Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Linkables 30/4/8

I never realised there was so much correlation between the words 'fuck' and 'bitch'...

The title of the article says it all, seriously freaking creepy potential anti-rape adverts. And here's an analysis of the images for good measure.

You don't have to become an alcoholic for alcohol to ruin your life.

Via an interesting ask.metafilter question about language, an analysis of why Chinese is so hard to learn.

Hey, you know that whole diet coke and mentos thing? What if we like, got lots of people to do it at once? That'd be really freaking cool, right? Right.

A few really interesting flash games:

  • Qink, in which you need to cover a 2D representation of a cube with colours. The rotation weirdness gets annoying after a while, but it's a really interesting exercise in spatial thinking. [review]
  • Scorching Earth, in which you need to control fires to burn as much ground as you can. An example of a type of thinking which apparently does not come at all naturally to me. I can solve the levels, but not without a lot of trial and error. [review]
  • Sonny, pretty much the perfect flash RPG experience. [review]

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Update

Just a quick note to say that I'm still alive - I've just been having a little week-long sabbatical from the blog. It wasn't necessarily planned like that, but I failed to post for a couple of days, and then got into a weird place mentally over the weekend, leaving me feeling entirely uninspired for a while longer. Happily the others posting here have been doing a great job in my absence, notably Joe, with his first post on the blog. He's been registered as a writer on here since pretty much the very beginning, so I wouldn't expect another post from him for at least eight months or so.

I'm also excited about the prospect of drink-your-milkshake, which Bambi mentioned previously. Hopefully we'll be able to get a good number of reviews up there, and update frequently enough to be worth keeping track of. A blog isn't the ideal way of organising reviews, giving no real searchability, or accreditation. But then every time I wonder about what the best structure for storing reviews might be, I end up designing a database-driven reviews site. And then I think that I should write one. And then I remember that I already have. Don't go there, seriously, it's horrible. I wrote it before I'd even heard of javascript, and you can tell...

I've got a couple of longer posts in mind, and along with reviews and links posts, I'll be trying to get back towards a post a day as we go into May. That's all for now.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

The Big Reviewski

Just a note to say the first review on a new blog devoted to reviewing is now up at drink-your-milkshake.blogspot.com. The actual review can be found here.

This venture is borne out of the fact that I like films and music, and I like reviewing things, and after seeing a few blogs which contain only reviews I thought that a separate blog just for reviews was something I wanted to try. Added to that there's the fact that I'm really quite proud of the film reviews I've written on this blog so far. Not necessarily in an "I think I'm great" kind of way, more that I think they flow quite well and that they're the main outlet for my own writing at the moment. Reviews will be posted in tandem on both the new blog and this blog to start with, or at least a link to each new review on the other blog will be posted here. The reviews already on this blog will be copied over to the other blog too.

So, add Drink Your Milkshake to your list of blogs. You know you want to.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Humphrey Lyttelton: A Tribute

Despite having been a registered contributor to this blog for quite some time, I've never quite managed to get round to writing a post. This is not a fact I'm proud of, and I've received no shortage of chastising for my failure to get involved. But here I am, albeit in somewhat melancholy circumstances.

Humphrey Lyttelton can be described as nothing short of legendary, and when I read tonight of his passing, I felt a very real sense of loss. I have many many memories of enjoying "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue" (the self prescribed antidote to panel shows) in many many places, and in fact only last week laughed and laughed with my parents as we travelled from Liverpool to London enjoying no less than four episodes, back to back.

For several years I was a proud member of Sefton Youth Jazz Orchestra, and every monday night in the car to rehearsal we would giggle away as Humph and the team did silly things. Of course we were always disappointed when "Quote Un-qoute" replaced the show, and those terms never had quite the same sense of joy. Learning to know and love Humph was a very definite part of the development of my sense of humour: the innuendo, crudely disguised insults and general stupidity all seeping into my subconscious. Many of us will continue to emulate him for many years to come, and of course imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Indeed, the part ISIHAC has played in shaping many of the televised panel shows we have today is plain to see. It even almost infiltrated our Students Union when a small group of us attempted to start the Mornington Crescent Society, although sadly with no success. I could write for a long time about my favourite games, from radio paper-scissors-stone (or cow-bomb-lake) to “one song to the tune of another”, but I will leave you to your own memories, or to find out for yourself if you haven’t yet experienced it.

Humph is of course also famous for his jazz music, and he and his big band continued to tour the country until very recently. Around six or seven years ago, I had the absolute privilege of playing in a support group for his big band, when they performed outdoors near Formby Beach in Liverpool. This is a memory on which I will look back very fondly, and will hold as some small compensation for never having achieved my ambition of going to a live recording of ISIHAC.

Since it’s my first post, I’m going to stop myself from rambling on, but how better to end than with one of the great man’s very own closing gems…

“…and so, as the jersey of time is tumble-dried with the Comfort of eternity, and the farmer of destiny wonders how his cow got into the washing machine…

…it’s time to end the show.”

You and I have unfinished business

The news I've been waiting on for what seems like years. Probably because it actually has been years.

True, it's not exactly an unequivocal statement that Kill Bill is going to be released as it was originally intended any time soon, but at least I know that it's definitely going to happen at some point. The closest I've got to seeing Kill Bill as Tarantino originally intended is watching both films back to back, which was fantastic as each film is counterbalanced by the other excellently, leaving you with a sprawling, brilliant four-hour epic. A shame that sprawling, brilliant four-hour epics aren't moneyspinners.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Please help me win my dissertation

Not sure how you can win a dissertation but still.

I'm looking for people to help test my site so if you could head over to http://www.csesalford.com/wotherspoonfp register and then post a message (really doesn't matter what) it would be greatly appreciated. It should only take 5 minutes and you can peruse the "many" features of the forum.

There is (as Patrick has pointed out) no focus to the site at the moment, which is due to a lack of development time, so please just have a muck about and let me know what you think, I don't expect you to keep coming back.

cheers and many thanks

EDIT - editted so that I explain it's incredible lack of focus (ironically enough, what my tutor's been saying about my project in general "no focus", oh well who needs focus anyway)

Monday, 21 April 2008

Linkables 21/4/8

I've been having some cool gender-politics related conversations with a friend, so have a few links to interesting discussions on the subject:

  • Firstly an analysis I found ages ago into how men and women approach discussions differently, which has some interesting insights into the ways 'arguments over nothing' arise.
  • A look into the history of the engagement ring, and its popularity explosion simply as a result of advertising. Also touches on whether the man giving the woman an expensive ring is appropriate any more in modern relationships.
  • An article clarifying some of the soft numbers being batted around about pay disparities between men and women.
  • I can't remember if I've linked to it before, but this is a great article explaining some of the social and biological reasons behind seemingly unbalanced numbers that come up when comparing education, intelligence or performance between men and women.
  • On a lighter note, a look at some of the adverts that maybe wouldn't get past the censors (or the good-taste police) nowadays.
It's not really connected to the above, so I'll link it separately, but I found this list of anecdotes about pro-lifers breaking through their own protest lines to get abortions (often unashamedly hypocritically) an intriguing read.

A cool little compilation of all the mashups and conversions of the Zidane-Materazzi video from the last world cup.

I always want a wikipedia style database for song-lyric-interpretations, and this is the best I've found so far.

I first heard of Jonathan Coulton through the song at the end of the game Portal, which he wrote. It's an excellent song (which you shouldn't listen to unless you've played the game, since it'll lose half of its meaning and impact), and so I finally looked up more of his stuff. He's best known for his cover of 'Baby got back', and his original song 'Re: your brains'. All his stuff is available on his site to listen to and buy, so definately check it out. The song that has most captured my imagination is 'Code monkey', and it appeals to me simply because it's told from the point of view of someone working in a random coding job, and as a fellow code monkey, I can appreciate the pain and empathise with the narrator. Whether or not you are in a similar situation, you'll hopefully get something out of the song, anyway, displayed here with a brilliantly put together background montage from some anime show:


Free writing

I've just stumbled upon this website. For anyone wanting to have a go at a bit of unrestrained creative writing without even having to think about what your topic is, I recommend it. Reading through other people's responses to the single word you get is pretty interesting too.

errr... oops!

I assume this wasn't actually part of the film (this is a mildly silly statement as the article states it was on route to filming).

My thoughts go back to the first Daniel Craig film where the brutalised another Aston Martin, which made me ask why they didn't just give me the car if they where going to destroy it, the same applies here, if they'd given it to me it'd still be alive now as I can't drive.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

D'you want anything from the shop?

This is from a couple of weeks ago now, but I've been meaning to link to this wonderful news since I first read it.

Initial thoughts: "Blood And Ice Cream" equals best trilogy name ever. I'm not so struck on the film title at the moment though (it has a little too much in common with the third Pirates Of The Caribbean film title in my opinion), but it is a working title, and once I know a bit more about the film's content it may grow on me.

Needless to say, this film's now taken residence up at the top of my most anticipated films list. I haven't lost faith in Simon Pegg even after Run Fatboy Run (which I admit I found fairly enjoyable when I first watched it, but have since gained a significant dislike and disdain for), and with Edgar Wright at the helm it's bound to sit proudly alongside Hot Fuzz and Shaun Of The Dead. I can't wait.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Travel stories.

Having recently been surrounded by the new politeness campaign from tfl, I was wondering whether it had had any effect on the attitudes of people on (particularly) buses. Here are three occasions in which people demonstrated that they maybe need a little more prompting than the rest of us:

1) The girls on the back of the 493 bus who played Sean Kingston's 'Beautiful Girls' over and over again for 45 minutes at the full tinny volume that their phone would allow. They'd occasionally sing along, but mostly they'd just have shouted conversations over the top (I did mention this in 'most annoying song' of 2007 previously, but I thought it bore repeating).

2) The bloke who jumped onto a 430 and ran straight to the back of the top deck without paying. The driver kept the bus at the bus stop for five minutes, as the passengers got more and more frustrated. The driver shouted up for a while asking the guy to come down and pay (which he refused to do, mostly using the words 'fuck', 'off' and 'mate') before finally giving up and continuing with the journey. On this occasion, the driver had the last laugh, though, as three stops later a ticket inspector got on (as I got off) and headed straight upstairs at the driver's request.

3) My dad was on a train when a ticket inspector came onto the carriage. As he passed the toilet, a woman sitting nearby pointed out that there were two guys hiding in there. The inspector opened the toilet with a key and chucked the two (ticketless) teenagers off the train. After he'd left, though, the woman who had pointed them out came under a fair amount of verbal abuse for the rest of the journey from people in the carriage apparently suggesting that she was a 'grass' and shouldn't have revealed that they were hiding there.

4) Finally, I was sitting on a 430 bus last night on my way home when a man got on and sat in front of me (at the front of the top deck). He stuck his feet up on the ledge in front of the front window, rolled himself a cigarette, cracked open a can of special brew and then turned his iPod up so loud that I could hear the beat from his music through his headphones, even though I was listening to my own music. He then started to tap his feet against the front window in time with the music, to sing loudly along with it, and finally to start weeping. I really wanted to get a photo of him to put up here, but I wasn't entirely sure how he'd react to (even stealthy) use of a mobile phone camera, and since I didn't want to end up with a knife in the neck, I left him to it without any photographic record.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Potentially Repeating Myself

I may have posted something like this before, so if I have I'm sorry, but if not hurrah.

It occurred to me today (and not for the first time) that the potential for new technological advances in the future is quite exciting in light of recent history. By this I mean, if you think back to the 80s Computers (and various other such things) where nowhere near capable of what they are now, and I think it would be silly of us to think that we have got to a stage where our technological advances are such that there is little else that can be done. With this in mind it follows that within 20 years the technology which we will have at our finger tips will be far superior to what we have now. However this leaves me with a slight feeling of trepidation. What happens if I start to lose touch with technology? For instance my grandma doesn't really know how to work a DAB radio, let alone a PC, so it also follows that in x number of years I too will be in a similar situation. Also my parents are amused greatly by the transcribe feature on my phone, it doesn't really work very well, but the fact that you write on my phone screen and it then turns it into some text is fascinating to them (well kinda), so again it follows that in 30 (37 to be the same age as my dad) or so years I too could be at a stage where relatively standard technology is something of awe to me, which again slightly upsets me as I really hope that I'm one of these people which manages to keep up with all the technological advances of our culture, but who knows. Furthermore the technology in games has advanced so much in the past 10 years that old games which used to look great seem pathetic now, so again similar advances are likely to take place within a similar time scale, which is all very exciting in my opinion.

I never really know how to finish these posts without it seeming like either an abrupt end or some pointless conclusion, so I guess this'll do.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

errr.. what?

this was my thoughts upon readingthis.

I'm not entirely sure if I agree with the idea of robots as sexual partners... no wait, let me rephrase that... I'm entirely sure I disagree with the idea of robots as sexual partners. It's just wrong! However I am willing to look at it from a number of angles.

As replacements to prostitutes, they would eliminate (maybe not entirely though) STI transmission and would meant that there would be less requirement for women to sell their bodies, however it may entice more people to idea of getting sex by any means possible (those who just can't bring themselves to getting a prostitute). However a move to a more lustful society, one where the desires of our genitals can be satiated through a machine (even if it does have a human quality) is not a good thing. The comment that artificial devices have been used for sex for centuries doesn't make this any better, we've been slaughtering people for many centuries, it doesn't make it right. Further more (from a purely Christian perspective) any form of sex outside of marriage is classifiable as sinful (including self induced, to put it nicely) so this would also fall under this category (and is purely about pleasure/lust which isn't what sex within a human relationship is about). Carry on in this line, the idea of marriage with a machine is potentially worse, the Christian definition of marriage is the joining of a man and a women in the eyes of God so therefore it wouldn't be classifiable as marriage and personally I think it would be ludicrous, to be married to something that was created by another human and no doubt would have a short life expectancy (if we can't make phones last more than 12 months, how can we make more complicated devices?), to me it also seems unnatural, well seeing it's not made by nature it is indeed unnatural. The idea of a loving relationship with a machine is a very twisted idea, it kinda sickens me really, that someone would form a relationship with an artificial intelligence over a real one. I'm a little scared by the idea of AI to be honest, The variety of films and books etc. which deal with this topic and give a rather bleak view is astounding and surely in some respects a relatively good premonition of what could happen. But as was said true AI is unlikely to exist within our lifetime so atleast I don't have to worry about being enslaved by the machines we created, which is nice.

There's probably more that I could say on this, but I'm tired.

Lexical

If you use facebook and don't have the facebook blog on your feed reader, you really should add it. It's massively useful for keeping track of the latest bits and pieces of development. It's only updated once a week or so (and seems to have a delayed-reaction over RSS), but the features it points out are usually fantastic. We've seen reactions to application spam and privacy concerns, introduction of wider political views, friends lists, links to other web 2.0 sites, and now the latest widget, the facebook lexicon.

This allows you to produce a display showing the number of times particular words and phrases appear on people's walls throughout facebook over time. So you can see how often the phrase 'new year' appears, or compare it to 'christmas' and 'easter'. It's not particularly useful for statistical analysis (except, obviously, of the words people use on facebook walls), but it's a fun tool and you can produce interesting results.

Gaming meets real life

Games are usually just something you play on a console or PC and then that's as far as it goes. However Rockstar have launched Social Club which tracks stats from your time playing GTA IV (which is out 29th April, go buy!) which is a nice touch. However perusing the official GTA site led me to find a very cool feature, known as ZiT. Basically if you're playing the game and hear a cool track, you call a number (using your in game phone) and it sends a text to your in game phone with the track details, but it also adds it to your Social Club page allowing you to purchase the track from Amazon MP3, which I think is a pretty cool feature. I wont actually use it for purchasing music, mp3=evil, but it'll be fun to mess about with. GTA IV does look like it will be revolutionary in many ways. I'm waiting for the 29th with bated breath and a cup of coffee. However I may challenge myself not to play it until I've handed my dissertation in 4 days later.

Monday, 14 April 2008

From Oedipus to Samuel L. Jackson's Wallet

I'm been wanting to find an excuse to write a post which actually covers the two items listed in the blog title, and I have finally managed to scrape two things together that hopefully aren't too overly obscure.

Firstly Oedipus. Regina Spektor wrote a song called Oedipus that is pretty cool but rather strange. Regina is a rather odd person however, which may have something to do with her Russian background and potentially growing up in Soviet controlled Russia, not entirely sure if that's true though. If you haven't heard any of her stuff I'd advise giving it a listen as it's pretty unique, an interesting mix of err.. well sporadicness and weird singing, but I like it.

Oh yeah and in this video she's hot! Well that's my opinion anyway.

On to Samuel L. Jackson's wallet. Since thinking that it would be fun to post something referencing the two title topics (pretty much from when I was added as a contributor) I've thought that I wasn't likely to find something that would make sense, but recently I did.

Afro Samurai is a cool Animé that features Samuel L. Jacksons voice (as two characters no less) and no doubt it made him some money, that in some form or another resided within his wallet. The Animé is pretty cool and hits all the clichés of Anime, gratuitous violence and overly pressurised human veins, a strange fascination for scantily clad women and a storyline that encompasses hardship and revenge. But it's an interesting mix of western styles and eastern too. For starters its about a black guy who's a samurai and not a Japanese bloke. It;s set to music by RZA (of Wu Tang Clan fame) which is not exactly new, Samurai Champloo did this too and very successfully, but it adds to the coolness of a sword fight (or other such fight) when you've got a phat hip hop beat going on. There's also the fact that it's not the traditional feudal Japan type thing, that is to say that it will happily have fights where one opponent has a couple of revolvers or on one occasion an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade, not Role Playing Game, which aren't so good for fighting with), as with most Animé you suspend disbelief as people can slice bullets with their samurai sword or even an RPG shell without it exploding instantaneously, but hey it's cool. My only quibble so far is that some of the fights tend to end a little too quickly, I like a good prolonged fight sequence.
I haven't yet finished the series, which is only 5 episodes long (unlike the normal 20+ of Japanese animés) but so far it's been entertaining.

So mostly tenuous I guess but I've succeeded in covering both topics of the blog title, hurrah.

Life begins at 200

On the only other blog of note I wrote on before this one, I managed to amass just over 200 angsty, teenage, personal, uninteresting posts in four-and-a-bit-years, so I'm very pleased that we've managed to get to that milestone in less than nine months (including a slow-ish start) here.

I'm also very happy with the type and quality of posts. While the lack of an overall theme means that it's unlikely to attract random external readers, I've certainly enjoyed reading everything posted on here so far, and see no reason why that would change.

So, as an official feedback request: Does anyone who's reading this (whether a writer on here or not) have any thoughts on things that should be changed about the way things are currently working on here? Because if not, I see no reason to alter anything. Although, I'm always on the lookout for anyone else interesting in contributing, clearly.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Attribution

Go check out Bête de Jour's new self-publicity sidebar entry to see a little quote from yours truly (originally from this post). I was feeling sad and contemplating the end of the weekend bleakly, but it cheered me up no end to see my quote there. Even if he did attribute it to 'TheTeft'...


... and, you know, it's true and that, so go check him out.

[EDIT]: And kudos to him for the prompt correction :P

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Unrelated stuffs.

Firstly a quick story from 10 days ago which I haven't got round to posting yet.

I've been filming a promotional video for a church in Aintree so that they can send it to people for funding for a building they're trying to buy (they currently meet in a school and want to be able to provide facilities for the community). As some of you may know the Grand National was on at the start of this month and me and a friend (who was doing directing/producing for me so I didn't have to do a billion jobs on my own) went up to the top of the bridge at Aintree station on the 2nd with a camera and a tripod, my friend Paul notice that a couple of police men where following up behind us, so we held of setting up until they arrived so we could make sure we where alright to film. The very nice sergeant bloke asked us what we where doing, which we told him, and then asked if we minded being stopped and search, to which we replied we didn't. So basically not a pocket emptying type search, but a take all your details and check it on the database to make sure we weren't terrorist or had an outstanding warrant or anything like that, which luckily neither of us did. So mildly eventful time, nothing too horrible but I did get a bit of pink paper out of it. seen below...



-mostly useless full shot, but err proves that it actually exists.




- Unfortunately the top bit with the description of what it is is ripped, but you get to see a description of me, so you can clone me.



- My favourite section of the form, luckily with "No" ticked, this time :D

... or not, because blogger hates me and doesn't want to upload images for me.
[EDIT] - Blogger decided to stop dicking about :D

well onto the next thing. My Xbox 360's blog... yep that's right the blog for my Xbox 360, no I haven't gone mad and decided to start writing a blog from the position of my xbox, someone else has, well actually someone else has written a clever site which essentially shows updates of games played etc. but displays them in the style of a moany xbox, they could maybe have made it so that you could choose a personality for your xbox, but who knows that may exist, I haven't fully looked at the settings yet. Here's the link anyway if you're interested, I've only just set it up so there's not much there at the moment.

I recently bought some stuff for my video camera, a Canon XL1, which is cool but relatively expensive, however not as expensive as it should have been. The batteries I got with the camera where mostly knackered (it being a second hand camera), there where 2, one 3hr one 9 (I think) but both lasted about an hour each as they had been used or left or generally damaged, so I got myself a new 3hr, 9hr and a DC adapter, as I didn't have one, all from jessops. "NO, you idiot!" I here you cry, "why would you buy them from a high street store?" because I can get staff discounted (or could) as my friend used to (until last week) work there. Luckily I asked her to get the 9hr battery and dc adapter a few days before she left (which I wasn't aware of until afterwards), she'd previously bought the 3hr as she needed to used my camera and wanted to be able to use it for more than a hour with the current batteries. Anyway moral of the story, having a friend who works in a shop that sells camera stuff who can get staff discount so you're not paying a hundred odd quid for stuff is very useful.

Also this being my final year of uni and also the final month or so I shall not really thinking of anything else but that for a while and with luck manage to come out the other end with a decent degree, I shall let you know if this is the case. After that I shall be hopefully moving to the Wimbledoon area so I may see a few of you in person, which will be nice (for me atleast).

That's it for now.

Me, guv?

I do YouGov surveys as and when I can, and it's generally pretty rewarding (not, of course, monetarily, but I'm sometimes able to trick myself into thinking that I'm making a difference). Part of the enjoyment comes from looking through the results, many of which provide some sort of tiny insight into public opinion/experience (at least, weighted by access to the internet).

For the most part, the questions are about political-allegiance, brand-awareness, news stories or social issues, and while the majority of them are well structured and straightforward to answer, there's the occasional one that throws me a bit. For instance, today I was asked:

This strikes me as a really weird question to ask. How can I say who I would trust based on just their job? Given any occupation, I can imagine people within that job that I would trust and people that I would not. It seems absurdly black and white to put down something like: I 'trust' dentists and 'do not trust' lawyers.

Of course, in all cases surveys are taking down simplified information (I may not agree with all of the views of a political party, but I can say which one I support), but in this case there seems to be far too much grey area to be able to make a realistic decision. In addition, what are we trusting them with? Are we talking professional opinion (would I trust a doctor to give me medical advice, but not a cleaner to give me advice about cleaning?), or money (would I lend £x to a fireman, but not a teacher?) or personal trust (would I be more likely to divulge a personal secret to a lawyer or a policeman?).

In most cases, as I say above, it would depend entirely on the person involved. A lawyer who has served several members of my family honestly over many years? Probably trusted. A lawyer who turns up beside my hospital bed after an accident? Probably not so much trusted. But the trust would be affected so much more by this contextual point than by the fact that they were a lawyer.

There were a couple of other questions with the same list of occupations? Which occupations do I respect more/less? Which occupations have more/less influence in Britain today? Both of these questions fall into the same mental gap I have about the other question. I can't make that kind of judgement about an entire group of people, because there is such a huge variation between the groups. Would it be appropriate to question which gender I would trust, or which racial group I have respect for?

Have I missed something about these questions? Would most people be able to answer them? Or are they at best statistically useless, and at worst deliberately divisive, encouraging generalisation and labelling people because of their job?

Which occupations do you trust?

Friday, 11 April 2008

Linkables 11/4/8

I only just discovered the blog 'indexed', via Time's blog index, and it's pretty awesome. It's a ton of little index cards, with simple Venn diagrams, graphs and charts forming little comments on life. They're cute and quick, and generally pretty funny or thought-provoking, and there's an absolute ton of them, so there should be some value to be got out of them. The only thing that annoys me about them so far, is the insistence of the artist in putting the dependent and independent variables on the axes seemingly randomly.
Maybe you really do mean that as respectability increases, gum-in-mouth decreases, but I think that it'd be more effective the other way around. And certainly easier to parse, mentally, on a first time read. It's a minor quibble, and for a casual glance every now and then, I've got a lot out of the blog.

On a more serious note, letting your daughter die by preferring prayer to medicine is not actually abuse. And the parents have three more kids anyway, so I guess not a huge loss for anyone, huh.

An interesting analysis from a while back, of the chances of the Democratic candidates, and the difficulty of the task facing Hillary, despite the seeming closeness of the race.

Some more awesome analysis on gender inequality in popular movies, from the infrequently updated, but always genuinely interesting and informative xkcd blog.

And finally, I've been sucked back into the delicious but time-consuming world of Warhammer, and while I'm currently resisting the time-sink that is the actual collecting-and-painting side of it (concentrating at the moment on just playing with other people's models), I have also been examining with fear and awe some of the larger models.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Trailer trash

A few months back, Telf wrote an entry about good and bad film trailers, something which has also become a gripe of my own more and more recently. I'd go along more or less with pretty much everything Telf talks about in that post. A couple of trailers that have struck me as annoyingly bad - mainly because after watching them I felt like I didn't need to see the film any more, as most of the plot, including twists and character relationships, had been told to me - are those for Street Kings and 21.

Street Kings:


21:


Ludicrously, those two trailers need to come with a spoiler warning, as if you're planning to see either of those films you probably shouldn't watch the trailers so that you're left with some form of surprise when you watch the actual films.

In contrast, one trailer that really caught my attention recently is for Funny Games.

Funny Games:


The effectiveness of this trailer compared to the first two is that whilst it tells you the basic premise of the film, that's as far as it goes in terms of plot. Very little is actually given to you. There are few lines spoken which gives the trailer an added minimalist edge and allows the images to do the talking. The fast paced movement of clips and words on the screen works to build the excitement tremendously. I now very much want to see Funny Games on the strength of the trailer and the little I've read about it, and feel that when I do most of what it shows me will be fresh and unknown. The trailer itself is probably the best I've seen since this, which is the best trailer I can remember seeing in recent memory, and possibly the most effective trailer I've ever seen...



If you're not convinced about the power of a decent trailer, then check out these genre-subverting homemade trailers for two very famous films. The second is incredibly effective in particular, but both do a great job in playing with genre but only using original film footage:





I defy you to find a scarier Disney film trailer than the last video.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Video Extravaganza

Inspired by the 'Be Kind, Rewind' versions, You Tube is chock-a-block with 'Swedings' of films:

Star Wars:


Die Hard:


Kill Bill:



It's nice to see the random distribution of effort, for instance putting together a realistic weapon for GoGo, but having everyone clearly running around someone's house. It gave me a nice little nostalgic feeling for the days of Studio 219.

Linked to the star wars video above there was this rather awesome re-imagining of the Black Knight fight from Monty Python, star-wars-ized:


On a less purely entertaining note, this is an interesting documentary put together from direct satellite feeds picked up during the 1992 US election campaign. It's a little unclear sometimes quite what the overall point of the film is, but it's a nice compilation of clips, and an interesting look at the race from a totally different and unseen angle:


I'm not sure if five videos counts as an extravaganza, so perhaps this is more of a smorgasbord. Either way, I hope it was entertaining enough to distract you momentarily from your drab, meaningless little lives. Certainly worked for me.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Proof that kids are racist, satan worshippers...

...as seen on a board of Rangoli patterns at Daven Hill Primary School, Aintree.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Teacher, mother, secret lover

A collection of my thoughts, observations and responses to Empire's 50 Greatest TV Shows Of All Time (annoyingly, Empire don't seem to have the whole countdown as a list on one page, so here's a link to a page that does):

Firstly, Empire really set the boundaries incredibly wide. It's not the fifty greatest comedy series, or the fifty greatest drama series, it's the fifty greatest TV series. The scope is so huge that I think they pretty much set themselves up to fall down in some way or other from the get-go. The list was also voted by the readership of Empire, which automatically means the results they get will in no way actually be a definitive list of the fifty greatest series ever. They'll be closer to "the fifty most popular TV shows of the readership at this time". And in some ways that's pretty much what they've got. There are some surprises, and some that I'm pleased to see there that I didn't really expect, but a lot of what is there falls into that heading rather than the one Empire's chosen.

I can't comment on all of the series within the list as I haven't seen all of them, but to those that I have seen I'd like to respond. I'm quite glad to see Father Ted placed higher than Only Fools And Horses, just because Father Ted to my mind maintained a much higher level of quality throughout its run. Only Fools And Horses may have run for longer and represent some of the finest traditional British sitcom writing at its best, but there are some decidedly average episodes within the series, and as Empire implies, it didn't know when to stop, leaving the series going out on a relative low. Father Ted has probably had more influence on British comedy than Only Fools And Horses with its style of humour permeating many programmes, and indeed films, in the 21st Century.

I can only make a passing comment really due to my limited knowledge of the franchise, but I was very surprised to see three different Star Trek series (original, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine) make appearances.

I was really quite surprised to see Spaced place so highly at number 10, making it the highest ranked British show (a statistic that is disappointing but also not entirely surprising, if I'm honest). I am a fan of Spaced, but I can't help but think that the work of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost since Spaced (Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz in particular) has influenced the voting. True, it could be seen as "great" in terms of propelling its stars to the next level and reinvigorating British comedy cinema, but its placement just doesn't sit right with me.

Good to see Family Guy pretty high up the list. In my heart of hearts I reckon it should probably be slightly lower, but as a ridiculously big fan I'm happy to leave it there...

Friends as the highest placed sitcom at number 7 just goes to show that people prefer their comedy safe and unchallenging. Yes, that's part of what sitcoms do, but when you see series such as Frasier at 34 which in my opinion regularly contained far superior writing and acting to that found in Friends it is a little disheartening.

Heroes at 15 and Lost at 5 proves that quite a lot of the list is about what's popular now and not necessarily what will still be great ten years from now. That's coming from someone who really enjoyed the first series of Heroes (I haven't managed to see the second yet) and is a huge fan of Lost. I'd say out of those two, Lost currently has the potential to be an all-time great, but as it's only halfway through the whole story it's telling, I'd say it's too early to judge.

Blackadder should be higher than 20. Nearly twenty years on and it has some of the sharpest comedy writing you'll find on TV anywhere.

The Office should be higher than number 23. Whether you like it or hate it, you have to admit the phenomenal amount of influence it's had on comedy writing and just in general since it was first shown.

Finally, The Simpsons should not be number 1. If The Simpsons had stopped at around its tenth season, then maybe it could be considered as one of the greatest shows ever. But it is now being run into the ground, pandering to the lowest common denominator and essentially besmirching those classic episodes from the first ten years or so of its existence. The Simpsons needs to be brought to an end. It should have been a long while ago. Additionally, even if we look to the influence it's had in TV and in general, it hasn't done a huge amount that can be considered pivotal. It follows a format that has been seen in sitcom for decades, and can't even be thought of as bringing animated sitcom to the mainstream as The Flintstones (glaringly absent from the list) did that a long time before too. I could go on, but I won't. I no longer really consider myself a Simpsons fan really, as I haven't enjoyed it for so long and only ever watch the episodes I know are any good. I also disagree with Empire's statement about Futurama at number 25: " It's unfair to compare Matt Groening's other show to The Simpsons. Because what is as good as The Simpsons?" Futurama was stopped just as it was hitting its stride, and I believe "Matt Groening's other show" at its best is indeed superior to The Simpsons at its best in both writing and characterisation.

N.B: I realise the irony of where the title for this blog entry came from following what I've said in the preceding paragraph.

So, of the series I have seen on the list, which do I think should be at number 1? Without a doubt, The West Wing, placed fairly respectfully in Empire's list at number 4. I could go on about all the different ways The West Wing is the greatest series ever made, but I won't. The fact that any form of fictional media depicting US politics post-West Wing will be weighed against it, and the fact that pretty much every episode feels like a 45-minute cinematic film, and could potentially be extended into a good feature film, says it all for me. I've never watched The Sopranos or Buffy The Vampire Slayer properly (although I've been meaning to give the former a go for some time), but to be placed higher than The West Wing for me they would have to do something pretty phenomenal.

This has become rather a rambling entry, so I shall stop here. Obviously any list of this type and magnitude is not going to please everybody (or more likely anybody) who reads it entirely, and these are obviously only my thoughts and opinions. I'd be interested to see what others think of Empire's list, however, and indeed of my comments.

Charlton Heston R.I.P.

The death of Charlton Heston yesterday, even though he was 84 years old and apparently had Alzheimer's, is still a sad occasion. Heston's was a name that permeated popular culture, even if, like me, you're pretty sure you've never seen any of the films in which he had starring roles (something of which I'm slightly ashamed and also a bit surprised - two films I know I've seen him have cameos in however are the 2001 Planet Of The Apes and Kenneth Branagh's 1996 film version of Hamlet). Looking through his filmography there are many films of his that I'd really like to see: The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, El Cid, the original Planet Of The Apes, and Soylent Green are a few that have passed me by and were on my "to watch" list before I heard of Heston's death. It seems that for many of my generation he was, maybe not equally but certainly significantly, well-known as a member and former president of the NRA, something that is possibly more controversial in the USA. For me, he will be remembered as a cinematic great of whom I only realised how little I knew his work once he was gone. I intend to rectify that in the near future.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Film Review: El Orfanato (The Orphanage)

The main draw for me to The Orphanage was the fact that it has Guillermo Del Toro's name on it, having enjoyed Pan's Labyrinth, which he directed, a great deal. The Orphanage is executive produced and "presented" by Del Toro, but directed by Juan Antonio Bayona who is apparently a protégé of Del Toro's. I went in, not expecting anything that would surpass the incredible blend of fantasy and reality of Pan's Labyrinth but hoping to feel the magical touch of Del Toro within the film.

So, did I? That's a question I'm still debating. The short answer is "sort of". There's nothing wrong with The Orphanage. It's a decent supernatural thriller. Belen Rueda does well throughout as the troubled main character Laura, and Fernando Cayo supports well as her husband. The tension between them as they are torn by their differing opinions on the supernatural towards the end of the film is one of the film's strongest points. The film is also pretty atmospheric all the way through, creating a genuine tension very well that I felt throughout watching.

However, there's nothing that I can rave about. Yes, it's a good ghost story, and the question of whether the occurrences are related to the supernatural or more to do with the characters' states of mind continue right until the very end, and leave you wondering after the film has finished, which is generally speaking a good thing for a film to do. But for me there was a definite sense that I'd seen a lot of it before. Many of the plot devices seem rather unoriginal (creepy and/or ghostly children, for example, have been done again and again pretty much since the time of The Exorcist and The Omen, but seemingly even more regularly during the 21st Century since films such as The Others and The Ring), and whilst they are done well and generally stay away from the feel of a Hollywood blockbuster, it would have been nice to have seen something a little different. The more adventurous ideas, such as Laura's son Simon being HIV positive and his subsequent discovery of this, felt somewhat underdeveloped, having the potential to be very interesting parts to the film when they are introduced but then not nearly exploited to their full potential. The ending would have been stronger had it stopped about two scenes earlier. The ending as it is was far too sentimental. It also felt somewhat tacked on, almost an artificial "happy ending" to what had been for the most part a relatively bleak story.

The film's main strength is its ambiguity, as you are pretty much presented with a telling (not necessary the telling) of the story from the viewpoint of Laura and then left to make your own mind up as to what you think has been happening. Anyone who's seen Pan's Labyrinth (without giving too much away) will no doubt recognise a shared trait there. But, to go back to my point from the start, that and the overriding supernatural/fantasy theme are by and large the only really noticeable influences from Del Toro. And, dare I say it, the film is weaker because of that. I don't like to review films by merely comparing them to other films, but when a new director is promoted as being mentored by a reasonably accomplished and acclaimed director, it is difficult not to make comparisons, especially when it is the new director's debut feature. And even more especially when that feature has the mentor's name on it and not the director's.

Verdict: The Orphanage to my mind is a good film, but not much more. It's genuinely creepy and tense for the most part, it tells a fairly compelling story, and the main actors generally do well. For all those reasons it's worth seeing. But it's nothing incredibly special. As I mentioned before, many of the elements to the story are unoriginal. Bayona shows some promise as a director, but from my experience of Del Toro's work, he has a long way to go before he reaches the artistic level of his mentor. Purely as entertainment, The Orphanage is worth seeing if you like creepy supernatural thrillers, but there's not enough here in terms of art or directorial panache to make it anything more than that. 6/10

Linkables 5/4/8

I keep wanting to do some film reviews (and there are 4 or 5 I've seen but not mentioned this year), but I also want to do them justice, and I haven't been in the mood for ages. The blogging effort has been slack this month (after only just managing to average a post a day for March), so this is a nominal effort to get myself back into the mood.

Firstly Google's contribution to April Fools.

It's not really an ask.metafilter type of question (hence the deletion), but I liked some of the discussion over the greatest inventions ever.

And, moving from an ochlocracy (my new favourite word) to a meritocracy, check out AskPhilosphers for balanced answers to all of your deep questions.

On a less serious note, a cool how-much-of-your-school-knowledge-can-you-remember set of games, in particular the periodic table one, on which I did poorly.

Also, fancy remixing the new Radiohead single? And what if programming languages were boats?

Hope that tides you through the weekend.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Can't you take a joke?

So, as is traditional for this time of year, the news is full today of questionable stories, some obviously ludicrous, others less so. In particular, a clip of the penguin story on BBC breakfast this morning had me totally taken in. Looking at it now, it seems much less plausible, but the clip that was shown, combined with the early hour left the story with a sheen of believability. I realised my mistake later on (cue red face), luckily before I'd excitedly told anyone of the news.

Clearly, most of us are on our guard once we realise the date, and scrutinize each item for holes and plausibility. But what about the other 364 days of the year? Take the fake 'British style' story in the guardian. With less high profile names involved (a commission rather than the prime minister and a consultant rather than France's first lady), and the story starts to actually become believable.

Not that I'm suggesting that there are deliberate hoaxes slipped into our papers on a daily basis, but the media is certainly not the most-reputedly-honest profession in the world. There are cases all the time of figures and quotes being taken out of context, statistics being misused, and mountains made out of molehills. And yet we only really apply our internal 'bullshit-filters' properly on one day a year. Perhaps if we treated each news story like a potential hoax, we'd be taken in less often by the enticing headline, and look more carefully at the story underneath.

On a not-entirely-dissimilar, but not-really-connected note, this report on a gruesome beach discovery contains a quote from a "local female fish worker":Is there really any point in having that quote in the report. The person being interviewed clearly has no better idea than us what is going on, and it tells us nothing we didn't already learn in the article. I'm genuinely interested if there is any reason anyone can think of why such a quote would be included.

Film Review: There Will Be Blood

Usually when I review a film I like to write about it as soon after seeing the film as I can. With There Will Be Blood I am writing this about four days after seeing the film. Part of me has done this on purpose. I've done it because There Will Be Blood is a film you need to let sink in before you can start reflecting on it. And yes, with this film, four days is necessary. In fact probably more, so what I write here may still be a reaction in the process of fully forming.

There Will Be Blood is a very bold piece of cinema from start to finish. The first fifteen minutes or so of the film occur with no dialogue, the action playing out through what you can see only. By doing this, the film is basically making a statement: if you want to get the most out of it, you'd better be prepared to make a commitment to watching and paying attention. As the film clocks in at around the two-and-a-half hour mark, that's some commitment. In my opinion though, it's one that is definitely worth it.

The film's authenticity throughout is one of its greatest strengths. Although I'm far from an expert on the era in which the film is set (for the most part, the United States in the early years of 20th Century), the level of realism in terms of the setting, and the cinematography used in putting that setting across, was something that struck me from the first scene to the last. The atmosphere created is also highly effective; the film feels tense and intense even in its more relaxed scenes, which gives the film a very tangible edginess.

Another of There Will Be Blood's strengths comes from the performances within it. Paul Dano puts in a fantastic performance as both Paul and Eli Sunday (a casting choice that, although apparently having nothing more behind it than an actor pulling out of the film at a late stage and Dano filling the vacant part making the brothers identical twins, adds an intriguing potential psychological side to Paul and Eli's story if they are considered to be the same person under two separate personas. To delve into this here would be to both digress onto a tangent and give away too much of the story, so I shall leave it there). Dano's performance, particularly as Eli, creates a highly developed character with great depth, providing a volatile counterbalance to Daniel Day-Lewis' main character.

To say that Day-Lewis steals the show as Daniel Plainview is to do him an injustice - for the vast majority of the film, he is the show. The film centres around his life and dealings with those come in and out of it - Dano as Eli Sunday; his son, H.W., played ably by Dillon Freasier for the majority of the film; and businessmen from the oil companies. For the first two hours of the film you are essentially trying to work out just how Plainview's mind works; the final act provides a crescendo capped with a finale that will leave you utterly dumbfounded. Day-Lewis does not put a foot wrong throughout the film, acting with zeal and energy throughout, culminating in a marvellously overstated, and yet not overacted, final scene. His performance is surely one that will go down as one of the most memorable in cinematic history, certainly as one of the best of the 21st Century thusfar (and rivalled this year only by Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men and Tommy Lee Jones in In The Valley Of Elah - an incredibly pleasing statistic that three performances of such quality have come out of a year only three months old).

Verdict: There Will Be Blood is a pleasingly and unrelentingly cerebral epic which pretty much succeeds at everything it attempts. I'd recommend anyone planning to watch it to prepare themselves mentally and emotionally (for want of a better phrase), as this is a film that you won't enjoy because of its uplifting qualities. Instead, take in the setting, the atmosphere, the direction, the performances - most of all, Daniel Day-Lewis. Relish it for all it presents you with, and enjoy some fairly challenging, incredibly intelligent cinema. 10/10