25 November 2009

Riding the Wave

I haven't posted anything here for ages. That sucks. Oh well indeed.

Got Google Wave from an e-friend on one of the forums I frequent, and I have to say, if it catches on...goodbye e-mail. This is, pure and simply, one of the best ideas to hit the inter-super-highway for quite a while. It's essentially - for those of you not keeping up - an amalgamation of e-mail, instant messaging, and whole manner of other community- and user-driven web resources. 'Communications platform' is the term being thrown at it, and it'll probably stick.

But yeah, it's genius. I presently only have 1 contact and no opportunity to add more so far, so it's a little limited for myself at present. But when it does catch on, it'll be epic. That and it's named after a concept in Firefly...that just gets the geek in me (and the one very much on my exterior...) salivating furiously. So yeah, I'll send you wave...soon as I can. Woo and indeed hoo.

Elsewhere, Winter Wonderland has started once again, and that's the main reason why I haven't been posting anything interesting here. I did get a few more reviews published over on Last Broadcast (here, here and here), so do check them out! Maybe even buy them, who knows...?


And did anyone else notice that Scotland beat Australia. Or rather: Australia lost a game to Scotland. Seriously...where did they get that kicker? Was he plucked, semi-inebriated from the local Walkabout? They had that game by the balls, and all he did was balls it up. Matt Giteau's his name. What a plonker. Still, nice to have 2/3 victories so far...all that remains is Argentina on Saturday. Grudge match against those that knocked us out of the world cup in 2007. Joy.

That's about it, really. Still playing Modern Warfare 2, and it still kicks ass. The sheer variety of play-styles available in the multiplayer is enough to keep me going back for more.

Anyways, I shan't rant any longer on the subject. 'T'would be...unhealthy. Adieu and goodbye, fair internet-travellers.

13 November 2009

I lost 2 stone!

But alas, it was only in hair. Yes, after nearly 18 months of growing my ridiculous barnet, I've had to bite the bullet and go in to the dreaded hair-dressers. The nice Polish lady did snigger at me when I told her I did cut it myself a couple of times before she went to town with a pair of scissors and a water-spray-can-thing. 20 minutes later, I look like a Lego man - to be expected: no hair-cut looks instantly right on my bonce for whatever reason. Little bit of hair gel and it'll be right as rain - just for the moment it looks a bit odd.

I have also lost quite a bit of weight - six stone in 14 months no less - which was rather impressive. I'm now a shapely 16 stone and XL, instead of a 22 stone, XXXL monster. Yay! Still classed as 'Overweight' by the ridiculous scale of BMI, but I care so little about that I could genuinely pass out.

Bought and played Modern Warfare 2. Well, I say 'bought' - I didn't actually hand over any money for it. Gamestation were doing a deal whereby you traded in 2 games from a big list, and get MW2 for £4.99. I traded in 3 games, and hey presto, 3 games I don't play any more (Borderlands, CoD4, The Orange Box) becomes one glorious paragon of virtual entertainment.

The campaign is - difficult though this thought may be - infinitely superior to the previous installment. Everything about it has been kicked up a notch, and for those of us who've played the last one, that's really saying something. There's a particular moment in Call of Duty 4, and for sake of avoiding spoilers, we shall call it The Scene, wherein you are inside the head of a man who's more or less in the epicentre of a nuclear blast. Harrowing, haunting and meaningful, it was one of the stand-out moments of gaming in 2007. Modern Warfare 2 matches that intensity at least five times during the campaign.

First there's the highly controversial level in which you watch - or indeed partake, if that floats your boat - the massacre of innocent civilians. If your heartbeat is steady after its startling conclusion, you're not really human. Then there's a fantastic sequence in the snow of the Russian mountains involving ice-climbing and a snow mobile. Then there's the spectacular free-run across the roof of a Brazilian favela. Then there's the moment that you're winched to safety after rescuing a familiar face from the depths of a Russian prison. And finally, there's some good old-fashion movie referenes, most notable here being The Rock. Two sequences are more or less directly ripped off from Bay's seminal opus, but you can forgive them thanks to the sheer majesty that these two set pieces bring to the final few levels of the game.

Chances are that if you have any interest in the Call of Duty series at all, or indeed in FPSs in general, you've already got this. But if you're still on the fence - a piece of advice. Go out and buy it now. This is one of the most entertaining, harrowing and explosive adventures to have ever seen light on any platform. You do owe it to yourself.

Elsewhere...I start work on the 28th! Huzzah! Winter Wonderland again - so being cold and wet may well be the order of the day - but it's money. Yay! Handed in my contract and availability today with Fee, and hopefully we'll be able to score some extra work putting the place together. Fun times.

Can't think of anything else. So I'll leave it at that. Have fun, kiddies.

2 November 2009

Up Review

It's likely that at this juncture, you've heard about the first 10 minutes of Up. Be it from a review, or indeed from anyone who's seen the movie, there is a rather good reason for this - it's among the finest pieces of animation that you will see for a long time. Unfortunately, that cannot be said about the rest of the film - despite the fact that it is fully brimming with the wit, invention and charm that Pixar are so very good at. It's not that the film is bad. Far from it, in fact, this is one of the best films you'll see this year. The problem is that it flirts rather too closely with disappointment, and this is something of a first for Pixar.

Essentially a mismatched buddy comedy done Pixar style, Up tells the story of an old gent named Carl Frederickson, who has led a genuinely amazing life as a balloon salesman. We get a brief glimpse of this at the start - remember how we talked about the first 10 minutes? - but the main story kicks off just after Carl's wife and childhood sweetheart dies of old age. Carl becomes a recluse, regretting his forgotten promises to Ellie and seemingly just waiting to die. Until, that is, he decides that he can do something about it, straps balloons to his house and flies to South America - specifically, a place called Paradise Falls, where he and Ellie always dreamed of seeing. Unexpectedly, a young 'Wilderness Explorer' accidentally stows away onboard, and the ensuing adventure to get the house perched atop the Falls sees them get entangled with Carl's childhood hero Charles F Muntz and his army of talking dogs, whose pursuit of a rare bird turns decidedly psychotic.

Detaching oneself from its forebears, the film is nearly immeasurably good. Once again, the boundaries of realism are pushed ever further by those tenacious RenderMan-jocks, with some of the vistas of a non-specific South American jungle so vivid and lifelike that there are a couple of moments where you may well find yourself wondering if you're watching a nature documentary. Director Pete Docter handles everything rather deftly - from his incredible, emotional journeys into Carl's psyche to his bold action sequences to the nearly impossible task of making a talking dog charming instead of annoying, Docter melds them all into something that will make you laugh, cry and stay perched on the edge of your seat. Sometimes all three at the same time.

There are, however, a few niggling complaints that ebb into your thoughts when you do take into account the trash robots, talking cars, toys and rats. Despite clocking in at a kids'-backside-friendly 96 minutes, the actual plot is spread incredibly thinly over the fantastic locations and wondrous characters. Considering that Pixar have made name for themselves with their hefty story-telling abilities, this does leave you feeling a little short-changed as you walk out the cinema. There's also very little invested in building up the antagonist so that his demise actually feels like a victory - after those wondrous first 10 minutes, he's barely in the film until his spectacular exit.

Finally, and ultimately this is Up's central flaw - the film simply feels like it has its emotionally payoff too early. To fully explain why is to spoil the utter majesty of the moment, and if there is a more spectacularly ambitious way to derail your movie, I can't think of it. But the simple fact is that after those staggeringly gorgeous first 10 minutes, there is almost nothing in the rest of the movie that can rival it - barring a reference back to those 10 minutes that will jerk tears - and it feels all the poorer for it. And whilst Wall-E had enough magic and wonder after its opening to pull this feat off, Up just falls short, and this, as I say, borders dangerously close to disappointment.

Take heart, though - this is still Pixar, and is still utterly, utterly wonderful. If any other studio had produced this film, five stars would be the order of the day. But the sad fact is that Pixar are capable of so much more, and that is genuinely saying something given just how incredible this 'misfire' is. See it.



1 November 2009

Lack of updatage...

So! Sorry about the utter lack of updatage. Had terrible bouts of insomnia as of late, and being tired isn't exactly the first state that I like to be in when I'm sitting at a computer screen trying to arrange my thoughts!

Pissing down with rain in Edinburgh at the moment - actually the first proper autumn rain we've had, and it's bloody November! The dripping on the scaffolding is infuriating, especially late at night, though that's not really the reason for my lack of sleep. Hardly helped though.

Also! Good news! I have a pseudo-job reviewing DVDs! Which is pretty cool. Big shout out to Last Broadcast for being kind enough to let me spout my madness on their website. Anyways, my first review was of Trinity, and that's been published, so head over here to have a read of that. Next up is Year One and The Wizard of Oz 70th Anniversary Edition, which should be posted tomorrow. Watch that space or indeed this space for linkage!

Reviewing Wizard of Oz was rather tricky, to be absolutely honest, and I'm not really sure that I pulled it off. It's a modern classic, for God's sake! People have written dissertations on this stuff! Well, whatever - as of tomorrow, my two cents will be added into the mix. And seeing as they're grounded in a childhood fascination with the film, I'm kinda worried they're a bit disjointed!

That's about it, really...I'm working on reviews on Up and Borderlands. Hopefully should have those up soon, though the Up one may dissappear thanks to my hearing my own damn opinions on a certain radio show! Annoying when someone beats you to the punch, even if it would hardly matter if I beat him to it - because people would believe him over me every time!

Anyways! Have fun in Internet Land. Remember - click your mouse three times to get the hell out of there.

19 October 2009

Something weird from Halo

People who don't play Halo will not understand this, but I has having a poke through my service record and found a rather interesting stat:

That's right. I have not one, but two Plasma Pistol kills in social games. Surely this isn't possible?

Anyways, I know I promised an Up review, but we slept in and then we just just stayed in and watched House series 5. It was good. Should be going to the cinema tomorrow, though. Hopefully.

For now...if anyone can beat my two Plasma Pistol kills, I'd like to see it!

18 October 2009

A foul wind emerges...

Who's this? What am I? Where is everything?

Oh yeah...going to the cinema tomorrow. To see Up! But not in 3D. None of the the reviews have said it adds anything, so I won't bother with that. Looking forward to it.

Nothing else going on. Got Ninja Gaiden II from LoveFilm, and that is fucking brutally difficult, but as always very rewarding when you do manage to get through it. Although the middle section seemed to sag and rely on cheap tricks, the opening and closing few chapters were top notch.

That's it for now. Short but sweet. Well...definitely short.

11 October 2009

Harshness. Delicious harshness.

So yeah, I played Tomb Raider. Quite a harsh review, don't you think? Still, after my 70-billionth splatter-spike death, I just got a little bit frustrated with the whole thing and called it quits. It's the first game in quite a while that I didn't see through to completion, that's how dissapointed I was with it.

Still, all's well that ends well. Halo 3: ODST is still just as good as it always was, and the new maps for Halo 3 bring some variety to the mix, which is nice. Although they haven't actually managed to fix the matchmaking system yet, so me as a Colonel, I still drag in the Generals for whatever reason, making playing on Xbox Live a rather mixed experience.

Still haven't gotten my paws on a copy of Batman: Arkham Asylum, which I would very much like to do in the next few weeks, be it a rental or a flat out purchase. Unlikely to be the latter, due to my complete lack of moneys. Hopefully LoveFilm will be more than gracious enough to send it my way...that'd be nice.

Job hunt is still looking bad. Had an interview, which went well, but am yet to hear back from them, and it's nearly been a week, so I think that one can be considered scuppered. Unless they're one of those lethargic advertising companies who...y'know...do nothing. Unlikely, but could still happen...

As for everything else...well, that's going fine as well. Had a lazy Sunday today. Slept in until noon, then got up and went to get some Un-named But Highly Tasty Burger Place food. Then walked back home and we ate it whilst watching True Blood.

Speaking of which...True Blood! I've only seen the first episode so far, but I thoroughly enjoyed it - nice background mythology for the show, as well as great performances from all those involved. The creepy air that looms over ever scene is awesome, and I really like how despite barely looking different from humans, you can still tell which characters are the vampires and which aren't, especially when you know what to look for. Anyways, I'm enjoying that - so bring on the rest of the series.

That's it for now...laters.

7 October 2009

Tomb Raider: Underworld Review


Tomb Raider: Underworld...you've heard of it, you've probably seen trailers for it. But please, for the love of Steve - spare yourself playing it. Get Anniversary. Revel in better story-telling of Core Design, coupled with the superior graphics brought along by Crystal Dynamics. Enjoy it. Because you will not enjoy this one.

Because somewhere along the line, Lara has acquired a whole load of flabby, messy crap, seemingly thrown into her games at random. The movement controls are still as unrefined as ever - Ben Croshaw's 'cow in a supermarket trolley' description is still the most apt - less precise even than the original Tomb Raider, and that was made in 1996! Considering how uneven it was in Anniversary and Legend, you'd've thought they'd address that. But no, they didn't. C'est la vie. At least they improved the graphics, right?

Now there's an interesting juxtaposition going on here. They've improved the environments - moving away from the 'blocks of equal length' mantra of level design to a much more organic and lush feel to the levels. It's a pity, then, that they didn't actually upgrade the movement system accordingly. There are times when a precision jump that should be more than doable for Lara is impossible, seeing as there's only two types of jump - forward a certain distance and up. You can't fine tune them at all, and the game doesn't bother to adapt the distance of your jump to the context of said jump, so a lot of the time, you'll find yourself sailing over the ledge you wanted to land on and plummeting to your death.

Yet another thing that hasn't seen improvement - yes, having Lara die if she falls more than 30 feet may be realistic, but do you know what else it is? Flow-breaking, and fucking annoying. Especially considering the still-terrible camera, and the fact that ledges that you can grab onto are almost indistinguishable from those that you can't. The other games had little pits beneath platform puzzles that - if you buggered up, which was rather inevitable - you fell into and had to climb back out again. This was an ingenious method of dealing with it - a puzzle within a puzzle, if you like - however, this concept is completely done away with in Underworld, with every single pit under a platform puzzle leading to instadeath and a reload to one of the not-frequent-enough checkpoints.

The combat system is still the worst part about it, though - enemies having tons of health (see how Crystal Dynamics sway from realistic to arcade-y in the blink of an eye!) - and fully all of the weapons don't fire quickly enough, nor have enough effect on the enemy to be satisfying to shoot. The adrenaline system is a fairly interesting idea, but the fact that it takes just that little bit longer to fill it up than it takes to kill the enemies you're presented with, coupled with the fact that if it's not full, it empties means that you'll rarely get to use it in a manner which compliments the flow of the game. You'll either acquire it just as you kill the final enemy, then you use it in a surprise attack on the next set of baddies, or indeed not acquire it at all. Which is frustrating, to say the least.

Then there's the enemies who have their bullshit-o-metres turned up to 11, unleashing attacks that knock off a third of your health, knock you off your feet and require you to take so much time to recover from that another attack is headed your way before you can even think about pulling the triggers to ward it off. You're gonna die in combat - badly and often. What's worse is that despite an array of moves that should work as dodges - various flips and rolls that Lara can do whilst in shooting mode - these are nearly impossible to use effectively. The camera comes in to haunt you once again, frequently making you unintentionally back into corners and thus get mauled by the giant lizards.

There are, however, some good things - the graphics are magnificent, with this stylised reality beautifully rendered, with top-notch lighting effects and ludicrously smooth animation creating a believable world that you can explore so long as you don't try anything fancy. Or...y'know...logical. The puzzles are as well-realised as ever - even if they do rely on the old games cliche of 'no, you can't just climb over the wall'. The story fits well with the rest of the series, and its turning dark does nothing but enhance the whole deal. The voice acting - on the whole, at least - is solid and interesting, and Keeley Hawes is the best thing about it with her sultry, roguish portrayal of Lara.

They've also taken the gaming industry's advice and more-or-less done away with the 'Press X to Not Die' quicktime events. Instead letting you decide to do so, and keeping the whole thing in game without cutting to a cutscene. For instance, when a large elevator-type-thing collapses under her feet, you can still move Lara around on it as it starts to tumble towards the ground. Moving up to the top, if you're quick you'll spot a magnetic ring that you can grapple onto, leaving the elevator thing in bitty shards at the bottom, and you hanging safely onto your grapple line. Sounds tough? Well, it would be if the game put it in full speed. But it helpfully slows down, giving you just about enough time to get it done before speeding up once again. A clever interpretation of the quicktime events, and they are to be commended for it.

It's just such a shame that despite raised stakes, Crystal Dynamics have dropped the ball on so many aspects of this one. It's even more of a disappointment given how much better Anniversary was than Legend - a similar step up was required here. I would say it's only worth it for the die-hard fans, but to be honest, I think I'm one of them - having played each iteration of the franchise, and completed all but Angel of Darkness. So I can't even reccomend it to them. Annoyingly, bitterly dissappointing.

Breakdown:

Gameplay: Sloppy controls both for exploration and combat, combined with a terrible camera detract from superbly designed puzzles and some fantastic 'adrenaline moments'. 9/20

Graphics: Stunning environments and hugely detailed, motion-captured animation, albeit with the odd bit of slowdown, and some occasionally glitches. 18/20

Sound: The environmental and vocal work is top notch, but a lack of effort for the sound effects of the weapons is very noticable. 15/20

Value for Money:
12 hours of gameplay, although quite why you'd even consider playing it through again is beyond me. 10/20

Tilt:
Haven't been this frustrated by a game in ages, both as a piece of art and as a game. 5/10



Total Score: 57%

1 October 2009

W00t!

Just got 1000/1000 gamerscore on Halo ODST. Yes, I have too much time on my hands!

25 September 2009

Woo - and indeed - hoo.

I has my internets back! Yay!

Saw that some cunts decided to troll my blog. Glad to see that the only attention I can gather is from some idiot bored in their living room. But some of us, right, have Analytics, right? And, well, some of us can tell exactly how long each visitor stayed on each page. Guess what? No visitors on the day of those comments actually stayed long enough to read the review! Hurray! Next time, arse-monkeys, try actually reading it before calling it shit. Not that I care that you think it's shit, but at least read it first, yeah?

Anyways, onto happier things. The new flat is marvelous - a little bigger than the old one, although there's less storage space overall, I fear. Especially considering my computer is currently perched more-or-less on a windowsill. But it's not exactly unstable, and the windows don't leak, which is a bonus. It's got gas, importantly, and it's in a really nice part of town, which is good. More or less the same part of town as the old one, really...but yeah, it's a good'un!

Played and completed Halo 3: ODST, and it was rather incredibly good. A very natural extension of Halo 3, and the various changes to the gameplay due to your being in an ODST's shoes and not a Spartan's are interesting, and more importantly, they're much, much tighter than Halo 3. The vehicle controls in particular have been very much improved. There're a few curious ommissions (no Xbox Live Matchmaking for Firefight? No Battle Rifle?), but overall it's yet another fantastic addition to the Halo canon, and very much a good sign that Bungie's creative reservoir has not yet been entirely tapped.

There's a big furore about the fact that it's very similar to Halo 3 in gameplay...and considering it began life as an expansion pack, I don't understand the need. Plus, being an ODST does feel different to being a Spartan - not being able to jump as high is taking some getting used to, as is having your face filled with grunt arse instead of just stepping over it, seeing as the camera now sits lower. Can't throw grenades as far either. But what do I know, eh? I've only played and enjoyed every single iteration of the Halo franchise...

That's about it really. Have a good one, people!

21 September 2009

District 9 Review


Back in 2005, you may or may not know that an attempt was made to greenlight a movie based on the video-game Halo. Peter Jackson signed on to produce the project, with Alex Garland initially taking reins on the script for its first draft, with subsequent drafts and polishes handed in by DB Weiss and Josh Olsen. Finally, and somewhat riskily, Jackson went with a young South African director – with Halo to be his feature-length debut – named Neill Blomkamp. The decision to hire him was based on a 6-minute short film that Blomkamp directed called Alive in Joburg. All set to go, they were missing one crucial component – money. Jackson had some, but to fund something on the scale of the Halo movie would require American studio backing – and that proved far too elusive. So they’re sitting there, all the elements of a sci-fi movie in place, except for the massive budget. The only logical thing to do, really, is...well, make a sci-fi movie. So goes the genesis of District 9.

Based on the aforementioned short film – search YouTube for it, you’ll find it - the plot revolves around a fictional alien landing that occurred in 1982 over the city of Johannesburg at the height of the apartheid government’s power. Neither an invasion force nor a first contact emissary, they seem to share more in common with worker ants than anything else, and these particular aliens had no queen to guide them. So they were herded into the area just below their ship – designated District 9 - in an effort to keep them separated from the population at large whilst they figured out what to do with them. But inevitably, crime and corruption filters into D9 and this – coupled with the ever-increasing number of prawns roaming D9’s streets, and their tendency to tear human heads from their respective spines – spurs the government to hire a large, private military contractor called Multinational United to move the aliens from District 9 to the newly founded District 10. Which just so happens to be little more than a concentration camp, 240 kilometres away from the nearest population centre. At the forefront of the effort is Wikus van de Merwe (to pronounce, replace W’s with V’s) an MNU employee charged with serving eviction noties to the aliens. When Wikus accidentally tangles with one of the smarter, more active prawns, he’s catapulted to the front of the wrong side of a violent neo-apartheid.

Sounds high concept, and it is. But the first thing that’ll strike is how – like all good sci-fi – it is incredibly relevant. Not just on the surface either, with the direct comparisons between South Africa’s own White/Black apartheid, but also as a commentary on racism to as a far back as the Holocaust. Van de Merwe is us, on the front line of it all, at first an antagonistic, sadistic and ignorant character, cackling with glee as prawn eggs ‘pop like popcorn’ after being bathed with a flamethrower. But despite shady and selfish motives, he eventually ends up switching sides, fighting side by side with aliens as he witnessess the poverty and corruption inflicted on District 9 by both MNU and the Nigerian Gangs who control it. To go alongside the apartheid allegory, there’s also a moral tale to be told, about the evils of allowing corporations to act like their word is law, especially when all they’re out for is a profit.

Of course, if the message of a film is sound – and Distrcit 9’s surely is – you can still toss it all away in the execution. But despite this being his debut feature, Blomkamp delivers to us a supremely assured film. A combination of both mockumentary and more cinematic footage, he charges it with a relentless pace both raises the heart-rate and glosses over the small but significant number of plot holes that gape in the script. He's also got a terricically dark sense of humour that is weaved into the film beautifully - from characters quipping about crapping themselves, to the gloriously over-the-top ways that the aliens' weapons dispatch foes, you'll frequently find yourself with a rather wide grin on your face,.

And it's all complemented by flawless special effects, Blomkamp evokes a gorgeously gritty and bleak image of Ghetto-ised Johannesburg – all filthy piles of rubbish and roughly built shacks, juxtaposed against the multi-national corporate HQ’s filling the skyline behind it. The aliens, whilst not the most believable effect you’ll ever see, are still intricately detailed and – more importantly – seamlessly integrated, both with the kinetic camera work and with the actors. Their expressive faces, as well as the performance capture technique, allow for a huge amount of empathy to be generated with them, and the sympathetic treatment of one alien in particular rivals the emotional oomph of any film you care to mention and then some.

Other details stand out too – the sound design, from the guttural clicks of the aliens’ native tongue to the pounding of machine guns, it’s all intensely believable, and whilst sound might not seem like the most important thing in a image-based medium, here it makes the film come alive. In every scene, you hear everything – chitinous exoskeleton scraping together, footsteps dragging through sand, robotic powered armour tumbling to the ground – and it all sounds magnificent.

The design of the alien weaponry and equipment is another stand-out, with the background behind the aliens and their technology not only being ingeniously conceived, but alos beautifully realised, with their organic/mechanical hybrid technology having a really squishy feel to it.

Kudos are also due to the actors – all relatively unknown South Africans down to the last man – who deal with both the weighty message and the relative whimsy of battling using alien weaponry rather admirably. Sharlto Copley does a great job with Wikus, despite the tablua rasa nature of the character. It is through his eyes that we witness what happens, and he does exactly what any of us would do in such a manner that it transcends the South African setting and simply becomes real for the 112 minutes that you’ll be in his company. David James is magnificently menacing as Kobus Venter, continuing the trend of villains with upside-down faces (that’s beards and shaved heads for those not keeping up) and throwing in a healthy dollop of sadism, just to keep it interesting. Those’re the only two performances you’ll notice­, however the rest of the cast also do a great job of keeping the film grounded firmly in reality, from Vanessa Heywood as Wikus’ panicking wife to Louis Menaar as his over-bearing, MNU-running father-in-law.

If there is one complaint that can be levelled at District 9 – and there really is only one once you’ve gotten your head around the plot holes that will inevitably flood back to you after the credits roll – is that occasionally, and particularly during the first 25 minutes, there is no clear line between the mockumentary footage and the cinematic. Out of nowhere, a character in the scene will start talking to the cameraman. In others you’ll wonder why no-one seems to give two hoots about him. This may seem like a strange criticism given what I’ve said so far – but it’s akin to falling asleep whilst watching the news, and waking up half-way through Independence Day. Disorientating is the word of choice.

But it turns out that I’m not one to be fazed by one solitary, minor quibble that only really occurred to me after I watched the film. This is a proper slice of sci-fi – pulse-poundingly exciting, politically charged, and frequently, darkly funny, this is a cut above the rest of this summer’s cinematic entertainment. Blomkamp’s debut is so close to a masterpiece you can taste it – here’s to the difficult second album.

1 September 2009

Take heart, brothers. It draws to a close.

So! As promised, an update! It's a big one, I warn you...

First up on the big list of stuff to see was Rhod Gilbert, and for those of you who aren't familiar, he's a rather funny ranting Welshman who's made a swathe of succesful Fringe shows over the last few years, as well as being a radio DJ and a frequent participant in the many panel shows that grace the UK's screens. So, y'know, expectations were high, given that this was an extra show thrown on due to high demand, and that every single one his shows sold every single one of their tickets.


His show was absolute magic, with him not losing my attention for a single moment. From rants about some of the more mental of his fans, to the inception of his show, it's all seamless integrated with banter with the audience and some inventive mimes. He practically bounds from one side of the stage to the other, and only ever breaks pace once when the fighter jets for the Tatoo fly overhead. A superlative comedy performance indeed.

Next up was an extra show of The Mark Watson Edit which, on the surface at least, claims to be an amalgamation of the best parts of his previous three fringe shows. This too was an additional show to those previously scheduled, and though the ticket was £14, it was well worth it. Completely against what was advertised, Watson instead decides to just talk for an hour, engaging with the audience to such a such a degree that we're able to stage a practical joke on one of our fellow viewers - a girl named Banana, of all things - whereby he pretends to tell a climatic story ending with 'but at the end of the day, it turned out the kangoroo wasn't really there!'. It's marred somewhat by a man in the audience passing out, but he didn't break a sweat, doing his very best to keep the audience calm as there're worries of heart attacks being thrown around. A good show with a slightly disappointing ending - you can do worse.


Had to cool off for a few days after that - Mark Watson was on Tuesday, and we didn't go see anything until the Saturday the 29th. That was Brendon Burns, and by god did he kill. A regularly scheduled show called 'Comedy Good Yeah Silly Side Cunt' was certainly one of the highlights of the festival, with him musing on everything from racism to the nature of advertising. Of course, it was in his own foul-mouthed, earthy manner, but each to their own. A highlight was his note on racist chavs who complain that immigrants are taking all their jobs. His retort? 'If there are jobs that I'm stealing off you, you need to raise your game, you fucking spastic'. Genius.

Russell Kane was on Sunday, and by Steve, he was hilarious. An absolute riot, his comedy a combination of high-brow observation and low-brow delivery. He's tackling big issues - his major theme this year is the 'dressages' that we put ourselves through out of habit, from the ritual of greeting eachother to the methods of Essex girls pulling in clubs, it's all covered here, and I can genuinely see why he's so competitive for the if.comedy award - the man is fiercely intelligent, and yet is over-looked every year despite sell-out shows and rave reviews.



On Monday, I went to see Bec Hill in If You Read This My Cape Fell Off. Bec's a relatively good festival friend of mine, and I kinda really only went along because I did feel obliged to see it since she was a friend! But I was geniunely surprised at just how good it was. She's brilliant on-stage, infusing everything with a boundless, optimistic energy that is almost immediately infectious. Her show revolves around wanting to be a super-hero even though we're meant to have grown out of it. She gives us a few basic steps, and expends around each one with a relevant and usually hilarious story that fills out the background to her decided what the step was. Type her name into YouTube to get a vibe of her humour - it's geniuenly brilliant.

Then, yesterday, there was my last day at the Fringe. This involved finishing work at 5pm and then heading over to Gilded Balloon to go see Sirqus Alfons' Eurotrash, which was absolutely mental. Google it, seriously. It's a mind-fuck of physical comedy, musical comedy and multimedia performance, and is more or less critic-proof. After that, a 'mind-reader' called Phillip Escoffey, which was interesting, but once we had dissected it together, we had all more or less figured out that all of it was staged.

The final flourish, though, was the Last Late 'n' Live. That was absolutely magic - despite the fact that Tom Stade got boo-ed off the stage, Adam Hills, Axis of Awesome and Sirqus Alfons. A brilliant end to a relatively sedate festival for me - last year I was out and about all day getting very little sleep and drinking perhaps a smidge too much. This year, a grand total of 3 nights out were had, two of which sucked ass royally. But anyways, I can hardly complain - got to see some excellent comedy over the course of the month, and got a few funky little videos out of it. I do apologise for not doing a fourth and final 'Walk Down the Mile', but the place was just so crowded that it just became a mass of backs and noise.

Will do an update of non-festival related stuff later - depends on whether I actually get Batman: Arkham Asylum or not. We shall see!

Until then, adieu!

30 August 2009

Distinct lack of stuff...

Okay, so the title is misleading...I do have lots of stuff to talk about. But what I do lack is the time to get it done.

So! Expect some proper updatage on Tuesday/Wednesday!

Take it easy, good people of the interwebs!

22 August 2009

A Walk Down the Mile 19/08/09



Posted it on YubTub ages ago...but forgot to post it here! Sorry

18 August 2009

This is another suprise song...

Nice little surprise tonight. I have analytics - that's right, I'm watching you, tracking your every move...on...y'know...my site - and a beautiful thing happened. Someone, somewhere Googled ' "Adam Hills" "irn bru" "scott" "2009" ' and my site is the second from top result! Absolutely gorgeous moment, in my honest opinion, and whoever it was...how awesome was that opening?!?!?

Anyways, seen a whole spate of comedy in the last 36 hours...

First up was One Man Show-Off, a low-key sketch show performed by one guy called Dave. Not the best thing I've ever seen, but hardly the worst. He did two wonderful sketches - the first was him playing an Arabic tour-guide, and it was such a spot-on parody that I couldn't help but burst out laughing. Unfortunately, it seemed I was the only one in the room who had lived in Egypt, and thus I was laughing by myself. Not so good. The other seemed to tickle everyone else, with the man brilliantly miming being a jock at a club who gets dissappointed when a slow song comes on. Trying in vain to get his mates all worked up again, he eventually succumbs to the music and finally gets the courage to ask a girl to dance. This just so happens to be a girl rather daintily sat in the seat in front of me. Plant or no, it was a brilliantly pitched sketch and overall I was pretty impressed.

Not so impressed with the second act - Tiffany Stevenson. Same deal with Janeane Garofalo here - she'd be an interesting person to talk to, but she just didn't have an hour of stand-up in her, with the material exactly resembling a 10-minute idea stretched out to sixty minutes. She also had the gall to start slagging off members of the audience - and considering that our numbers were already slight thanks to terrible reviews from three different sources, that wasn't exactly the best way to win us over. Particularly when it wasn't funny. Oh well, you see some great stuff...you see some shit.


The final free show of the day - ah, to have mates who work at a venue! - was Phil Kay's Oh! Edinburgh! (or should I say Oh! Enbra!), and it was fantastic. For those of you who aren't familiar with The Madness of Phil Kay, he's essentially a train-of-thought comedian in the most literal sense possible. His comedy literally comes straight out of his head on the night - he's this mad old hippy who lives in tents in Edinburgh and he's got about a thousand stories about different things that have happened to him at varies times in his bonkers life. He's also got a serious story-telling gift, infusing even the most mundane stories with bouncing energy as he flies from one side of the stage to the other. The highlight being the tale of how he and 12 others stormed Edinburgh Castle butt-naked. Yes. You heard me.

About here my luck ran out, and I had to pay to go see Axis of Awesome. Just as good as last year, with some new songs and some old favourites. They even replaced their 'learning songs' with 'surprise songs', to the tune of Sex is on Fire by the Kings of Leon. With 'your sex is on fire' replaced with 'the milk has expired', 'my mum is a liar' and 'she had a penis'. Madness. But the highlight of this one was their song called 'What Would Jesus Do?'. So, you know, the point of asking it is that Jesus is a paragon of man, so to speak. But the thing is, if he was how the Christians actually believe he was - you know, a zombie magician - then there's no fucking way any of us can hope to emulate 1% of his awesomeness. So there's no point! Genius.

Last and not least, there was Shappi Khorsandi - who, by the by, is miniscule. Definitely shorter than Napoleon. Anyways, she was wonderfully funny - genuinely enganging and so ludicrously quick with a line that sometimes it's tough to keep up. Her material was interesting too - about no-one having enough time to be an activist these days, hence the title The Distracted Activist. Can't really pick out one highlight in particular...though she did mistake me and Fee for staff at the Pleasance, which was fun!

That's it, really. Big update, for once! Adieu!

14 August 2009

Plii Wotion Mus and the rest.

So...yeah...like...yeah...Wii Motion Plus. It's...well, it's been said a hundred thousand times, so what's the harm in one more? It makes the Wii do what they said it would do. Finally.

Now, I can hear you thinking - at least, the people who've read at least a few of my rantings about the Wii will be thinking - 'Ross, you dastardly devious devil! Didn't you get rid of your Wii?' Indeed I did. But part of the great thing about having a sofa and a whole bunch of friends who are festival workers is that there's always someone in need of a couch to sleep on at times like these. And one of those buddies just so happens to have a Wii which was in need of a TV to be used with. One thing led to another, and now - once again - my 360, the lothario that it is, is snuggled up next to a cute, perky Wii. Complete with the surgical enhancement that is the Motion Plus thingy. And she even brought contraception...

Sorry for the gross anology, but there isn't much more you can say about the strange floppy plastic thing that is more or less required to be wrapped about the WiiMote. Anyways, thank Steve that it is there, because it makes such dramatic improvements to the Wii's control method that it's an utter wonder they released the Wii without it.

Based on the two games that are actually any good on Wii Sports Resort (them being the sword-fighting, archery and the frisbee game - the still-as-fun-as-ever bowling aside), this is an absolutely enormous step up. Gone are the vague interpretation of movements - now the precise angle and level of the thing is calculated in more-or-less real-time. This allows for precision swings of a sword, almost pin-point accuracy with a bow, and exactly replicating the flick of your wrist as you chuck the frisbee. Brilliance.

Still doesn't play DVDs, though. That's still retarded. I suppose I can hate it for that...

Seen a lot of comedy in the last few days. Well...'comedy' on one count, and 'COMEDY!!!!!!!!!' on the other. Janeane Garofalo, unfortunately, falls under the latter.

Considering that it is billed as stand-up, and it is rather prominently featured at one of the biggest comedy venues at the Fringe (the Gilded Balloon...if you're in Edinburgh and you haven't been...why?), it was just a little surprising that she wasn't really that funny. It was more interesting than funny, with her talking about her life and her current state of mind more than cracking any jokes. Some observations are amusing, some are not. What's more, she had the balls to milk her opening applause to a rather extreme point, then proceed with a massively under-rehearsed show. I mean, yeah...she's famous, but fuck! She could at least put some effort into having a point. But no, she turns up looking rather like Ugly Betty on a bad day, rambles for a bit, then buggers off. Not exactly worth the £12 spent on her. So yeah, disappointed with that.

The 'COMEDY!!!!!!!' was going to Late'n'Live (again at GB...yes, I like the place) with Patrick Monahan compering a show that involved pile-ons, lesbians and an angry drunk guy attempting to heckle a gay male comedian, only to have said comedian's crotch more or less thrust in his face. Sophisticated? No...but bugger me if it wasn't entertaining.

Got a video of Monahan instigating the pile-on...will try and upload if I can get the bugger converted down to a less ludicrous size (440MB? For a 4-minute video? Christ!).

That's about it, really...bed time now. Laters.

A Walk Down the Mile 13/08/09

11 August 2009

GENERIC BLOG POST TITLE #1138 NOT FOUND

Well, Dylan Moran was really good. In typical fashion, I think it'll need a re-watching to even have a hope of remembering anything that he said! Fuck it, if I could get tickets to go see him tomorrow, I would. Unfortuantely, he's sold out - and I also have a ticket to go see Janeane Garofalo tomorrow! Which'll be good.

He did talk about a whole range of things, though - part of his genius is that he could probably make amusing observations about anything, even if it is by simply applying his own brand of madness to it. So to try and remember it kind of defeats the point, I imagine! Still, it was a thoroughly entertaining show, and definitely worth catching if you can!

Matt Kirshen was excellent, too. Contrary to my fears, this was a show containing entirely new material - at least, it was new to me - and it was admirably delivered through the sweltering heat of Pleasance's 'Above' sub-venue.

Seriously, if there is one tradition that should be lost from the Festival, it's the goddamn sweltering heat in the show spaces - you'd think they'd've learned to open a window or something by now, but alas, rubbish, floor-based air conditioning units are the order of the day.

Still, Mr Kirshen did hugely well to get a whole host of laughs out of a room of sweaty, uncomfortable people!

Anyways, I'm a little too tired to remember quotes...so I'm'a just wrap this post up and go to bed.

9 August 2009

The Wraith

A so-bad-it's-funny 80's action/vague horror movie, with some sci-fi undertones. Car chases, random killings, Charlie Sheen...this movie's got almost everything you need to laugh at it, not with it. Though I can think of worse ways to spend an evening...


7 August 2009

Yet another quick update...


Just got back from Adam Hills. It was awesome.

Choice quotes of the evening (bad language a-plenty here, just so you know)...

'It affected me the same way I imagine a clown molesting my father would. I knew it would affect me, I just wasn't sure how...'

'You know that American swimmer? Misty Hyman? I'm sorry, but if your last name is Hyman, you don't call your daughter an adjective.'

'Starbucks make BAD COFFEE. Going to Starbucks for coffee is just like going to prison for sex. You know you're gonna get it, it'll just be a bit rough.'

'We're about to recreate flashdance with Irn Bru and a man named Scott. If nothing else, you can fucking tell we're in Scotland.'

He also decided to tell us of a sign unique to Australian sign language, which means 'fuck you, fuck the lot of you'. The man is a genius!

Looks like I started strong this year. Hopefully the only way is up! Will give a fuller, more rounded opinion when I'm less tired. But for now, he was absolutely fantastic!

5 August 2009

A Walk Down the Mile 05/08/09

Sooo, thought of a new feature for those of you with a vague interest in the Festival who can't actually come up - I'll record a video each week on Wednesday along this route, which is pretty much the exact centre of the Fringe festival, complete with tourists, show publicity people and street performers!

Apologies for the rubbish sound quality - seems my hand was scraping against the microphone for some of it. Won't happen next week! Hope you enjoy!

3 August 2009

Forgotten Milestones

Didn't notice, but the Harry Potter review was my 150th post! Not one of those fake anniversary posts, either - 150 posts including 34-and-a-half movie reviews, 7-and-a-half video game reviews, and an inordinately large amount of random shite to fill the gaps. Not going so badly, so thanks to everyone who's visited for your time! If there was no-one reading it, I wouldn't bother...but so long as some traffic comes trickling my way...well, I should probably get on with it!

Fringe is going well. That's about it really - it's a job, y'know?

Got no less than three shows coming up in the next week that I'm going to see. First up on Thursday is Adam Hills. If you live in Britain or Australia and haven't seen him on any of the gamut of comedy panel shows that grace our screens, then what the hell? If you aren't in that demographic, you're kinda forgiven. Anyways, he's Australian and he's got an artificial foot. Enjoy.

Then there's Matt Kirshen, who I'm marginally less enthusiastic about, but Fee loves him. Seems to me that he recycles the same material. But then again, I only saw him at a stand-up showcase, and comedians usually have a little set planned for such occasions, so I shouldn't hold it against him. Must...wait...till...after...show...before...judging... Anyways, have a look.

Finally, there's Dylan Moran. You should know who he is, and I can't be arsed to Google him! Watch Monster over Like Totally, but whatever - he's great. His new show is called What It Is, and I've got tickets! Yay!

Nothing much else happening. Got Watchmen on Blu-Ray, which was good. It's added to my miniscule BD collection consisting of only Sweeney-Todd! Anyways, Watchmen was exactly as good as I remember it being - and in HD, it was almost like watching it in the cinema again. Only thing missing was the big surround sound, but that's still a work in progress thing that I'm planning on installing...well...y'know, when I can destroy walls without forfeiting a flat deposit.

Anyways, I'm going to try and get loads of photos of the Festival, maybe give those who can't come over to Edinburgh a small slice of what it's like! If you are coming up, give a shout out too, I'd genuinely love to hear what other people are up to!

That's it, really...bye now!

27 July 2009

Brüno

Despite coming from a high-flying comedy stable, Brüno more often than not falls flat with it's calling out of American homophobia. There are some amusing scenes - the 'how to defend yourself against a homosexual' sequence being worthy of particular mention - but for the most part it's merely cringeworthy.

The Hangover

Consistently funny from start to finish, with outlandish set pieces and cutting one-liners a-plenty, this is certainly one of the best comedy films that didn't come out of Kevin Smith or The Frat Pack's mind for a very long time.

25 July 2009

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Review


******** SPOILERS ABOUND!!! ********


As you may or may not know at this point - depending entirely on whether or not you're a regular reader of my ramblings, really - I'm not Harry Potter's biggest fan. In fact, it's safe to say that I'm in the camp that 'ain't a huge fan', to put it delicately. So you can imagine how tough it might be for me to admit just how much of an improvement the latest entry into Potter's cinematic canon is...more so for me to admit that I actually, sorta, maybe, y'know...enjoyed it. Terrifying, I know, but allow me to elaborate.

Let's get the bad out of the way first - it's the usual gamut of complaints that have plagued the franchise from day one. The acting of the kids is wildly inconsistent, with Rupert Grint the only one coming out of that particular clusterfuck with a genuine smile on his face. Conversely, Emma Watson is left crushed at the bottom of it, her Hermione a limp shadow of the 'next best thing' that she was touted as.

For me, it's slowly precipitating that Miss Watson should perhaps investigate a new path for her acting career, because she can simply no longer sit in the kooky, fuzzy, intellectual shoes of Miss Granger - that type of character acting seems to be simultaneous way above her and miles below her. Perhaps if she learned how to move parts of her face other than her eyebrows and nostrils...anyway, the mantle of 'female carrying the franchise' falls squarely on Bonnie Wright's shoulders. There's nothing short of a miraculous improvement as her Ginnie steps from a supporting role into the main ensemble. Potter himself remains largely unchanged, with Radcliffe maintaining the monotony of his performance for yet another film. 'Forgettable' is an apt word for his portrayal - there are far more interesting characters in this film, but I'll talk about them later.

Then there's the other niggle in that this just so happens to be based upon the weakest of the seven novels, and what flimsy plot the was in the first place - the novel was essentially a protracted sign-off for Dumbledore - has been stripped down even further. Whilst the novel had a few interesting side-plots that - whilst not essential - gave some bulk to the canon as a whole, this leaves but the bare bones, and seeing as the novel had barely three major plot points, the movie can do nothing but follow them from A to B to C rather diligently. It very much feels like a secondary concern, neglected in favour of the two part bonanza that is to be The Deathly Hallows Parts One and Two, serving only to represent the fact that another school year has passed in their world, with about 10 minutes of dramatic weight total amid all the filler. This doesn't, however, stop it from being a 153-minute behemoth that - were it not for the soon-to-be-mentioned positives - would test the patience of even the most dedicated Potter fan.

But positives there are, and such positives as have never graced the franchise until now. This is - for the most part, at least - down to one man: David Yates. Apparently there are wizards in this world - even if their powers are as mundane as being able to manipulate celluloid in a pleasing manner. Regardless, Yates has conjured up an absolute visual treat - a fully realised fantasy world that far surpasses anything described in those now dusty old tomes. Gorgeous, special-effects-enhanced vistas and intimate, detailed explorations of Hogwarts Diagon Alley and the Weasley's home are the order of the day - the fragility of the plot allowing Yates a huge amount of breathing room to explore the world itself, and whilst there's a lot of plot lost to the cutting room floor, the amount of detail is second to none. To say that Half-Blood Prince makes Order of the Phoenix look like test footage is to understate the matter immensely.

The quidditch sequences too - whilst not a core part of the proceedings, despite it being perhaps one of the most cinematic 'sports' ever conceived - are exhilarating, but more importantly are flecked with a fantastically cheeky wit, as are all but the most serious of the set pieces. A straight face is not an option, if I'm being honest - you should be smiling whilst watching this movie, otherwise you may very well be dead.

But it's not just directorial flair that pulls Potter 6 out of the doldrums and into the realms of enjoyable. That's also down to same absolutely fantastic performances from the older members of the cast. Alan Rickman and Dame Maggie Smith once again excel as Snape and MacGonagal respectively - and the quality of the film, it seems, has finally caught up with them. Michael Gambon - whilst still nowhere near as good a fit as the late, great Sir Richard Harris - has real poise and fragile grace as the under-fire Dumbledore, and David Thewlis -whilst hideously under-used - is still as good as ever as Remus Lupin.

It is, however, the newer cast members that are the most interesting. Most pleasing of all is an absolutely magnificent performance from Jim Broadbent as the mildly delusional Professor Slughorn, playing it with joyous pomp and sombre gravity in equal measure. Then there's Helena Bonham Carter's deliciously unstable portrayal of Bellatrix Lestrange, all wild eyes and a strange, gaunt delicacy that I'd imagine Carter being the only one capable of bringing to the character.

All in all, this is a film that sacrifices some meat of the plot in favour of some wonderful performances (from the adults, at least) and a hugely refined vision of the world. There's still the usual problems that stem from the days when Chris Columbus was in charge, but if you can step past them, there's actually far too much to like about the film. Disturbingly so, in fact. I think I'll need a shower...but...

18 July 2009

Mentiroso! Again!

Okay, so maybe I lied a little and am not going to see Public Enemies tonight! Bit gutted, but it did mean that I saw the new Harry Potter movie yesterday, which I suppose is a plus!

Will definitely try and write a review, but suffice to say I was quite surprised by the fact that I didn't think it was the worst movie ever. Visually strong, and with a fantastic performance from Jim Broadbent as Professor Slughorn, it's certainly the best one so far.

I'm rather confused as to where this leaves the old 'sequels are always worse' rule, though...still, if your a HP fan you ought to love it!

Hopefully the next post will be a review! So watch out for that! Laters!

14 July 2009

iPhone! DoW2! BF1943! B:AS! Acronyms galore!

Yes, I am a dirty dirty dirty whore. I've sold out to Apple, I'll admit it. But bugger me if the iPhone is worth it. Seriously - for those of you who may or may not be on the fence out there: it's worth it!

I mean, yes - there's the possible problem of the over-heating. But so far it seems that a) it only happens if you absolutely pound it in terms of use. 3-hour iPhone binges seem to be the source of all the hassle - and I doubt any mobile is designed to withstand 3 hours of continuous, high-speed use. It gets a wee bit warm if you play a game for 30-minutes straight, but beyond that, nothing spectacular to report.

Got free sandwiches today! That was brilliant - we went into Chocolate Soup at about 9pm, and the place closes at 9.30pm, so they toss out all the sandwiches made in the morning. But not after offering them to the customers in the shop! Cheese sandwiches were had all round! Yay!



Got Dawn of War 2 as well, and that's pretty good, although some of the missions are obnoxiously difficult, and others are just ludicrously easy. Doesn't really seem to be a middle ground between them...so you can't really ease yourself into the hard ones! But still, the mechanics of the single-player campaign work really well, and the pseudo-roleplaying elements are a welcome change from the usual rigamarole of 'build base, defend base, build army, attack, repeat', instead making battles all about momentum, squad skill and battelfield tactics, rather than who can build the stronger army faster. A proper review may well be in order, but I shan't do anything until I've tried everything the game has to offer, including what is apparently an excellent multiplayer component.

Next game I'm-a get is Battlefield 1943. I'm fairly concerned about the rather steep price tag - most arcade games are 800 points, this one's 1200! - but from what I've played so far, it does seem to be rather enjoyable. After that, it's Batman: Arkham Asylum, then the September double of Halo ODST and Modern Warfare 2. 2009 is definitely looking like a great year for gaming!

Going to see Public Enemies on Saturday. Really looking forward to that - Michael Mann maintains a place in my Favourite Directors of All Time list, so any new film by him is going to be a big thing! Will definitely post a review when I've seen it, though it may take a while to concoct!

That's about it for now...hopefully next thing you see here will be a review!

Laters!

13 July 2009

Red Sonja

Old school fantasy with deliciously cheesey acting from Brigitte Nielson and Arnie, coupled with a reasonably well conceived story and some great fight sequences all come together to form a mildly diverting action-fantasy film. Still as perplexing as ever that Arnie got top billing for a glorified cameo role, but still...good fun. Let down only by - even by back then's standards - ropey special effects and spotty production design.

29 June 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Review


Another summer, and another blockbuster season is upon us. So, I ask you - who better to open it than the king of the summer blockbuster? The creator of Bayhem? The man himself? Well, unfotunately, it seems that this is to be ranked among Bay's lesser outings. It seems that instead of Bayhem, he allowed himself to go Baywire.

To explain - the first Transformers movie was required to be good. Required to be coherent, make sense, to ensure a profit so that sequels can be greenlit. This one has no such foibles, instead Bay is issued with a bigger budget, and quite a significant dollop of creative liberty. Some of the stuff that is eventually thrown in...well, it more than emulates Bay's previous dynamic of 'everything but the kitchen sink'. We get the Fallen, we get female motorbike Autobots, we get Constructicons, and only one of them is given a half-decent explanation. We also get a hefty dose of a certain pretty young thing named Megan Fox - in slow motion, from multiple angles. So essentially, Bay seems to have been temporarily posessed by a 13-year-old Transformers fan, and got to it.

Don't get me wrong - what's here is thoroughly entertaining. But so was the first one, and this one did require to at least be as good as its predecessor, if not better than. But the problem is that there's just an enormous amount of stuff that's very cynically designed to cater for the 15-year-old pocket-mining demographic. From the extreme close-ups of Miss Fox's backside (glorious though it may be) to the wise-cracking hillbilly Autobot twins, and a tiny, treacherous Decepticon that has for whatever reason developed the tendency to hump legs like a randy pomeranian. The final straw is giant set of Constructicon wrecking balls (read: testicles), just to add that little bit of stupidity to what should've been something of a spectacle.

And what spectacle. The Transformers themselves have had a huge upgrade - their faces now looking expressive and Bay is bold enough to give some of them closeups. They've recieved tweaks elsewhere, too - the special effects team have truly outdone themselves: exponentially increasing the already intricately detailed models. Again, Bay makes a change from the previous movie, keeping the camera as static and wide as possible during the various robot brawls that happen, ditching the previous' shaky, hand-held feel for a more traditionally cinematic one. This change may seem minor, but it vastly increases the scale of the battles, giving them more depth and weight. This, coupled with the incredible sound design means that you feel each clash of metal, and wince as each explosion pulses through you. Spectacle is definitely the word.

The non-CGI performances are adequate as well. Shia LaBeouf is still as relatable as ever - although this time he's saddled with an over-blown 'chosen one' story that seems a bit too below him to prevent him from phoning it in. Fox's job is merely to pout, and Josh Duhamel's is to act tough in the face of over-whelming odds. Both pull them off - though whether 'admirable' can be applied gets by only on benefit of doubt. John Tuturro makes a welcome return, and when he's not entertaining the notion of Transformer bollocks, he's perhaps the second best thing in the film.

The plot is utter hogwash - as is to be expected from a Transformers movie. But this one seems to have gone a bit over the top with the bullshit. From the aforementioned Chosen One story to the quasi-Jesus-like resurrection of a Transformer, it's all-over-the-place and completely discardable. Which is a shame, considering the first had a clear direction, with a MacGuffin and everything. It was tight and straight despite its silliness - Revenge of the Fallen is not.

Script-writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Ehren Kruger do, however, manage to construct a decent script around the flimsy plot, so you'll never find it confusing per se. Their dialogue is solid, too - and when they're not forced to grapple with the plot's more juvenile elements, a lot of their quips do hit the mark. It's just such a shame that they couldn't've had a better plot to work with, as well as not being able to do with out the temporary insanity of Bay.

At the end of the day, it seems like Michael Bay has tried for a little too much scope in his first sequel of the Transformers franchise. Second in length only to Pearl Harbour in Bay's filmography, it seems to suffer for it. A tighter, more ordered story would've been welcome, but it's easy to forget the ridiculous plot when the big bad robots are beating the crap out of each other.


24 June 2009

You know what I hate?

Gourangas. Don't know if it's an Edinburgh/Scotland-only thing, but if you've seen them, you know what I'm talking about. They're the pseudo-terrorists who harrass people for money to support their religion, is essentially what they do.

Anyways, I have no beef with the Hare Krishna religion. Not one bit. They may well be right, who knows? But the thing they I hate about them is that they don't remember faces. We have one, on the Royal Mile - and she has asked me no less than 14 times. The first few times I was quite nice to her, but said no. But she just doesn't remember! So today, I actually had to tell her to fuck off! Do you actually realise how bad it feels to tell a Hindu to fuck off? Terrible, is how bad.

If she just had a memory of faces, it'd be fine! But no, she just can't. So please, if you're visiting Edinburgh...don't humour them. Smile at them, and so 'no thank you'. Do not engage them in conversation - this part is very important. Just keep walking, and you can make the residents of Edinburgh distinctly less grumpy!

Anyways, still not much going on. Apparently the Fringe sold more tickets in its first week than it has ever done in any previous year, which is fantastic. There's a lot of flak being thrown at us for last year - and they're even getting at our throats for the tiniest mistakes that any box office system would make, like printers running out of paper or there being a 10 minute queue when we first open! It's just ridiculous, to be frank. So the huge number of sales we've managed to power through is a massive boost to the organisation's morale, which is no small thing!

But like I said before, the next movie review coming up is Transformers 2, so watch out for that one!

Until then, adieu, fair readers!

22 June 2009

Update!

Sorry for the lack of updatage, have been a bit bogged down in work and general laziness.

Work's going well, althought there're a whole host of arseholes out there, and most of them seem to be converging on me. There was a bitch of a lady who came into the box office. Now, I was very nice to her, got her order through and all that jazz, but when it came to printing out the tickets, I ran out of things to print them onto! I was struggling with fixing it, because I couldn't get my head around which way they should go in, so my supervisor came over and helped me fix it.

Got it fixed and continued printing, and my supervisor hung around for whatever reason - probably just to check that she had done it right. Anyways, the order printed out and I checked that it was fine - which it was. I then gave the tickets to the lady and asked her to check it too, just in case. Both her and her husband checked it and both said it was fine, then they left. My supervisor was present throughout.

So the counters closed (they close at 3pm) and I moved back up to the phone room (we also do phone bookings, obviously) for the rest of my shift. 5pm rolls around, and I get a call from the same woman. Now, she didn't cotton on to the fact that it was me who served her, so she just started talking about this 'clumsy bearded man' who messed up printing out her tickets, and claimed that one of her tickets was missing!

Not only this, but she also claims that she told me that she was missing a ticket, and I did nothing about it! I had to contain my anger as she blantantly lied through her teeth! I just about managed to not shout at her - I was very civil and suggested that she revisit the box office and sort it out with the supervisors, because it's quite difficult to sort that kind of thing out over the phone. But she can't make it in until Wednesday, and lo-and-behold, I'm once again on the counter on Wednesday! So I'm actualy goig to be present while this woman comes in and lies through her teeth at me once again!

I mean, what the hell? How can someone be that fucking cheeky? Seriously, it does my goat in. Then there's the gimps who complain about shows being sold out, despite the fact that they're calling for the first time two weeks after sales have opened. What the fuck do they want me to do? Stop everyone from buying a ticket before they do? Fuck off, I say.

This is why I can never be the boss. I would just tell everyone to fuck off, and my company would go down the toilet faster than you can say 'DON'T FLUSH!!!', thanks to bad rep garnered from me telling the majority of the morons out there to fuck off, and they're the ones most likely to complain. Oh well...I'll just stick with the writing gig for now!

That's about it, really. Haven't seen anything for ages, but there's a semi-anniversary coming up in that I'm reviewing the sequel to the first ever movie that I review on this blog! Yes, Transformers Colon Revenge of the Really Big Robots is to be seen this coming Sunday, and I have to say I'm tentatively looking forward to it.

Anyways, adieu for now, fair people of the interwebs! And whatever you do...don't....touch....anything!

12 June 2009

So....

Well, a lot's been happening as of late. Lots of things announced, lots of things played and watched, lots of general goings-on.

Fee's away to Australia, which is sort of gutting. Going to be on my own for 19 days...and not really sure what I'm going to do with myself. It'll probably end up that I behave no differently, to be quite honest, but it's at the stage where I'm just a bit down about her leaving!

On the positive side, work's picking up. Had my first day of phone sales today, which was interesting to say the least. Was in for two-and-a-half hours and only took four calls, which seems a little ridiculous. But these were BIG orders, people booking their time at the Fringe with almost military precision. One guy spent upwards of £500 on tickets to various things, which was fairly impressive - not just for the amount of money he has to throw at it (I was only planning on spending about £100...), but also the meticulous detail with which he'd planned out the seven days he'd allocated to the Festival! It was quite daunting to say the least. Then there was the guy that had a huge order, but since he had been waiting so long to get served, his phone ran out of batteries! Quite shit to be honest, but he got his order fixed by someone else after I left - feel a little guilty (I could have been quicker), but I know it's not my fault. It's everyone who's so eager to get their tickets that they clam up the phone lines...oh well. I suppose on the flipside of the coin, they're the ones who get the big tickets first, like Bill Bailey or Jimmy Carr...

Loads of stuff going on the world of video games, not least the newly reinvigorated E3. To go into it in too much detail would take up a good four pages, so I'll just summarise my thoughts:

1. Microsoft's press conference was awesome. Loads of awesome exclusives, plus some great new multiplatform ones.

2. Natal is genius, and it put PS3's motion control to shame. You could tell the guy knew it as well - when he first stepped foot on the stage, he was nervous as hell, stuttering and everything! He got a bit more confident throughout - because, on any other day, it'd've been awesome. Just not that day.

3. Considering a switch to Rock Band, thanks to Rock Band Beatles, the awesome-looking new drum-kit and the fact that Green Day - yes, I'm apparently a 15-year-old boy, but I'm past caring - have committed themselves to Harmonix and not Red Octane. (Apologies for the rubbish picture...couldn't find a better one!)

4. Super-psyched about Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach. The ODST gameplay footage looks amazing, and it seems there's going to be a Gears of War 2 Horde clone called Firefight, which - whilst, obviously, not the most original of ideas - will, I think, fit very well into the Halo 3 gameplay. Coupled with new maps for H3, along with a Reach multiplayer beta invitation means ODST is shaping up to be a fantastic purchase.

5. Lots of people are moaning about Left 4 Dead 2 being downloadable content masquerading as a new game, but I reckon that actually this is a good thing. It gives them an opportunity to refine the game further - remove bugs, add the melee weapons, new weapons, new enemies - and so long as they do actually support L4D2 with downloadable content instead of going straight to L4D3...then it could work out for the best, to be quite honest.

6. DJ Hero = retarded but genius at the same time...not sure why I think that...

Those're the major points, not even covering the whole host of other stuff that's getting released!

So yes, despite the recession, we are living in exciting times for video games. 2008 rocked, and 2009 looks set to rock harder!

Anyways, adieu!

2 June 2009

Velvet Assassin Review


There's been something of a hole in the stealth-based market for a while now, what with Splinter Cell: Double Agent being relatively rubbish, and Conviction now on the horizon and looking good. Metal Gear was off doing it's own thing - becoming some kind of 'conflict simulator' instead of a true-blue stealth game - and somewhere under the radar, in slinks Velvet Assassin.

Taking the Splinter Cell formula and injecting it with that most beloved of historical periods for video games: World War II, Velvet Assassin puts you into the shoes and anachronistically tight jumpsuit of Violette Summer, a British assassin working in Nazi-occupied France and Germany. We're introduced to Violette as she is lying heavily sedated in a hospital bed, and the bulk of the gameplay takes place in her head as she remembers the missions that got her into her predicament.

Velvet Assassin actually makes quite a good impression of for the most part - starting with genuinely engaging story and dialogue direction, synergised with a beautifully stylised graphics engine. A few rare visual glitches and ommisions aside, the game looks absolutely fantastic - shadows are black as hell, lights are sharp and saturating, creating an immersively tense atmosphere. Of particular note are the sunlight effects, with gorgeous sunsets portrayed with suprising amount of work gone into the glow that sunsets invariably imbue objects with.

There's a decent amount of detail elsewhere, both in the visual and sound design - Germans will banter with eachother as the go about their patrols, smoke cigarettes and generally hang about, but there's a real dark edge to the dialogue which paints each individual Nazi as just that - an individual. Whilst character models don't change significantly, personalities do - one Nazi is incredibly sympathetic, stuck on door duty whilst his relief is drunk and asleep; another is a nasty piece of work who suggests letting prisoners loose and shooting at them as they try to get away. It occasionally feels a bit too scripted, but for the most part the flow of the narrative is almost invariably improved by these little details.

A final artistic flourish is found in 'morphine mode' which - with the press of a button - slows down time, and allows you to either run for cover without being shot, or indeed silence that last enemy in the patrol who's about to see you. It's played out in a rather ingenious manner too, being equated to a fragmented memory that is jumbled up when, in the 'present', nurses administer morphine to control her pain. In the flashback, the air sudden fills with falling rose petals, and Violette herself sheds most of her clothes to be dressed in the night-dress she's wearing in the 'present'. It's actually a genuinely impressive mechanic that is both artistically and technically faultless, leading to some wonderfully savage takedowns of enemies

Lamentably, though, it lets itself down in two rather crucial departments - controls and the enemy artificial intelligence.

Let's start with the controls, because I can cut to the chase pretty quick - they're simply not responsive enough, and there's just not enough that you're able to do. Absent is a jump function, and whilst there is the ability to climb over obstacles, this is only available in certain areas and is ludicrously glitchy, with you frequently finding yourself stuck inside the crate which you were trying to climb on, unable to extract yourself. The aiming controls are also far too clunky to be useful, being not capable of sustaining a firefight efficiently beyond the first shot. This would be fine if the gameplay was entirely stealth based, as it'd discourage exposing yourself into a firefight. But once again, a stealth game insists upon an action-heavy section where you're expected to take out loads of oncoming enemies with your firearms - and these are a huge chore when they arrive.

They're incredibly counter-intuitive as well - left bumper for duck? Right/left on the D-pad to reload? Y to merely whistle to attract your enemies attention? What planet are we living on?

Next is the enemy intelligence - it's almost non-existent. Almost being a key word, because 99% of the time, the enemies are ludicrously stupid, following set out routes into shadows to investigate what lies within them, making taking them out more a question of timing than actual stealth. Now, this is an acceptable way of carrying out AI: not exactly state of the art (heck, the original Splinter Cell puts it to shame, and that's - what? - ten years old now?) but functional enough to immerse you in the atmosphere in the game. But what screws the pooch is the fact that every so often, enemies will display intelligent behaviour, tracking you down almost mercilessly, sometimes requiring you to backtrack a good chunk of the level just to get them to stop following you.

The obvious - and, according to Ockhams Razor, correct - explanation is that the developers were attempting to create semi-intelligent AI, but for whatever reason - almost certainly to get it shipped before Splinter Cell: Conviction - they cut some corners when actually implementing it. It's a frustrating break in the immersion so expertly evoked by the graphics and voice acting, as well as being generally frustrating anyway, with it being absolutely impossible to know when the AI will decide to go rogue. Some play throughs of levels will have no instances, whilst others will be absolutely plagued with them.

At the end of the day, Velvet Assassin just about manages to hold an interim place between Splinter Cells. A beautifully told story with fantastic atmosphere and - as a final addendum - well-thought-out achievements make up for the unfinished feel to the AI and controls. If you can look past the foibles, there's certainly a lot to enjoy when playing Velvet Assassin. At least until Conviction comes out...


Overall Score: 72%