot-filled sobbing. A vital part of good storytelling is making you care enough about the characters. And it wouldn’t be too long before it’s all over. But I was crying mainly because this felt like a very final, long goodbye to the wonderful Sir Terry Pratchett who couldn’t be around to see just how bloody good this all was.

The ending also caught me out. We end on the song, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”, performed by Tori Amos, and that’s when the tears started flowing again.

But I can’t be too sad about the ending. Neil Gaiman has a deal with Amazon Studios for more things, and Narrativia, Terry Pratchett/Rhianna Pratchett/Rod Brown/Rob Wilkins production company, has a few projects up their sleeves too.

Good Omens comes highly recommended. Very, very funny, emotionally satisfying, and tremendous fun. TV shows rarely tick all the boxes, but this one absolutely does. I’d highly recommend the 4K version – which requires that you use Amazon Prime Video’s search function. Just do a search for “good omens” and you’ll find it in the search results. If you have a 4K TV, do yourself a favour and watch it in 4K.

(P.S. I would also highly recommend Dirk Magg’s audio adaptation of Good Omens too – available via Audible)

I like books. I collect books. But my small house cannot hold very many, so many years ago I resorted to buying a Kindle and buying my books electronically wherever possible. I now have over 400 books in my Kindle library and it’s constantly growing (in part due to many Kindle cheap deals).

Previous to the Kindle Paperwhite, I had the 2018 Kindle Oasis – fully tricked out with the free 4G connection. It was meant to last me for several years. But alas, as I wasn’t doing as much reading as I had hoped and that I needed the money instead, I had to sell it.

The Kindle Oasis was a great e-reader. It had a 7-inch screen, small bezels, but with an overhanging edge with two physical buttons which allowed for easy handling. The downside was that the 7-inch display was big enough for easy reading, but not as portable enough for shoving it in a jacket pocket.

So I had to replace the Oasis after selling it, and the obvious choice was the Paperwhite. It has pretty much all of the features of the Oasis, but with a 1″ smaller screen and bigger bezels. The screen itself is, I think, a little less bright than the Oasis, but not by any significant amount.

The Paperwhite 2018 introduces a couple of features from the Oasis, including IPX68 waterproofing – this means it can be immersed in fresh water up to 2m deep for 30 minutes without damage. The other feature is the ability to play Audible books directly – though you’ll need a pair of Bluetooth head/earphones for this.

I bought the official waterproof case to go with it, and it doesn’t look at all bad if I do say so. It keeps it nice and safe, and the overall size also ensures that it fits in my jacket pocket just fine.

Currently reading: The Accidental Adventures of the Hundred-Year-Old Man

I opted for the 32Gb version to ensure that I have a significant number of books at my disposal if I am ever outside the reach of easy Wi-Fi access. I’m not entirely convinced the free 4G option on Kindles is entirely worth it if you’re not moving outside of common travel routes – many phone companies offer EU and US/Canada roaming included. The Amazon free 4G is incredibly slow in the UK, that’s all I can say about it. And it can drain the battery if it’s left on.

I’m very happy with the Paperwhite – perhaps more so than the Oasis. I’m getting my reading groove back, and even starting making use of my Goodreads account again (which is also a feature within the Kindle OS).

Something for everyone..

I’ve donated a few more books to fellow South Western Railway commuters at Woking station’s #Bookswap:

  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
  • Milligan’s War by Spike Milligan
  • Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
  • Retromancer by Robert Rankin

I was pleased to see yesterday’s donation were taken, and are now hopefully being enjoyed by somebody.

It brings back the subject of physical media – you can share your DVD or Blu-Ray with other people. You can share your physical book or magazine with other people. But you can’t share a Kindle book or an iTunes movie or an Amazon Prime Video or Netflix TV series. It’s quite maddening.