Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A List Of Tiresome Opinions

...Thinking about it, I could probably retitle this blog to that.

I formally present an arbitrary collection of things I have seen/read/played/heard in the last two weeks or so, for no other reason than I can.


28 Weeks Later
Viewing enabled by: DVD rented from Lovefilm.com (which is my new favourite thing, incidentally)

I really enjoyed 28 Days Later, and wanted to catch this in the cinema but it never quite happened. Still, I've seen it now. And, indeed, enjoyed it. It's not quite up to its prequel, mainly due to less focus on characterisation, but as a more straightforward hit of action it satisfied. Special mentions must go to the extended death scene in the laboratory (vagaries employed to prevent spoilerfication), which was memorable both for the viciousness of it and the tragic overtones (it brought Oedipus to my mind, whether deliberately or not); and also the bit where Harold "I Have Been In Every Third Film/TV Show You Have Seen" Perrineau turns his helicopter into an impromptu zombie death machine, purely for being ridiculous and cool. Also, maybe I'm odd but I find it satisfying to see British landmarks get all kinds of messed up every once in a while instead of American ones - there was something faintly cathartic about Regent's Park tube station going kaboom in spectacular manner. (I have a certain fondness for Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer purely for the bit where the Thames gets drained and the London Eye nearly falls over.) And just before we go, I'd like to nod my head towards its two young stars, the wonderfully named Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton. Carrying a film on young shoulders is risky. Carrying a film that's not aimed at family viewing on young shoulders is super-risky. Carrying an action film on young shoulders is super-duper-risky. Carrying an action-horror film on young shoulders is downright silly. But the pair pull it off, and do it well.
Ice-cream rating: better than Carte D'or Chocolate Inspiration, worse than Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie

Tales from Earthsea
Viewing enabled by: Lovefilm rental again

I found it quite hard to watch this without being mindful of the brouhaha that accompanied its making. Especially since a lot of it centred around an argument between a father and a son (the latter of whom had never before directed a film but ended up in charge) and then the first five minutes of the film features a man fatally stabbing his father for no apparent reason. And to be honest, the backstage shenanigans are more interesting than large portions of the plot. I've never read any of the Earthsea books, but the acceptable-but-hopelessly-generic fantasy storytelling shown here doesn't encourage me to. It's not bad, but it's not very inventive. Luckily, this is a Studio Ghibli film, so you can sit back and bathe your eyes in the glorious beauty of the whole enterprise. This film has arguably the prettiest sunsets I've ever seen (and I'm including real life here) and I could basically just watch some sort of sunset-montage edited out of this for two hours and be happy.
Month rating: better than January, worse than April

The Spiderwick Chronicles
Viewing enabled by: my mum has it on DVD and I watched it

And hey, another film adaptation of a series of fantasy books. This one is also a real looker, although that's about as much as it has in common with Earthsea. It's fairly squarely aimed at the younger end of the market, although surprisingly it focuses much more on character than I was expecting, and indeed more than these sort of films do. It's all about a family coping with divorce, really. Well, okay, it's really about a scientist compiling a field guide to fairies and an ogre trying to get hold of it and people getting spat in the face by a computer-generated Seth Rogen, but it's still about a family coping with divorce as well. The whole cast is excellent, but top marks go to Freddie "Charlie out of the Chocolate Factory" Highmore, who is called upon to play a pair of identical twins that are complete opposites, be in nearly every scene either once or twice as a result, and still manage to make both characters fully-rounded and believable. And he does it really well, despite only being about six months old. There's an Oscar or two in that lad's future, you mark my words. And on a completely unrelated note, this appealed to my geeky world-myth-loving side by concentrating on the sort of creatures that don't often get a showing in films (hobgoblins, brownies, sylphs, red caps, griffins etc.). So that's cool.
Cereal rating: better than Weetabix, worse than Special K

Treasure Planet
Viewing enabled by: my brother's TV

This one only half-counts because I only saw the second half, and the sound was quite low and my niece and nephew were running round going "Aaaah", so I couldn't fully concentrate. But I followed about 70% of the dialogue, and I saw the first half a few months ago so I have technically seen the whole film. Anyway. Maybe it's that everyone knows Treasure Island upside-down and back-to-front, but the storytelling was a little ho-hum. A bit you know what sort of thing is going to happen even if you don't know the story. A bit whateverrrrrrrr. But! This deserves a slap on the back purely on a design front. It's so pretty and hugely inventive. Great character design (I loved the pirate that was a head on a pair of arm/legs), great world design, great design. The hand-drawn and CG mix well, and it's basically highly enjoyable even with the sound off. One bum note is the writing of Ben Gunn as B.E.N., malfunctioning robot. From a story perspective it worked quite well, but it was a real case of "Oh look! Here's the comedy sidekick! Everybody laugh at the comedy sidekick and his hilarious antics!" Tiresome on its own, but when you've already got David Hyde Pierce on board, you've got sublime comic relief sorted quite adequately. B.E.N. just smacked of "We need this film's Genie plzkthx".
X-Men rating: better than Forge, worse than Vivisector

Books (or just book)

The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
Reading enabled by: my mum bought it for me in order to take advantage of a 3 for 2 deal at Waterstone's

I'm only halfway through this, but it's ace. It's got vampires and witches who turn into tigers and satire on bureaucracy and sarkiness and references to Hexen. And it's only the first of a trilogy so there's that great feeling when you're reading a book you're really enjoying and are happy in the knowledge that it won't be over when you finish it, there's more to come.
Doctor Who rating: better than the Sontarans, worse than the Daleks

Computer games

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon on DS
Playing enabled by: I bought it on Friday

I've only got a little way in, but I like this. It's Fire Emblem, so I was destined to like it, but it's good to know. Being able to change unit classes is pleasingly odd, stylus control is largely satisfying with a back-up of D-pad and buttons if I want 'em, and there are a wealth of little touches that improve the general play no end (an important point for a series that fundamentally doesn't change much).
Blur rating: better than "She's So High", worse than "Charmless Man"

LittleBigPlanet on PS3
Playing enabled by: my brother's PS3, and me I guess since I bought it for him for Christmas

Brilliant. Love it. Gorgeous to gaze upon, delightful to play, you can stick stickers of Henry VIII's head all over the place, and you get a jetpack right near the beginning. And you can dress up like a Shakespearean character. Or a lion. Or a Shakespearean lion. And this is just from playing the tutorial levels on my own...
Robot rating: better than Ultra Magnus, equal to K9

CDs (or just CD)

Heart by Stars
Listening enabled by: I bought it on Thursday

Um, only listened to this all the way through once, and the first few songs a couple of times over that. Can't really remember much...I think it's fairly '80s, and probably the weakest of the three Stars albums I have, but still enjoyable. I really like the way it starts with each band member saying, "I am [insert name], and this is my heart."
Stephen King rating: better than Wizard and Glass, worse than Pet Sematary

Friday, January 16, 2009

Are games art?

A few months ago, I applied for a job for computerandvideogames.com, which I didn't get. Obviously. Part of the application was to write a blog article on something game-related, and I just found my effort lying around on the hard drive. I was quite pleased with it then and reckon it still reads quite nicely now, so I thought I'd do a dash of rewriting and slap it up. Take it away, August 2008-me:

Monet. Mozart. Miyazaki. Mario? Is it time for computer games to rise tall and proclaim, “We are an art form”?

Gaming is looked down on by pretty much everyone. While all other forms of media, from painting through to movies, can rest snugly in their classification of art – deep, meaningful works portraying great ideas – games are still the idiot children, enjoyed by the idiot children. Lines and blobs beeping their way across TV screens, providing basic stimulation for those of short attention span. Of course, it’s rubbish. I know it, you know it, so why doesn’t anyone else?

Well, first off, games are astonishingly young. Barely 30 years old – by comparison, thirty years into cinema’s lifespan the concept of sound was just being addressed. Paintings were barely into the “stick man on cave walls” era (unless the aliens took all the fancy stuff with them after buggering off and leaving a couple of crystal skulls behind). The leaps in basic technology and general sophistication games have made from Pong through to GTAIV are bordering on the ridiculous, and it’s not surprising that the general perception of them hasn’t caught up yet.

So, is that it? The simple fact that dedicated gamers need to wait a generation or so before their pastime will be vindicated once and for all? Er, well, no. Games actually haven’t made a rosy perception of themselves easy to come by.

Frankly, they’ve given themselves an uphill struggle. The extremely basic capabilities of the first games machines meant that Space Invaders or Robotron or Oh No Those Pesky Aliens Are At It Again 7 were pretty much all they could handle, and this image got burned into the public’s mind and hasn’t scrubbed off yet. (Admittedly such scenarios are still a favourite haunt of games, but at least nowadays they have the narrative clout, invention and scope of Mass Effect or Dead Space to justify themselves. I'll stick my fingers in my ears and yell "LA LA LA" if you mention Gears of War.)

Which comes to the main point – the majority of games aren’t art. Neither are the majority of films. No-one in their right mind would state that Steven Seagal’s Pistol Whipped is comparable to Citizen Kane, just like you can’t hold up Big Beach Sports next to Super Mario Galaxy. But that pesky fellow John Public doesn’t realise that, so he holds up like his misinformed life depends on it. Look at the charts, after all – Ōkami’s nowhere to be seen on Wii because everyone’s buying Carnival: Funfair Games or the latest half-arsed Pixar tie-in instead. (I’ll leave the irony that Pixar regularly create some of cinema’s finest moments but no-one can be bothered to get a decent development team in to honour their films for another time.) And at Christmas it’s the same thing every year: two certain footie titles and a certain racing series fighting it out for number one (will the reader kindly ignore the generally excellent quality of FIFA and Pro Evo as it will cause the writer’s argument to collapse like the proverbial house of cards).

So there we are – games can be art, but most of the time they don’t deserve the title. They will, in time, like the way that comics were finally deemed worthy of dull, earnest essays like this one in the Eighties with the advent of Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and their ilk. For now, gamers will have to wait before the art we play becomes justly acknowledged. That’s several years to prepare for a good “I told you so,” and a hearty mocking laugh. Get to it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


This German weatherman is my new favourite human. Consummate professionalism. Doesn't even object to the cat licking his chin. Good work sir.

EDIT: To continue the "excellent people" theme, here's Neil Gaiman in snowshoes.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Thor, the Norse God of Thunder

I have discovered that the perfect answer to any question is "Thor, the Norse God of Thunder".

"Who ruled England from 1066 to 1087?"
"Thor, the Norse God of Thunder."

"What d'you fancy for dinner?"
"Thor, the Norse God of Thunder."

"Who likes short shorts?"
"Thor, the Norse God of Thunder."

"How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?"
"Thor, the Norse God of Thunder."

Okay, maybe not that last one.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


...kind of forgot one from my list of movies what I saw in t'cinema.


Not up to the level of the comic, but I wasn't really expecting it to be. Still great, the animation style was perfectly judged and it got the comic's abrupt changes of pace down nicely. Also, "Eye of the Tiger". Oh yes.

In sort-of-related news, I got Wall·E on DVD for Christmas and watched it this afternoon. I think it may just have clinched my Film of 2008 title, as well as Bestest Pixar Movie Evar, which is a high accolade indeed. Also, the extra short, Burn·E, is fabulous.