This review is cross-posted on Screenjabber.com.

Stars Colin Firth, Catherine Keener, Hope Davies, Willa Holland, Perla Haney-Jardine
Written by Michael Winterbottom & Laurence Coriat
Certification UK 15
Runtime 94 minutes
Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Following the death of their mother in a car accident, in which they were involved, Kelly and Mary leave America with their English father Joe (Firth) to live in Italy for a year. Via an old girlfriend from college, Barbara (Keener), Joe has been offered a job at the university in Genova as a teacher. The city of Genova provides a fresh start for Joe and his two daughters, but Mary, the youngest, is haunted by nightmares and keeps seeing the ghost of her mother wandering the streets.

Genova is a small production, directed by Michael Winterbottom of 24 Hour Party People and A Mighty Heart fame. In typical Winterbottom style, the film is shot with a hand-held camera, giving a realistic view of the cozy, yet simultaneously claustrophobic narrow streets of Genova. There’s a whole “documentary” vibe going on, and you almost feel as if you’re not looking at actors playing out a story, but actual people just being followed by a camera.

This all creates one of the most true to life film versions of a present day Italy I’ve ever seen. Everything feels genuinely Italian; from the old man who sells them their new apartment to the umbrellas on the beach to the conversations about being Italian the students are having. It all feels real. But there’s one problem I mainly had with Genova and that’s its plot. Here’s a story about a daughter wracked with guilt over the death of her mother, because she caused the car accident. You can see her older sister blaming her for it, while realizing that’s too much weight to put on her young shoulders. Then you keep wondering whether or not the father actually knows the details of that accident, but you keep thinking somewhere deep down inside he is blaming that youngest daughter too.

The whole movie feels like a buildup to one huge gigantic scream-fest family-drama climax… which never happens. There’s a scene which is meant as a “climax”, but it doesn’t even come close to what that buildup promises. After investing 1.5 hours into these characters, the movie just fizzles pathetically out, leaving you no closure. If only it had ended differently, ’cause then I think I would have recommended this little movie to everyone I know. How it stands now though, it just feels like a waste of time. If you like Winterbottom’s films or lifelike documentary-style dramas, give Genova a go. If not: avoid at all costs.

Interesting links for March 2nd through March 25th:

Episode 102: “A bald man, he falls over, good story”

The first time I saw the CompareTheMeerkat TV commercial I didn’t find it funny at all; but somehow this silly little ad has grown on me. Here’s the newest “ad” made out of bloopers:

 

Staying in the realm of “cute” fuzzy animals, here’s another ad from the IET:

 

It almost works, but there’s something missing, right? You expect a funnier climax than “Evolve quicker”.

[Watch the videos on MissGeeky]

When it comes to books, I’m much more into fantasy than into scifi (or should I say syfy now?). Still I was glad to win this book, Agent To The Stars, from the Fantasy and Scifi Lovin’ Blog

Agent To The Stars has a bit of a history. It was the first “book” written by John Scalzi in 1997 to prove to himself that he could write a novel. No publisher wanted to pick it up though, so in 1999 he released it online as a shareware novel; if people liked it, they could pay, but didn’t have to. Once his second novel got published, a limited run of 1000 copies of Agent To The Stars was released in 2005 and surprisingly to the publishers they got snapped up in no time. A year later Agent To The Stars finally got published the “proper” way.

The premise of Agent To The Stars is simple: Tom Stein is one of Hollywood’s upcoming young agents. He’s got a major movie star, Michelle Beck, as his main client and has just completed a multi-million deal for her. But then his boss introduces Tom to his new clients: the Yherajk, an alien race with an image problem. They’re big blobs of slime who communicate through horrible smells… and they want to be Earth’s new friend. Now Tom has to solve the problem of how to introduce these new “friends” to the rest of world, without causing panic and chaos.

This has to be one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long, long time. There are so many “laugh out loud” moments in here; it was just so fun reading it. It’s also one of those books that you don’t want to put down. I didn’t read it in one sitting, but every time I picked it up, I just flipped through the pages, and felt terrible when I had to stop and get on with some real work. 

I don’t often say this about books, but I could definitely see a movie based on this. Compared to other books it also wouldn’t require that much tweaking and cutting. The book is pretty short and a single movie could cover it all nicely.

Highly recommendable to everyone who wants a good laugh. And if you’re not convinced yet? You don’t have to buy the book; the entire story is also available on John Scalzi’s website.

Agent To The Stars by Joe Scalzi is available on Amazon.co.uk for £6.29, on Amazon.com for $7.99 and on John Scalzi’s website for free.

I know, I know, it’s already more than two months after Christmas, why this post? I’ve been meaning to blog about it for some time, but the scan I had of what you’ll see next didn’t come out right. So I had to wait until I got my hands on it again, to finally do this post.

To explain things first a bit, my family celebrates Christmas a little bit differently than most. Because we’re Dutch and Australian, it’s a bit of a mix of traditions. In the Netherlands you usually don’t celebrate Christmas, but Sinterklaas, which is the 5th of December. One of the traditions is that you do a sort of Secret Santa with your family (or with friends or at school), but also have to write a poem and hide your present in a “surprise” (pronounced the Dutch way that would be sir-preez-suh), a handcrafted something. I’ve had to do this a couple of times for school, making fake cactuses from paper and a teletubbie doll from clay and felt.

Anyways, my family has never done the ‘surprise’ part, but at a certain moment (when me and my siblings were old enough) we did do the rest, but moved it to Christmas. So on Christmas day we do the usual presents under the tree, but also a Secret Santa with poems. Now some years I’ve done gimmicky ‘poems’. A poem for my brother a couple years back included cryptic clues to where he could find his presents. Another one for my brother was part in code. One poem for my mum was set on the tune of “O Holy Night”.

So this year my brother got his revenge. One of the presents under the tree was this little puzzle (it’s a Hanayama Metal Cast puzzle, called NEWS):

Hanayama NEWS Puzzle

Plus the following poem and puzzles (click here to see a bigger version):

 The Christmas Puzzle Hunt

I had so much trouble figuring this all out! I managed to solve a couple of clues, by the power that is Google, but I did need some help from my brother. Some of these clues led to other clues, some which helped with other parts I hadn’t solved yet.

Before writing up a post on what all the clues are and how to solve it all, I thought I’d give you, dear readers, a chance of figuring it out. Two clues are Dutch/English language related, but they’re not even necessarily needed to solve it all. There are basically two type of clues in the ‘picture': 1. clues that will lead to more clues that will lead to eventual instructions in how to open the NEWS puzzle, 2. clues that are actually instructions on how to open the NEWS puzzle. Plus there’s also the encrypted word at the bottem KPIRVWZIV, which is where my present was hidden.

So, do you think you can solve any of the clues? Just brainstorm in the comments and I’ll let you know which ones are right and what leads to other clues.

Regular readers will know how much I love puzzles and games. I haven’t done that many game reviews on this blog, but I want to change that. I’ll be reviewing old and new games I’ve played. And not only video games! I’m going back to basics with board games and social games, cause some of these games are just as much fun (sometimes even more) as sitting behind a computer and killing each other (not that that’s the only thing you can do with video games). Plus I find not enough people play these type of games nowadays, which they should! 

To start this off, I’ve chosen Carcassonne, a board game I’ve been addicted to these past weeks.

Title: Carcassonne
Type: Boardgame
Number of players: 5 (but with a certain expansion added: 6)
Cost: £15-£20 for the basic game (depending on where you get it)

Day 40 - Carcassonne

Carcassonne starts with a single tile in the middle of the table, portraying part of a medieval landscape. All other tiles are shuffled and placed face down in a stack. On each turn a player draws a tile and places it adjacent to another tile already on the table. Tiles must be placed in a logical way: roads must extend roads, fields to fields, cities to cities. Simple so far, right?

Besides drawing and placing tiles, every player has seven ‘meeples’, wooden follower pieces to score points. After placing a tile, a player can decide to station a meeple on that tile. The meeple must be placed on a specific feature – road, city, field, cloister – and may not be placed if that feature has already been claimed. Whenever a feature is completed, a player scores points.

The game ends when the last tile is played and the player with the most points wins. And that’s all there is to this game. The basics are so simple, you don’t really need a lengthy explanation to start playing. Kids will grasp the basics just as quick as adults and there aren’t a lot of rules to remember. The game play itself can be quite quick and easy, depending on who you’re playing against. The way we play it though, we tend to take ages trying to figure out what’s the “optimal” spot to place a tile.

Day 62 - Peeple

What I really love about this game though is the number of expansions available, each changing the game in unique ways. For example, the River expansions replaces the single start tile with a river of a couple tiles long (all that changes in game play is the amount of options at the start). With the King and Scout expansion, there is an extra set of points for the player with the largest city and largest road. I love the Traders and Builders expansion, cause it adds two special meeples: one to score extra points in the fields (in the form of a little pig, called affectionately a ‘peeple’), and one to be able to draw an extra tile per turn (a “builder”, so a ‘beeple’). I’m simplifying it a bit now, but each expansion creates a different dynamic to the game and by combining expansions you can tailor the game to exactly how you like it.

If you like the sound of this definitely try out the basic set, or try to grab me at the next BarCampLondon. I’m going to bring it with me then to play during the overnight and maybe even do a session about it.

Carcassonne (the basic set) is available on Amazon.co.uk for £14.95 and on Amazon.com for $22.87.

Episode 101: “Nice 2 Meet U”

This short movie has brightened up my day! 

[Watch the video on MissGeeky]

Via The Great Geek Manual

Thanks to the wonderful Annie Mole from the Going Underground blog, I won a voucher to make my own book from Blurb. Blurb is a publishing company providing a print-on-demand book publishing service for the public. In other words: you can create your own books! Blurb offers a free downloadable book layout software client, BookSmart, with which you can create your own books with your own text and images. The completed book can then be uploaded to Blurb, and you can order any amount of copies. 

I decided on a photo book collecting all the photos I made in 2008. I first thought I wouldn’t have enough photos, but it’s amazing how many photos I actually made last year. I only went with the photos I thought were ‘worthy’ to be in such a book, but even then there were a fair amount. Later on I even realized I forgot to add all my photos from my Stonehenge trip; bit of a pity, cause there were some great ones in between them. Here’s how it turned out:

Blurb Photo Book 

I tried Blurb about one and a half year ago to create a photo book of my family’s summer holiday. It turned out to be a great book, but at the time I had a lot of trouble with Blurb’s BookSmart software for the Mac. It was just so slow, it wasn’t nice to use at all. Those are all problems of the past though, cause now BookSmart works like a charm. Plus not only was I able to import iPhoto albums, but also Flickr sets.

Unlike a lot of other photobook ‘makers’, Blurb’s BookSmart has a great selection of layouts and options. You can really play around with each page, choosing different types of layouts to suit the photos. I’m still missing certain layouts though (like one single vertical photo centered), which don’t seem to difficult to add. 

Blurb Photo Book

The only problem I had with Blurb this time was the delivery. You pay about £4 for the cheapest delivery option, with no tracking and 10-15 day delivery estimate. I ordered my book on January the 31st and it arrived on February 23rd: that’s more than 3 weeks! (to be fair though: it was 16 working days, so it’s not too bad, but I remember last time it was way quicker than that)

I’m really happy with the way this book turned out and I’m going to try to make one every year for all that year’s photos. I’d love to make some other type of books though, like a cook book with recipes from my Mum, or a book with all my blog posts. Those will take much more time to create though, but Blurb offers great tools to make them!

Last Saturday I went to the London Transport Museum Flickr Scavenger Hunt (now that’s a mouthful) at the Museum Depot in Acton. We got 20 cryptic clues to find certain “objects” and make photos of them. I think our team became 2nd, with solving 17 of the 20 clues. 

Some of the clues were pretty tricky, but it was great fun trying to figure them all out. Here are two examples:

Clue: A literal 2CV model that doesn’t run on petrol.
Explanation: 2CV = deux chevaux = 2 horsies!

Clue 3

Clue: This caged wonder checks coins rather than defrosts ice.
Explanation: I’m really proud of solving this one! For starters, I noticed the “cages” and told my team the object should be somewhere in this area. Then we figured out that “defrosts ice” probably means “salt”. Finally after checking out most of the objects here, we found this:

Clue 16

If you look closely the brand is “Salter”. 

Besides those 20 clues, there were also photo clues, where we got a photo of something and had to find the exact same thing. I love this LOOtube photo (from an old Bakerloo line sign):

Photo Clue

To check out all the photos, have a look at my Flickr set.

I stumbled on some hilarious photoshopped SciFi and Fantasy book covers via Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist. Check out the three posts (post 1, post 2, and post 3) to see the complete collection. Here are a couple of my favourites: 

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