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Media & Tech Stuff

Third Time's A Charm

In the last few years, I've learnt something - wearable technology has a long way to go.

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Garmin Vivosmart HR

After my Garmin Vivosmart bit the dust, here's my thoughts on its replacement.

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I'm Making Another Thing (25 Years Late)

My project for 2016 - but it probably should've been my project for ~1991. Read More...
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I Made A Thing.

I've been using my Pi Model-A as a simple car "radio" for nearly eighteen months now and it's required zero maintenance, apart from an occasional content update. I'd call that a success. It's simplicity is its strength, it's outlived one car already.

If there's one thing I like about the Raspberry Pi community, it's the way in which everyone shares their knowledge. For that reason, I've decided to make my RavensPi SD Card image available for others to use and abuse. All you need to get going is some audio. I've slimmed it down as much as possible and it now weighs in as a 327MB download, nearly a third of a new Wheezy image. I've also created a "Projects" page, which gives you further information on how you can customise it for your own use - and if you learn something from the experience, that can't be bad.

The standard disclaimer applies - I'm providing an image for your Pi, nothing else. If your house burns down, you're struck by a meteorite or you start thinking the Daily Mail is quality journalism, then it's not my fault. You're on your own. Don't start running life-critical systems with it, mmmkay?

You can find details on my RavensPi project here. Have fun with it - and let me know what you create with it!
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G.I.N.Y.F

Jumping the Google bandwagon…. Read More...
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Move!

My review of the Garmin Vivosmart after nearly two months of usage…. Read More...
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Lend Me Your Ears

How well do music identification apps work? I try out three different services… Read More...
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This War Of Mine

Should all games by light-hearted and fun? No, they shouldn't - here's a good example why. Read More...
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Bride Of Frankenputer

Resurrecting some old technology leads me to think about the future.... Read More...
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ST WLTM PC - GSOH Essential

Proof that some storage media isn’t as volatile as you may think. Read More...
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RavensPi

Here’s the details of my second Pi project - an MP3-based radio player that I’ve installed into my car stereo. Read More...
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Pi in the sky

As promised, my first Raspberry-Pi recipe - a completely wireless cloud-storage server. Read More...
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iPad Mini 2 (Retina)

At the time of purchasing my iPad Mini, stock was limited and purchase was by reservation only. Would I advise you to get in the queue? Read More...
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13" Macbook Air 2013

Expensive door-stop, or mobile-computing dream? Read More...
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Kindle, Schmindle

Other book-reading devices are available…. Read More...
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Mince Pi

Tenuously-titled? Surely not. Read More...
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Grimrock

Do I have a new all-time favourite game? Read More...
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Freetards

You can get always get something for nothing - but should you? Read More...
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Frankenputer

Retro-computing is nothing to be ashamed of... Read More...
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Fondleslabs

Is the “New iPad” worth an upgrade? I’ve had one for a week now, so here’s my thoughts… Read More...
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MiFi 2

A couple days before Christmas, I did something that I’ve never done before - I lost a mobile device.

The victim was my poor MiFi (previously reviewed here), which I’ve had for nearly two years. It’s a wonderful device and has provided me with cheap and reasonable internet access on the move. I don’t quite know what happened, but on my usual train, the 7.49 to Cardiff, I must have left it on the seat. On realisation, I went through the seven stages of grief and accepted that I probably wouldn’t see it again. If a commuter hasn’t got themselves an early Christmas present, I’ve pretty much lost it to First Great Western’s overly bureaucratic lost-property office.

Luckily, I had a pleasant surprise when I called my network provider to report the loss. The blocked the device and said they’d send me a new “up to date” version, as long as I carried on the contract.

…and so, twenty-four hours later, I had a shiny new MiFi in my hands. Huzzah!

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There are a few things that strike you when you first have a peek. Firstly, it’s been given a makeover. It’s like a little black pebble now, with a rather handy status screen to let you know what’s going on. Someone has also rather sensibly put a thingummybob to allow you to physically secure it to whatever you want to - which should prevent idiots like me from losing the damn things.

Perhaps the best improvements, though, are the web-based configuration interface (which means that anything that has a browser can set up the device) and the automatic connection that takes place as soon as you switch it on. Once on, it connects and fires up the WiFi within about five seconds. Simplicity is the best bit of it - It has even less buttons than its predecessor. The only other button is the one that displays the network ID and password. As before, you can connect up to five devices to it, but how much bandwidth everyone gets will depend on how good your coverage is. It seems that they’ve even thought about how to improve coverage too. Included in the box is a proper docking station which also charges the device and angles things for the best reception. Huawei seem to have considered everything.

In terms of performance, it’s said that with the addition of HSDPA, bandwidth is supposed to have massively improved over the previous iteration. Whilst it’s hard to give absolute values for this (because your coverage, network and computer might have some bearing on the performance), I averaged at least 3MB/s in good coverage 3G and city areas, and about 800KB/s in my “not to good” home area, which impresses me. There are still rural areas that don’t even get 512K lines with conventional wired broadband, let alone mobile versions. In most cases, the upload speed wasn’t too far off the download speed (tested with speedtest.net). It’s hard to say if the speed improvements are due to improved network coverage, a better antenna, or simply the HSPDA bit, but my hunch leads to me to think it’s a combination of all three. I used TuneIn Radio through my iPhone and car stereo as the test (6Music, I do wish you’d broadcast on FM!) and dropouts were very short and rare. The quality of connection seems to have improved.

If you’re using the device without its charger, then battery life will depend upon how much you hammer it. From full-battery to empty, you should get 6+ hours of continuous use. However, I’m just charging mine up again after a few weeks of slightly more intermittent use (about 20 mins/day). It’s got a standard USB connector if you want to charge it up on the go.

Do I recommend getting one of these? Of course I do. It’s damn good way of having mobile data, miles better than those awful USB stick affairs - and you can share it, too. Lots of small improvements have been made in every area, showing that a lot of thought has gone into the revamp. Setup is simpler, connection is simpler and the speed is better. I have to say that it’s seriously impressed me. If you’ve got an iPad, laptop or equivalent, you could do a lot worse than buy one.

Now I just need to make sure that I don’t lose this one.
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Cold Turkey

Cold turkey can be:

- In your sandwich.
- A term used when weaning yourself off something that’s probably bad.

Here, I discuss both…. Read More...
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The Mix-Tape

If ever there was a post that’s taken me ages to write, it’s this one. Still, at least you get a bit of music whilst you read... Read More...
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Comfortably numb

Some ramblings on my personal experience of jailbreaking my iPhone. You may fall asleep reading this, or you may get very angry. This article is like blog Marmite. Read More...
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Paradigm-shifts and revolutions.

In this article I try to write about a computing device in a complementary manner, whilst trying to avoid as many cliches as possible. Let the twisty-turny word-slalom thing begin. Read More...
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MiFi - A real test.

You might have noticed a few posts ago that I made reference to my new little gadget - the MiFi. Whilst I gave something that resembled a review, the one thing I hadn’t done was an extensive real-world test. Is the coverage any good? What are the data-speeds like? What about battery-life? Would I recommend it as a purchase to anyone else?

I decided that a more thorough test was required and after a bit of deliberation, I thought of a simple one - streaming audio, set up using:

  • One car.
  • One car-stereo.
  • One MiFi.
  • One iPhone/iPod-Touch - with last.fm installed upon it.

I’d stream a channel through last-fm over WiFi using the MiFi unit. As I drive along, I get a good idea of how coverage is sustained, as well as whether transfer rates over the journey are useable.

My journey covered approximately 55 miles and was a mixture of city, town, dual-carriageway and rural driving. So how did it fare?

  • Of the 55 miles, the connection was held for approximately 65% of the journey. What was rather good was that the gap was pretty much in one chunk (more or less, about 15 miles or so). Over this stretch, there was no network coverage whatsoever.
  • The connection whilst in the city was maintained - but very slow. I suspect this was a capacity issue. Data transfer speeds were really low and the iPod continually had to buffer the connection - evidently the problem of shared bandwidth in a built-up area.
  • For the latter part of the journey speeds were good and audio continued all the way to home, resulting in a very short gap over the 35 minute stretch. This was particularly impressive given that this section of the drive was fairly rural.
  • I repeated the drive for a couple of days and didn’t recharge the battery. I’d guess that working hard, you’ll get about five hours from the lithium-polymer battery. It does get rather warm when it’s busy for a continued period of time, but not dangerously so.
  • As a guess, I’d say that streaming audio uses about 1MB/min. I’ve streamed about 10hrs of audio this week and reckon that it’s used about 550MB of my allowance.

The device is nice and simple to use, my only grizzle being that it doesn’t always automatically reconnect as quickly as it should if a disconnect happens.

Would I recommend it? That depends. If you live in a highly built-up area and want to use it in a static location, then possibly not. It would appear that 3 have either throttled the bandwidth significantly, or they have serious capacity issues. This would probably result in you tearing your hair out when using it for sustained periods. Of course, the same would be true if you live in an extremely remote area - you’ll probably find that your coverage just isn’t good enough. There’s always a significant degree of variance between coverage checkers and reality, so you may need to look at them in a more pessimistic light to get a true reflection of the MiFi’s capabilities.

However, if you’re looking for something that provides reasonable coverage for those ad-hoc situations where you require internet access, or you happen to live in a smaller town, you’ll probably find that it doesn’t do a bad job at all. Lightning fast broadband this ain’t, but it’s more than adequate for web-browsing, low-bandwidth streaming and the odd download - just don’t push your luck with anything as hungry as iPlayer.

Is this ready to replace your fixed-line broadband? The answer is “maybe”.
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Diary Of The Dead

Plot overview: Dead people return to life and start to kill off the rest of the planet. A student film crew go on the run from the undead hordes and record their experiences. More comparisons to the Blair Witch Project again, anyone?

Who's in it?: Mostly dead people. I'm not good with names - and to be honest with you, in this film it's not really of any consequence as to who plays what. And those that aren't dead probably will be dead eventually. Hell, you don't watch zombie movies for superlative acting. If you do, you've probably missed the point.

Is it any good?: Despite the obvious comparisons that are to be made with Cloverfield or Blair Witch, this film had potential. George Romero's track record on his previous zombie films has been reasonable, so I was hopeful of good things. What I actually got was a lot of people doing annoying stuff just like in Blair Witch, combined with cliched characters and a hint of oddness.

Should I go and see it?: I really don't know. When I first found out this film was coming, I was really enthusiastic to see it and even watched Dawn of the Dead (remix) just before to get me in the mood. I was disappointed by Diary Of The Dead. Whilst nobody expects good acting in these sort of films, some of it was just plain terrible. Combine that with my wanting to scream at the stupidity of the main characters and I felt somewhat unfulfilled.

The film should have built up to a crescendo, which ultimately results in the survival (or undeath) of the main characters. Without giving away any of the plot, all I can say is that I came away with questions and a big "mneh" feeling. The film had so much potential, but it's not been realised - and it's not like the director hasn't had enough practice at zombie movies to get it right. For all it's attempts on social commentary on the media society, it's forgotten something - it's forgotten how not to be a mediocre film, when many others have done the handycam thing so much better. Ho hum. (2.5/5)

Other reviews: Here, here and here.
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There Will Be Blood

Plot overview: The rise and fall of an oil tycoon in the late 19th/early 20th century, along with the relationship between his son and everyone else around him.

Who's in it?: Daniel Day-Lewis is the main man, in more ways than one - he's amazingly good, even if he does sound a bit like a certain someone from The Matrix.

Is it any good?: The first twenty minutes or so has no dialogue in it whatsoever. This doesn't mean that you won't know what's going on. You'll feel the pain of his initial prospecting and the struggle he goes through. Likewise, the last 10 minutes has some of the greatest dialogue that I've heard for years and equally, you'll love it. The film score is wonderful. The eery sound used at the beginning of the film is enough to make you feel ill. Day-Lewis puts in an amazing performance througout, although that's not to say that anyone else doesn't do well. Honourable mention should also be given to Paul Dano, who is Eli the preacher, the man with the stranglehold over the local community.

Should I go and see it?: Yes. And if you don't like it, you're either mentally deficient or a communist. There's a lot going on and you'll need to concentrate, but the pay-off will be worth it. Everyone in the film is deeply symbolic, representative of love, greed, ethics, family, religion and much more besides. This will be remembered as one of the greatest films of all time and is certainly one of the best things I've seen for about three or four years.

Have I gushed enough about it yet? (5/5)

Other reviews: Here, here and here.
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Cloverfield

Plot overview: A New York twenty-somethings leaving-party gets ruined by a giant monster that attacks Manhattan. As the ground shakes, people go onto the street, chaos ensues, buildings get flattened, lives are lost and the Statue of Liberty becomes detached from her head. Some of the initial scenes that depict building destruction may be too close to 9/11 for comfort.

The military drop in - and admit that they're losing. In the meantime, ordinary people are running very quickly to get out of Manhattan before things get nastier. The central group of four that we're introduced to during the party mount a rescue operation for a girlfriend, and as the chaos unravels it's all caught on a shaky handycam - and boy, is it shaky. If you suffer from motion-sickness, this is probably going to make you feel ill.

Who's in it?: I'm not good with names and faces, but the cast list did look like a list of relative unknowns - and for a film such as this, that was a good thing. You won't be distracted by a big name attempting some heroics or something out of character. Why the monster is here, you don't know - but that's not the point. The film is about ordinary people trying to escape a major disaster, but despite its subject matter it will still amuse. Indeed, as we learn more about the guy who spends the majority of his time holding the camera, we find that despite the awful situation the group face, things can still be funny. I found myself chuckling occasionally - and that's not because I'm some sick puppy.

Is it any good?: The first twenty or so minutes act as a fairly pedestrian introduction to the characters that you'll be following, whereas when the action hits, it's relentless and doesn't give up right up to the end. Whilst the film is actually just under an hour and a half long, you'll feel like you've sat in on something that's more like 2+ hours. Keeping up with the action will make you feel tired with all that's going on - and there's a lot going on.

On another note, the film seems to tease you with regards to how much of the monster it shows. Initially you might just see a bit of leg, then a bit more - until you get to the full sight of the beast at the end. Only then do you start to realise the full scale of the thing - it's huge.

Should I go and see it?: Oh yes, you should. This is the sort of stuff that cinema is for - and you might just drop your popcorn every so often. The film appears to be a cludge between Gozilla, Blair Witch, Alien and Independance Day, but possibly I'm doing the movie a big injustice by saying that because retrospectively, The Blair Witch Project got on my nerves. This certainly didn't - and I might even go and see it again. (4/5)

Other reviews: Here, here and here.
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Sweeney Todd

As you'll have seen from my previous post, I was duty bound to see this film. I guess that now means I'm duty bound to review it.

Plot overview:
Set in 19th century London, the story features Benjamin Barker the barber (say that after a drink or two) who seeks revenge on the judge who sent him away for fifteen years - robbing him of his wife and daughter. Barker sets up business as Sweeney Todd the Barber, situated above a pie shop. It's not long before an unholy alliance is made and the bodies from his kills turn into pie-filling.

Who's in it?: Mr Depp is Benjamin Barker, Helena Bonham Carter is Mrs Lovett the pie-shop owner and Alan Rickman is the evil judge. Add in Sacha Baron Cohen for a bit of randomness and you've got quite an impressive cast.

Is it any good?: My partner, who had been gagging to see this film came out feeling a bit let-down, saying that the music score was at times inappropriately over-dramatic to the point of annoyance. The guy sat to my left fell asleep during the film and snored. That's hardly a good start and I'm not a musical sort of person, but I managed to get to the end without feeling my life had been robbed of a couple of hours, which is quite an achievement. Even more of a surprise is that Johnny Depp can actually sing. It's just a shame that he can't do a British accent very well. In Pirates of the Caribbean he sounded like Keith Richards, but in Sweeney Dodd he sounds like David Bowie. Helena Bonham Carter does a pretty good job of being the piemeister, but I'm not entirely sure she was as sordid for the part as we're led to believe she should be. There's plenty of CGI in there too, which generally succeeds in making 19th Century London look downright grey and awful.

Should I go and see it?: It's an interesting notion to see a film that combines music humour with blood, gushing at times as per Kill Bill, but it gets away with it. It's an 18 certificate - and deservedly so. If you're squeamish, don't see it. If you like laughs with your body count, do. (3.5/5)

Other reviews: Here, here and here.
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No Country For Old Men

Plot overview: Whilst out hunting antelope, a Texan man finds two million dollars, a pick-up truck full of drugs and an assortment of dead people. Do you call the police, or take the money and run? Well, it would be a very short film if he did the former, so as you might have gathered, he takes the money and runs - but he doesn't realise there's a tracking device in the money-case. After not too long, he's being hunted down by a man who can only be described as the embodiment of the pure evil. Oh - and the police eventually discover the bodies, but they're not really the ones you need to be scared of. The film develops into a chase, with guns. Lots of guns. The body count is quite high.

Who's in it?: If I'm honest about it, it's only Tommy Lee Jones (who's the sheriff) that I could identify. Don't let that put you off, though. The acting is superb and the cast are well selected.

Is it any good?: I went to a preview screening with my partner. I generally enjoyed it, despite a few flaws, but my partner really didn't like it at all. I now have to watch Sweeney Todd with her by way of an apology - make of that what you will. So as I'm the one writing the review, I'll recommend it. The film is bleak, very bleak indeed. The dusty Texan landscape, the western-esque parallels and the nutjob who kills with a gas cylinder - they're all there. The film does have some minor flaws (which I shan't elaborate on, as they'd be big spoilers), but generally it's well executed throughout. Chigurgh (our psychotic nemesis) tosses coins to decide the fate of people's lives, the sheriff and his colleague seem to bumble their way from day to day and the body count of Mexicans piles up. Perhaps there's an analogy there somehow.

Should I go and see it?: To me, this film as more of a modern-day western. If that sort of thing floats your boat, then perhaps you should go and get your film of dust, guns and fine-talkin' - with the odd bit of humour thrown in. The film has been nominated for a good few awards - and I can see why. I'll be surprised if it doesn't come away with something. (4.5/5)

Other reviews: Here, here and here.
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I Am Legend

Plot overview: The film commences with a smug Emma Thompson, telling the world that a cure for cancer has been found - and the next thing you know, the majority of the world's population has been wiped out by a virus called KV. That's with the exception of Will Smith of course, because when he's not playing golf on an aircraft carrier or talking to shop dummies or hunting deer, he's trying to find a cure for the disease in his laboratory back at home in Manhattan.

Who's in it?: The cast is not particularly extensive in this film. Will Smith. And a dog. The dog deserves an Oscar. Will Smith doesn't.

Is it any good?: If there's one thing that you can't fail to be impressed with, it's the cinematography. Maybe I'm easily impressed, but it's quite a sight to see an area such as Manhattan completely empty, bar one man who's hunting deer. The problem is that the nature of film means you immediately draw comparisons with other films such as 28 Days/Weeks later. In fact, with an abandoned city and raging hordes of nasties coming out at night, this film could have easily been called 2.8 Years Later - but it was a few years too late for that. The first 60 or so minutes of the film are generally pretty good, with Will Smith (and dog) pottering around, along with momentary flashbacks to before mankind's annihilation. It's only when the nasties (which are very evidently CGI generated) come into play that the wheels fall off a bit, resulting in the last 10 minutes lacking all credibility - which is a shame, because it had potential.

Should I go and see it?: If you can ignore the faults, then go ahead. The story still has bits that make you laugh and cry, meaning that for all its issues it's still worth seeing - even if it's just for the visual splendour. (3.5/5)

Other reviews: Here, here and here.
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American Gangster

Plot overview: A story set in the late 1960's/early 1970's in Harlem, about a guy who masterminds a huge drug network. People get killed, there are lots of bad hairstyles and you'll get quite used to seeing people shooting up. Drugs, nakedness, guns and bad language will be rife - but then, you can't say you were really surprised, can you? As a contrast, Frank Lucas the boss lives a lie in his big house, entertaining family and taking his mother to church. Nice.

Who's in it?: Denzel Washington plays the bad guy, Frank Lucas and Russell Crowe plays the whiter-than-white (no pun intended) federal investigator. Perhaps I have a bad memory, but it's a pleasant change to see Washington play "the baddie".

Is it any good?: It's certainly one of the better films of this year, but at over two and a half hours you might get a numb bum. It's certainly not dull, though. Russell Crowe actually shows that he can play the part of someone who isn't annoying and Washington will probably be Oscar nominated for his performance - he plays the cold-hearted villain exceedingly well. The story essentially tracks the building of Frank Lucas's empire and a single investigator's efforts to stop him - despite his own agency being totally corrupt.

Should I go and see it?: Oh yes, you should. It's a well-made film that tells a story. I normally hate that "based on a true story" shit, but this one works - with the only superfluous part being a sub-story relating to the federal agent's custody battle for his son. Otherwise, this film has restored some of my faith in American film, which recently had been somewhat failing. Hurrah for Ridley Scott.

Other reviews: Here, here and here.
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Eastern Promises

Plot overview: Pregnant Russian teenager dies in London hospital. Midwife finds her diary and tries to reunite baby with the teenager's family. Russian Mafia stuff ensues. People die. Blood happens. Intrigue is rife.

Who's in it?: Viggo Mortensen - You'll remember him from A History Of Violence. He was rather jolly good in it - and he's rather jolly good in this too.

Is it any good?: Hell, yeah. It doesn't have the same "wow" factor as A History Of Violence, but it's still a well written story that has some amazing moments. Probably one of the key pivotal moments is where a Mafia chappie has a naked fight with two fully-clothed Chechens in a steam room. They are both armed with knives - and the realism of the situation will make you will truly cringe. There's some good twisty-turny plot stuff in there. The film makes East London look an unpleasant and grotty place (which largely, it is) and it doesn't do much for the image of Russian men (which it largely portrays as alcoholics and womanisers). I don't remember seeing a gratuitous shot of a top London landmark in there either. Perhaps for that reason I should nominate it as one of the best films for the year.

Should I go and see it?: Most certainly you should. I'd even recommend that you sell at least one parent into slavery to watch it. Two parents might be pushing it, though - only films of a special calibre merit that. I'd watch this ten times in a row instead of having to watch any of the Pirates Of The Caribbean films just once. That says something. Mr Cronenberg has done a rather good job.

Other reviews: Here, here and here.
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30 Days Of Night

Plot overview: An Alaskan town that's in the middle of nowhere gets invaded by vampires who decide to take advantage of the dark spell and go on a killing spree, taking out the majority of the town's inhabitants and doing the sucky-sucky blood thing.

Who's in it?: God knows. Ugly people with pointy teeth?

Is it any good?: The film is built on a fairly promising premise. It's slickly presented and the gore doesn't relent. When people get munched, boy, you know it. The same also goes for the deaths of the vampires, who share the same splattering when their head is parted from their body. In previous vampire films, they've always been presented as well coiffured individuals who have a tad of gothic-eroticism to them - no chance of that here - they're complete bloodthirsty munters. The story primarily deals with the final survivors, holed-up in a loft, trying to survive until daylight arrives on day 30. However, despite it's presentation and concept, the problem is that for a film that is so dependant on time (i.e. surviving the 30 days), it felt like there was no passage at all and that actually the story was jumping from "Day x" to "Day x+5" to "Day x+a bit more". I really wasn't feeling the 30-day thing. Still, if you like your gore, you'll enjoy it to some degree. Oh, and there's subtitles throughout the film, as the vampires are talking something that sounds like it's trying to mimic an Eastern-European language. Homage to Romanian, perhaps?

Should I go and see it?: That depends. If you're held at gun-point to see a horror film and somebody mentions Saw 4 this could be a better alternative, especially as there's rumours that a Saw 5 and 6 are coming too, god-forbid. It's certainly an interesting and entertaining movie, but you may find yourself like me, nearly shouting at the screen because of it's shortcomings - and hell, we all know our vampire-law, right?

Other reviews: Here, here and here.
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Guilty Pleasures

Today I ended up playing one of those musical games. You know the one - the "guess the artist and track" game. Many of the random tracks played were truly awful, but at the same time strangely enjoyable.

This is the world of Guilty Pleasures - the sort of stuff you know is pure unadulterated cheese, but can't help but enjoy.

Here's my starting list:

1) Kylie Minogue - Can't Get You Out Of My Head. (*link*)
2) Electric Six - Gay bar. (*link*)
3) Big Bass vs Michelle Narine - What you do. (*link*)
4) The Bucketheads - The Bomb! (*link*)
5) Daft Punk & Stardust - Music Sounds Better With You. (*link*)
6) E.L.O. - Mr Blue Sky. (*link*)

If you haven't heard any of the tracks, shame on you - click on the link to have short listen, courtesy of last.fm.

I'll leave you to hypothesise for youself why these are on my list, but in the meantime I'm sure you have some of your own - you just haven't confessed yet.
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Black Sheep

I mention psycho sheep - and then this comes along. Coincidence? Read More...
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Wiggle It

After being a Playstation person for years, Mr D defects to a Wii. Was it worth it? Read More...
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Too long, too gay, too annoying.

I went and saw my dad tonight. Everyone was watching the last of the Lord of the Rings movies on the telly. As I watched with them, three things crossed my mind.

  1. This film is about half an hour too long. That crap at the end wasn't necessary. It's over-sentimental shite.
  2. There's some homoerotic thing going on between Frodo and Sam - kisses on the forehead, synchronised laughs, lingering hugs and romantic fantasising of life together back in The Shire. All that stuff that Sam says about Rosie is nothing but an elaborate facade.
  3. Stop doing the lingering two-second shots on the ring, for God's sake - we know what it is, now just toss it into the lava and be done with.

I'm sure I didn't imagine the homoeroticism - I don't remember that the first time I saw the film, or indeed when I read the book. Looking at it now, I don't know how I missed it. I remember point one though, my arse went numb in the cinema. It's interesting what you see when you watch a film second-time around.
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Disposable

I'm not as much of a music fan as I used to be... care to find out why? Read More...
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Run Fatboy, Run

Plot overview: Bloke leaves pregnant bride at the altar. Several years later, bloke wants to get back together with jilted bride. Attempts to run marathon to prove commitment. Hilarity ensues.

Who's in it?: Simon Pegg and Dylan Moran are worthy of mention. There's also a token appearance by Stephan Marchant and David Walliams.

Is it any good?: Well, it passes the Mark Kermode "five laugh" test, so it's amusing, but you won't be breaking ribs on it. Simon Pegg definitely has made a name for himself as a comedy actor. The plot, however, is totally formulaic and his jilted bride seems somewhat unlikely and is as wet as a diver's pants. Fans of bodily-fluid based gags will find a laugh or two in there. Simon Pegg really isn't a fat-boy, though - perhaps I should have starred in it.

Should I go and see it?: I wouldn't recommend that you sell your parents into slavery to watch it, but it's definitely a suitable accompaniment to ice-cream and popcorn.

Other reviews: Here, here and here.
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The Bourne Ultimatum

I am probably not the best person to write a review of this film... Read More...
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The Simpsons Movie

Like a moth to a bright light I decided to join the masses and watch it. You can't talk about a film like this for pages, so here's the shortest summary you're likely to get.

Story: Springfield becomes so polluted that the American government decided to separate the town from the outside world. The film starts in a similar manner to the TV show and makes use of virtually every Springfield resident during it's run-time.

Length: About an hour and a half. It appears someone finally understands how long a film should be.

Funny?:
I reckon I was chuckling every 15 seconds or so. The jokes keep coming and most of the viewers in the cinema sounded happy.

Worth watching:
Definitely. A rare moment where a film with a huge build-up to release is actually worth watching.

Other review links: IMDB / FilmFour / Times-Online
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Zodiac

"There's more than one way to lose your life to a killer" - Very aptly demonstrated by this film... Read More...
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Running Mates

A while back when I started running, I started to look through my music collection to dig out tracks that actually helped you run. Here's the result of the first sweep of my music library. I've got 3,000+ tracks, so this will undoubtedly change a fair bit over time.

The thing you have to bear in mind here is that these are not the best tracks of all time, they merely keep you going (no, smart-arse - they don't move your legs for you). The tracks have a bit of energy and/or something with a tempo or identifiable beat that you can match your pace to. So, for example E.L.O.'s Mr Blue Sky has that amazing orchestral back-beat. It works a treat, believe me. Running is pretty boring stuff, so the right music makes all the difference.

Anyway, here's a copy of the playlist widget below - I'll also be keeping it in my "Music?" tab at the top, so you open it as and when you feel like it. There's also a nifty little icon on the bottom right that lets you expand the widget into it's own window. You can also click on each track for a 30-second preview.

Somethings working, anyway - I knocked ~40 seconds off my previous 5k time. (Best to date is now 33:56)


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Magicians

Following on from the genius that is Peep Show, can Mitchell and Webb do a great film? Read More...
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28 Weeks Later (2)

So, if you remember me having a little rant about this at the end of last year, you'll see that I wasn't entirely for the idea of this sequel. Nonetheless, like a moth to a bright light I went and saw it. Was it worth it? Read More...
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Last.fm

The Web 2.0 moniker is something that's being banded around a little too freely at the moment, but that's not to say there's not a few good offerings out there. My favourite of the moment is probably Last.fm. If you've heard me go on about Pandora before, then you'll know where I'm coming from, as this could be placed within the same category.

The principle is fairly simple - you download a little piece of client software, which runs like an internet radio station. You give it the name of something you like as a starting point and it quaintly "scrobbles" around and tries to suggest things that you might also like. You can't ever specifically name a track you want to hear (this probably has something to do with playing rights and royalties) - well, unless you want to pay a little fee, the paltry sum of £1.50 per month.

If you hate tracks, you can ban them from being played again. If you love them, add them to your favourites list - it's simple.It's a good way of identifying what you love and hate. On top of that, though, you can keyword tracks. For example, you might think a track is particularly good to use when running or driving and can keyword it as such - a bit like the way del.icio.us works. This means that you can build up a list of good running music, or driving music - and then recommend those key-worded playlists to the rest of the world.

The site is free, easy to use and has introduced me to some new music, which is a good thing, 'coz I listen to loads of the stuff. You don't really have much to lose.
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Sunshine

Is it all style over substance? Maybe. Maybe not. Read More...
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The Science Of Sleep

A random film in French with English subtitles, or English with French bits? Read More...
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Notes On A Scandal

Judi Dench plays an acidic battle-axe - but I quite liked her... Read More...
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Go on, prove me wrong.

Do all video-rental places predominantly stock crap? Read More...
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Hot Fuzz

After Shaun Of The Dead, has Simon Pegg done it again? Oh yes! Read More...
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The Last King Of Scotland

A story of lies, genocide and flatulence. Read More...
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Deja Vu

Denzel Washington plays one those serious investigator types in this film about time-travel. Have we seen it all before? Quite possibly. Read More...
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Pan's Labyrinth

A Spanish film (subtitled), set during the Spanish Civil War. The story cleverly flips between the activities of both sides during the conflict, whilst also telling the tale of the encounters between a young girl who still firmly believes in fairy stories and "The Faun" - a strange animal that appears as half-tree, half-goat (it's probably not, but that's how it appears to me), discovered in a labyrinth near her makeshift home. With all the death and destruction running through the film, you wonder if it's only the girl's belief in fairy tales that keeps her going.

It's another one of those. It's good and enjoyable, but it's not "nice". The director has not held back from showing the unpleasantness of war (on both sides), nor is the outcome pleasant, but there's plenty in there to keep you going and the running time (about two hours) did not make it feel like an epic.

This has been touted by many as the film of the year. Is it? Well, it's certainly well made and tells a great story, but this is where I'm not sure. It all comes down to what sort of film you like. At the moment, I'm still feeling that Children of Men is the best so far this year, but this one comes mighty close. It's well put together - you won't be punished for faltering concentration on the subtitles. It's definitely one to go and see.

Filmfour link: (*clicky*)
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Jackass Number 2

After all I've been saying about the recent decline in film quality, I go and see this.

I mean:

- It's not really got a plot.
- There's not a hint of acting in here.

So, why did I do it?

Well, the simple answer is, because it has no pretence of anything more. Watching Jackass is like reading The Sun. Nobody of sound mind actually thinks that The Sun is a deep, meaningful, quality journal full of comment and analysis - but at least it knows it.

Jackass is similar - it's pure objective is to make you laugh by any means possible.

Anyone familiar with the first film or who has watched the T.V. program will be familiar with the format. It's simply an hour and a half of the same. Several American nutters try to do stupid stunts. Examples in the film include:

- Filling a hallway with ice and skiing down the stairs.
- Strapping somebody to a rocket, exactly a la Wile E. Coyote style and seeing where it goes.
- Sitting on a firehose like a rodeo bull.

It's pure, simple, unadulterated, laugh out loud stupid stuff - the sort of thing where we've all thought, "What would happen if...?". The difference between this and Borat is that it merely aims to amuse, but not at the expense of others, which makes it a far funnier film because the cast merely seek to ridicule each other.

Leave your brain at home, never look at a horse in the same way again and laugh your arse off at the same time. There's worse you could do.

Filmfour review: (*clicky*)
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The Prestige

This is a film set in Victorian London with a plot revolving around two magicians who are trying their best to outwit each other. A simple idea, with a very twisty-turny story.

It's an interesting film with tricks that get more amazing as the film progresses - and each magician tries their best to increase the "wow" factor. Sabotage is no stranger to their acts, though, as many a time the arch-enemy will plant a member of the audience who can wreck the trick. Michael Caine plays yet another good supporting role (he seems to have had a good year) and the two magicians (Christian Bale / Hugh Jackman) do a great job of hating each other, to the point of turning bitter and twisted beyond belief.

The set and surroundings are marvellous and is combined with an excellent story. The plot goes through several twists and turns (I lost count) to the point that if someone told me that the magicians were actually badgers from Dimension X, I would have believed them.

I've given very little away, but maybe that's the best way to do it - after all, magicians don't give away their secrets, do they? This is worth watching. It's a film that to my knowledge hasn't had much publicity, but that doesn't mean it's a bad'un - you'll be pleasantly surprised.

As usual, FilmFour review here: *clicky*
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Borat

Whilst seeing other films, I saw the trailers for this. From what I saw, I wasn't that impressed or compelled to go watch it, until I read my usually trusty FilmFour review (*clicky*) which appeared to be waxing evangelically about the film and finally convinced me to go watch it this evening.

I should really trust my own judgement more in future.

The film has had the nuts hyped off it - Kazakh guy arrives in U.S. to attempt to investigate culture, make a documentary and take his findings back to his home country. You know that much. There's also the press who have lept on this, saying that the Kazakhstan government weren't happy and some Americans weren't overly happy either.

To be honest, I think I'd be least happy if I was Jewish. Yes, I know Sacha Baron Cohen's Jewish, but that doesn't make it right.

Borat describes how in his home town, they have the "Jewish Run", which is akin to a bull-run, but with figures in overly large "It's a knockout", style costumes. When in America, Borat and his companion run away in the middle of the night from a Jewish couple who run a B&B, as he thinks they have transformed into woodlice. He portrays the Jewish as money-grabbing, evil scumbags. Some of the "humour" in my opinion is just on the wrong side of the infamous line, making a joke seem someone ill-placed.

That's not to say that the film won't make you laugh, as there's plenty of other things in there to chuckle at - he winds up so many people - Pamela Anderson, members of the public, feminist groups, government ministers, the list goes on. There are also the amusing random moments such as his encounter on the subway, session with a prostitute and lesson with a driving instructor. There's no doubt that he has comic timing.

However, when FilmFour state that this is,"The funniest film imaginable right now", this is not advocating how good the film really is, but more of an indictment on how poor the humour in most modern film is. We really have descended to the lowest common denominator. Whilst they give the film 5/5, I would be somewhat less generous, at a 3.

Maybe I don't get it, or maybe I've got too PC for my own good. A good chunk of the auditorium laughed it's ass off. Or maybe my sense of humour has just grown up.
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The Departed

An American film that doesn't shy away from foul language, gun culture and organised crime. Whilst it's not entirely my favourite genre (Pulp Fiction excepted), I shan't complain as it was a cheapie, courtesy of good 'ol Orange Wednesdays.

The story revolves around an investigation by special police into an organised crime group. However:

One of the investigators is actually a mole, supplying information to the mobsters.
One of the mobsters is actually an undercover policeman....

...and there we have it. Once the scene is set, there's about an hour and a half of cat'n'mouse antics, but with guns.

Jack Nicholson (as usual) plays the larger than life and somewhat evil head mobster, Leonardo DiCaprio the undercover cop and Matt Demon is the corrupt investigator. With Scorsese directing, that's a lot of big names, but does it work?

Well, the answer is a "yes", but the ending just felt a little too clinical and final for me. It has enough twisty-turny stuff to keep you going and in a Pulp Fiction style, even the most awful of things (usually involving splattered body parts) will make you chuckle. You could see an awful lot worse on a rainy Wednesday night.

The film is a remake of the Asian original, Infernal Affairs. As most comparisons between Asian films and their remakes tend to show the original in a better light, I'm now curious as to what the Hong Kong original is actually like.

Filmfour review here. (*clicky*)
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The History Boys

It's the story of a bunch of boys being coached in order to gain entry to Oxbridge. Hmmmm. Go on, tell me - you're bored already?

It's nice to be proved wrong. A BBC film set in 1983, it does a very good job of setting the scene, as a load of rowdy A-Level students get their results to the sounds of The Smiths ("This charming man"). The high-flying students are told that in order to get the best chances of success into Oxbridge, they'll do an extra term of study. The headmaster (a weasel of a guy) gets a new teacher in and the story revolves around the experiences of the boys with the teachers in their attempts to produce "rounded individuals" that will do well.

Still not convinced it's a good one? I'll continue.

The key to the entire film is the excellent scripting and casting - each of the boys has their own distinct thread in the story, combined with their motivations as to why they want to gain entry to Oxbridge. The teachers are not exempt either, with the likes of Richard Griffiths, who brilliantly plays a teacher that can't keep his hands to himself. The scripting is such that one entire scene is conducted in French, but the quality is such that even if you didn't understand a word, you'd still know what was going on - and find it amusing.

And maybe that's the final point - it has funny highs and saddening lows, although perhaps only a teacher would be able to tell you as to whether any of the sentiment conveyed is remotely realistic. It's an intelligent film - but it doesn't beat it's chest to tell you.

Anyway, it's another one to go see. British film has done pretty well this year, with a few worthwhile entries. As usual, the FilmFour review is here. (*clicky*)
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Clerks 2

Take brain, put in dustbin - that way, you'll find it easier to enjoy the film.

It's pretty much like all those other films you saw back in the late eighties and early nineties, such as Bill & Ted and Waynes World, apart from the fact that this one actually has a dialogue that really makes you laugh out loud. Like the first film, it's a pretty low budget affair, but that's part of the appeal. The focus is definitely the script, not the action or special effects - exactly where it should be.

It's the story of two thirysomethings in a dead end McJob, who talk crap all day - subject matter includes Lord of the Rings vs Star Wars, Helen Keller and Anne Frank, "interspecies erotica" and why the Transformers are a gift from god. It's basic humour and it knows it - but somehow the writers have got away with ridiculing every single taboo. You'll probably laugh nonetheless, even though you know you probably shouldn't. And it's all rounded off nicely by the familiar sight of Jay and Silent Bob... This film was better than I thought it was going to be.

Oh and I haven't watched the original Clerks yet, so I can't tell you if this one is better or worse than the original.... but I will, don't worry.

Filmfour review here: (*clicky*)
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Children Of Men

Today's word is: dystopian. Say it slowly now. Dis-toe-pee-en.

There seems to be a trend to my film-watching. This year, I think I've watched three or so films that take a grim view of our future. Here's another.

Set in London, it's 2027 and the world has changed. The last child was born in 2009. Mankind has become infertile. The story starts with the mourning of the youngest person in the world dying at the age of 18. Without children, so many things have taken a turn for the worst. Disasters have happened in so many other countries (such as Russian pushing the nuclear button on Kazakhstan) and Britain is a military state that revels in it's island status. There's propaganda everywhere - "Britain Soldiers On". Policy has changed so that all refugees are shipped back out of the country or put in the equivalent of British concentration camps. This doesn't really do Bexhill on Sea any favours. All the meanwhile, there's terrorism from "The Fish", who are trying to instigate an uprising, because they believe that humanity has a future elsewhere and the population is dwindling. Things really are quite bleak and London is plain dirty - full of smog, rubbish and graffiti.

You wonder if there's something in here that's also trying to be damning or prophetic about our immigration policy.

Hope comes along in the form of a pregnant woman and the story turns into a modern-day nativity, except it's set to a backdrop of a war-zone that is Bexhill. The war scenes, if I can use such a phrase are powerful and the camera work is startlingly close. It made me wonder if that's what the current situation in Iraq is like. Who knows.

The film does a very good job of showing one possibility for the future of Britain. It's slightly sci-fi, but in a discrete way. Cars and computers have moved on, but the smog hasn't. Michael Caine gets the best part I've seen him do in ages, playing an ageing hippie who grows and sells his own dope. The film keeps you guessing, has emotion, plot and is well written, along with having good camerawork. The bleak environment occasionally makes you think of 28 Days Later, but believe it or not, there's humour there too. I'd rate this as probably the best film I've seen this year so far and I'd even happily watch it again - a rare accolade. Go see.

Filmfour review. (*clicky*)
Trailer. (*clicky*)
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Severence

It's not a new story, a group of people in a house being preyed upon by something "in the woods" - but this has been done rather well.

The group of people are all employees of a company that manufactures arms (Palisades Defence), who head to somewhere in Eastern Europe on a team building exercise by coach. Whilst on the journey, the team encounter a blocked road and the Hungarian coach driver refuses to take them any further - resulting in them having to make their own way to their "luxury villa"... and this is where the fun starts.

It would be a shame to give much away, but the film successfully combines horror and comedy. That's not to say that when the horror comes, you don't jump and go "ewwwww" a lot - because you will. This film can be categorised along with Shaun of the Dead as another British horror success. Go see it.
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A Scanner Darkly

Weird one this - is it a film that's just computer animated, or have they just computer treated conventional film? Who knows. I'd make a guess on the latter.

Anyway, it's a film set a few years in the future in the USA, where the war on terror appears to have merged with the war on everything else, drugs included. The drug of choice is "Substance D", which is made from a little blue flower - and this is where our story steps in, revolving around a household of three guys who share a common addiction to "D". The war on drugs means that Americans have pretty much given up their rights and are under surveillance, the household included, although the interesting thing is that one of the guys in the household happens to be an under-cover drugs investigator, who bizarrely enough has to monitor his own house.

The housemates fall into the right cranky stereotypes - there's the philosopher who feels he knows everything about everything and there's the blond space-case who knows close to nothing, but despite being a film about addiction still has a good dose of humour.

The film covers police corruption, sex, drugs, politics and conspiracy theories. They're all there in good helpings.

Is it a good film? Hmmm, well, it's not bad. It's not the best thing you'll see, but it's certainly the best of what's around at the moment. And for once Keanu Reeves doesn't seem to be acting in too wooden a style, which makes for a change. His acting in the Matrix Sequels was awful. Anyway, check it out - if for nothing else, check it out for the presentation and the fact that it's actually got a plot, which in recent films has been somewhat missing. It's presentation will no doubt ensure cult status.

IMDB Link (*clicky*)
FilmFour Review (*clicky*)
Official Site (*clicky*)

Footnote: I was right(ish) - a technique called interpolated rotoscoping is used to make the film look like it does.
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Pirates Of The Caribbean 2

I had the misfortune of going to see this film today and all I can say is this:

DO NOT WATCH THIS FILM. YOU WILL FEEL CHEAP AND DIRTY IN THE MORNING.

It has no plot, runs for too long, is full of CGI and wooden acting and on top of that, doesn't even have an ending - it merely sets things up for number 3. Johnny Depp will invariably annoy you as he continually acts like a drunken idiot - and who nails that parrot to the guys shoulder after the Kraken has paid its visit?

I know now how innocent prisoners feel when released. You've taken two and a half hours of my life - and I want them back, dammit!
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Thank you for smoking.

It's a simple premise - a spin doctor, working for a sector of business that needs all the spin it can get - the tobacco industry. This film follows the twists and turns of Nick Naylor, who works on behalf of a lobbying group, trying to get his pro-smoking stance over to those that care. Considering the health implications, that doesn't sound like a funny or enjoyable film, but it is.

The film is a pleasant hour and a half, that's intelligently written, full of humour, doesn't take itself too seriously and at the same time explores a few moral dilemmas.

I enjoyed it - but you might not just want to take my word for it - there's a FilmFour review here. (*clicky*)

Footnote: Many a review in other places has said that during the course of the film, you never actually see anybody smoke. That's not actually true, there is one scene where a chap has a cigar in his hand. Those reviewers just weren't looking closely enough.
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X-Men 3

I don't know why I went to see this really. Perhaps that's not the best way of starting a film review off, but it's true.The problem is you see, that nearby we have a cinema that doesn't like to take chances. For example, Brick, a film that I do want to see, is only shown at about 11:30pm each night, but yet, I can watch the X-Men about 15 times a day, almost at the time I choose in an auditorium that's not even a fifth full. But hey-ho - that's cinemas for you. I wanted to see a film and X-Men 3 was one of the ones that had less evil things said about it in reviews. In fact, some friends had said good things. A sorta cinematic version of Last Chicken in the Shop, if you will. Anyway....

You can sum this film up really really quickly - someone has developed a cure for mutation. Some people like this, some people don't. Therefore, that majority of the film revolves around those that are "pro-choice" and those that are not. Simple as that.

In typical X-Men style, battles happen. Because these guys are mutants, the battles are big and justify the expenditure of a very large amount of money on special effects.

Unfortunately, for all the special effects, I was bored by it all. The film took far too long to get going (they could have easily chopped 20 minutes off it), when it did get going, it was pretty same-y stuff and at the end, well, they do have to leave a little opening for a forth one, don't they? Why they didn't take this one out into a field and shoot it is beyond me, but maybe I just don't get it.

If you like special effects and clichéed cinematic orchestral music, you'll love this film. If you want a plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat, character development and a few twists and turns, you've come to the wrong place. Formulaic and not a patch on the first of the trilogy, I'm glad I only paid three quid to see it.
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Zero 7 - The Garden



The other day, I happened to be at the store of a certain music retailer, when I heard the first track of this album, futures, playing. Apart from the fact that it sounded distinctly like Zero 7's chilled out low-fi sound, the other thing that struck me was Jose Gonzalez's distinctive voice on vocals - and on that basis, I shelled out a tenner and bought the album. Hardly rocket-science, I know, but in listening to this album you start to think that actually Jose Gonzalez does provide the ideal voice. left behind Is yet another track that is typically Jose Gonzalez and wouldn't sound out of place on an album of his own work.

This album provides many tracks that are what you know Zero 7 for, such as throw it all away and this fine social scene - unobtrusive and chilled. They've occasionally tried something new too, with wobbly synth in you're my flame, which sound like something that's possibly come from an 80's arcade game - but it works.

Where Gonzelez has enhanced the album with his vocal talent, it's a shame the same couldn't have been reciprocated on one of his tracks. There's a rehash of Crosses on here and perhaps because I've heard the original so many times, I can't get my head around this one. It was perfect as it was. If there's a track I'll skip, it'll be that one. It's far too busy.

The album won't set the world on fire, but it's a good listen if you're after something that's a relaxed affair. It's well produced and it won't be gathering dust on my CD shelves.

Overall: 3.5/5
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Jose Gonzalez - Veneer



I'd never heard of this guy before, but about a month ago I listened to a couple of tracks on a certain music store's "listening post" and fell in love with the album there. The music feels personal and conveys emotion - a stark contrast to most of the manufactured shit that appears to be churned out at the moment.

This album is just half an hour long and is simply a guy and a guitar, but it doesn't matter. If anything, that's the beauty. It's one of those albums best listened to when you're chilled out in a darkened room, with nothing but a pair of quality headphones for company. It's only April, but I'd rate this as possibly one of the best albums of the year - other artists will have to go some to beat this.

As a random nugget of info, I understand that the track "Hearbeats" has been used in a Sony advert - as someone who doesn't have a telly, this piece of trivia is wasted on me, but it might mean something to you if you've heard it before, but couldn't work out the artist.

Anyway - buy it. And if you want to listen beforehand, you can do so in two places.

Clicky *here* and you can listen to a few full tracks.
Clicky *here* and you can sample a bit of all of the album tracks.

Go on, bugger off and have a look now.
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V For Vendetta

The story is set approximately 20 years in the future, where Britain appears to have been taken over by a regime that is akin to Nazism, with a degree of Orwell thrown in. Those that are deemed "different", such as political activists and homosexuals, are carted off to their deaths. Everything that is said or done is monitored. Fear is used to keep the public at bay and interestingly enough, modern day topics are used to keep the fear running in the press - avian flu, terrorism, AIDS and political spin. They're all there and strangely enough, the film does a good job of reporting them. It's all reported with a sense of stiff upper lip. The tag-line is always "Britain will prevail".

The story starts with the bombing of the Old Bailey. The character claiming the glory for this activity - "V", wears a Guy Fawkes mask (although he does look a bit Zorro). V crosses paths with Evey (Natalie Portman) when they encounter some "Fingers" (members of the ruling party) during the nightly curfew. He goes on to infiltrate the state-controlled TV station and broadcasts to the nation his intent to destroy the Houses of Parliament on November the 5th of the following year. He's an aspiring modern day Guy Fawkes.

John Hurt plays the Chancellor - another part well played - so very 1984. I'm starting to wonder if he ever does a duff part. The middle of the film surrounds the game of Cat and Mouse between the Chancellor's men and V, which is where the story unfolds. Yes, there is a story here - and it's a good one.

The final chunk of the film goes into the plot to destroy the Houses of Parliament using a Tube Train packed with explosives. Does he succeed? Well, that would be giving things away. You're going to have to watch this one and find out. As you might have guessed by now, this film takes modern day fears and shows a possible outcome of those fears. Sure, there are special effects there, but they add to the story - not become a replacement for it. The film takes an awful lot of chances. It includes topics such as civil unrest, terrorism, homophobia and xenophobia to name but a few. Additionally, Stephen Fry (a personal favourite) does a good job as a chat show host who pokes fun at the Chancellor - the kicking he gets ensures he promptly regrets it.

An enjoyable film. It was good to see something that took on some taboos, yet was entertaining. Go and have a look.
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The Proposition

Set in Australia in the 1880's, this film is more like a Western. The basic premise is simple. Two brothers are arrested for the rape and murder of a pregnant woman. The elder of the two is given a proposition, although it could be argued that this is more of an ultimatum by the "Captain" - find his elder brother and kill him - or else his younger brother will hang. He is given just nine days to do the task. The deadline is Christmas Day.

There are three things that strike you about this film. The film score is just great, written by Nick Cave (who also wrote the story) and is just right. Secondly - flies. The outback is hot. Very hot indeed. Flies are everywhere - thousands of 'em. Apparently, when the film was made, the flies that seem to exist up every orifice possible were genuine and the cast needed a variety of jabs to stop them from falling ill. Thirdly, it's the brutality involved. The inherent racism and brutality demonstrated against the aborigines is criminal and you come away realising that those people who call themselves "civilised" (i.e. The British) were actually no better whatsoever.

John Hurt also does a marvellous mad bounty-hunter stint and the scene where he discusses Darwin's Origin of the Species is deeply insightful into attitudes of the time.

So, in all - watch it. It's not a high budget affair, but it has a good story, a good score and a good cast. It's brutal in ways that cannot be explained - it would give too much away, but that somehow adds to the reasons why you should see it.
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Lucky Number Slevin

After watching trash, it was good to watch a film that had:

A cast who could act.
A script.
A story.
Little reliance on special effects.

Near the start, Lucky Number Slevin feels Pulp Fictionesque, as the lead who is subject to a case of mistaken identity is given a tall order from two gangland bosses who are bitter enemies. Luckily, it doesn't fall into the guns and gratuitous violence category, but also manages to explore the relationship between the lead and his next door neighbour (Lucy Liu). Without a doubt, she gets the fun in the film whilst Josh Harnett who plays Slevin seems to spend a good chunk of the film wandering around in nothing but a towel.

The story has got plenty to keep you going and you really aren't quite sure what's happening for a while, but it has humour and is enjoyable to watch. There's an awful lot of bilge to watch at the cinema at the moment - this isn't bilge, thank god. Go have a look.
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Final Destination (3)

"Why, in God's name, did you watch that?", I hear you cry.

Because I wanted to watch a disposable piece of crappy film, that's why.

And that's exactly what it is - disposable and forgettable, but you have to give it to the film-makers, they did manage to turn the gore up to 11.

The basic story is this:

Girl.
Premonition.
Roller-coaster accident.
Some survivors. (But not for long)
Cheats death (possibly).

A 13 word summary for a film isn't bad - and I'm not that not far off the mark. The main part, however, is the "not for long" stage, which involves a variety of interesting and bizarre death sequences. After watching this, you'll never go to a tanning salon again (or start). The amusing thing is that whoever invented all the death scenes must have been watching Road Runner/Wiley Coyote cartoons, as there does seem to be a degree of thethingthatknocksthespringthatstartsthechainsaw - and it's all rather amusing. You wouldn't think that seeing someone's head splattered to strawberry jam could be funny - but it is.

Thoroughly funny (unintentionally). Oh, and people who say, "I've cheated death", really should learn not to. That's just silly.
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A Cock And Bull Story

After giving you a mini-review of a film that's a musical about the making of a musical (The Producers), we go on to a film that's all about the making of a film, or more, the personalities involved. This film certainly does make you think about people egos.

The whole premise of A Cock And Bull Story is that it's all about the making of a film that's supposedly unmakable. The production team are attempting to make a film based on the book The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen, an apparently impossible task, due to the many tangents in the storyline and continual use of eccentricities in the English language (along with blank pages and random punctuation) to convey itself. What results is a film that can't make it's mind up. This production team are having a cash crisis and appear seemingly unsure of where to go. Is it a war film? Is it a romance? Or is it just a mad bloke rambling about having his penis caught in a window?

The cast is a good one. The two leads are Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, peppered with short appearances by many other British stars - Stephen Fry and Dylan Moran to name but two. The relationship between Coogan and Brydon is almost entirely antagonistic, with each one continually trying to score points against the other in a similar manner to Ricky Gervais in Extras.

The two bounce off each other very well and you can never quite work out whether the whole thing was ad-lib or scripted. Whilst Coogan seems to have it all (the car, beautiful partner and baby), he comes over as a sad, nearly Alan Partridge-esque (again) character who seems more concerned with his own vanity, whilst Brydon is the smart and funny one, continually poking at Coogan with one-liners. There's plenty to chuckle (or wince) at.

Without giving the film away, it's amusing, but it does seem to try and escape the whole film-making thing in the last ten minutes, possibly because should such a task would indeed be nigh-on impossible, so you feel it's a cop-out. Nonetheless, it's the first film in a long time that's made me sit and watch the credits until they've fully disappeared off the screen.

It's all harmless fun and I'd recommend you see it if you feel like a chuckle. Whilst not the best film you'll ever see, the BBC haven't done too badly. It's worth a look.
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Memoirs Of A Geisha

I couldn't make my mind up on this film, so I split things down into positives and negatives:

Negatives:

  • Steven Spielberg (His last good film was Schindler's list - and remember what he did to A.I.? Ick.)
  • Chinese lead. (A big faux-pas, considering they're supposed to be Japanese)
  • Taken from a huge novel. (How can it be condensed down so far and still convey the story well?)

Positives

  • The Chinese lead does a very good job, even if it really isn't right.
  • Amazing cinematography (the dance scene is something special).
  • Cultural accuracy - the streets, temples and sumo basho have been well recreated.

In all, it's a good film - it's just not a great one. It's enjoyable to watch, even if you feel like there are odd moments when you should be boo-ing and hissing at the "evil" geisha - a bit like a pantomime. Nonetheless, there are worse things you could go out and see - and at two and a half hours, it's not too long a film to endure. In short, the film had a lot of potential, of which it certainly delivered on the visuals (Spielberg's traits come out again), even if the story doesn't entirely come through 100%.
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The Producers

Right, I'll get the worn-out phrases out of the way first - it's a film, that's a musical, based on a film about a musical. There. Said it. Now we'll move on.

Having seen the original all those years ago, I was sceptical about this one, but it's a good fun film. Uma Thurman, normally a gorky looking sort of woman, pulls off a good performance as the Swedish Ulla and does a good job of singing, "If you've got it, flaunt it.". The two main men bounce well off each other and the humour doesn't let up.

The campness (is that a word?) certainly adds to the amusement, without becoming too John Inman. The challenge of how to make a musical on a subject such as Hitler into something that is light-hearted is certainly well embraced. Hearing "Springtime for Hitler in Germany" brought a smile to my face and I started to wonder if the musical had ever had a cult following like the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Who knows?

In short, if you want something funny that doesn't take itself too seriously, then go for it.

A filmfour.com review as usual is here. (*clicky*)
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King Kong

It's probably not the best way to start a film review, but I actually watched this because there wasn't anything else of consequence to go and see. I couldn't really care less about Narnia, or any of the other bilge that's about at the moment - and that's probably where the problem begins. I expressed indifference from the start.

Think you know the story by now:

1) Girl goes to island.
2) Girl gets captured by giant monkey.
3) Girl gets resecued - giant monkey is captured.
4) Giant monkey brought to US to show off like a freak-show.
5) Giant monkey escapes.
6) Giant monkey takes girl and climbs empire state building.
7) Giant monkey shot at by aircraft on top of building. Dies.

There we go. Simple, eh?

So, why does the film take 3 hours? Is Peter Jackson incapable of doing just 2? I think all the Lord of the Rings stuff has addled his mind. I have to confess, I fell asleep during the film - at one of the points in which there's supposed to be a big action section. I just got very bored of a bunch of people being chased by CGI dinosaurs and the like, for what seemed like ages. Yes, yes, Peter, your computer technology is very nice - run along now. And in all honesty, this is the problem - you know the story, which started to make me think, "for god's sake, get on with it". Not a good thing to be thinking.

The film is ok, at best, but it's just too damn long. There's an easy half an hour they could have cut from this. Sure, the end sequence is indeed a sad one, but that last line really ruins it. It doesn't need to be said.

Anyway, I'll say no more. If you do see it, take plenty to eat/drink and a commode. You'll feel like you're there for a long time.

If you'd like a real review, click here. This is one of those occasions where I'm not in full agreement with filmfour.com.
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Boards Of Canada...



...The Campfire Headphase.

You're probably hoping for an objective review, but you're not going to get it - just buy it.

It's chilled, it's trippy and you can listen to it again, again and again. If you're like me at the moment and consider chill-out/sleep time to be absolutely paramount, you'd be daft not to consider this. Slightly more rhythmic than Aphex Twin, but with enough little ambient blurps and bleeps to sound a bit Orb/FSOL-esque, consider this as a big recommendation.

Overall: 4/5
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Saw 2

Ok, I know, sequels are always a disappointment, or are they?

Saw was a fairly twisted film. Saw 2 = Very twisted indeed. I do wonder about the sort of mind that conjures these concepts up. Anyway, here's the basic premise of the film. There's several people locked up in a house. Each room seems to have a challenge for each member of the group. Failure = death. Success usually equals life/freedom, but usually ending up being disfigured in some way, or suffering extreme pain.

Each person has a reason for being in the house. There's a drug user, a mole, a perpetual liar, etc... The challenge in question relates to their previous sins. It is not a nice thing to watch - and the camera never shies away from the nasty bits.

If it's oscar-winning performances you're after, you'll be disappointed. However, if you just want to watch some disposable, trashy stuff that makes you jump every so often and go "eeeerrgh" every few minutes, you've probably come to the right place.

It doesn't really fall into the horror category, nor does it fall into the thriller one either - if they had sick and twisted, though, this one would be right up there. As sequels go, it's ok, but I think they've probably run out of mileage on this one now. The horse has now been well and truly flogged - making a third would be a bad thing.

Filmfour review, as usual, is here. (*clicky*)
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Broken Flowers

If you saw Lost in Translation, you'll have seen Bill Murray play the straight man whilst everything else around him seems funny. Broken Flowers is no exception and is an enjoyable film, even if the ending isn't what you're expecting. Definitely worth a watch.

As usual, a real review is here. (*clicky*)
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The Corpse Bride

Saw this one last night and it was pretty enjoyable. If you've seen "The Nightmare Before Christmas", you sorta know what to expect.

The film has a lovely style of animation and makes you chuckle throughout, even if the storyline is a little predictable. In my opinion, not quite as good as the Nightmare Before Christmas, but still enjoyable and fun - one of those films that you could watch again and see different things in it, which is definitely a good thing. As usual, a real review is here. (*clicky*)
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Serenity

As usual, click *here* for a real review. Gasp)

Not bad, this one - better than I expected. In summary, could best be described as a futuristic space adventure film with slight essences of cowboy (the almost horse torso shaped spacecraft, revolver wielding captain and western-esque towns contribute to that). Occasionally dips into the cheesy, but knows it does and doesn't make you want to vomit. It can take you by surprise at times and make you jump, which is a good thing. A generally fun and light hearted film - You could watch an awful lot worse at the moment. I mean, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo sounds like something out of Viz. (And no, I haven't seen it - nor do I want to)

Curiosity makes me wonder if FireFly is worth a watch after this....
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A History Of Violence.

Apologies for delay in updates - starting to get back to normality now.

Saw this one last night and I have to (again) concur with FilmFour's review - see it.

I like Cronenberg films, which is what drew me to watching it in the first place, but the key thing that he manages to do with this film is hop to lots of different moods in seconds - from violent, to funny, to emotional. It's very well directed indeed and keeps you guessing as to whether the "hero" is a hero or not.

Don't want to say much more to this one, as it'll give things away. I think this is going to be one of those gems, that slips away and nobody will have heard of it. The cinema was only half full last night. (Which could prove to your advantage). See it.
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Coldplay - X&Y (2005/Parlophone)



"Their best yet", say NME. Well, at least, that's what the sticker on the cover says. Reading that, your expectations are high from the start.

I've listened to this album, many, many times. Normally, this would be because it's what I call a "grower" and the more you listen to it, the better it gets, but in this case I'm listening to it a good few times so I can get my head round why every other review I've seen seems to like it. Perhaps I don't get it?

Don't get me wrong, there's some damn good tracks on there. Square One, What If and White Shadows give you the impression that the little sticker means something, but then you get to Fix You.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Whinging vocals, almost sounding like another group doing a parody of Coldplay, I can't get through the first minute without skipping the track. Quite simply, it grates on my nerves. Forty-five seconds, tops, and I've gone on to Talk, which manages to claw back a little bit of credibility.

The title track doesn't really do much to help, either. This is blandness incarnate.

Does Speed of Sound sound just a bit like Clocks but with less soul? You be the judge....

The only remaining track that I can say has something good to it, is Low, which has a nice edgy sound, but by the time you've got this far, you'll probably not want to bother listening much further. Go to the bonus track if you want to hear something a little bit more like old style Coldplay, but there's not much here to ensure you play on repeat.

I've listened, listened and listened and tried to be fair, but this album is bland, offering little new from the previous two offerings. Some of it is quite simply overproduced and I can see this will probably replace the Lighthouse Family as the music that's universally played in elevators and department stores everywhere. This will be the anthem to all sales execs driving their Mondeos everywhere. Avoid. You won't be missing much. Mediocre at best.

Overall: 2/5
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Sasha - Fundacion NYC (2005/GlobalUnderground)



I've developed a quiet respect for Sasha. He proved he could make music with Airdrawndagger, which in my opinion is a classic piece of moody and haunting dance. Then came Involver, which whilst being essentially a mix/remix collaboration with other artists, is still damn good. Third time lucky?

The one thing that struck me when I got this album was the packaging. Involver came in a strange plastic envelope and this appears to be no exception. I don't know if it's just Sasha's releases or generally all stuff on the GlobalUnderground label, but this one appears to open like a giant book of matches. The inlay book is glued to the top flap and goes into detail about the mix system for the album, which is a computer based system that allows for mixing of several tracks together to make entirely new sounds.

Does it work? Yeah, I guess it does.

There's only one downside about this album, though and that's the first track. After listening to a good few dance albums now, there's nothing I hate more than bleepy computer noises and a countdown to the main action starting. It's just too cheesy for it's own good. When you listen, start from track two - there's a good chap.

Listening to the rest of the album though, is a joy. As the inlay suggests, it's mainly electro/house that has been really well stitched together. I've really enjoyed listening to it - the choice of tracks is foot-tappingly good. The first eight or nine tracks have a certain amount of housy sing-along vocal content to them and turn into harder electro as the album progresses. It will stay in my car and MP3 player for a damn long while yet, believe me. My personal favourites have to be track 9 and 10 (two different versions of Holder & Thompson's "Come To Me", cunningly mixed together) along with a great remix of Goldfrapp's "Strict Machine". Funky stuff.

This is definitely a keeper. Of the 78 minutes, 76.5 of them are marvellous to listen to. This chap's got a lot to live up to next time. Overall: 4.5/5
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The League Of Gentlemen's Apocalypse

Just been out to see this one. It's a weird 'un. What was weirder perhaps, was the fact that there were only five of us in the entire auditorium on a Sunday evening. I thought people watched films at weekends? Or is it me?

I shall resist all "local" jokes.

Anyway, the film wasn't bad. Not the best, but not the worst either, with some amusing and harmless entertainment for ninety minutes. It probably helps if you've watched the League of Gentlemen before - it's not one of those you can watch without - you'll be head scratching otherwise, as the characters will mean nothing to you. I agree with FilmFour's review on this one, which is credit to them as they made the film anyway, so they do appear to have some objectivity in their reviews.

And as I'm a lazy sod, you can read the review here .
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