OK, so leaving some time between connecting flights is sensible. But six hours is just silly. Silly, silly, silly. Nevertheless, I’ve bought lounge entry here at O’Hare, so am relaxing and enjoying what AA have to offer (even though they have the cheek to contract out wireless access to T-Mobile, who charge another ten bucks). Hopefully I won’t feel too knackered by the time I land at Heathrow tomorrow morning.

On the plus side, I didn’t get any argument this morning over the two huge, heavy bags I checked in. Why don’t more hotels have weighing machines, huh?

Hampshire Craigslist

I don’t know exactly how recent it is, but Craigslist now has a Hampshire section. I’ve found the Bay Area incarnation to be fantastic whilst I’ve been out here in California, and I’m glad that their brand of free listings has finally reached the area where I live. The word needs spreading, so pass it on!

Observations on Automatic Gearboxes

Well, I’m now staying down near San Jose again. I’ve rented a car again (this time out of my own pocket) and despite going for the cheapest option, Hertz have given me a Mazda (prounced in American English with a long a, according to the TV) with a semi-automatic option on the shifter (I think technically it’s actually Tiptronic, which is subtly different).

The first car - a Toyota which I gave back a week ago - had just standard automatic transmission, and was straightforward once I got the hang of it (never having driven an automatic before). This car is easy too, despite the even sloppier handling. The semi-automatic option is interesting though. I’ve tried flipping it across from ‘Drive’ (handle the gears for me please) to ‘Manual’ (pull stick toward you to change up, and push stick away from you to change down). And it sure does work. It’s even clever enough not to let you do stupid stuff (like downshifting when that would blow the engine, or upshifting when that would stall the car).

But I soon gave up. Partly because the gear ratios are apparently quite different in an automatic - leave it to its own devices and it will happily drive in 4th gear (out of 5) at 25mph. But partly because I also began to see the appeal of the automatic shifting. Sure, you lose some fuel economy. More seriously, you lose some control (although as I discovered, once you know the speeds at which it shifts, you can encourage it to do so using the throttle). But it is technological progress - like address books on mobile phones or automatic metering on cameras, it hides an interface that should never have been exposed, and only ever was because the technology was imperfect. Maybe it’s time we in Europe took another look at automatics.

Black Snake Moan

Black Snake Moan is rich, thick, and satisfying, like a good film should be.

Samuel L. Jackson plays a strong role as the Good Samaritan with an unusual method. Christina Ricci is unashamedly raunchy as the object of his ‘caring’ (which makes for slightly uncomfortable watching when you remember her first major role in The Addams Family aged eleven). Surprisingly, even Justin Timberlake does a passable job as the third wheel in the film.

Back in the 70s, this film might have been labelled sexploitation, and there’s certainly an undercurrent of something weird going on, with Ricci’s character so obviously consumed with lust and yet chained up. A lot of this is explained away by the plot, which justifies much of her behaviour by drawing on the abuse she suffered as a child, but it’s still an interesting choice of presentation by the film-makers in today’s politically correct climate.

It’s definitely a fun watch, a funky film with a blues soundtrack that perfectly matches the dry Tennessee setting, some good jokes thrown in, a decent helping of emotion and humanity, and a well-honed plot with direction that fools you into believing the whole ridiculous thing could actually happen. A good way to spend two hours.

School of Rock

School of Rock is fun, fun, fun. Jack Black, annoying in so many roles, was born to play this never-quite-made-it rock-obsessed loafer who forms a rock band with some school kids. Joan Cusack, whilst not remotely believeable as an actual high-school principal, provides some fun scenes and a sexy will-they, won’t-they aside for Black’s character throughout the film. The kids, clearly crucial to the success of the film, are well-cast and act with skill and talent.

School of Rock doesn’t offer anything in the way of a realistic story. But nevertheless you get dragged into it, and the ‘final gig’ - the target of the film - is superb rocking fun, primarily because up till that point the movie only hints at the music, never quite drawing you into it entirely.

It’s fun, and like it’s title character, small in stature, but big in presence.

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