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