November, 2002

Horizon: Homeopathy

BBC2 has just shown a most entertaining Horizon on homeopathy. It investigated the claims made by homeopathy; claims that have absolutely no scientific basis as we currently understand it.
A few months ago I read the fascinating book, Voodoo Science by Robert Park which goes through many scientific “debunks” of modern times. But he also looks carefully at homeopathy. Now until I read this book, I had no real idea about what exactly a homeopathic remedy consists of. I thought it effectively meant a herbal remedy. And since herbal rememdies have been around for time immemorial, and have over the years been shown to have active chemical ingrediants that do work, I was happy.
Reading this book, and now seeing this episode of Horizon really explains the nonsense of homeopathy. Homeopathy is based around some kind of ingredient which is said to cure the symptoms – often something that causes the symptoms in the first place. But many modern drugs effectively do this. Where homeopathy differs is in the dilution. The ingredient is diluted one hundred fold again and again, usually to levels where if you had entire seas of the resulting liquid, you wouldn’t find a single molecule of the ingredient you started with. In effect, it’s so dilute it’s simply water. If there is no molecule then how can it work? By some kind of “memory effect” within the water. But of course there is no scientific principle to back this up. The sugar pills that homeopathic remedies tend to be are covered with this water and then passed to the consumer.
Horizon ended a reasonably fair portrait of homeopathy with an experiment conducted under rigourous scrutiny with double blinds and the like, with James Randi putting up his famous $1m if the experiment proved homeopathy to work. We had interviews with both a woman who claimed homeopathy had saved her life and a vet who explained that animals could not be affected by the placebo effect – something that can and does affect humans.
The results were of course negative. Both the “active” liquid and the control had the same effects. The $1m was not awarded. But how many viewers will carry on purchasing these products?
Maybe, much as I dearly love Horizon, this sort of thing needs massive exposure on BBC1.

Lord of the Rings: Extended Version

Thanks to Geoff, I now have a copy of the Extended Version of Fellowship of the Rings. Of course the first thing I had to do was look for my name on the fanclub.
Lord of the Rings
Yes – I spent good money on joining the official fan club as a charter member, and my year’s subscription bought me an additional credit on the extended version. And check out which hobbit is just below me!

Digital Switchover

I see that Tessa Jowell is claiming that the digital switchover is likely to be in 2010. I just can’t see that.
While many homes are now “digital”, they only have one receiver which means additional TVs and videos are not. There are also vast tracts of the country that are simply not covered by anything bar Sky. All those little transmitters serving tiny communities in rural parts of Britain – particularly in Scotland and Wales. And the technology is still unproven.

Die Another Day

Oh dear. I really wanted to enjoy this. I really love Bond films. I’m a fan. But there are some major problems with this film.
First of all, let me say that director Lee Tamahori has done a couple of interesting things here. Bond is captured and tortured through an opening credit sequence that does take the story along. Bond smokes a cigar in Cuba, and beds more than one woman. And he gets to drive an Aston Martin once more.
On the other hand… Where to begin. Well let’s start with the song. Bond has had dud songs before, but Madonna’s effort is terrible. It can be easy to just expect all Bond songs to sound the same – resulting in anaemic tracks like The World is Not Enough by Garbage last time around. In this case however, the producers should not have just settled for whatever Madonna turned in and said no. Then there’s the car. Of course Bond shouldn’t drive a BMW, and the new Aston Martin is a welcome return. But an invisible car! Come on. It’s ridiculous even in the Bond world. The technical chameleon characteristics don’t wash. It’s something out of Star Trek. The story’s poor, and the villain pedestrian (we don’t just need a single world domination bad guy every time – find something new), but the worst is yet to come.
When I saw XXX a few weeks back, there was an abysmal CGI scene where our hero out-skis an obviously computer-generated avalanche. It’s not that it didn’t look real, it was just that when you see impossible point-of-view camera angles you know it’s all false. It may as well be a cartoon. Up until now, the great thing about Bond, is that he (or rather a stuntman) has always really did it. Jumping out of a plane with no parachute in Moonraker, the car flip in The Man With The Golden Gun, and of course the bungee jump at the start of Goldeneye (OK we’ll forget about the jumping into the plane at the end of the same sequence). Yes, there have always been cheesy close ups which were obviously back-projected/green-screened, but the stunts look real. I was disappointed in a hovercraft fight that the close-ups followed this tradition, but my real venom is for the iceberg/parasurfing scene. This is quite possibly the worst CGI I’ve seen on the big screen since “The Rock” in The Mummy Returns. The cinema I saw this is was stunned into silence it was so bad. If they had animated cartoon-style it would have looked more realistic. I’m reasonably sure it was probably due to time limitations, but if that’s the case they should have ditched the scene or come up with an alternate ending. It just doesn’t work at all.
I’ve got to say that all this really disappointed me, and I hate to say it.
And then there’s Halle Berry. I have no problem with her, but all this nonsense about being a new kind of Bond girl… come on. Michelle Yeoh was equally as independent in Tomorrow Never Dies, and last night I watched On Her Majesty’s Secret Service where Diana Rigg plays a very independent Bond girl. That was really a Bond that tried to be different (and had an exceptional score).

The Heart of Me

This was the closing film at the London Film Festival, and I must admit that I’m at little disappointed with it. Based on a novel by Rosamond Lehmann, The Echoing Grove, the film tells the story of Rickie Masters (Paul Bettany), his wife Madelaine (Olivia Williams), and in particular her sister Dinah (Helena Bonham Carter). Rickie’s having an affair with Dinah, miscarries Rickie’s baby, and for a time sees to it that Rickie and Madelaine’s marriage is at an end. Then an illness comes along, and a mother intervenes. The filmis set in two time frames – the mid thirties, and just after the war, when the sisters meet once more. This is melodrama pure and simple, and is undoubtedly well acted, with Bettany showing a much more restrained performace than some of his recent films.
But I was left dissatisfied in the end. The revelations (as always there must be) were nothing special, and the story really didn’t work well on the big screen.

David Blaine

I’m lucky that I work in London, since I have most things available to me – that includes books signings. David Blaine is in London to promote his new book, and I must admit that I do find books on magicians fascinating, particularly if they include some history and maybe a little bit of explanation. I heard an interview with him on Danny Baker yesterday morning, so thought I’d go along to Waterstones after work to and get a signed book.
Well I wasn’t the only one. The end of the queue was a long way off, and Waterstones staff were telling us that they couldn’t guarantee getting a signed book. Added to that, it was raining. Well I stayed, and eventually, after much queuing, and some joker with a megaphone who mucked around with the queue, I got my book signed. I reckon that most people in the queue were there specifically because it was David Blaine, but there was a guy behind me who evidently turned out for any celebrity signing at all, all for collecting purposes.
As for the book, well it certainly looks more interesting than the cover would suggest, but you’ll have to wait for my review!

Cheap(ish) PDAs

It’s taken a while, but finally Dell has released their $199 and $299 Pocket PCs to the market. Just a couple of minor riders – the prices require you to mail in for a $50 rebate (they bank on you not mailing in), and secondly they won’t reach Europe until February/March next year. And can I see a $1=�1 price comparison coming?
At least they’re not �500 toys for the rich anymore. But I still think it’ll be a while before my trusty old Psion 5 is updated.

Online Ticket Purchasing

Finally Arsenal get around to allowing you to purchase tickets online! Of course you have to pay �5 each for the privelidge for the rest of the year. Sellers market anyone? Other industries manage to save money by selling online, and not having telephone operators. Nothing like paying to beta-test their system. Still, if it saves me an hour’s redialling for Man Utd or Valencia tickets it’ll be worth it.

Far From Heaven

Every year the London Film Festival has a surprise film, and this was the second time I’ve been to it. It always sells out, and the simple thing is that you don’t know what you’re going to see. It will be a different film to the rest of the festival, a preview of something forthcoming. So what was it going to be? Gangs of New York, Die Another Day, The Two Towers? No. It was never going to be any of them.
Far From Heaven is the first Todd Haynes film I’ve seen, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Now I must say that afterwards he came on for a Q&A with Sandra Hebron, the LFF’s Artistic Director who told us she really wanted to get this film for the festival.
So before going into a little of what I learnt afterwards, here are my first thoughts. The film is very much a melodrama – it’s very stylised, and enormously evocative of the 50s. It was obvious to me that it was trying to pay respects to a certain style of fifties film, but without trying to be post-modern. The story is about an all-American couple who have the perfect life in Hartford, until the husband (Dennis Quaid) faces up to his homosexuality and the wife (Julianne Moore), begins to have feelings for her black gardener (Dennis Haysbert) in segregated America. It made enormously clear that Quaid’s character’s sexuality is something you could barely even talk about it that setting. And crossing racial boundaries is seen as bad from a black perspective as it is from a white one.
The film’s colours are vivid, and the Elmer Bernstein score is unmissable. The set decoration and clothing are fantastically realised for the 1957/8 setting.
Afterwards, having thoroughly enjoyed it, I learnt more from the Q&A. The film is not just an homage to the fifties, but specifically to the films of Douglas Sirk. He made a certain type of melodrama particularly througout the fifties particularly for Universal. I went to IMDB and looked at his films, and must say that I don’t recall seeing a single one. Probably a lapse on my part, but these films, making stars of the likes of Rock Hudson, simply don’t get shown on TV these days.
Overall a fascinating talk, and I will certainly be looking out for the films of Douglas Sirk from now on.