Thursday, 31 January 2008

Review: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is a dark crime thriller, following the events surrounding a family's involvement in a botched jewellery store robbery. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke star as the brothers at the centre of the story, with Albert Finney as their father and Marisa Tomei as Hoffman's wife.

The acting throughout is pretty much flawless, with the four principal characters playing off each other brilliantly throughout. The fraternal relationship at the centre of the film reminded me of 'We Own the Night', but whereas Wahlberg and Phoenix (a more natural pair of screen-brothers, in appearance at least) didn't sit entirely right as siblings in that film, Hoffman and Hawke, despite perhaps not looking like relations, pull off a much more convincing interaction here. In their scenes together, Hoffman, Hawke and Finney really feel like a broken family, and while the script avoids giving away specifics about their childhood experiences, there is clearly an unspecified pressure building under the surface throughout.

In acting terms, Hoffman stands out yet again as an amazing character actor and his portrayal of Andy Hanson is vile, selfish and almost totally unlikeable, without ever descending into caricature or melodrama. Hawke and Finney also do good work, and in any other film their performances would probably stand out as magnificent, but it's almost impossible to compete with Hoffman at his best.

The story is told in a slightly odd fashion, jumping back and forth in the timeline of events and following different characters for periods of time. This is an interesting choice, and one that I'm not sure necessarily works. Moving around in the timeline can be useful as a technique for revealing unknown plot points that shed a different light on previously-seen events, causing the viewer to re-evaluate their assumptions. However, in this case there isn't really that much to reveal, and so the jumping back and forward in time simply ends up slowing the pace of the film down as sections are repeated from different points of view without really adding anything to the experience.

The plot also seems a little threadbare at times. There are a lot of different plot strands, some only hinted at, and a fair amount of unexplored references to the family history. The female characters especially seem underused, with Tomei the most visible still taking a back seat during most of the film to the three leading men. It seems as though by concentrating more on particular relationships and maybe giving a little more background, the film could have evoked a more powerful reaction, though I am also not unhappy to see a film that is comfortable in its ambiguity.

The film as a whole is enjoyable, and watching the tension rack up and the family start to self destruct is (while not necessarily pleasant) compulsive viewing, but really the main thing bumping it up from a good film to a recommended one is Hoffman's performance, which swings from simply greasy and selfish to unpredictable and finally outright terrifying. The plot seems to think it has more to reveal than it really does, but there's enough there to keep you watching, and if you can handle the ambiguity and lack of resolution, there's an interesting couple of hours of entertainment here.

Verdict: Tense, interesting, character study with great performances from everyone. Sketchy plot and potentially unsatisfying ending take the shine off an otherwise intriguing piece. 7/10

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Jeremy Beadle R.I.P.

I was sad to hear Jeremy Beadle passed away today at 59 after going into hospital with pneumonia a few days ago. He's someone who I remember vividly from the TV of my childhood on programmes such as You've Been Framed and Beadle's About, which is probably why I was saddened to hear about his death even though I'm not a particular follower of his career. Having read about his life in the media today, it seems as though being a TV presenter was only one of many parts of his work. He seems to have been a generous and intelligent man. It's a shame that his life has ended at only 59.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

'Is' and errs

This article is something I stumbled upon this evening, and considering the recent posts here about Facebook I thought it fit rather nicely into the discussions.

I'm not going to do a huge entry on my own feelings about Facebook, as they can be summed up neatly in a few sentences. I use it, mainly for convenience of contact with friends (especially as MSN slows down my rubbish laptop too much to bother running it). I preferred it when it was solely a university-based social networking site. I also preferred it without most of the applications (a few of them, such as Flixter the film review application, I love; some I use but wouldn't miss if they weren't there; the majority I wish didn't exist). I've grown to accept how Facebook has changed now, and I use it the way I always have. Occasionally it grates on me that I feel I'm going to get repetitive strain injury from scrolling down some of my friends pages - past the aquarium, the horoscope, the "Which Buffy character are you?" frames and the Little Britain quote generator - just to see their wall.

Anyway, it seems James Rivington (the guy who wrote the article) has developed a loathing for Facebook which started when the applications were introduced and has continually increased ever since. Fair enough, I too find the applications annoying as I stated above. However, Rivington then appears to take his hole-picking and hatred to a new level. He comments on Facebook's decision to remove the mandatory 'is' from the beginning of your Facebook status, and basically makes this out to be a huge problem and one that will encourage people to be vain and post irrelevant status updates.

To a limited extent I see what he means. The unavoidable use of 'is' does point users to a particular type of status. However, I don't think that taking away the 'is' has made a huge amount of difference. It just gives people that little bit of extra freedom in choosing their own verbs with which to start their status updates. Rivington's fears of vanity and pointless statuses seem trivial, as I'm fairly sure most of the people who wanted to be vain and write pointless things on the internet did that perfectly well with an 'is' in front of their name on Facebook, and will continue to do it just as well without one. "Chad is MONSTER HOUSE PARTAY 2NYT BRING BEER OOH YEH!!!" will simply now become "Chad MONSTER HOUSE PARTAY 2NYT BRING BEER OOH YEH!!!"

Essentially, Rivington comes across as someone trying to find further reasons to hate something they've already stated they hate. He talks about people loving the sound of their own voice, but seeing as his article is a mixture of weak criticism and repetition of his own opinion, maybe he should take a look at the ironic status his own article has placed upon its writer.

Construction Pictures


There's a year between them, so clearly some of the difference in numbers comes from an increase in the general userbase, but I reckon this is still a nice comparison:

Petition against the introduction of ID cards: 28,048 signatures

Petition to install Jeremy Clarkson as Prime Minister: 43,322 signatures

link from andy

This only really applies to people with phones running windows mobile 5, but I think it's great.

This is a cool keyboard which mimics the iPhones style. The best bit, aside from ease of use, is that it's layout is customisable. all you need to do is copy and paste the english layout file from your phone onto your PC and then use notepad to edit it (requires open with). I'd advise making a backup just in case you manage to corrupt the original (unlikely but still) and also opening the French one too as a reference as it has a different layout so you can see how things work with the layout.

After writing my own bit about editing I went to the actual website and found theirs, so here's the link,772

The buttons are a fixed width so if you want to add a button to a row you'll need to remove something, I made the backspace button shorter so I could have a punctuation button. I like texting with punctuation.

After editing the layout to get it to refresh on the phone, change the input type to one of the other ones then change it back again.

Well I hope that was vaguely interesting for someone, that or incredibly boring, I don't mind which.

commuting tales

At London Bridge station they have Oyster Card readers stuck to some station pillars, to allow people who use their cards to swipe in and out without the endless barrier-induced queues. However, I have this fear that these readers are going to reach out and read the card in my wallet, in my coat pocket. So, I alwayy keep my distance, which, when I look at it, seems silly.

There's also a building, or, more appropriately, a building site, on my way to work. When I first started it was just a hole in the ground, then this was filled with cement (or what I assume was cement) and now there's a large concrete tower with what look like hooks on it. I'm assuming they hang the various stories of the building from these hooks, but am looking forward to seeing further construction. At the moment this is being played to me somewhat like those nature shows about plants, only in really slow motion (or, in fact, real time).

Monday, 28 January 2008

Film Review: Charlie Wilson's War (cinema)

Although Charlie Wilson's War sports some of the biggest names in Hollywood - Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman - who are all at, if not approaching, the stage of their careers where they can sell a film by simply having their name on it, by far the biggest reason I wanted to see this film was that the screenplay is written by Aaron "The West Wing" Sorkin. A political drama film screenplayed by the man who wrote arguably the best political drama series ever made (and what is in my opinion the best TV series ever made) was something I wasn't going to pass up. Did it disappoint? Certainly not.

I'll say this now. It's not as good as The West Wing. But I wasn't expecting it to be, and if any West Wing fans went in expecting that then they'd set themselves up for a disappointment before entering the cinema. Sorkin's touch with political dialogue and situations can be felt throughout it however, and the film is all the richer and more enjoyable for that. There are scenes with large amounts of complex political language in them, much like many scenes from Sorkin's TV series, to give an authentic feel to the film. It's not worth getting bogged down in trying to understand every intricacy however, as the dialogue is by and large a vehicle to get across the character of the people saying it. And it works very well.

Tom Hanks unsurprisingly delivers in the lead role. Julia Roberts, who can become overbearing in films, also does well as Joanne Herring, a part which benefits from a lack of exposure throughout the film. It is Philip Seymour Hoffman who steals the film however as Gust Avrakotos. Hoffman provides a brilliant blend of hostility and humour whilst maintaining his character's authenticity. The scenes Hoffman shares with Hanks are absolutely excellent.

The plot, based around actual events, manages to be both poignant and funny throughout. The ending, whilst clearly sending a message about current international affairs and conflict, neither feels preachy nor tacked on, and leaves the film on a note for the viewer to ponder.

Nothing from this film stands out as a significant failing. The first fifteen minutes or so feel a little slow, but once the film gathers momentum this is forgotten and is no longer an issue. Hanks' character of Charlie Wilson could have benefited from some more background on his work as a congressman before he became involved in the Afghan conflict. These are minor niggles however.

Verdict: a highly polished and entertaining political film with an excellent cast and superb script. 8/10

Film Review: Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (cinema)

Johnny Depp is excellent in the title role, bringing an unnerving menace to Sweeney Todd whilst making the torment he feels from his past wholly believable. Helena Bonham Carter again does well as Mrs. Lovett. Both Depp and Carter, despite not being professional singers, handle the large amount of songs their characters sing well throughout. I'm in no way an expert in singing, but I was particularly impressed by Depp. Sacha Baron Cohen puts in a sterling comedy performance as Pirelli; Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall unsurprisingly don't disappoint; and the rest of the supporting cast are also solid.

Not being familiar with the stage musical, I can't make comparisons to that. The film is polished and gothically stylised, with echoes of previous Tim Burton films (such as and Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns) coming through. The plot advances well, if a little slowly to begin with, but the pace soon picks up. The music, presumably taken from the stage production, suits Burton's dark and grimy London well.

Generally there were no major faults with the film. If you're not one for songs in films, or musicals in general, then this is probably one to avoid even if you're a Johnny Depp or Tim Burton fan. I'd also warn those who are not fans of gore, as many of the death scenes are fairly brutal, occasionally verging on the gratuitous.

Verdict: a solid and enjoyable film, well made and acted. Tim Burton continues to impress. 8/10

the McAlevel, and other news

(all seen in today's guardian)

McDonalds are now offering an A-Level in burger bar management after the company won government approval to become an exam board. I have many questions about this, what is the qualification worth (the standard xxx ucas points?) and will they offer it to other burger chains? Will burger king employees be able to take the same paper(?)?

I'm for people being able to qualify / valuate their training in jobs as it will make it easier for future employers to see that candidates have actually got experience and a qualification, rather than a wonderful piece of prose in their CV. But trying to peg them to national qualifications, such as A-Levels seems falacious, and it would be much easier to just have an in-house qualification.

Still maybe working at McDonalds will lose some of it's negative associations when you get a shiny qualification out of it.

In other news the most corrupt man in the world, Ex-President (dictator) Suharto of Indonesia has died, but apparently in this case the crimes of the father will pass on to the sons (and other familly members).

The news cameras (fully 4 at the last count) are also parked outside my office (see post below for why), which is quite exciting. No-one's asked me any questions yet, but I'm fully prepared with my "No comment" response and waving my hand in the camera.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Let's talk about sex, baby...

Actually, let's not. It'd just get really awkward really quickly, and no one would get anything useful out of it. However, the sex title was not for nothing, and was a sly tactic to allow me to plug a few sex-related blogs that I have started reading recently:

Girl with a one-track mind: Excellent, long running and massively popular blog about the sexual adventures of a modern woman [introduction][example post]. Via which I was pointed to the excellently named Todger Talk, an attempt to give a sensible down-to-earth sexual information resource aimed at men, "without the bullshit, bravado and misinformation" [introduction][example post].

Moving smoothly on from that last example post, and sticking with the prostitution theme, I'll point to Letters from Working Girls and Letters from Johns, which are companion blogs from opposite sides of the transaction, as it were. They're pretty new (both only started this month), and are updated infrequently, but I've enjoyed the range of stories and perspectives provided, even at this early stage.

So there you go, four 'sex blogs', though all approaching things from different angles. As I say, I've only just started reading them, so no guarantees of continuing quality (or even existence), but thought I'd try and share my first experiences of this interesting genre of bloggery.

In order to pad this entry out a little, I'll also list a couple of other non (or at least non-specifically) sex related blogs that I've also picked up over the last week:

Bête de Jour is a thoroughly well written blog from the perspective of someone plagued with the kind of physical and social difficulties that the vast majority of people never even come close to experiencing. On the sex-theme again, I found it via a link to this post from girl with a one-track mind.

Finally, Trick cycling for beginners has nothing to do with sex (per se), but is a great look at the trials and tribulations of a junior psychiatrist. It's one of a number of the web of career-blogs that I've slowly been burrowing through, and I think I got to it via a comment on NHS Blog Doctor.

So, anyway, I hope you start to read (or at least try to start to read) some of those I've named, and that you weren't too disappointed by the fact that this was just a carefully disguised links post. Looking through any of those linked to would be much more interesting and enlightening than anything that I could say on the subject, anyway.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

More Links.... but from andy

I've had a bit of a crappy day, mostly (OK entirely) my own doing and mostly trivial but still crappy, but was cheered slightly by a few things on the internet (which is a depressing thought really but I'll push that aside).

Firstly we have something from the console gaming world, which I think could probably be one of the best games out this year, if done right, which if KOTOR (Knights of the Old Republic, no reason to abbreviate it really) is anything to go by Lucasarts will. here's the trailer.
It's going to be awesome, with luck (not that I believe in luck).

Secondly to follow on with telfs post of future gaming there's this continuation on the theme... by the same guy... which I found on Youtube... in the similar videos bit... so really you could have found it too, but if you didn't here it is... click. One major oversight is gloves, this guy seems very clever but somehow manages to ignore this really simple idea.

Finally, as I've not spent a great amount of time on the internet lately, there's this, again from Mr Johnny Lee (I love this guy) is a $14 (roughly £7) steady cam, which for any budding film maker is a really great idea. Wish I'd known about this earlier as filming bits of Perfecting Loneliness would have been so much easier (if that's not a sneaky plug I'm not sure what is). I'd advise giving Johhny Lee's website a look if you enjoyed the other stuff, he seems like a geek with good ideas, the best kind of geek.

Well that's it for links for the moment. I too have a few reviews and things like that that I will try to post soon, I can't really say I don't have the time, I just can't be bothered at the moment (a common theme with me recently).

A couple of other things to say. Firstly a quick list of games I'm looking forward to this year and some vague reasoning.

GTA IV - Because GTA has offered a lot in the past years and this iteration (not sure if that's used right) should prove to offer so much it'll probably consume a large amount of my life when it comes out, bye bye degree.

Rainbow Six Vegas 2 - Rainbow Six Vegas was a great game and was one of the games that made me buy a 360 so the sequel should also be great. From what I've heard there's going to be some good additions to the game whilst not mucking about with things too much to keep familiarity.

Starwars: The Force Unleashed - It's just going to be cool! LIGHTSABERS! FORCE POWERS! What more can you ask for. Leave me alone I like computer games.

Fallout 3 - Fallout was a great game and Fallout 2 was just as good and then some (Fallout came out in 1997 so we're going back to near the beginnings of my computer gaming existence). The company who originally made the Fallout games, Interplay, went bust so it's now Bethesda, makers of Oblivion, who have taken the reigns. Hopefully they'll do a good job of it and maintain the good name of Fallout (which is an odd sentence as generally fallout is not considered a good thing).

Secondly, errr.. I forget if there even was something else, I think there may have been but can't remember what is was now, darn, oh well I'll get over it.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Linkables 25/1/8

Seriously, I've got like 5 proper posts sitting in the 'todo' pile, including a couple of film reviews, but I just don't have the energy right now. So, another set of hopefully-interesting, possibly-exciting, and certainly-easy-to-produce link lists:

First up, I have had the song 'Rockstar' by Nickelback stuck in my head for five days now. The only reason it hasn't driven me totally mad yet is that I do actually like the song quite a bit (again, just ignore my taste in music if you can), and particularly like the video. I'm not going to try and work out what I like about it, but I actually find it quite a feelgood experience to watch it, despite the fairly shallow sentiments of the song itself. So, anyway, here's the video along with excellent spoof (of the song, not the video).

Next, a cool little 3D puzzle game. Takes a little while to get the concept down in your head, but most of the ten listed here are pretty easy once you've got the hang of the interface. Fun little distraction, though.

A little repository ostensibly holding technical interview questions, but really just a set of brainteasers. Included here because I really liked the pirate one.

This Wii headset hack is just mindblowing. Seriously. Can we all say 'future of gaming' together now...

And, on a gaming note, we have the awesome speed demos archive, which I found a while back but never linked to. It's just a repository of the fastest speed runs on different games, without cheats, but with glitches allowed (so you can't use noclip to walk through walls, but you can jump over them if you can manipulate the game physics to let you). I have found that watching someone complete a game that I struggled with for days in half an hour is a humbling and relaxing experience.

An interesting article on the ways different cultures view the world and a sad article about one of the cultures that maybe didn't have what it takes to survive in the modern world.

Finally, an excellent list of desirable traits. I think it's pretty close to the list of qualities I would hope to cultivate in myself anyway, but it's interesting to see them enumerated. If you notice me failing to fulfil any of these at any time, don't hesitate to tell me. Seriously, it's hard to both analyse and modify your own behaviour the whole time, so let me know if you notice I'm overlooking some of these anywhere. Possibly the only one I would add to the list would be a sense of humour about things. There is a time for serious discussion, but also a time for making light of things, and a person should be able to see the humour even in the things he or she cares about deeply.

That's all for now. Enjoy your weekend :D

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Unfortunate Juxtaposition

Today's Metro had a quick change of front page this morning, from this:
to this:
Possibly just a change of emphasis, but an awkward initial headline to be sure. It reminded me of a couple of similar juxtapositions/mistakes I caught from my old AOL days (expand for full effect, items of interest marked in red):

In response to the death of Heath Ledger

This started out as a comment on Telf's last entry, but grew in length so I decided to make my own post.

The death of Heath Ledger is truly a shame. Every film I'd seen Ledger in he had impressed me more. Through his passing I can't help but feel the world of film has been denied a future screen icon.

No doubt he'll be remembered in the main for Brokeback Mountain, a film I've yet to see. I'll remember him as Patrick in Ten Things I Hate About You as that was the first film I remember seeing him in and being really impressed. I'm not usually a teen comedy person on the whole, but I studied Ten Things... for my dissertation module in the final year of my degree and enjoyed it a great deal more than I expected. That was in no small part to Ledger's performance. His performance incorporated elements of Arthur Fonzerelli in Happy Days to The Breakfast Club's John Bender, and did justice to Shakespeare in a genre that lends itself very easily to a lack of credibility.

Hopefully his performance as The Joker in the forthcoming The Dark Knight will serve as a fitting eulogy to his acting career. If the buzz surrounding the film is anything to go by, ironically it may serve as an indicator of a brilliant career that will now never be.

R.I.P. Heath Ledger.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

What a total fucking shame

Heath Ledger is dead.

This is pretty much the first time I can remember feeling seriously and genuinely sad about the death of a celebrity. Which is weird, because looking at his filmography, I haven't even really seen many of the films he's been in. I guess he was just someone on the periphery of my film knowledge, who I had mentally assigned as someone I would happily go to a film to see, even if I knew very little else about the film.

I don't even really know why I feel sad, except that it seems like such a waste that he's not going to be able to do anything else and I guess subconsciously I was looking forward to all of the films he would make in the future.

I hope The Dark Knight is as good as the hype seems to be building it up to be, as it seems like it could be a really excellent performance from him.

Either way, RIP Heath.

Monday, 21 January 2008


Thanks to the amount of time it took me to get that post written, I've got a number of shorter posts to get on here over the next few days. This is the first of those, and concerns the greatest impulse buy ever. I tend not to actually purchase media in general - I read, watch and listen to as much free stuff as I can, but I've never really got around to collecting books or discs of any sort. Hence my surprise when I found myself in possession of two awesome comic anthologies, The Complete Far Side and The Complete Calvin and Hobbes.

It's really difficult to state in words the magnificence of these items. They are weighty, truly weighty, to the point where it is a struggle to carry both of them for any length of time. They feel like ancient lexicons of some forgotten religion, and, from what I have experienced so far, brilliantly laid out and constructed.

I really don't have a huge amount more to say, other than that even if I had no other commitments, in between basking in their majesty and actually reading them (the sacrilege!), they could keep me comfortable occupied for a number of months. As it is, I can't imagine how long it'll take me to get through them all, but I'm looking forward to it immensely.

I need nememonies!

In response to Telfs response to etc. etc. read the previous post if you haven't already, then this should make some sense.

As I've said before, I have a few issues with Facebook, well mostly the majority of it's applications, but I still consider it a good social networking tool, but by no means perfect and by no means the sole tool. You don't buy a hammer to screw in a shelf or wash the dog (most irrelevant but a vaguely amusing thought).

I consider myself one of the 59 million "suckers" out there using Facebook to aid with social interaction. Well to be honest I rarely use it and don't think I could spend an evening at home with Facebook (that is sad, in both senses of the word). However I take mild issue at being lumped in with the zombies he seems to be describing who use Facebook. I don't feel the need to buy things because they're advertised, I generally go on what I like (well I think that's the case). There also isn't anything forcing you to give information regarding DoB, pets first name, shoe size, favourite chipmunk (Alvin), credit card details, passport number, thing under your bed etc. etc. so there isn't really an issue unless you feel compelled to fill in every detail presented to you, I generally assess whether or not I want to give out this information, and besides if you've used the internet to buy something or put in your DoB so you can access adult rated stuff on a site (badly phrased, I mean like a film trailer with swearing/violence, not anything naughty!!!!). The complaint about bad grammar, spelling, other stuff, is all about the user not the platform. I was opposed to the old style of text messaging which limited you to 300 characters, meaning long winded texts required rly stpd spl f wrdz witch sumthymez jst made on sens. That was horrible, sorry. Anyway, I struggle with grammar and spelling because I wasn't great at english in school, not because I spent half my life communication through email or anything like that. I try to use correct grammar and spelling where possible, but I probably fall short a great deal, however this is a choice that I have made, I could have easily chosen to typ lk this constuntly... I can't e bothered doing that again. With this argument it's more about the user than the platform, as I said before, so he can shove it up has nose as I don't fall into his little box of the morons who use facebook.

Furthermore, these zombiebookers seem to be (I may make zombiebook, that could be fun) unable to move away from their PC/Macs and go down the pub too. Yes if you solely use facebook as your networking tool then you'll have issues, but if you're a sensible womble then you'll think, wow this is a complete waste of my life and go outside once in a while. I also enjoy being able to communicate with my friends in London while I'm still in Manchester, £40 and 4 hours away, although this may soon change. I also enjoy connecting with people who I haven't seen for a while, I may not feel I can ring them for a chat as it's been a while and I was never that close with them, or even go an visit them, but still feel that a bit of contact would be nice. Therefore facebook works as a good acquaintance storer, where you can ensure that if you ever need to talk to this person you can without the awkward phone conversations (can you tell I'm a bit of a social reject).

I question his logic in insulting 59 million people, surely he's going to lose his friends who go down the pub with him after using facebook for a few minutes then logging off.

Sorry if that was a bit disjointed.

..who needs anemones?

This is a response to an article by Tom Hodgkinson in the Guardian last week concerning his reactions to the rise of facebook and the security and privacy concerns involved. I've interspersed my responses with his text because that was the method that seemed most natural at the time. It makes the post a bit lengthy, but I've done what I can to reduce the size of it.

It took me about a week to actually finish writing it, mainly due to a lack of free time at the moment, so it's a bit waffle-heavy and fairly repetitious at times. For a more succinct and better written view of what I was trying to say, you could glance through here.

Anyway, here goes, with the original article in italics, and my responses in red:

"I despise Facebook. This enormously successful American business describes itself as "a social utility that connects you with the people around you". But hang on. Why on God's earth would I need a computer to connect with the people around me? Why should my relationships be mediated through the imagination of a bunch of supergeeks in California? What was wrong with the pub?"

Missing the point completely. Facebook (and social networking sites in general (and the internet in even more general)) are not something you ‘need’ to communicate, any more than you ‘need’ a car to travel. You may as well ask ‘Why should I need a car to travel down the road and get a paper? What’s wrong with a good old fashioned stroll?’.

If you can meet all of your friends in the pub, any time you want to, instantly, then you probably have very few friends and live in a pub. Failing that, the power of facebook is connecting you to the people around you who you aren’t currently engaged in the act of talking to.

"And does Facebook really connect people? Doesn't it rather disconnect us, since instead of doing something enjoyable such as talking and eating and dancing and drinking with my friends, I am merely sending them little ungrammatical notes and amusing photos in cyberspace, while chained to my desk? A friend of mine recently told me that he had spent a Saturday night at home alone on Facebook, drinking at his desk. What a gloomy image. Far from connecting us, Facebook actually isolates us at our workstations."

You mean in the same way as anything it is possible to do on our own isolates us? Reading? Writing? Watching TV? Playing solitare? Sleeping? What a terrible affliction that we should waste our lives in such gloomy pursuits when we could be talking and eating and dancing and drinking non-stop.

As to your friend who spent the night alone at facebook drinking, it is naturally sad that he was choosing to do something as silly as communicating with people rather than the more noble Saturday night pursuit of getting pissed off his face and pulling a random in a club somewhere.

Facebook doesn’t isolate us; we isolate ourselves if we limit our communication and our interaction to impersonal means, as with every other communicative technology.

"Facebook appeals to a kind of vanity and self-importance in us, too. If I put up a flattering picture of myself with a list of my favourite things, I can construct an artificial representation of who I am in order to get sex or approval. ("I like Facebook," said another friend. "I got a shag out of it.") It also encourages a disturbing competitivness around friendship: it seems that with friends today, quality counts for nothing and quantity is king. The more friends you have, the better you are. You are "popular", in the sense much loved in American high schools. Witness the cover line on Dennis Publishing's new Facebook magazine: 'How To Double Your Friends List.'"

Because, of course, without facebook, the whole concept of ‘popularity’ was dying a death. Without numerical lists, people were confused about who to hang out with, and the notion of ‘cool’ was being replaced by a glorious utopia of equality, with rock stars rubbing shoulders with the homeless.

Again, putting forward and artificial representation of oneself in order to get sex or approval is a practice as old as society itself. In fact, in this respect, facebook provides the attractive possibility of being able to in some way validate someone’s claims. Put up a flattering photo? Well I’ll take a look at the other 700 you’ve been tagged in to check out what you really look like. Make an outrageous claim? I’ll verify it with one of your mates in a private message.

Facebook is not providing any new social interactions, it is simply allowing them to take place in a templated format online. If you’re obsessed with ‘top friends’ lists and how many friends you have on facebook, you probably have similar priorities in real life. It’s not like Mother Teresa would have stopped caring for the poor because she needed to log in and boost her friend totals.

"It seems, though, that I am very much alone in my hostility. At the time of writing Facebook claims 59 million active users, including 7 million in the UK, Facebook's third-biggest customer after the US and Canada. That's 59 million suckers, all of whom have volunteered their ID card information and consumer preferences to an American business they know nothing about. Right now, 2 million new people join each week. At the present rate of growth, Facebook will have more than 200 million active users by this time next year. And I would predict that, if anything, its rate of growth will accelerate over the coming months. As its spokesman Chris Hughes says: 'It's embedded itself to an extent where it's hard to get rid of.'"

Sorry, what ID card information is that? I didn’t give them any information off my non-existent ID card. Frankly, as long as I don’t see any more ads than I am going to anyway, I would rather the ads I see are targeted at me, because at least then there’s a slightly higher chance I’ll see something of interest, rather than just being surrounded by interminable emoticon ads and fake contest notifications.

"All of the above would have been enough to make me reject Facebook for ever. But there are more reasons to hate it. Many more.

Facebook is a well-funded project, and the people behind the funding, a group of Silicon Valley venture capitalists, have a clearly thought out ideology that they are hoping to spread around the world. Facebook is one manifestation of this ideology. Like PayPal before it, it is a social experiment, an expression of a particular kind of neoconservative libertarianism. On Facebook, you can be free to be who you want to be, as long as you don't mind being bombarded by adverts for the world's biggest brands. As with PayPal, national boundaries are a thing of the past."

Oh my goodness – look at me, I’m being bombarded by the worlds biggest brands. Need to buy a Sony Playstation … to release … the ... capitalist… guilt…

Seriously, it’s all very well talking about advertising revenue, but unless I’m looking at a different version of facebook to everyone else, there is very little actual advertising at all, and certainly no bombarding by ‘the worlds biggest brands’.

At this point, Tom Hodgkinson takes us through the background of Peter Thiel, one of the original investors in the facebook idea developed by Mark Zuckerberg, Chris Hughes and Dustin Moskowitz.

He takes a pretty detailed look at Thiel’s philosophy and politics, and while I certainly wouldn’t say that I agreed with them, I also feel that there are limits to being choosy about the products you use. I try to buy free range eggs, because I can see that the practice of battery-farming chickens is cruel, but I don’t have a problem using something financed by someone with a political view that differs from my own. Is there really a difference between these two stances? I don’t know. If there is one, I think that it is in the difference between the actual physical pain caused to chickens to produce battery eggs and the potential emotional pain caused by an increase in revenue for someone who I disagree with.

One could argue that by using facebook (and indirectly generating advertising revenue for Thiel), I am essentially sponsoring (and hence promoting) someone who’s views I disagree with. I don’t believe that this is the case, mainly because facebook in itself is not a product with any political stance. To get an indication of this, browse through the innumerable political groups available and have a look at some of the arguments going on. Ignore the trolling, flaming and poor grammar and spelling if you can, and just look at the range of views on show. Far from facebook being a political tool, it is a veritable smorgasbord of differing views and healthy discussion.

In this sense, then, I have no problem using such a service. I don’t believe that my use of facebook implies any more about my political views or my support or lack of it for investors than my watching programs on Sky shows tacit support for the politics of Rupert Murdoch, or my support for Newcastle United an endorsement of Sports World.

In the middle of this segment, Hodgkinson comes out with:

"Clearly, Facebook is another uber-capitalist experiment: can you make money out of friendship? Can you create communities free of national boundaries - and then sell Coca-Cola to them? Facebook is profoundly uncreative. It makes nothing at all. It simply mediates in relationships that were happening anyway."

This seems like a ridiculously cynical approach to the concepts involved. You may as well ask whether Google makes money out of curiosity, or ebay out of materialism. Yes, these companies do make money, and yes, they don’t create a physical product, but this is because they provide a service. And yes, they mediate in relationships that were happening anyway, but they are only able to do this because they improve some aspect of the relationship. If google did not make finding digital information easier, no one would use it. If facebook did not make communicating and keeping up-to-date with large groups of people easier, no one would use it. Ultimately, if Hodgkinson has a problem with capitalism, with the service industry or with advertising, there are surely bigger fish to fry than this particular website.

"The creators of the site need do very little bar fiddle with the programme. In the main, they simply sit back and watch as millions of Facebook addicts voluntarily upload their ID details, photographs and lists of their favourite consumer objects. Once in receipt of this vast database of human beings, Facebook then simply has to sell the information back to advertisers, or, as Zuckerberg puts it in a recent blog post, "to try to help people share information with their friends about things they do on the web". And indeed, this is precisely what's happening. On November 6 last year, Facebook announced that 12 global brands had climbed on board. They included Coca-Cola, Blockbuster, Verizon, Sony Pictures and Condé Nast. All trained in marketing bullshit of the highest order, their representatives made excited comments along the following lines:

"With Facebook Ads, our brands can become a part of the way users communicate and interact on Facebook," said Carol Kruse, vice president, global interactive marketing, the Coca-Cola Company.

"We view this as an innovative way to cultivate relationships with millions of Facebook users by enabling them to interact with Blockbuster in convenient, relevant and entertaining ways," said Jim Keyes, Blockbuster chairman and CEO. "This is beyond creating advertising impressions. This is about Blockbuster participating in the community of the consumer so that, in return, consumers feel motivated to share the benefits of our brand with their friends."

"Share" is Facebookspeak for "advertise". Sign up to Facebook and you become a free walking, talking advert for Blockbuster or Coke, extolling the virtues of these brands to your friends. We are seeing the commodification of human relationships, the extraction of capitalistic value from friendships."

Again, this is a massive exaggeration of the advertising methods used, at least as far as I can see. Unless Hodgkinson has some kind of insight into the future advertising tactics to be used by facebook, I don’t know what he’s talking about as far as users becoming ‘walking, talking advert[s]’.

Brands are interested in advertising on Facebook because it is so popular, not because it is a capitalist paradise. An unsolicited recommendation is the most powerful form of advertising, and so the companies are naturally interested in getting people to recommend their products to each other. Facebook is simply an excellent platform through which this can happen.

Hodgkinson can talk about marketing bullshit, facebookspeak and evil corporations all he wants, but I can’t see that there is anything to worry about as far as advertising tactics go on facebook. Unlike in the real world, where changing a supplier for a service can be annoying and time-consuming, all it takes to change from facebook to any other social network is a few minutes and an internet connection. This means that facebook in particular (and internet-based service providers in general) have to be very careful about their user experience. If I get annoyed with Virgin Media because my internet keeps cutting out, I’m less likely to look for a new supplier, because I know that it will be annoying, disruptive, and more than likely, expensive. With facebook, however, the issues of privacy, information control and advertising could easily cause people to look for new social networking solutions.

Since the only thing holding the facebook community together is, well, the community itself, there exists a critical rate of user decline which causes a more devastating exodus to other pastures. This could be triggered by a deterioration in facebook service or in a perceived improvement in a rival (Orkut, Bebo et al.), or even the appearance of a totally new service (social networking startups are appearing and disappearing all the time) that offers enough of a benefit in the realms of data security and perceived freedom-from-oversight to leech off some of facebook’s users.

Hence facebook needs to be careful about the steps it takes. Users can be slow on the uptake initially, but if the online community turns against facebook, it could find itself dropped very quickly. The issue that has clearly appeared with regards to facebook is privacy, and so this is the area that they will need to watch in order to maintain their status.

"Now, by comparision with Facebook, newspapers, for example, begin to look hopelessly outdated as a business model. A newspaper sells advertising space to businesses looking to sell stuff to their readers. But the system is far less sophisticated than Facebook for two reasons. One is that newspapers have to put up with the irksome expense of paying journalists to provide the content. Facebook gets its content for free. The other is that Facebook can target advertising with far greater precision than a newspaper. Admit on Facebook that your favourite film is This Is Spinal Tap, and when a Spinal Tap-esque movie comes out, you can be sure that they'll be sending ads your way."

How annoying would that be – having an advert appear on your screen to tell you about a movie you might actually enjoy, based on movies you have enjoyed in the past. Those slimy advertising bastards, what will they think of next?

I am, of course, is assuming that this targeted advert is appearing in place of what would otherwise be a totally random ad. If facebook are going to start filling my screen with random extra ads, or God-forbid, target me with message- or email-based mailshots, then I’ll be shouting my disapproval with the rest, but I have no problem with ads on my page that are going to be there anyway being tailored to what facebook perceives to be my interests.

"It's true that Facebook recently got into hot water with its Beacon advertising programme. Users were notified that one of their friends had made a purchase at certain online shops; 46,000 users felt that this level of advertising was intrusive, and signed a petition called "Facebook! Stop invading my privacy!" to say so. Zuckerberg apologised on his company blog. He has written that they have now changed the system from "opt-out" to "opt-in". But I suspect that this little rebellion about being so ruthlessly commodified will soon be forgotten: after all, there was a national outcry by the civil liberties movement when the idea of a police force was mooted in the UK in the mid 19th century."

Wait, what? People will forget about a massive infringement of trust that was almost universally condemned because they forgot about the annoyance they felt at the introduction of the police force? Are you against the police force? I thought you were arguing against the libertarian tendencies of the facebook backers? I think that the acceptance of the police force was less to do with the public forgetting national outcries and more to do with the fact that a police force turned out to be a pretty good idea. The internet community has long memories and instant communication – too many infringements will tip the balance, and facebook knows it.

"Futhermore, have you Facebook users ever actually read the privacy policy? It tells you that you don't have much privacy. Facebook pretends to be about freedom, but isn't it really more like an ideologically motivated virtual totalitarian regime with a population that will very soon exceed the UK's? Thiel and the rest have created their own country, a country of consumers."

I genuinely don’t understand how you can compare facebook to a totalitarian regime. Totalitarian means a restriction of freedom, an allegiance to one ideology at pain of punishment. By this logic, the 59 million facebook users are all little libertarian prodigies, desperate to unleash themselves on the world. Whatever the intentions of its creators, facebook is a site connecting people digitally, not some sort of mass-hypnosis device, and no amount of hyperbole will escape the fact that it is built around people communicating in the medium that provides the most free speech ever experienced in the history of society. Such a system simply cannot be described as totalitarian.

Secondly, neither Theil nor anyone else has ‘created’ a country of consumers, the consumers already existed in their own countries. Countries, indeed, that have often been derided for their consumerism. Once again, facebook is taking things that already exist and grouping them. Facebook is not a country, any more than people who believe in communism form a country, or people who eat shredded wheat. It is a collection of separate and disparate individuals connected only by their use of a service.

"Now, you may, like Thiel and the other new masters of the cyberverse, find this social experiment tremendously exciting. Here at last is the Enlightenment state longed for since the Puritans of the 17th century sailed away to North America, a world where everyone is free to express themselves as they please, according to who is watching. National boundaries are a thing of the past and everyone cavorts together in freewheeling virtual space. Nature has been conquered through man's boundless ingenuity. Yes, and you may decide to send genius investor Thiel all your money, and certainly you'll be waiting impatiently for the public flotation of the unstoppable Facebook.

Or you might reflect that you don't really want to be part of this heavily-funded programme to create an arid global virtual republic, where your own self and your relationships with your friends are converted into commodites on sale to giant global brands. You may decide that you don't want to be part of this takeover bid for the world."

It doesn’t matter how much you talk about people being on sale, or us paying money to American investors, the fact is that the only people paying money are the advertising companies.

"For my own part, I am going to retreat from the whole thing, remain as unplugged as possible, and spend the time I save by not going on Facebook doing something useful, such as reading books. Why would I want to waste my time on Facebook when I still haven't read Keats' Endymion?"

Absolutely; why communicate at all when there is so much of interest in undiscovered solitary pursuits? Wait. Weren’t you decrying the society that led your friend to make just that decision on a Saturday night?

"And when there are seeds to be sown in my own back yard? I don't want to retreat from nature, I want to reconnect with it. Damn air-conditioning! And if I want to connect with the people around me, I will revert to an old piece of technology. It's free, it's easy and it delivers a uniquely individual experience in sharing information: it's called talking."

Yep, new technology is bad and trying to destroy nature. Thank you for opening our eyes to this danger we were blind to. Let us all return to our villages and our ploughshares. Good luck with the talking, but be careful you don’t use a phone there, because without the face-to-face experience of communication you may as well be burning down forests for all of the damage you are doing to nature.

"Facebook's privacy policy

Just for fun, try substituting the words 'Big Brother' whenever you read the word 'Facebook'

1 We will advertise at you

"When you use Facebook, you may set up your personal profile, form relationships, send messages, perform searches and queries, form groups, set up events, add applications, and transmit information through various channels. We collect this information so that we can provide you the service and offer personalised features."

Facebook could not operate without collecting and storing information. Without a database of personal information there would be no friends lists or groups or any data at all on the site. If data storage is suddenly linked to advertising then what can the national census be but a giant plot to get us all to buy government bonds.

"2 You can't delete anything

"When you update information, we usually keep a backup copy of the prior version for a reasonable period of time to enable reversion to the prior version of that information."

Yep, backups are bad. If the backups are accessible (by other users of the site or a third party), then that is a separate, and concerning, issue, but the simple existence of the backups is not suspicious at all.

"3 Anyone can glance at your intimate confessions

"... we cannot and do not guarantee that user content you post on the site will not be viewed by unauthorised persons. We are not responsible for circumvention of any privacy settings or security measures contained on the site. You understand and acknowledge that, even after removal, copies of user content may remain viewable in cached and archived pages or if other users have copied or stored your user content."

Anyone, that is, who can hack into the site. Without this policy, the site is open to complaints (and lawsuits) from people who were password-guessed, or who left sessions open. There is no way to guarantee data online is safe when there is a user interface to it, so facebook are covering themselves in case people are lax in their own security. Alternatively, take the view that if you don’t want other people knowing something, don’t put it online. If it’s only written in your paper diary, even the best hacker in the world can’t see it.

"4 Our marketing profile of you will be unbeatable

"Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation of the service (eg, photo tags) in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalised experience."

This is the only one I’m a little iffy about. I don’t really know what it means, and I’m not sure how it would work. I think that if facebook is actually practicing this then it would be useful to know how they are going about it, although it seems as though at least some of this particular passage is out of date.

"5 Opting out doesn't mean opting out

"Facebook reserves the right to send you notices about your account even if you opt out of all voluntary email notifications."

Because they don’t want to run up against their own policies if they need to send you emergency messages. If people who opted out were getting tons of messages, there would be a serious outcry, as there was with the Beacon disaster.

"6 The CIA may look at the stuff when they feel like it

"By using Facebook, you are consenting to have your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States ... We may be required to disclose user information pursuant to lawful requests, such as subpoenas or court orders, or in compliance with applicable laws. We do not reveal information until we have a good faith belief that an information request by law enforcement or private litigants meets applicable legal standards. Additionally, we may share account or other information when we believe it is necessary to comply with law, to protect our interests or property, to prevent fraud or other illegal activity perpetrated through the Facebook service or using the Facebook name, or to prevent imminent bodily harm. This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, agents or government agencies."

In the same way that they can look at anything stored digitally in the US, as long as they have the specific legal backing to do so. Again, this is at least partially addressed here.

In addition, these privacy policies are hardly unique among services provided online.

My aim in this response was not to explicity defend facebook as a company or as a service. There are still security issues, and security issues are inevitable with the incredibly rapid rise over a couple of years to a population greater than that of the UK. However, I think that the actual security issues have been mostly missed by Hodgkinson in this article, hence my response. I think that he seems to have issues with the internet, advertising and social networking in general, but very rarely facebook in particular. As the largest in its field, perhaps it has to take some of the general criticism on itself, but I think that in general the claims made against it are spurious or badly-phrased.

In particular, Hodgkinson mentions the companies hoping to advertise on facebook and notes their “marketing bullshit”. The point in this case that he seems to miss is that the companies are genuinely excited about a new business opportunity. The social networking boom has in some senses been going on for a decade or more, but the filtering through to every level of society is now really beginning to show, and no one really knows how some sectors are going to react. Advertisers themselves have no idea how they are going to utilise this new medium and structure without alienating users, and it is the solving of this problem that they are excited about.

I explained in a fair amount of detail why I didn’t agree with a lot of the more personal attacks on the investors and their philosophies further up this post, so I won’t go into it any more here.

One of the major issues with facebook that Hodgkinson totally misses is that of identity theft. The major problem in today’s society is how we can be open and communicative in the online world without being vulnerable to identity theft, and this is one that every social site will need to solve if it is to retain users. Another issue not mentioned is that of users being taken advantage of over the network. If an employer can check a user’s profile, photos, group memberships, etc, then there is the potential for biased appraisals and job interviews or even job losses.

Apart from a few previous issues with people being fired over blog entries, this is not a situation society has really reached before, and until we work out a way to completely granularise the security of the data presented about us online, problems are going to be encountered.

I hope it is clear that I am not fully in support of either side in this case. I don’t believe that facebook is perfect, and I think there is a long way to go, but I think that the article by Hodgkinson neither delves into the real issues, nor provides a convincing case to leave the site. As with anything, it is your personal decision, and the personal decisions of the 60 million using the site will decide facebook’s future. Personally I will continue to use it, since I find it both useful and entertaining, but will continue to look out for alternatives. The internet is the ultimate buyers market, and the ‘sellers’ will need to continuously adapt to survive.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Mild Spleen Ventage

I'm sure you'll all be able to relate to this annoyance, it is a relatively minor one, but frustrating non the less.

FACEBOOK AND IT'S [insert expletive here*] APPS!!!!

I'm becoming more an more tired of invites to utterly useless application. More annoying are the ones which then force you to send invites to your friends to see the results. If they where useful applications it would be less stupid, but still stupid, however as it is, the majority are completely pointless. I am spending less and less time on facebook, which of cause is a good thing, and no doubt will eventually cease using it, probably when I get my own site up and running allowing me to display the various things I deem worthy of the internet without all the meet losers in your area adverts and stupid applications.

Anyway I'm done.

* By way of a disclaimer I'm not forcing you to swear, you can insert any word you like. such as darned, confounded or gerbil. It should probably make sense in the context of the sentence and preferable a negative word or you'll be completely changing my point.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Review: Silent Hill (DVD)

General Info:
Year: 2006
Director: Christophe Gans
Writer: Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction)
Main Cast: Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden, Jodelle Ferland
Synopsis: A mother goes in search of her lost daughter after a crash just outside Silent Hill, where they where stupidly going (has she never played the games?). Some general nastiness ensues and she saves the day, in a fashion.

As with most adaptations of games it's not all it's cracked up to be. It has some good ideas but relatively poorly executed. The acting is mostly annoying, the story drags on and for a horror type film is lacks any real horror. 3/10 which I think is pretty generous.

Good Points:
Atmosphere. Well it has one, which is nice, and it at points holds true to the games (I've actually only played Silent Hill 4 so I'm not exactly the voice of Silent Hill).

Cinemaphotography: Some of the camera angles used are pretty interesting, with some of the wide shots giving a really good feel of vastness. However there are some bland shots, more so towards the end.

Plot. Parts of the plot are interesting, but only small parts however.

Acting. Jodelle Ferland does a good job of being a bit of a crazy person and could be considered the best actor in the film, incidentally she does a good job too in Tidelands.

Effects: Aspects of the CG are good, again however other parts are not. Some of the monsters look very like they do in the game and have similar manarisms.

Music. Some bits of the music are good and add to the atmosphere, but they are relatively sparse.

Bad Points:

Acting. The main protagonist, Radha Mitchell, is mostly annoying. Having a female lead in a horror film is never great as the standard thing of screaming and acting helpless is used repeatedly. For the majority of the film she runs around aimlessly when faced with a bit of a nasty creature, screaming, crying and generally acting like an idiot until someone or something saves her. Yet she manages to turn from a nervous wreck one minute to a more together character who's telling the blatantly lesbian cop (not that I have anything agains blatantly lesbian cops) to "keep it together" despite screaming like an loon a few minutes ago. Sean Bean does a good job of making a hash of an american accent, but luckily he doesn't say very much. Some of the monster characters are also badly acted and have a feel of trying to be scary when really just acting like a pleb in a monster suit. There's also the pointless repetition of phrases to enforce a request which is already being carried out, and generally without any conviction, just a feeling of "it says this in the script, so I'll say it exactly",

Plot. For the main part the plot is the mother chasing after a girl in search of her daughter and meeting various obstructions along the way, which gets tiresome, at times it's just her running around. The choices this mother makes are a little obscure, running from a cop when pulled over when she'd done nothing wrong just because she'd seen the sign for silent hill and just generally being an idiot. Then there's the whole crazy occult "christians" who believe burning things and shouting certain words like DEMON, WITCH and BURN HER are fun. This is a wonderful cliché in the world of horror and was a distraction from the fun of the more interesting bits of Silent Hill like the crazy monsters. The sub-plot involving Sean Bean was also tedious, it hardly added to the story and again detracted from the Silent Hill world, which is really what the film should be about. You don't get a fun time watching some guy get in trouble with the cops trying to find his wife in the games, so why do we want to see that in the film? The plot descends mostly into save the day story with little in the way of new stuff, the grotesqueness of silent hill all but disappears and you're left with a load of crazy people and a woman who makes a pathetic attempt at trying to stop their madness so resorts to getting stabbed and allowing the evilness to roam free, which wasn't exactly her plan (if she even had one), so she's lucky it worked really. The ending, without giving too much away, is a tad on the bad people die, good people (well most of them) survive and they all go back to acting like nothing happened within a few seconds, which I'm not sure a normal human would do. However there is the utterly unexplained rift between the two worlds which seems to be utterly pointless, maybe it's for sequel sake, if so I hope they decide to cut out all the crap next time.

Music: As I think has been mentioned by telf at some point, film music should sit behind the film and compliment it, not sit slap bang on top of it making completely unnecessary noise and trying to make boring bits of the film seem more interesting. This is unfortunately what some of the music does at it seems out of place and really stupid.

Effects: Some of the CG just seems a little thrown together and detracts from the scene, which is never good. There is also an air of "how many monsters that fans will recognise can we fit in?" so a monster is used once then it's not really seen again, usually without using it to it's full effect. There is also a lack of shock factor, something generally wanted from a horror film. Things are introduced slowly, either by having them shuffle into shot out of focus, giving you time to see it and go "ooh what's that" or slowly panned onto so you can take it all in nicely. There is not "HOLY CRAP" when something abruptly appears accompanied by a load bang or something like that, a classic horror film technique abandoned. At times the film is stupidly gruesome, and by that I mean the gruesomeness is stupid. People having there skin ripped of is relatively icky, but being being pulled in half by barbed wire and generally mangled by it spraying blood left, right and indeed centre can get a little boring (or maybe I'm just a little desensitized). I think the worst effect involves the big sword guy (triangle head I believe he is called) thrusting his rather enormous appendage (his sword) through a metal door, which resembles poking a knife through a piece of paper in a very mechanical fashion. Oh and they decided to speed up some traffic right at the start to it looked faster, but it just looked stupid.

Length. This film is 2 hours long, which is 2 long (ho de ho ho), I found myself mostly bored with this film and wondering why I still owned it, I soon wont.

There is unfortunately a lot wrong with this film, I think it tried, as so many film adaptations do, to cash in on a franchise without really caring about the world the games have created. It may be that I'm bitter because I was excited about this film and bought it for £16 only to find it a shocking waste of money, but this is an appalling adaptation of Silent Hill, it adds a plot that is unoriginal and boring and then tries to stick bits of the Silent Hill world to it using really crap post-it notes that promptly fall off. I'm relatively sure that contracting the plague would be more enjoyable.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The Decent into Console Land

I've no idea if any of you people who visit/read this blog care about games and such like, but frankly I don't care, because I do.

Having just watched another fine episode of Zero Punctuation I have resorted to dictating my typing (in my head) in a similar style, so this may have a similar feel, sorry.

Anyway, this weeks (or however frequently they appear) episode is about Crysis, a game for the PC which I haven't played, other than the demo, but have heard good things about. Now I have a PC, like most people, and it was, at one point, geared towards gaming as much as my pitiful amount of money could afford. I used to be an exclusive PC gamer and enjoyed running around using the mouse and keyboard to blast, investigate, level up, infiltrate, create and family then destroy it and a variety of other err.. verbs? to describe numerous activities common to computer games. I used to thing to myself "foolish console gamers with their silly game pads, you'll never be able to rival the PC, with your silly sticks to control aiming" and laugh in their collective faces. Until I bought an XBox, and I mean the old one. I suddenly became aware of the multi-player experience and how it was fun to socialise with people and other such stuff without the need for an internet connection. The silly sticks where frustrating to begin with, but I learnt to adapt to using my thumbs to move and look around. I also enjoyed the lack of worrying about the system requirements of a game and having to miss out on a cool game, something I had a good bit of experience with. So I became a dual format man, PC and XBox, working in vague harmony to give me a good mix of gaming fun.

I went on to buy an XBox 360, mainly because I got hooked on Gears of War and Rainbow Six Vegas after playing them once. And now I'd class myself more of a 360 gamer than a PC gamer, owing to the fact that my computer is the equivalents to Brontosaurus when compared to what exists on the market these days. It copes with the majority of games that exist (well I think it does, last PC game I bought was FEAR), however Crysis is something that it wont cope with, this is a common thing with Crysis though and a comment that has been made numerous times. Seeing it is a PC only game I will probably never get to experience it's beauty. This makes me wonder if games producers will think about what systems are available before creating a game, or just go gungho and create a game that requires the death star to run it, I think the latter is more likely. So, as has happened before, the system requirements for PC games will increase while my PC slowly ages until such time as I inherit some vast amounts of money and splash out on a new one, which will quickly become obsolete again and the process start all over again, I don't have enough relatives to keep up with this cycle.

So I guess I shall eventually have to immerse myself almost entirely in the world of consoles, popping up every now and then to play an old PC game, which isn't a complete loss, but I do enjoy using the old mouse and keyboard combination every now and then. This applies even more if my desire to have an Apple is fulfilled, although I have a mantra that I shall share with you:

Apple for the day, PC to play.

Essentially I think I'd have to have both an Apple and a PC, the Apple for all media related activities and a PC for my entertainment needs, with a 360 in the lounge, on an HD projector (or big plasma) and a phat/fat sound system and a comfy chair and............ sorry got lost in my thoughts, it was wonderful.

Review: The Fountain (DVD)

General Info:
Year: 2006
Director: Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream)
Writer: Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel
Main Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz
Synopsis: Spanning 1000 years (in a sense of the word) with three parallel stories in which the main characters play different roles, this film gives a fascinating take of eternal life and what lengths people go to for love. (probably not the greatest explanation by IMDb is your friend)

A very beautiful Sci-Fi film with excellent music, an intriguing storyline and some good acting to boot 9/10 (not quite reaching the coveted 10/10)

Good Points:
Set Design. Although shot on a relatively small budget ($35 million, instead of the $75 million of the previous attempt) and after having to shut down production for 2 years then completely restart, the sets are very nicely designed. They all have a feeling of confinement and a running theme of going down a dark tunnel into the light, but still maintain the atmosphere despite their size.

Music. Clint Mansell was again used to create the score, which sits nicely in the background without drawing your attention to it too much, yet manages to add to the atmosphere when needed, particularly when in the ship.

Acting. There isn't a lot of talking in this film and a lot is conveyed through the actors emotions and actions. Hugh Jackman did a good job of this, really making you feel the pain he is going through. He manages to leave his wolverine aggression at the door, whipping it out for a few bits but it makes sense. Rachel Weisz doesn't have a great deal to do really but she gets on with it and delivers a good performance when she has something to do.

Plot. It being a Darren Aronofsky film there is an inherent confusion running throughout the film and things not quite being explained, but the main theme of the search for eternal life is interesting and also gives some interesting views on this subject, merging a number of ideas together to come up with an interesting take on things. The moving between time periods and stories is handled well by utilising a kind of flashback method which helps to keep things in some form of context.

Effects. Aronofsky's desire to use as little CG as possible seems to have paid off nicely, the space scenes where done using macro photography and chemical reactions in a Petri dish with fabulous results. Other effects where done using dummies and models with good effect, the move towards using CG for everything is one that could do with re-evaluation seeing what can be achieved with a little inventiveness and a good art department.

DVD Extras. A number of behind the scenes features, giving a further insight into the making of the film and at points the story and an extended look at life on the ship are all welcome features on the DVD.

Bad Points.
Plot. As I read on IMDb and agree with to a point, the ending is a little over the top and leaves you still confused about some aspects of the film. My housemate had trouble understanding the film, which is a problem if you want a film with a definitive story, but still enjoyed it by appreciating it's beauty.

This is a really good film, but it is by no means perfect. Unfortunately it's not exactly something quantifiable, it just seems to be missing something, other than a explanation of how he got into space. Regardless of this the beauty of the film is great and I look forward to more of Aronofsky's work.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Linkables 14/1/8

I know, two links posts in a row is poor form, but I'm knackered at the moment, and want to have a clear head when I do a longer one. Really just posting to try and keep up my current sequence of daily posts. Bad form again, but trying to make myself post every day is helping me to actually do it, and I don't want to fall back into old habits.

So, without further wafflage:

Via Jabberwock, we have The Top 100 fundamentalist quotes (this is the actual site, but it seems to be down atm). Most of them are from forums, so it's possible that some of them are trolls, but even so, it's all to easy to believe that there are people out there that hold these views. However you interpret it, hilarious and scary at the same time.

America's worst foods - top 20 artery-busters...

And finally, an old article that was sent to me in jest, but led me to realise that I don't actually think that incest should necessarily be illegal. I'd be interested to hear other people's arguments, but I can't think of any real argument against it. I also didn't realise that incest is legal in France, but apparently so. Damn Frenchies... always one step ahead.

In search of the perfect pub quiz

So, yesterday afternoon (around 4:30ish) Katie and I were on our way to her's to go to a pub quiz, which found ok, but didn't particularly care for. And we realised that there would be noone going but ourselves, and that without other people this quiz really wasn't worth it. So we drove to Oxford to go to a quiz we used to go to every sunday evening (and to see friends there too).

So that's about an hour and a half each way, for a 2 hour quiz with friends. And it was totally worth it. It made me realise how rubbish some quizzes I've been to recently are, and what it is that makes a good quiz.

1 - The Questions
Obviously important, the questions should be on varied broad topics, and be suitably weighted. Having a round devoted to a very niche topic and having that round count for a lot of the quiz is really irritating (much as I keep wishing for a maths round). Also, questions shouldn't be 'you know it or you don't', or at least not all the time. The best questions are ones that if people don't know, they can guess at with some chance of being right.
I've also known a few quizzes to have a 'for fun' round, where the aim is to give the most amusing answer / draw the most amusing picture, with either a small seperate prize or most points for the biggest laugh from the crowd, and they always go down well.

2 - The Timing
There should obviously be time to answer each question, with intra-team discussion, but when you get a lot more than that the whole quiz can lose momentum and become boring. That said a mid quiz gap to let people talk to their teammates is also nice.

3 - The Prizes
Now, here I've had arguaments with people, but big prizes aren't a good thing. I've been to two quizzes regularly where weekly takings have been pooled and potentially, but actually fairly infrequnetly, given away at the end. These were then rolled over, and both have reached over £1000 in prize money (both were very popular quizzes too). Now whilst it does add a real element of tension as suddenly the prize is highly valued, it also devalues the rest of the quiz, as suddenly this prize, done sepperately, is far more significant than the £20 or so other prize; which is for actually winning the quiz.
Also, if the main quiz prize gets much beyond £20 in value it changes the quiz from mainly for fun to potentially really competative, and so fun environment.

4- The Quizmaster
Seemingly so simple, and yet actually so difficult. I've known two 'good' quizmasters, both were funny without being loud and full of themselves, both could read the questions aloud (something I've found isn't always the case) and both wrote the right sort of questions and kept the right timing.

So, whilst I enjoy pub quizzes, I've only known one or two that I would say were actually really good.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Linkables 13/1/8

Thanks to James (one of the occasional writers on this blog), I've just started to read some Asimov, and am very much enjoying it. Coincidentally, I found this short story (via KTR, somehow) by him, which I found hugely enjoyable, and possibly the best story of its length that I have ever read. I haven't read a huge number of short stories, so make of that recommendation what you will.

The highlights from this week:

How to actually win a fist fight: 'Winning' meaning (as it should), not getting the crap kicked out of you, and getting away. Seems like a pretty good guide for emergencies, though the best way to prepare for the worst is to get some proper training, clearly.

10 Creepiest old ads: These are pretty funny, though the effect is diminished by the fact that they are interspersed with occasional google ads, which are less funny and presented no differently than the old ads.

You're all cheaters: Continuation of Raph Koster's musings on cheating and RMT (real money transfer) in online games.

Shoot the stupid: Good source for viral comedy, found via a group email of this one at work. Note also: this one and this one.

And finally, I guess it was bound to happen eventually...

Comedy Review: Chris Rock at Birmingham NIA, 12/1/2008

Chris Rock is a comedian I've become a fan of relatively recently. I was first taken by the short clips shown of him on Channel 4's 100 Greatest Stand Ups aired last year, immediately wanting to see a full show of his. I now own two DVDs of his shows and thoroughly enjoyed watching them both. I therefore jumped at the chance to see him live when I heard he was doing his first ever shows in the UK in 2008.

He didn't disappoint. I was laughing throughout the show, and my friend Holly (who came to the show with me) and I were sorely disappointed that we had to miss the final ten minutes or so in order that we not miss the last train home from Birmingham. Although the subjects of Rock's material occasionally covered well-trodden ground (e.g. George W. Bush being an idiot), his unique take on the subject matter made it feel incredibly fresh. His more up-to-the-minute stuff - with victims including Britney Spears, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - also came off a charm.

Charm, I would say, is Chris Rock's main appeal to me. He is a very funny man. He is also a very funny black man, and like many black comedians Rock's comedy regularly returns to the theme of what it's like to be black and the differences between black people and white people. He is also a very funny American, and therefore his jokes are often to do with American culture. Everything he makes reference to therefore doesn't necessarily strike a chord with me, being as I am a white English man. But, as I said before, it is Rock's charm and personality that makes him such a successful comedian. He is mainly funny because he comes across as both a very likeable and very intelligent person. Despite occasionally touching on some highly contentious topics, I very much doubt Chris Rock's show tonight would cause anyone genuine offence. For the whole time he is on stage, Chris Rock is in control and knows exactly what he's talking about.

Overall this was a fantastic show, with very good support from Mario Joyner at the start. To anyone who hasn't seen any Chris Rock stand-up, I strongly urge you to give it a go. Watch one of his shows and I defy you, even if you aren't rolling on the floor laughing, to not be at least charmed by his sharp wit and intelligence.