Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The tasting room

Another one to add to the list of fabulous places to eat: The Tasting Room in Cuna Street, St Augustine, Florida. St Augustine is an utterly charming old Spanish town about 100 miles north of Orlando. The historic district is just beautiful, like stepping back about three hundred years in time. Apparently it's the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the US.

A bit of the historic district - not the Tasting Room, though!

Hidden away in a back street, we found The Tasting Room, a marvellous little tapas bar, and sat out in their courtyard as the sun went down. They have a great selection of wines and champagnes, which we sampled liberally, and then gorged ourselves on dish after dish of Spanish food. The highlight was manchego cheese, with cherries marinated in sherry, almonds and spiced olive oil. It doesn't sound that spectacular, but the flavour was just incredible. In fact the whole evening was a non-stop barrage of flavour, culminating with chocolate truffle cake and cinnamon icecream, accompanied by a "port-like" wine which was an inspired recommendation.

The whole ethos of the place is about tasting and sharing, and they're only too happy to bring you tiny little portions of everything to try just a mouthful of. The "World of Bubbles" selection is a great way to try all sorts of champagnes. The live music was pleasant, the service was first-rate and friendly, and the ambience was welcoming and unhurried. The only tiny disappointment was that their espresso could have been stronger and blacker, but that's the only thing that stops me giving the place 10/10. 9.95/10 will have to do. After three hours of very pleasant eating, we very reluctantly hit the two-hour drive to Orlando.

We had change from $100 for two people, which given the quantity we consumed and the quality of the food, is astonishingly good value. Well worth the trip, and very highly recommended. I'd like to get back there some day, and see if the other restaurants round there are as good as people say. If so, then perhaps the historic district of St Augustine could rival the Rue de St Michel in Cannes for my favourite places in the whole world to eat.

Stupidly, I didn't take a pic of the place in daylight, and all the night-time shots are too flashed out to post, so if anyone has a pic of the Tasting Room, please give me a link!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A mongoose

Now this is one nice picture of a mongoose, courtesy of National Geographic.

Cambridge Film Fest - nearly ready to roll

We finally managed to agree the final list of what's going into each of the four CFF machinima screenings. And then, last week, the organiser reminded us that we had to give an age rating for each of the 40 movies we're showing, so Saint and I had the unenviable task of going through each one with the BBFC guidelines in hand, counting the number of uses of each swear word, looking for digital breasts, and making judgements about whether these were gratuitous, offensive, or justified in context. Once upon a time I thought that being a BBFC examiner and watching the uncut version of a load of films would be really cool. Now, I'll pass, thank you. You can't take your eyes of the screen for a second or have a momentary daydream, in case you miss something, and after a couple of hours, your eyeballs really start to hurt. And some of the moral judgements you have to make are quite tricky. I'll be interested to see whether people agree with the ratings we gave.

Fortunately we didn't have to judge them for any awards. I spent Monday watching the Dragon*Con machinima selecti0n (which is excellent - well done, Christina!) and picking my top three. It wasn't easy, but I'm satisfied that the right film won in the end. But two full days of watching machinima was a good change of pace. It reminds me why I do what I do - it's not about the business, or the production plans; it's all about the movies. Congrats to everyone who got a movie in to either or both of these shows.

We also got the final proofs of the brochure on Friday, and it's looking good. The machinima stream gets three full-colour pages, no less! Not bad, eh?

As soon as they give me the go-ahead, I'll post the final list up here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cormorant Close revives

After several days of watching everyone else's festival submissions (for Dragon*Con and Cambridge), I finally got off my butt and decided it was time to get something of my own into a festival once again. With deadlines for New York & Montreal looming, I felt the need to get Cormorant Close done. So today was one marathon eleven-hour stint in front of Moviestorm.

I treated the previous cut as pre-viz and completely re-shot and re-edited the entire thing from scratch using Moviestorm 1.1. No dev code, and just one piece of custom content (which I did in Photoshop and didn't require Modder's Workshop). Editing was done in Premiere, but apart from that, there's nothing in it that the ordinary Moviestorm user couldn't do.

It would be nice to report complete success, but honesty forces me to confess that when I checked the final render, I spotted three minor glitches which I'd noticed earlier but was too damn tired to remember to fix. So I'll sort them out tomorrow and send the final cut off to Tash for the music, and with luck we'll get it finished in plenty of time to submit.

Who says festivals don't motivate people?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sleeping Beauty

A couple of nights ago I took my daughters to the cinema to watch a ballet. Sounds weird, but it worked rather well. There was none of the stuffy atmosphere you get if you actually go to Covent Garden, and we had a better view than you could ever get in person. It wasn't like watching it on TV either - the big screen transformed the experience into something rather wonderful.

What we saw was a BBC film of the 2006 Royal Ballet production of Sleeping Beauty. The performance itself was magnificent and magical, traditional ballet at its very finest. It was the classic Petipa choreography which was the way the ballet was first staged, way back in 1890. The costumes and sets were a truly sumptuous rococo fantasy, almost as if they'd got Elton John to do the production design. (Actually, it was Oliver Messel. No, I didn't know who he was either until I googled him.)

Sleeping Beauty is a real crowd-pleaser of a ballet. Old Tchaikovksy really knew what he was doing when it came to that kind of entertainment. It's utterly undemanding - we all know the storyline - and it provides opportunities for lots of short showpiece moments as each of the fairies gets to have their moment in the spotlight. And, of course, it's full of tunes we all recognise, even if only from the Disney film. It's been twenty-odd years since last time I was at a ballet, and this was an easy and pleasant way to remember why I used to enjoy it. And, of course, a great show for the girls.

Given pretty much my sole experience of ballet on screen has been watching The Red Shoes on TV, I wasn't sure what to expect. However, the film worked surprisingly well. Being able to get in really close meant that for the first time, I could actually see their facial expressions. It wasn't like being several hundred feet away, straining to see a tiny figure on a huge stage between the heads of the people in front. Every sensuous movement of cloth was captured perfectly, every detail of the dancing came through.

I really didn't expect to enjoy the show nearly as much as I did. But now I'm thinking, maybe Romeo and Juliet next week?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Doing the Hakka

About a year ago, when I started this blog, I wrote about my favourite places to eat. It's time to add a new one: Hakka Chinese Restaurant on Milton Road in Cambridge (just off Mitcham's Corner).

From the outside, surrounded by fast food shops and little corner shops, it looks rather unexciting, but don't be fooled. Inside, a huge selection of culinary delights awaits. As a place for a civilised business lunch, it's extremely pleasant, but it really excels for evening meals. My advice is not to bother with the menu, but simply let them choose a meal for you and they'll bring you plate after plate of gorgeous food until you beg them to stop. Last night I went with the kids and Johnnie, and they brought us sixteen dishes. I don't eat the stuff, but everyone assures me that their king prawns and their squid are simply the best ever. For me, it's the sea bass and the aromatic duck that gets my vote. But just put yourself in their hands and treat yourself to a surprise meal.

They're really friendly too, whether you're there with colleagues or family. It's not the cheapest of places to eat, but neither is it scarily expensive, and by God, it's a meal you'll remember.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Keeping it clean

I just found out my mum reads my blog. Better make sure I don't accidentally say "fuck", then...