28 December 2007

Effecting the Masses

Well, Christmas has come and gone, and I'm sure you lot are tired of all that malarkey, so lets move on from it. All I will say is that I hope my microscopic number of readers had a wonderful holiday, and got lots of lovely presents. There. Now! Onward!

Been playing Mass Effect these last few days. The game is outstanding...enough said really. The production values are amazing, the graphics are excellent and the gameplay is good fun. Then, of course, there's the story, and it's exactly the kind of space opera that I love. What sets it apart from every other sci-fi RPG - and it really does need something to actually be recommendable - is the conversation system. The voice talent is superb, the direct is excellent, and the facial animations are, to be absolutely honest, astonishingly realistic. Finished it just last night actually, and I almost immediately started it again...that's how much I enjoyed it!

I made a rather droopy-eyed fella as my character, and sometimes I can actually feel the anger coming off of him when I go for the renegade path. It really is a superb technical achievement. It's a pity that there are a few bugs - the driving bits are a bit frustrating, and there's a whole bunch of texture popping which is starting to grate. But Oblivion was the same, and I enjoyed that game too.

New Year's Eve tonight! And someone has a ticket to go to the Edinburgh street party.

It's not me...but I know someone who's got one. Oh yeah.

Just kidding, of course. I've got one too!

That's about it, really. I shall be highly inebriated for the next few hours,. so don't expect anything amazing to be spouted in this little bit of the internet!

14 December 2007

Cute Girls, Random Guys and a Whole Lot of Alcohol

Ah the joys of a dilemma. There's this incredibly cute girl at work; but I have no idea whether or not she likes me - seeing as I have the relationship sense of a monkfish, and maybe half the common sense... - so we'll just have to see. Maybe she's got a boyfriend...maybe I can slink into his chair like a thief stealing into a palace to try out the king's throne. That'd be fun...oh well.

Went out with Ryan (my flatmate) Amy and Fran tonight. Got a little wasted - not too much (I'm hardly a light-weight) but just enough to come back giggling incessantly with both Amy and Fran. Gods, but I become stupid when I'm tipsy. Then again, I'm not the only one, so I'm hardly ashamed of that fact. Heck, I've just announced it on the internet, so there's proof of that right there.

Ryan's off home tomorrow; meaning I've got the flat to myself for 3 weeks. Not sure whether or not I'll truly enjoy that...but we'll just have to see. Working tomorrow, so I don't get to see him off; but then again I think I'm going to his house for Christmas (or Winter Present Giving Day as I'm semi-obliged to call it now), so I'll see him then. Must remember to buy gifts for his parents...and him. But yes! Work! It's good fun! Well, except when they force me to shovel slush in the pouring rain, but that's only happened once and I got to go home early because of it. Still. Fun! Woooooo!

Made a small amount of progress with Raider's; realised that the ending of my previous chapter was stupid - and thus my inability to continue it. So I deleted the last bit and replaced it with something new; along with a tongue-in-cheek in-joke commentary on how stupid the previous ending had been. Because...y'know, I'm funny like that.

Speaking of fiction; I jotted down some ideas for a sci-fi novel that's been brewing in my mind for a while now. Not that Ex Valde Ira one - though that is still on the cards, methinks - but a brand new, space-opera style one along the lines of Red Dwarf smooshed together with Mass Effect. Could be good...could be crap, but once again, we shall have to see. Was originally going to try and write it for NaNoWriMo, but never actually got around to getting anything down on paper. But now...huzzah!

And finally, I saw The Golden Compass on Tuesday. Was thoroughly disappointed. Review shall follow once I write the damn thing, but the main gist of it will be 'disappointing'. Which was...well, disappointing.

And that's it for now, I think. Gods, this was an epic post, wasn't it? Congrats for reading all the way up to here. You deserve a medal. Or at least, a funny.

6 December 2007

He's back! And he's got a new toy!

Yes, I bought a webcam. They've been in Tesco for a few months now, and I finally shelled out the £6.97 for it today. And it's great fun! I video-called my mum, which was rather entertaining; and I'm attempting to call one of my friends, but she's not picking up. Oh well. But see how cool it is! I took a photo and everything; see me in my beardy glory! Haven't shaved for about two weeks...epic or what?

Two movie reviews, huh? I was in a creative mood, it seems. Although I haven't touched Raider's for ages, which is rather distressing. Should really get on that; but I'm just a little bogged down with work. It's a good 'bogged down', don't get me wrong; but it is bogged down none-the-less.

Watched Waitress; was vaguely impressed with it to be honest. As swan-songs go - seeing as it was Adrienne Shelley's - I certainly couldn't see one being that much better. Great central performances - particularly from the ever-likable Nathan Fillion - and some great, if a little light comedy. Recommendable!

Nothing else interesting to report. So I'll just...y'know...stop.

2 December 2007

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Let’s get two things out of the way from the off. I haven’t seen the first Elizabeth movie. I do know about, I have heard of it, and I know that it garnered Cate Blanchett an Academy Award, and it is – supposedly – brilliant. Still, I was also told that the second film functioned perfectly adequately on its own. But then again, when a movie is shoved so far up its own backside, it simply fails to function at all. Second, I’m not exactly a history buff, and thusly many of the historical inaccuracies that my more history-minded friends have been pointing out have entirely eluded me. So this’ll be an evaluation based entirely on its merit as a film. And disappointingly, it falls rather flat.

The bizarre thing is that the movie is infinitely inferior to the sum of its own parts. There are things about it that absolutely scream quality at the viewer – the sumptuous set and costume design, the charged performances from most of the actors involved, the grand and sweeping vistas of sixteenth century England, Scotland and Spain. But somewhere along the line it loses all cohesion and devolves into a very pretty mess.

This is mostly down to director Shekhar Kapur, and somewhat down to cinematographer Remi Adefarasin. The former is at fault for allowing himself to get rather carried away with the whole thing, escalating it to ridiculous proportions when it should have been a rather more intimate tale of a grand and testing time for a great woman. The latter, the bastard, did everything in his power to make me feel sea-sick, and almost managed it with a swirling, 360-degree spin of a set of turquoise spiral stairs that almost had me heaving out my lunch. Never since Domino have I actually felt physically ill thanks to camera work, but well done, Remi, you’ve managed it.

This isn’t to say that this was so over-whelming that the good-points of the movie completely sailed over my head. Blanchett is fascinating as the under-fire monarch, persecuted from all sides and yet somehow able to maintain her veneer of calm. It’s exemplified by a moment when one of her closest friends betrays her, and her scream of rage and sadness is truly haunting. If there is such a thing as a truly Oscar-worthy performance, this is certainly one of them, and if there’s a been a better performance in such a lacklustre film, I’ll eat my hat and proclaim myself a Dutchman.

And amid the confused mess that is the film’s visual narrative, there are some strikingly iconic pieces of imagery. Particularly of the Queen herself, sitting regal amidst the chaos that is her court and realm. But the problem with them is that it’s almost like Kapur is trying too hard to make them iconic – seeing as these moments seem to appear thick and fast – and thus their clout is lessened somewhat upon the fourteenth viewing of such a remarkable piece of imagery within five minutes of the last one.

All in all, Elizabeth: The Golden Age smacks more of Lizzie: The Only-Vaguely-Decent Years; for all its pomp and drama, it just fails to engage at anything other than a purely superficial level. And even then, it has a tendency to make me feel rather ill. Only worth it for Blanchett’s performance; if you’re not interested in that, avoid.

Ross' Rating: 5

Beowulf Review

If you know Robert Zemeckis, you know he's a sucker for technical wizardry. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Back to the Future, Contact, The Polar Express, Monster House...heck, even Forrest Gump had Tom Hanks' gurning, intensely annoying simpleton superimposed into historical footage. And Beowulf is no different; in fact, it's probably the pinnacle of his technical achievements.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Beowulf is the decision to go with the 'performance capture' technique at all. We've all seen that fantasy works perfectly well outside of animation - despite heavy usage of special effects - so why not just stick with a formula that works? Superficially, the answer is 'because we can! Suck it!'; but delving a little deeper, and it because perfectly clear as to why Zemeckis chose the technique.

Story-wise...well, if you don't know it, what planet have you been living on? Still, here goes: ancient Denmark is being terrorised by the monster Grendel, and word is spread that untold riches will be awarded to the man who slays it. Beowulf - a mighty Geat warrior - hears of this, and decides that he shall be the one to kill Denmark's monster. Of course, he will also have to deal with Grendel's mother, but therein could lie a problem.

And then there's the first reason why Zemeckis' decision is clear. The casting. Ray Winstone - an ageing, balding, slightly over-weight 50-something - plays Beowulf, a blonde...well, it's been thrown about already, but the guy is an Adonis; all rippling muscles, ruggedly handsome face and scars everywhere. But then again, Winstone wasn't cast for his physique; he was cast for what he could bring to the role - a sort of naive bravado at first, which slowly and inexorably evolves until he becomes a hero in every sense of the word. And Winstone portrays it beautifully, seeing as Beowulf is Winstone, albeit digitally altered. You can forgive him a few spotty accent moments - and there are quite a few - for an otherwise superb performance.

The rest of the cast - barring an unusually awful turn from John Malkovich - are all solid, with Anthony Hopkins having a huge amount of fun with the drunken King Hrothgar, and Robin Wright Penn bringing a quiet dignity to his trophy Queen Wealthrow. Angelina Jolie brings a guilty pleasure aspect to the movie - seeing her all but naked and bathed in gold is quite simply fascinating, and her accent is, to be quite honest, rather haunting. Not that her astonishing beauty has nothing to do with the story, but that's best saved for when you actually go see the film.

The script is solid; it adds a few layers that the rather one-dimensional original lacks, and compacts it somewhat to take place in one place, although this can be construed as adding complexity to what should have been a straightforward tale. Interesting, too, is the decision to constrain the story to merely three - albeit stunningly realised - major locations, and coupled with the added depth, it simply feels richer than other realisations of the story.

If there are problems with it, it does seem that Zemeckis has been heavily influenced by other fantasy epics - most notably the now infamous 300, particularly in the fact that the protagonist seems do a lot of manly shouting, much like the three-hundred Spartans did. The stylised violence, too, seems a bit over-directed at times; and it raises the question as to whatever happened to good old straightforward fight scenes.

But deep down, this is just a full-blooded fantasy/action film; and thus you don't really have to have the old noodle switched on to fully enjoy it. Be warned, it's certainly at the high-end of its 12A certification - there are some really quite scary moments, and the aforementioned nudity of the Jolie kind. But if you can stomach that - and for the latter, who couldn't? - then there's a hell of a lot to like about Beowulf. Excellent stuff.

Ross' Rating: 8

22 November 2007

I am Ripper! Tearer! Slasher! Gouger!

And I think I've seen this movie before...

Yes, I saw Beowulf; and whilst I certainly enjoyed it, there was a distinct aftertaste of 300 going on there. Lots of manly shouting, pseudo-catchphrases and, well...partially concealed male nudity. Still, the CGI was, quite frankly, astonishing, and the final battle with the dragon was visually on par with anything that the Lord of the Rings offered. I'll cook up a proper review at some point - along with one for Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which I also had the misfortune of seeing. And I suppose you can guess what I thought of it already!

Start work tomorrow; but honestly, I'm totally relaxed. Bit apprehensive, I suppose, but beyond that I'm more than up for it! Should be a blast, and hopefully I'll meet some new people to keep me company, seeing as everyone else is buggering off home for Christmas, and I'm stuck here. Ho hum, and all that jazz.

Oh yes! I bought Spider-man 3 for the bargain price of £9.30 including P&P. God, I love the Amazon marketplace; so many great deals! So little time! I'm inclined to disagree with most critics of Spider-man 3; I mean, okay, the story was a tad more confuzzling than the first two, but so long as your brain is switched on, you can keep up. And the action sequences were a little more...epic too, and that just added to the fun. So yeah, as good as 1, not as good as 2. Great stuff.

Well, that's it. Fun stuff all 'round, and I suppose I'll slap in another post in a few days once I've got a few days of work under me belt.


19 November 2007

Yay! We're out of the Euro Cup! Wait...what?

Yup, Scotland bombed out on Saturday. Nothing to be done about it, the Italians are cheating bastards (they shove our defend over, then collapse themselves and get awarded a free-kick); and we lost concentration in the first two minutes. But otherwise, it was actually some of the best football we played for the entire tournament! We looked dangerous throughout, and whilst we did miss chances...well, what team doesn't?

Of course, this is all gossip; the Italians won 2-1 and we're out of the European Cup. Oh well. There's always the world cup. *sigh* Anyways; I did mange to get a video of the very epic singing at the match, and here it is. It was pretty intense, right up until they scored in the second minute.

Had some wanker saying something about 'Jocks not being the world-beaters they thought they were'; promptly removed his comment, the moron.

I have a job! It's a miracle! For those of you who haven't experienced Edinburgh's Christmas/New Year celebrations, they set up a massive ice rink in Prince's Street gardens; and I be working at that! It's only from the 22nd of November to the 6th of January; but at least it's experience, and I can hopefully get something marginally more permanent afterwards. The pay's good, and to be honest I'm just glad they hired me.

Have been neglecting my novel, for reasons unknown (*cough* Halo 3 *cough cough*); but I'm trying to get the story straight in my head once again - there was a moment when it all seemed a bit scrambled, and I'm attempting to amend that situation.

Aside from that, not much has happened. So that's me signing off!


30 Days of Night Review

Vampire movies are an interesting bunch; no matter how many times the exact same thing is done, people will almost certainly fork up the dollars for the next one, regardless of it's quality. Thing is, with that in mind, 30 Days of Night is actually surprisingly good.

So, in the tradition of my previous reviews, let's begin with plot. Barrow, northern Alaska, and town Sherrif Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) is coming across all kinds of strange goings on. First, someone steals all the satelite and cell phones from the area and promptly burns them; then kills all of the town's sled-dogs and finally destroys the town's only helicopter. As it turns out, this was the ploy of The Stranger, who acts as a harbringer of 'Them'. And 'They' turn out to be, you guessed it, vampires, and when the town is plunged into thirty days of night, they begin their feasting.

David Slade, in only his second feature, is quickly becoming one of the most interesting directors working today. His first feature - Hard Candy - was a gem of a thriller that this very reviewer cited as an 'engrossing experience', and 30 Days of Night is just as interesting. The first thing that Slade does is use the setting to his advantage; ramping down the colours so that everything is in shades of grey. Except, of course, the reds; and this provides an astonishing contrast when the claret does start a-flowing, with blood spraying across the pitch white snow with astonishing ferocity.

The visualisation of the vampires, too, is quite brilliant, and though it is indeed mostly down to the graphic novel upon which the film is based, it's still a refreshing change from the standard extended canines and shocking blue eyes. And Danny Huston is a fascinating screen presence as the lead vampire Marlowe; delivering the strange, guttaral language of the vamps with a mesmerising gravity.

That's not to say that the film is devoid of other decent performances; Josh Hartnett is an intriguing mess of fuzzy motivations and brown-eyed intensity, and much of the supporting cast is suitably scared and violent in equal measures.

There are some great horror moments too; the little girl who’s turned into a toothy vampire is astonishingly unnerving in its execution, and the scenes of the survivors huddled in various attics and stores keep the tension piled up high. And whilst the story does seem to bounce from totally unpredictable to ‘saw that coming’ at the drop of a hat – including the standard ‘he’s behind you!’ moments and a ending that I honestly never saw coming - it’s easy enough to follow and interesting enough to give the horror scenes that extra oomph.

There is one thing that I’d point out; and that’s that the movie is at the very highest end of the 15 certificate. There are some really quite unpleasant moments – both in terms of gore detail and in terms of amount thereof – that may have some viewers writhing with discomfort, or even forced to leave the cinema.

But if you can bring yourself to stomach that, the 30 Days of Night is a really quite good – though a little short of brilliant – addition to the Vampire-movie canon.

Ross' Rating: 7/10

15 November 2007

Quick Update

Movie review! Huzzah!

I'm going to see 30 Days of Night later today, and so I'll probably post a review of that once I've concocted it. Then I'll stick up a proper situation update. Should be slightly longer than this one.

And probably won't end unexpect...

Eastern Promises Review

Don't you just hate it when you really want to like a film? When ever inch of it oozes quality and class, and yet somehow you still didn't come away saying 'wow, that was amazing!'. When every fibre of your brain wants you to love this fantastically constructed movie, except that one tiny part, right at the back. The one that's screaming 'there's something missing!'. Eastern Promises is one of those films. I came out of the cinema honestly bewildered as to what I thought about it. So here I am, trying to do my best to write a review. Here goes...

So let's begin at the beggining; story. London, the present day. A young, heavily pregnant girl wanders into a pharmacy and promptly collapses. She manages to survive just long enough for Anna - a Russian/English midwife, played by Naomi Watts - to deliver her baby before she dies from complications. In her purse, there's a diary, written entirely in Russian, and Anna sets out to get it translated. Meanwhile, Nikolai - played by Viggo Mortensen - is working his way up the ranks of the Russian mafia. Suddenly, their stories intertwine and become inexorably linked, heading towards what could become the downfall of the London Russian mafia.

And this is perhaps the short-falling. It's not that it's badly told, or overly confusing - though you do have to have the brain switch set firm to 'On' for the duration. It's just that the story feels...incomplete, somehow. Like...the middle section of a trilogy. Like there's something that your missing at the start, and something that still needs to be told come the end. It just is in dire need of some fleshing out that a 109 minute running time can't do justice to.

Because the thing is, beyond the story, everything is actually superb. The direction is immaculate, and Cronenberg has a way of making this grand tale of gangsters scheming and innocents caught up in their wake seem somehow intimate and small-scale. He also continues his run of incredibly detailed violence. An odd description, yes; but that's the only word that fits. This is violence that makes you wince when it happens, twitch with every slash of a razor blade and cringe with each crunch of bone.

There's one scene that'll totally change your perspective of asking for a hair-dryer, and another which will redfine your defintion of 'cinematic intensity'. The latter being an astonishingly visceral fight scene in a bath house. I won't give much more away, but suffice to say my legs were crossed, and were I a lesser man, I might've hid behind my fingers. But that's perhaps the genius of it, I couldn't wrench my eyes from the screen as it happen. It has a presence that almost demands that you watch, regardless of your constitution, and all credit for that lies with the director.

The other truly noteworthy things about the movie are two of the performances. First, Viggo Mortensen; soaring to new heights of electrifying intensity. He inhabits Nikolai. He is Nikolai. And that, too, is one of the reasons why the aforementioned fight scene demands your attention. He also delivers some of the most darkly funny lines I've ever heard with a creepy smirk that is incredibly unnerving. Then there's Vincent Cassel's sexually ambigous Kirill; Cassel delivering a character that is abhorent and charismatic in equal measures. He's odd, drunk and grinning for half the movie, and the other half he's a devious, scheming bastard with slightly a slightly disturbing light in his eyes. Naomi Watts - looking incredibly craggy and tired without her make-up - delivers the doe eyes and unbridled innocence that is required of the character, and Armin Mueller-Stahl lends his watery tones and shocking blue eyes to Kirill's father Semyon. They're all fascinating in their own ways.

It's just such a shame that the story just seems to stop. But perhaps it's meant to; perhaps it's more of a delving into the culture and situation, rather than a piece of story-telling. Then again, isn't cinema there to tell stories at us? Regardless, it's difficult to say whether or not I truly liked this film. It's sensationally crafted, immaculately framde and wonderfully acted. But it just feels like there should be more, and that is something of a letdown. Recommendable, but don't expect to come out feeling wholey satisfied.

Ross' Rating: 7...maybe 8. No...6. Definitely 7. 8...

10 November 2007

Halo 3: A Multiplayer Retrospective

So! Now that I've had internet for a good while, I've - you guessed it - been playing Halo 3 online rather a lot. Mostly because it cheers me up having not been able to get a job, but also because I have precious little else to do with my free time, and suffering from writer's block eliminates the ability to write my novel. *sigh*

Regardless, I've been playing Halo 3 online, and I have to say, my opinion of it still stands. It's brilliant; but less brilliant than I originally stated. The inherent problem is, that it seems that the multiplayer has weakened somewhat since the wonderfully balanced and brilliantly playable multiplayer of Halo 2. Things to point out:

1. The melee system needs tweaking. It really does. First off, smacking someone's feet as they jump over you seems to count as an assassination (instant kill for those of you not down with the lingo). That's just weird, and totally annoying, as it more or less renders jumping in combat completely useless. Second, there seems to be a rather arbitrary system in place that governs head-to-head melee-ing, in that it doesn't do a fixed amount of damage. It simply just seems to pick who has the most health, and then the other person looses. Which is, again, a bit silly.

2. They need to balance the weapons on maps more. Yes, there just seems to be an over-abundance of certain weapons, and a bizarre scarceness of others. The mauler - that hand-held shotgun thing that'd technically break the wrist of anyone using it - is everywhere, and yet the human pistol is sadly absent or ridiculously scarce on almost every level. And the problem with the mauler being everywhere? The thing is ridiculously over-powered. Blast, melee, repeat; plus it only takes 3 shots to kill someone at mid range. Anyways, for certain weapons - shotgun, rocket launcher, sniper rifle, spartan laser - scarceness is part of the point. But you'd think that there'd be loads of pistol lying around, wouldn't you? But hey, that's just me.

3. Achievements? Good. Improbable achievements? Not so good. Part of the point of having achievements, I thought, was that the situation required to fulfill them required skill to get. Thusly, the Gamerscore of any person would roughly reflect their relative skill with the game. But the five ones that I'm lacking in Halo 3 seem to rely solely on luck. Mongoose Mowdown? The damn thing isn't heavy enough to run people over! Steppin' Razor? If you can actually find three people to kill, given the size of the levels. The videos I've seen of people getting them seem to showcase how lucky you need to be to get them. But then again, I have awful luck when it comes to video games. Anyways.

4. Lack of variety in game types. Yes, Slayer, CTF and Assault are great. But there're SEVEN different types of creatable match, and each has almost infinitely customisable options. Also, whatever happened to good old CTF classic? You know, when there're two flags, and you've got to concentrate on both getting the enemy's flag and protecting your own? I loved that. And it's gone the way of the dodo, it seems.

5. Communication. It's suffered a downgrade. You used to be able to talk at people in ranked matches. Insults, and whatnot - some people didn't like it; I, for one, found it to make the game that much more entertaining. Now, in ranked matches you can only communicate with your team; and in free-for-all you can't communicate with anyone. Which kinda sucks.

Those're pretty much my only gripes; and they've appeared afresh above the single gripe I had with Halo 2, which was all but totally eliminated. Apart from that, I have a huge amount of fun playing. Especially with friends. Me and my mate Al have been teaming up reasonably regularly, and the teamwork we put together is nothing short of spectacular!

The maps are solid (despite the annoying weapon over-abundances/shortages); the gameplay is nicely paced and nicely skill reliant; and generally the players are a decent bunch - beyond that odd annoying kid whose parents bought him a Mature-rated game, and thinks he's better than everyone who's played the game ever, despite the 22-3 scoreline against him. So yeah, great fun game.

And that's it; all that's on my mind recently. Hopefully I'll have something vaguely more interesting to the non-gamer crowd next time; but such is life.


2 November 2007

I told you he could do it!

Frakkin' A, man! I got my internets! Tiscali finally pulled their fingers out of their collective arses and produced the necessary equipment. Pity it was the wrong equipment, but you gotta credit them for trying, right? So currently we're on a USB Modem being broadcasted to the world through my laptop, and the wireless router proper should be here in a few days.

But yes! Internets are finally mine! I can do stuff! Fun stuff! Like play Halo 3 online! (Which is, I must say, exactly as good as I thought it would be) And blog semi-regularly! (As opposed to quasi-regularly).

Anyways, I'm knackered at the moment, so this - the first post of November - is to be a rather short one.

I bid thee good eve!

31 October 2007

Stardust Review

Expectations are an interesting thing. One can frequently raise them, lower them, fail to have them surpassed, and have them smashed into little pieces. And I honestly wasn't expecting to have my expectations absolutely obliterated by Stardust; but seems that I had two sets of the damned things blown apart. Silly me, I suppose.

The film tells the story of a young man named Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox), who is a shop-boy in the town of Wall - the namesake of which just so happens to be the border of a magical realm of Stormhold. Upon seeing a shooting star cascade into the land beyond the wall, Tristan makes a promise to local beauty Victoria (Sienna Miller) to retrieve the star in exchange for her hand in marriage. What Tristan doesn't know is that in Stormhold, stars are celestial beings who sit in the sky and watch the over the world; and the star he was looking out for would turn out to be the beautiful Yvaine (Claire Danes). But he's not the only one seeking the star - a trio of witches need her heart to acquire her youth; and thus the adventure begins.

The story, however, isn't the strongest aspect of the movie. In fact - apart from the vaguely decent concept and execution - the story is perhaps its weakest point, being wholly predictable from start to finish. It'd've been nice to have some kind of twist or turn (in fact, I could think of a way of doing it by simply deleting a single line of dialogue). Another problem is that the movie feels about 15 minutes too long, but it's incredibly difficult to point a finger at any given moment and say 'that could go'. No, it's more down to pacing than actual structure; there are a few moments that just need a trim in the editing department to make them bounce along faster. But honestly, these are minor problems at best, and they really didn't matter by the end of the story. I was having too much fun.

And that fun derives from two things. Firstly, the characters; there's a lot of them, and each is incredibly well fleshed out - from the actor playing them to their scripting, they're each memorable and funny in equal measures. Of particular note is Robert DeNiro's Captain Shakespeare - a man who puts on a tough veneer to hide a rather amusing secret; DeNiro playing it with tongue firmly planted in his cheek. Excellent, too, are the two protagonists; with Cox and Danes displaying some excellent chemistry, and the latter's RP British accent being more or less flawless. Then there's the gamut of British talent that turn up in quick-fire cameo roles - the most memorable of these being Ricky Gervais' Ferdy the Fence, who had me close to tears of laughter.

The second is the execution of the set-pieces; from a mass brawl on board Shakespeare's airship, to the swords'n'sorcery with a twist final showdown, it all tingles with a real sense of silliness and excitement. There are a couple of bum notes with regards to the special effects - including one that is almost heinous in its execution during the otherwise superb final battle - but on average they qualify as 'solid', and again, you should be having too much fun to notice them.

Basically, this is an old-school fairytale, full of fun, wonder and a healthy dollop of silliness; whilst being almost totally devoid of anything too serious or scary. A hugely enjoyable film if you're not looking for anything too heavy; and unless The Golden Compass proves otherwise, this could be the fantasy film of the year. Absolutely brilliant.

Ross' Rating: 8/10

27 October 2007

This! Is! Rome?

Okay, so I bought Rome a few weeks back, and I watched about 3/4 of it before I got sidetracked by Stargate Atlantis. But I've just finished it, and I have to say...wow. It was absolutely superb; the productions values were amazing, the acting (whilst occasionally spotty) was solid throughout and some of the battle sequences were amazingly well done. Can't wait to get my filthy paws on Season 2 for more blood, debauchery and philandering!

Still no internet - so that means the kind Indian supervisor lied to me; he didn't do anything to see that it was delivered earlier than the date they specified! Still, should have it on Monday, and I'm going to call Tiscali up and have at 'em; hopefully they'll issue some kind of discount. Would be good too have a few months free or something of that ilk. But the real kicker is that I will be able to post regularly come Monday! Which is great! Right? RIGHT?!?!?!

I currently have the flat to myself - Ryan's finally gone back to work (his words, not mine) after breaking his arm, and so I'm to have the place all to myself pretty much every weekend of our tenure. Which is...y'know...bracing. Pity we're not allowed to throw wild parties...and bigger pity I don't have a girlfriend...oh, the mischief that could ensue. Although, at this rate I'll probably be working at weekends, anyways; better money during those hours I'm told, and I'd rather have days off during the week...so that one could attempt to get things done! Like shopping without having to get elbows to the ribs or umbrella spokes in the eye. Yes...both those things happened on my visit to Tesco today; and did I receive apologies for them? Methinks not. Bastards.

Didn't manage to go to the cinema...might go tomorrow if money and time permit; and probably to go see Stardust. Eastern Promises is on its opening weekend, and that means loads of punters showing up; I prefer going when there are less people - it generally makes for a more relaxed trip! So! Stardust it is! Not now...but soon!

And now...seeing as Heroes has commenced it's second season, I'm off to re-visit it's first. Wish me luck!


24 October 2007

Of Raiders and Stargates.

Ah, the joys of Stargate: Atlantis; it has to be said, that show surprised me. My mate Nathaniel randomly selected it to watch; and he recommended it to me, and then presto: Ross has become a 'Gater' of sorts. It's just so brilliantly written - and honestly, I find it to be a much stronger draw than it's ex-sister show Stargate: SG1. The stories are more interesting and - Colonel O'Neill aside - I'm rather more fond of the characters. Anyways, I'm now half-way through season 3, and apparently this is rather timely, as by the time I've got internet, season 4 will be well under way.

Speaking of TV shows that are now well under way; both Heroes and Scrubs have started again. Have to say, I'm relishing watching them again. Both ended on cliff-hangers, and I can't wait to find out how they are resolved! JD can't kiss Elliot! Can he? And what the hell was Hiro thinking?!?!

I'm still unemployed; and it's not due to lack of trying. Seriously; apparently you need experience to be a fucking dish-washer in this town! Anyways; I'm confident that I'll have a job by the end of November...but then I was confident that I'd have a degree by age 22, and see where that's gotten me. Still, gotta stay positive, right?

My books coming along nicely - mostly because I've got very little else to do with my days. I'm more or less finished with the ret-con, and so Book 3 is rocketing ahead. Should be a good 'un! Remember, you can still have a gander at the first 12 chapters (and the prologue) here!

Hopefully going to see either Stardust or Eastern Promises over the next week; I'll definitely post a review for the one I finally decide on seeing, so do check in if you're enjoying my reviews!

And that's it for now. I bid you all good...eh...morning!

20 October 2007

Ratatouille Review

There's something truly and wonderfully magical about Pixar. No matter how fantastic their previous instalment was, you can bet your liver, kidneys and gall bladder that their next will at the very least equal it, if not surpass it. And with Ratatouille, you know they've proven the rule after the first ten minutes - of the actual feature, not the absolutely superb short, Lifted, that precedes it; which is worth the entry fee all by its onesies.

Story-wise, it delivers a swift and rather deft middle-finger to all the post-modern irony that's being chucked about in animation these days. Remy lives in the country-side, and dreams of becoming a big city chef; and despite astonishing senses of smell and taste, he's presented with a rather minor hitch - he's a rat, and thusly humans won't let him near a kitchen without attempting to exterminate him. That doesn't stop him from wistfully pining after celebrity chef Auguste Gusteau's creations on television. Eventually, he gets a little too bold for his britches, and gets his whole colony chased away to Paris; and in a series of rather unfortunate mishaps, Remy finds himself washed up below Gusteau's high-class restaurant. Cue his run-in with Linguine, a garbage-boy at Gusteau's restaurant; like Remy, he longs to be a chef, only he has none of the skill to do so. The two form an unlikely partnership, and start to wow critics across Paris.

It is, pure and simple, rather brilliant; unashamedly surreal, yet at the same time strangely plausible. And to boot, it's hilarious. From the slapstick antics of Remy controlling Linguine through his...eh...hair - 'this is strangely involuntary!' cries Linguine rather fretfully - to the fantastically choreographed set-pieces; if you don't choke out at least one laugh, you probably forgot to bring along your soul. There's a joy to it, a real sense of fun that a lot of the animated dross these days is lacking.

That's not to say there aren't any rather cranial jokes amidst the lunacy; though they aren't quite as thick and fast, they're still there. The poking fun at critics is both playful and poignant, without the mean-spiritedness that, say, Lady in the Water had; and the moments that have a stab at the French are exactly the same - 'We don't mean to be rude, but we're French!' being an inspired piece of scripting. There's also the superbly fleshed out characters, each one with a unique, and frequently hilarious backstory - including a sous chef who's served time, only no-one knows for sure as to why.

On the technical side - if you actually have time to notice such things whilst your sides are splitting - Pixar have once again produced something of a visual masterpiece. The world they've created is so rich, so full of detail and life, that sometimes I found myself honestly wondering if I wasn't looking at an actual photo of a Parisian corner restaurant, or rain-soaked canal banks. The food, too, looks actually edible; a huge amount of detail has been thrown at that particular aspect, and it really does shine. The end result of this is that it sucks you in - detail has a habit of doing that - and makes you really believe in the characters that populate this rather wonderful world. They've also concocted a clever way of putting across the sense of taste through celluloid; using music and rather colourful pieces of rather abstract animation to show the zings and tangs of cheese, wine and all kinds of other flavours. It's a wonderful idea, and superbly - yet sparingly - applied.

This is not to say, however, that it's all brilliant; my beefs with the movie are three-fold. First, and possibly of least overall consequence, is the visualisation of Paris; which is clearly tainted by the Hollywood view of the city. Everything is so clean, so wonderful, so idyllic; even the sewer below the restaurant has a certain quiet charm to it! But obviously, this is Bird trying to juxtapose Remy's lowly start against what he's aiming for, and thusly is forgivable.

The second, however, really isn't; and that is that outside the core trio of human characters and their pseudo-antagonist - Lou Romano's Linguine, Jeneane Garafolo's Collette, Ian Holm's head-chef Skinner and Peter O'Toole's Anton Ego respectively - the voice talent is rather flat; and given the richness of the lungs being lent to their other outings, this came as something of a disappointment.

The third, and probably my biggest problem, is the ending; if Pixar have ever made a film that called for something of a 'downer-but-we'll-still-be-okay' ending, this was it. Problem is, director/screenwriter Brad Bird somehow found need to douse it with a rather soppy water cannon. It's not a bad ending; I'm just saying a little bleakness, artfully applied might have made it a superior film.

Still, these things are hardly more than minor quibbles; I came out of the cinema with a grin on my face, and strange yearning for the ratatouille dish created at the end of the film. It's a film that's frequently funny, occasionally touching, and will plaster a smile across your face for a good long while afterwards.

Ross' Rating: 8

15 October 2007

I'm a bad person...

Yes, I shameless ripped off Halo 3's tagline. I'm not proud of it, but it certainly made you guys think twice about what the post was about, eh?

But seriously, I've been avoiding talking about Halo 3 for a while now; mainly because I'm such a rabid fan of the series that I could probably talk about it for about 3 hours and not get bored. Still, I shall get my Halo-related blogging out of the way prontisimo!

It's friggin' awesome!!!!!! I loved every minute of it!

There! I'm done! Now we can move onto other things!

I finally finished the final Harry Potter (yes, I'm a bad person for that too); and honestly, I think it was more of a last...splutter, than a last hurrah. Seriously, could she have thought of a less spectacular ending? It was so low key, that I actually wondered if I had a bad copy, and I was missing the final final chapter. But nope, my copy is a good'un; and thusly I was left with the rather soppy, annoyingly sentimental prologue to grapple with.

I've always had a problem with the Harry Potter novels. It's not that I think they're poorly written - although I do think that to call them brilliant is just plain wrong; Phillip Pullman writes brilliance, compared to him, Ms Rowling is about as talented as a lobotomised baboon. But they aren't bad either; they're just...there. No, my problem with her novels is that I do believe that she's lowered the standard of fantasy everywhere; it's her fault that utter morons like Christopher Paolini and GP Taylor ever got published; although their novels are of such inferior quality even to JK Rowling's that I honestly thought about tearing out my eyes after I read them.

Back on to Harry Potter; I dunno...it might just be because I was brought up with proper, High Fantasy; it might just be that I'm a pretentious git (probably the latter, but I'm past caring); I just don't find her novels that entertaining. Still, the rest of the world does; so it might be time to admit that I'm wrong. But I'd never do that!

What else? Oh yes - having finished The Deathly Hallows, I promptly retrieved my His Dark Materials from home, and plan on finishing Northern Lights before the film comes out in December. I have to say I'm looking forward to it, if only to see if Pullman's dense, thoughtful text actually translates properly to the big screen. Fingers crossed, eh?

That's about it for now. I'm finally tired after sleeping in until 2pm this afternoon - yes. I'm still jobless, but I've got tons of balls in the air, and hopefully one of them will get back to me with some good news. But for now, I play the waiting game.

Or rather, the sleeping game. G'night!

14 October 2007

The Kingdom Review

It's not every day that I'm stumped by a film...and the Kingdom managed to do it for all the wrong reasons. The plot was straightforward, the camera work - though shakey - was fine, the acting solid - I just simply didn't know what to make of it.

Okay, let's get plot details out the way: Terrorist detonate two bombs in a compound full of foreign oil workers in Saudi Arabia. The first to bring in the rescue teams, the second actually targeting those rescue teams. Thing is, an FBI agent is killed in that second explosion, and thus the FBI back home go into 'revenge' mode. Afraid that that's exactly what it'll be seen as, the higher-ups nix any FBI incursion into Saudi Arabia, but of course, they go ahead and risk it anyway. This puts them on the trail of Abu Hamza, a notorious bomb-maker, terrorist and generally unpleasant bloke. However, when their convoy is attacked, and another of their number kidnapped and tortured, they have to go and get him back.

The films inherent - and most obvious - problem is that it has absolutely no idea what it wants to be. It flits from being an action/drama, to being a political thriller, to a murder/mystery and then back again. The inherent problem with an ADD-suffering movie such as this is that, inevitably, that condition is transposed onto its audience. Thusly, you'll probably only be paying attention when the speakers are spitting gunshots at your ears, and thus will be confused as to just why your ears are being berated so.

Its a problem that doesn't lie with most of the composite parts. In fact, it almost certainly stems from the fact that there are two screenwriters, who appear to have totally different agendas. Most likely - though this is merely speculation on my part - Matthew Michael Carnahan scribed it as a political thriller. Then along comes Michael Mann to...well, 'action it up', so to speak. And thusly, imbue the film with the aforementioned attention disorder.

The thing is, there are some very good things about the film. First and foremost, the core performances - when you actually notice them going on - are rather good. Of particular note is Jennifer Garner. who - above the always excellent Chris Cooper and Jamie Foxx - shines as the damaged femme fatale, who's not just in it for the patriotism. Jason Bateman - king of the memorable movie bit part - actually manages to extend his acting chops to the full 110 minutes, and he's actually rather pleasant company for the duration.

Next, the action sequences - with Mauro Fiore's camera shaking like crazy, but still somehow retaining focus - are brilliantly concieved, and pulse-poundingly executed. Of particular note is the closing portion of the movie, which ditches the politics (well, I suppose FBI agents shooting muslims is political, but whatever...) completely and gets going on the balls to the walls action. It's an almost non-stop action sequence for the final 20-or-so minutes of the film, and it's edge of your seat stuff, from the initial highway shoot-out to a terrifying and brutal three-way brawl with Garner and a hog-tied Bateman on one side, and a rather large, aggresive Saudi on the other. It almost (repeat, almost) makes up for the unfocused first and second acts.

Ultimately, though, you still walk out feeling more than a tad unsatisfied. Perhaps you wanted intrigue...perhaps you wanted some kind of anti-**** (that's, The War Against Terror, by-the-by) commentary, but whatever you wanted from it, it doesn't really deliver it. Which is unfortunate, considering this film had plenty of potential to be an enjoyable autumn time-waster. See it if you've got nothing better to do, or have already seen the Bourne Ultimatum.

Ross' Rating:

Believe in a Hero

That's right, I do. James McFadden, that is.

Seriously, the guy is the biggest no-show for Everton ever. But when he pulls on that Scotland football shirt...the man is the Superman of football. There, I said it. There's mild mannered James McFadden of Everton, and he pulls on the cape and boots of Scotland...he becomes McGod of the Beautiful Game.

So yes, I went to the Scotland - Ukraine match yesterday. And I honestly have to say, it was the best game of football I've ever been to. The noise that Hampden made was...well, it was astonishing. And it's for a very important reason. Belief. Hope be damned, we don't need it any more. We need belief, and it's evident that we've got it. And the players picked up on it to; from the moment the fans belted out Flower of Scotland at the top of their voices, I knew it was going to be a special game. I did my very best to capture the noise, but you really had to be there to feel it:

The first goal came within four minutes of the last verse of the anthem, with Kenny Miller sliding home a beautifully weighted free-kick from McGod himself. Then, six minutes later, Barry Ferguson takes a quick free-kick, McFadden's there to tap it on to Lee McCulloch, who slots it past the Ukraine keeper with surgical precision! The Ukrainians hit back in the 24th minute, with Shevchenko slamming home - though I'm loathed to admit it - a wonderful cross. The game then quieted down for the remainder of the first half.

The second half was tainted by a series of poor refereeing decisions - both ways, including 3 strong penalty calls for us, and at least two of our fouls on their midfielders ignored - but in the 68th minute, magic happened. McGod finds himself in wide open space, and simply turns and drills the ball home with stunning accuracy. The crowd erupts, and the game is finished.

It really is a joy to see one of our teams performing at the very highest level, considering the lacklustre showing of the rugby team in the world cup. We've only got Georgia and Italy left now, with the former away, and the latter in Hampden. Ideally, we'll win both; but realistically, I only really want us to beat Georgia, and then draw with Italy. Then, brilliantly, we'll have knocked out either the world champions Italy, or the European champions France. Which, considering we're a country of a population of less than London, is no small feat.

Okay, that's my piss-poor sports reporting done for the week. Well, at least until wednesday, when I shall be hunting down a pub to watch the Georgia game.

I saw The Kingdom, and diligently wrote a review; and to be honest, I'm far prouder of this one than I am of the 3:10 to Yuma one. Mainly because it's the first not-that-great movie that I've seen for a while, and I got to lay into it a bit. Hope you enjoy it!

And that's it for now. If I don't get back, it means I've been crushed by a runaway semi manned by the Incredible Hulk. Either that or Tiscali have still failed to deliver my internet; though I'll leave that choice up to you!

10 October 2007

3:10 to Yuma Review

Ah, the joys of remakes. Inevitably they're either so different from the original that people will complain, or so bad that...well, people will...y'know...complain. It's rare for one to come along that is actually truly genuinely a great film standing all on its own; but 3:10 to Yuma just so happens to fit rather neatly into that category.

It starts as it means to go on - dead of night, and young William Evans (a wonderfully understated Logan Lerman) awakes to find his father's barn aflame; set upon by goons of a debt collector that the one-legged war veteran Dan Evans (Christian Bale) can't possibly hope to repay. So when $1000 dollars is offered to the man who gets the infamous, but now captured outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) onto the 3:10 train from Contention to Yuma, Dan can do nothing but accept the job.

After a summer of ridiculously over-wrought, heavily contrived and non-sensical stories (a trend only recently and brilliantly broken by Bourne's latest outing), this wonderfully crafted piece of story-telling is a welcome change. The story stays simple; there're no huge twists, no gargantuan revelations. It's just a tale of two men who, despite their flaws, are able to change each other for the better. James Mangold - in a far cry from Walk the Line - has supreme clarity of vision; keeping the plot tightly focused and stampeding along at an ever-increasing pace.

So obviously, you'd imagine that the core performances would have to work, and work well. And that they do; Christian Bale is quietly intense, with all the grittiness that one might expect from a man shunned by the country he fought to protect. He's not out for the glory, he just wants to finally own the land he lives on. It's a wonderfully deep performance, with Mangold lingering on Bale's face as the world - and Ben Wade's crew - close in around him.

Crowe is, whilst equally good, almost a polar opposite. His Ben Wade is a man with no boundaries, no family and no real friends. To use the cliché, Crowe has been unleashed upon this character, and it is - quite simply - a joy to behold. From the introduction scene, which finds Wade blasting one of his comrades in the chest for the most minor of errors, to the viciously cold monolgues; this is perhaps one of Crowe's finest performances to date.

Of course, whilst the two leads are the focus, they'd not work without a backlog of fantastic support, and this arrives in droves. From Alan Tudyk's Doc Potter, to Peter Fonda's wounded and world-weary mercenary, it all comes together beautifully. Of particular note is the superb performance of 15-year-old Logan Lerman, whose William Evans is both innocent and angry, and holds his own in scenes with the both Crowe and Bale more than admirably.

Obviously, though, this is a Western. So we're going to need some action, and whilst it isn't exactly scarce, this is hardly Shoot-'Em-Up-esque. However, when they do come they are exciting and well shot; the final battle being of particular note not just for it's choreography, but also for the sheer brutality of its final moments, and the emotional oomph that it subsequently packs. Heart-pounding is an understatement, to say the very least.

All-in-all, this movie is, pure and simple, a superb addition to the Western genre. It's a true Autumn movie, not big enough for the summer months, not cheerful enough for Christmas; it's desires to be nothing more than a superb piece of understated, gritty story-telling. See it. You won't regret it.

Ross' Rating: 8

Back from the black...

Yes, it's October, and no, I haven't been living in a cave. Tiscali are proving to be rather useless in actual service delivery. Still, could be worse...

Great stuff is happening! Well, a singular event of such momentous proportion that I honestly felt the world shake. I cooked! That's right, folks; preparation of food for human consumption by means of heat. I did it, and it was awesome. Okay, so it wasn't the most complicated dish on the planet, I mean, 't'was only chilli con carne. But still, I was damn proud of it; it tasted great, and even Ryan - my flatmate - was impressed! Although time will tell as to its gut-busting probabilities; chances are I'll spend tomorrow in the john, but it was worth it, dammit!

Elsewhere - since my last post, I have finished 'Book 2' of my novel! The last chapter was highly symbolic, and I rather enjoyed writing it; not just for the fact that there was a wee bit of sex (oh yeah!), but also because incorporating that symbolism meant going back and reading bits of my novel, which - honestly - I enjoyed. So now it's on the home stretch - I've got 7 chapters fully planned out for Book 3, with the hopes of writing between 12 and 15 chapters in all. And then it shall be done, and the only obstacle remaining will be...well, getting the damn thing published. I'll have to get a job...*sigh*

Oh yes, and I was present for Scotland's rather unspectacular exit from the Rugby World Cup. The gossip: the Argentinians were constantly cheating, and getting away with it; the only real difference between the two teams was that they scored an illegitimate try - the man was offside, and thus was able to charge down a clearing kick, and some uncharacteristically poor play from Sean Lamont meant that he could touch down just to the left of the post. The score? 19-13; and we should've won. Still, all is gossip; we're out, and we actually did damn well for a team that wasn't expected to get past the group stages. So kudos to Frank Hadden and his boys, he's done us proud. Joel Jutge, on the other hand, is a tosser, pure and simple.

Saw 3:10 to Yuma. Enjoyed it. Reviewed it, although I'm not hugely proud of this particular review; I think I'm a little too positive. Still, it really was very good, and I recommend it to all (and indeed, any) of my readers!

And that's about it for now! Hopefully should have internet on thursday, and thusly I shall be postly more regularly after that!

I bid thee good eve!

23 September 2007

All my internets belong to us!

Hurray! Back - albeit briefly - in the land of the internets! I am, as you may be able to tell, totally psyched for this monumentous event. Still, it all goes away tomorrow, which is vaguely depressing. But! I have several phone numbers for several ISPs that I intend to get set up as soon as...well, they deliver the damn hub and hook me up!

Anyways, on to serious business. Scotland are up against New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup tomorrow, which is...well, it's quite frankly terrifying. The most formidable force in rugby coming to Edinburgh to crush our spirit! Still, given our performance on Tuesday against Romania - where we actually looked like a proper rugby team, instead of randoms playing on a Sunday afternoon - we should hopefully keep the scoreline to a minimum. Ideally, we'd keep them within 7 points, because then, interestingly, we'd get a 'Match Point' from the ordeal. Which...y'know, helps. Anyways, should be a cracker - the New Zealanders are always up for a laugh!

As for movies, I managed to go see Shoot 'Em Up, and I have to say I was entertained throughout. It's not particularly cranial, or a masterstroke of epic proportions. But it is deliriously silly, over-the-top fun. And Paul Giamatti chews scenery rather well as the tubby-yet-psychotic villain. I'll post a review if I get around to writing one, but as a 'preview' of sorts, I gave it 7/10!

Anyways, that's all I can think of for now...a blissfully short blog entry is to be the result of this few minutes tapping at my keyboard. Hopefully I can be marginally more entertaining with my next post. Regardless, I bid you all good eve!

*dives out window*

17 September 2007

The End of an Era

Yes, that's right. Tomorrow at 2:45 (or 12:45, if I'm feeling particularly spritely); I shall be leaving home. That is, in the symbolic sense; obviously I'm welcome back here whenever I please. But still! Self-reliance is imminent! Can't decide whether I'm totally excited or scared shitless.

But! I do have a job, which is good I suppose. Well, it's not really a job. It's a task that I'm going to get paid for doing - designing a 'personal business' website for my darling sister, Arwen! She's apparently going into the business of 'freelance editing', whatever that is...anyways, point is: she needs a website to advertise her 'wares', and I'm the one she's hired to make it. So I'm fairly happy about that.

I'm gonna try and go see some movies over the next week. Definitely Shoot 'Em Up, but I'll also try and get to Hallam Foe, and hopefully 3:10 to Yuma - I've been dying to see a good, new western for ages, and this is getting pretty good reviews. And seeing as I missed Seraphim Falls, I'm definitely not going to miss this one.

Anyways, that's about it for today. I would go to bed, but for the aforementioned confusion between 'scared shitless' and 'totally excited'. Anyways! Peace out, y'all!

11 September 2007

9/11? Isn't that in November...

And I'm back in the UK after a ridiculously difficult weekend trapsing about Europe. First there was Glasgow, for the clash between Scotland and Lithuania. And that, my friends, was the highlight of the trip. The game was an absolute cracker, with Scotland firing 3 goals past the Lithuanians; and them only being able to respond with an incredibly dubious penalty.

First was a clever free kick from Darren Fletcher - taking advantage of the rule that states that all you have to do to take a free kick is to ask the referee if you can go. The Lithuanians, caught of guard, were unable to do anything about Chris Boyd tearing through their defence and heading home. The Lithuanians hit back in the middle of the second half, with a dive from Mikoliunas over Fletcher's leg convincing the ref, but not a single member of the crowd gathered at Hampden. Of course, seeing as Craig Gordon is hardly Edwin van der Sar, the Danilevicus stuck it home.

Then, on the 77 minute mark, substitute Shaun Maloney - with his first touch of the ball - crossed in towards the far post, where Stephen McManus slotted in a sitter. Then, not six minutes later, James MacFadden, out of the blue, takes a shot and slams it into the back of the net!

That sticks us fair and square at second in the group, with as many games played as the leader and third place. Problem is, we have to play France - the leaders - on Wednesday; and although we beat them last time with a lucky goal, I wouldn't count on a Scottish victory in France! Still, we can potentially hold them to a draw, and then qualification for the Finals of Euro 2008 won't look that unlikely at all! So far, so good! Highlights are here!

However, the other match I attended - having gone from Glasgow to Amsterdam to Lyon to St Ettienne, all in the space of 7 hours - was not so good. Scotland vs Portugal in the Rugby World Cup. Considering that Portugal consist entirely of amateur players, it was an appallingly dull game. We should have run rings around them, with at least a 70 point margin over them. As it stands, we won 56-10. And yes, against any other team, that would be astonishing - but it seems that amateur teams were destined to make professional ones look decidedly ordinary, with the USA frustrating England, and Portugal frustrating us! We made a spate of handling errors - one even handing them their single try - and just generally look like we weren't meshing as a team. We'd better get our act together, and soon...because otherwise I forsee yet another early exit. And that would be severely disappointing, especially given our superb 'World Cup Warm Up' form.

Onto less sporty things...well, there hasn't exactly been much of it. I was going to try and go see Hallam Foe, but the passport control at Schiphol held me up so that I missed my connecting flight. Which was bloody annoying.

Oh yes! I finished Bioshock, and unfortunately, I was totally under-whelmed by the ending. Still, the build-up was absolutely stunning, and so I've forgiven it. Though I'm also told that I got the 'bad' ending, and that I should have a try for the good ending and see if it's any better. So I have re-commenced, on hard mode, with the intent of only saving the Little Sisters! For I am a benevolent man!

Anyways! I'll be back later in the week, and hopefully have something slightly more geeky to report back on! Like a film...or a TV show...or something...

4 September 2007

Where the artist need not fear the censor...

Welcome to Rapture.

Yes, Bioshock has caught me up. It's absolutely fantastic - one of the best single-player games I've played in a good long while; and easily one of the most cinematic games ever created. To quote Gamespote, it's more like a piece of interactive fiction than a true game - the gameplay is perhaps more than a little simple, and it seems that depth has been sacrificed for both length and graphical quality. But that doesn't stop it from being stunningly entertaining from start to finish. The story grips from the first scene, and the introduction to Rapture - the underwater city created by a man who sought to escape the moral confines of ordinary society - is spine-tingly creepy. Best £40 I've ever spent on a video game, methinks.

The weekend was good - went to see Man Utd just beat Roy Keane's Sunderland 1-0; with a Louis Saha goal sealing the deal, and hopefully putting us back into our winning ways. More sport this coming weekend - in fact, we're going to see Scotland play two sports. Football-wise, on Saturday we're off to Hampden to see them play Lithuania. Then on Sunday, we're of to Saint Etienne, of all places, to see us play Portugal at rugby. Hectic weekend, to be sure - and there's every possibility that I might get sent home early, thanks to my passport having less than six months left on it. Still! Here's to hope that the immigration officers are in good moods on Sunday!

Haven't seen any new movies recently - though I'm keen on going to see Hallam Foe; I always like seeing films set in places I've been, and this one is set in and around Edinburgh! Apart from that, I saw Over the Hedge and Stormbreaker on Sky Movies (apparently it's a kid-friendly premier week). The former was hilarious the first time - but it quickly loses it's charm on repeat viewings. There are a couple of genuinely funny moments, but it's really a 'hit and run' movie; and doesn't demand repeat viewings. The same can be said of the latter - it has to be said, that whilst it wasn't as good as it could have been, it was still vaguely enjoyable. I can't say that you should run out and go see it now, now, NOW!! But, to be honest, it's fine. And - as Mark Kermode pointed out - it's a massive advert for tourism to the Isle of Mann, which is no bad thing I suppose.

The Raider's Dream is coming along nicely - I had one of those 'epiphanies' where you see exactly where you want to go with a story; managed to get most of it written down before it vanished out of my mind. And I'm certainly looking forward to writing the final chapter of book two...if it goes like it did in my head, it's going to be a pulse-pounding read. Yes! I am very modest! Ex Valde Ira is on hold for now, mostly because I only have so much creative energy, and currently I think I've spent more than my fair share on the aforementioned epiphany!

Well, that's all the musings I can muster for now. Hopefully I'll report back soon...so farewell to the loyal few who read this! Or the non-existent few...


30 August 2007

The Bourne Ulitmatum Review

Ah, the season of summer blockbusters. It's not every year that have a film come along in this period that is both incredibly intelligent and ridiculously exciting. Normally they're either one (Transformers, Spider-man 3), the other (Waitress, Knocked Up) or neither (Bratz...).

But the third outing in the Bourne trilogy is looking to - at least temporarily - change all that. It's both clever and pulse pounding, and is easily on of the best films of the year so far, let alone the best Bourne film or the best of the summer!

We all know the story by now - slighted US Government agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) seeks identity. Enjoys CQC and outsmarting opponents, as well as a predilection for running. But this time, they've taken it to the next level, the screenwriters - of which there are four - piling on the intrigue and tension. The film begins before the end of The Bourne Supremacy, with Bourne wounded and desperately trying to evade the Moscow police. Jump forward six weeks later, and he's just read an article about himself in the Guardian - and something called 'Blackbriar', which is apparently linked to the Treadstone project from the previous film. Intent on tracking down the journalist who wrote it, he once again gets himself caught up in the insipid dealings of the CIA.

It's perhaps a little confusing - and viewing of the first two films is recommended, preferably as close to your viewing of the third as possible. But the story is brilliantly conceived, and it ties off all of the loose ends beautifully and logically, but without ever losing a frenetic pace that keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole way through. There's a particularly memorable piece of scripting towards the end - suffice to say, it involves Bourne outwitting everyone who's after him, and it's wonderfully downplayed by both director and screenwriters.

Damon is still superb as Bourne; as he was in both the first and second - so elsewhere there's fantastic (and occasionally suprisingly) good turns from Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Paddy Considine and Joan Allen. Albert Finney crops up too, and his performance is suitable creepy and evil for his role. In fact, the cast is nearly flawless - even the slightly less verbal contribution from Edgar Ramirez.

But, once again, the true star of the show is Greengrass' direction. From the conspiracies in the CIA's HQ, to the incredible action sequences; his documentary-style hand-held cameras lend a sense of presence to the whole thing. It's almost like you're there, with Bourne, listening in on the conversations he's having, following him over the rooftops of Tangier as he evades police. Of particular note is a superb car-chase, which both mirrors the one in Supremacy, whilst adding a further veneer of realism to the whole thing. There's also a fantastically visceral roof-top chase that culminates with a brutal fist fight that is nail-bitingly tense.

However, as with any movie, it's not without it's problems - although the ones it does have are more or less instantly dismissable. First, if shaky-cameras aren't your thing - or even tend to make you feel nauseous- then the lack of visual focus in some of the scenes may annoy you somewhat. Also, the somewhat open ending may add to frustration. But these are minor, and are easily over-looked in light of the over-whelming number of fantastic qualities.

So, once again Bourne has proved that action films can have brains too. It's a fittingly brilliantly end to a brilliant trilogy.

Ross' Rating: 9/10

28 August 2007

Guns...lots of guns...

Dear God, Britain's in a state at the moment, isn't she? I mean, we've had - what? - three killings in the last month? Fuck! We used to be such a friendly country...oh well. At least Big Gordie's being proactive. Unlike the Conservatives, I think this whole 'amnesty that's not an amnesty' is a very fine idea. No, it's not a long-term solution - but in the short term, I reckon it could help out loads. Girlfriends, parents and relatives of these gang-members will hand in the guns, and they'll go back to beating the shit out of each other with good old fists, crowbars and baseballs bats.

I even read a really disturbing interview in the Guardian - it was with a 14-year-old who was a member of a Liverpool gang. And he claimed not only to own a gun - or 'milli' - but to have fired it at someone twice. Also, in a rather amusing quote, he said that 'We don't do robbings. The other gang does robbings. We do graftings. That's stealing cars...' So, what? Stealing cars isn't robbery? Not if he says it's not, apparently. What a muppet!

On to slightly less political musings - sorry about not updating for two weeks. Dropping out of University is a huge hassle, it seems; but then, it had to be done. Anyways, it's all in motion...no alls I gotta do is get a job and get to living! Should be fun!

Seen a few movies, though only two of them are really review worthy, and I may just cook one or two up! So there was The Bourne Ultimatum, Knocked Up, Rush Hour 3, The Simpsons Movie...so yeah, loads. The only one's I'd really think about reviewing are Bourne and Knocked Up. Both were superb, in my honest opinion, though obviously for slightly different reasons.

What else? Oh! Started a new short story that could well pan out to a full length one. It's tentatively called 'Ex Valde Ira' - which is 'Out of Great Anger' in Latin; and it's basically about the end of the humanity (not the world, mind). Some kind of religious and philosophical musings will ensue, certainly; and I'm feeling pretty good about it!

That's it for now. My next post will probably be in a couple of days, and'll probably be a good old fashioned movie-review! So keep them eyes peeled for it!


15 August 2007


Ah-ha! I have caught your attention with the mention of tasty baked goods! But lo, there are none. Yes, I'm a cheating bastard, and I'm sorry...that's just the way it is.

So, I had a great weekend! It was filled with...sport! Bizarre, considering so far I've come off as a technophillic movie geek. But yes, I do enjoy the odd bit of sport. Rugby and football are my viewings of choice, and this weekend I was lucky enough to go see both!

First, on Saturday there was Scotland vs Ireland - just a pre-competition 'friendly'; but still important. I didn't exactly go in with high hopes - the last few times, Ireland have trounced us by huge margins. But if we could do at least a little better than we did those times, I'd be happy. Anyways, we came out and our pack (the forwards, or the big guys who are in most of the scrums, if you're not down with the lingo) looked absolutely huge! But, as is inevitable - size does not equate to winning...-ness, so I held my breath for the first kick.

And we looked really good! Not only that, but we won! 31-21! And all of Ireland's points were scored in a 20 minute period in the second half where we just seemed to lose cohesion (probably due to our scrum half Mike Blair coming off). But we won! I was dead happy!

Next was Man Utd vs Reading - me being a fan of the former. And that was slightly more disappointing. We seem to be unable to beat Reading, regardless of whether it's home or away, or of the state of our injuries etc. This is the only thing I'll ever thank Jose Mourinho for - 'Zey parked ze bus in front of ze goal and throw away ze key'. Every time. It's just a total lack of ambition - and it's representative of the inherent problems with football today. They're forgetting that this is a spectator sport. And if there's a single fan of either team that thought it was anything but boring, I'll find 'em and hit 'em.

Anyways, at least we got a single, solitary Premiership point from it. Certainly better than losing, I suppose.

And that's about it for now. Later, dudes!

8 August 2007

Oooooh yeaaaaah!

That's right, two movie reviews within the space of a few days! Unprecedented, isn't it? Well, I'm very proud, as you probably have gathered!

Anyways! I finally got around to purchasing a few DVD's that I've been hankering after. Both the currently released Bourne films - that's The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy, for those living in holes - although those were more for the fact that the final one is a-comin', hitting a cinema near me on the 17th! Can't wait, and my Da actually wants to go see it! Which is cool - I haven't been to the cinema with my Da since...*ponders for a moment*...Lord of the Rings: Return of the King! Bloody hell, that's ages!

So I watched The Bourne Identity this evening, and it was still as entertaining as ever. The car chase with the mini is still as inspired as ever - along with Ready Steady Go by Paul Oakenfold, which is now my ultimate car chase music! Although honestly, when Identity first came out, I was a little unimpressed - I just found it very slow. Then again, I was only 15 at the time, and my tastes have changed rather dramatically since then. Anyways, I enjoyed this sitting of it - so here's to the next one!

Also got around to watching a mini-series called The State Within - with Jason Isaacs as a British ambassador in the US as everything goes to pot. Only half-way through, but it's interesting stuff, and I have to say that this could potentially be the first time I've ever enjoyed a political thriller. Bring on part 2!

My Xbox power supply is still in limbo - Steve knows where it is at the moment; I certainly don't. But they are sending it free of charge - or at least, that's what they told me. So I can hardly blame them for sending it via We Get There In The End Courier Services. Hopefully I should be up and running soon, because I just bought a rather nifty little device - a VGA adaptor (or something like that). Basically, it's cheap HD - allowing you to hook your 360 up to a PC monitor and a set of speakers. So Gears of War in HD, here I come!

And that's about it for now. So, in the words of Captain Caveman:


6 August 2007

Die Hard 4.0 (aka Live Free or Die Hard) Review

Die Hard 4.0 was always going to be an exercise in mistake management. For every one they made, they had to create a memorable 'Die Hard moment' to counter it. Unfortunately, they seemed to have forgotten exactly what Die Hard moment meant. Either that, or they completely misinterpreted it. Because Die Hard 4.0 goes on to make most of the mistakes that Die Hard 2 did - it loses the simplicity, and gains a whole lot of silliness.

This isn't to say that it's inherently bad. It's an entertaining summer blockbuster, and yes; Bruce Willis playing the role he was more or less born to play once again is fun, especially when he's bouncing off Justin Long's introverted-yet-fast-talking hacker. The conflict of personalities works rather well, and both seem to be having a great time. The villians are suitably menacing - Timothy Olyphant channelling his monotony into the slighted government official intent on bringing down the USA; and Maggie Q - whist hideously underused - is still silently malicious as the femme fatale. The supporting cast are a bit wishy-washy; neither awful nor particularly good - though of some note is Kevin Smith's brief stint as an uber-geek/hacker living in his mother's basement...sorry, 'command center'.

Unfortunately, Smith's role is part of the result of a grossly misjudged plot-line. Yes, it's modern. Yes, it's vaguely relevant. Yes, it's all very post-9/11. But it just doesn't feel like Die Hard - the threat isn't as palatable, as real as it should be. John McClane is supposed to be the everyman who's just having a very bad day. This just smacks more of a season of 24 compacted into 150 minutes. And this is yet another mistake made - John has once again turned into ye stereo-typical action hero - a Jack Bauer without CTU, if you will. It's not that his attitude has changed - he's still as reluctant and grouchy as ever; it's the things that he pulls off. In Die Hard 1 and 3, he was the every-man who got heroism thrust upon him - he did what we all might've done, given his training and situation; his methods were cack-handed, and whilst he is trying to save the hostages, he's got to survive the process! But in 4.0, as with 2, he's the tough guy destined for heroism - his ideas smack of rather careful planning, flukey set-ups and an almost willful disregard for his own safety. Again, it just doesn't feel like Die Hard.

Another mistake made is that the narrative sprawls just a little bit too much. The first three movies were rather tightly focused - there were scenes involving McClane, maybe a couple of scenes of background exposition and then those involving the terrorists, and McClane 'interacting' with them. Here we get those three, plus some bizarre, seemingly unrelated ones involving the Ministry of Defence - with Cliff Curtis and Zeljko Ivanek spouting off about homeland defence and some such. It's just far broader and less-focused than it should be - and this is probably no thanks to Mr. Bauer and his precious CTU. The final knife in the heart of part 4's Die Hard-ness is the fact that it's edited for a PG-13 audience - that means very little swearing (part of, I feel, John's trademark) and a cut-off catch-phrase that was particularly disappointing.

But don't get me wrong - there are many, many good things about the movie. Wiseman has a superb eye for action; and whilst not feeling very Die Hard, they are still entertaining and well thought out - a fist-fight in a freezing fan-room stands out to me as the most intense. The story is actually genuinely interesting, even if it is misplaced, and as I said earlier, the acting from the core ensemble is on the whole pretty decent. In fact, put John McClane on the list of great things about the movie - when he's not pulling of mind-boggling, eye popping feats of gunplay and general heroism, Willis does a fantastic job of bringing him back to the big screen.

So basically, if you're looking for an experience that maybe will stimulate the grey mushy thing in your skull, and definitely get your adrenaline glands a-pumping, whilst vaguely resembling some action flicks released 12-19 years ago, then this is definitely your bag. Just don't expect an 80's action throw-back of Rocky Balboa proportions - expect a competent modern action/thriller that'll just about keep you from nodding off.

Ross' Rating: 7/10

3 August 2007

Transformers Review

Okay, I'll admit it - I'm a fan of Michael Bay movies. It's true! I love his style; I love the way he does over the top action; I love how you don't have to have your brain switched on to enjoy his films. So when I heard that he was making a live-action adaptation of Transformers, I was more than a little excited. Then, when I found out Steven Speilberg would be in the producing chair, five words ran through my mind: 'This is going to rock!'. However, I almost immediately reigned in my expectations - knowing full well that if I let them rocket skywards, I'd only come away disappointed. But after seeing it, I could've let them go as high as I liked - they'd've still been at the very least reached, if not surpassed.

The basic premise of the movie is that a life-giving device called the Allspark was chucked into space ages ago, and - suprise, suprise - crashes into earth. Close in its tracks is the leader of the evil Decepticons, Megatron - only he crashes into Antartica and gets frozen before he can start looking for it. Quite by chance, an explorer discovers him in the 1800s, and gets the location of the Allspark imprinted into his glasses (bear with me...). Skip to 2007; the explorers great-great-grandson Sam (Shia LaBeouf) is about to sell the glasses on eBay; only more of the Decepticons find out - thanks to the wonder that is the world wide web - and try to track him down. Turns out, his newly purchased car is in fact an Autobot - basically, the good guys - named Bumblebee, and he heralds the arrival of the rest of his kin. What ensues is a race to find the Allspark, and either destroy it, or use it to turn Earth's machines into an army of robots to wage war on the galaxy.

Okay, so it's not exactly the most cranial or brilliant of stories - but it works well enough to remain interesting throughout. It's just clever enough to not be instantly dismissed, and just dumb enough not to get in the way of the action.

The question that was on all our minds was, in fact, how cool do the robots look? And to answer - very cool. The special effects are, quite literally in my case, jaw-dropping; every Transformer has an enormous amount of detail put into them, and the transformations from vehicle to giant man-bot are incredibly convincing. Unlike the cartoons - where the Transformers seemed to be able to change size at will - here the smaller cars produce smaller robots, whereas a ruddy great tanks and such turn into enormous robots. It's this attention to detail - along with the seamless integration with both the actors and the environments - that makes the effects so ground-breaking.

There's also a real sense of fun that's threaded throughout the movie - from the way the Autobots have to hide from Sam's parents, to Sam himself; with Shia LaBeouf injecting him with a fantastically dry sense of humour. Then there's the wise-cracking squad of marines - headed by Josh Duhamel's Captain Lennox; providing the counter-Transformer infantry, and plenty of one-liners that ar almost trademark Michael Bay. The action sequences themselves are also well choreographed, from a shape-shifting dogfight over LA, to a subterranean Decipticon stalking our marines.

If there's one relatively poor thing about the movie, it's that it's clear this is a franchise spawner. It's Michael Bay's second shortest work to date - clocking in at around two hours and ten minutes - which suggests that he was told to 'save something for the sequels', in direct contrast to his 'everything but the kitchen sink' style of film-making. That and the closing speech from Optimus Prime, which all but screams 'there's gonna be a sequel, people!'. So be prepared to walk out a tiny bit unsatisfied!
So! If you're looking for a film that's light on brains and heavy on the entertainment, with kick-ass robots that turn into cars (though that may put you in a niche group...), this is more than certainly your cup'o'tea. Bring on the sequel!

Ross' Rating: