Thursday, September 06, 2007

Wouldn't You Prefer a Nice Game of Chess?

Finally 20 years after Matthew Broderick played Wargames with the US and USSR there is a game that gives you the chance to wage Global Thermonuclear War!

Defcon was released a few months ago and offers up to 6 players (either online or on a home network) the chance to wage war against each other using nukes. The winner is determined in good old fashioned cold war stylee... the winner is the player still alive at the end!

"Wouldn't you prefer a nice game of chess?"

The Soviet Union will rise again!

You can even sneak subs right up to the coast and launch a devastating nuclear arsenal.

It's a very simplistic game and you can download a fully playable demo from the website (you are limited to a maximum of 2 players in the demo). In brief, it rocks!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Simpsons

I am a Simpsons fan. I maintain that at it's height it was probably the most relevant and cutting television show in US history. There were always slapstick jokes (usually involving Homer causing himself unimaginable amounts of pain), but what made the show was it's willingness to challenge every viewpoint. what matters the most is that through Homer the makers of this show have been able to address our many prejudices and yet still keep people loving him. Homer has been openly xenophobic, homophobic, sexist and at times racist, but the joke always comes back onto him. The intelligent fans love him because he represents all elements of the average white (or yellow) westerner (good and bad).

Of course no show goes for 18 years without losing a level of originality. The Simpsons TV show is a shadow of its former self. It's been on a steady decline since Brad Bird left to become the genius behind several Pixar movies. It still has moments of genius (cue Fox News van driving past with 'Vote Bush/Cheney 2004' and the music 'We are the champions' playing - classic!), but they are so fleeting that the news of a movie did not exactly fill me with great hope. Like so many others I kept asking the question 'why didn't they make a movie 10 years ago?'.

However, despite my initial fears The Simpsons Movie is a marvelous success. It still lacks the freshness of a few years ago, and there are a few too many slapstick jokes, but at it's heart the movie does what very few big summer blockbusters ever manage to do. It lives up to the hype.

The central story is very silly, but still pays homage (or should that be homerage?) to a massive array of movies including An Inconvenient Truth, War of the Worlds, Titanic and The Truman Show. The jokes come so fast that a second viewing is actually essential and even when a joke doesn't work, it is followed up by another one that does.

If there is a downside, it's only that a movie like this cannot do justice to the hundreds of characters this Universe has created. Pretty much every characters gets on screen, but long time favourites like Mr Burns, Skinner and Moe deserve far more than one or two scenes. Mind you, if there isn't a sequel I would be surprised ;-)

And at the centre of everything is Homer. A man who is selfish, obnoxious and insensitive, yet remains the hero from start to finish. What is special about The Simpsons is that unlike most Hollywood movies, the hero isn't going to be improved by the the end, because that isn't the point. Homer always has some redemption, but he rarely learns his lesson which for me makes this movie more realistic than most films out this year. I often think the reason so many people hate The Simpsons is because people recognise that we all have a little bit of Homer in us!

If you don't like The Simpsons, don't go and see this movie, because if you haven't figured out what is funny about the show after 18 years, you sure as hell aren't gonna get this movie. If, like me, you are on the other side of the fence, get down to the cinema right now!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Is Brown really any better than Blair?

The press is really pushing Gordon Brown atm. He is so new and refreshing since taking over from the rancid corpse that was Tony Blair. He's gonna bring the troops home, distance himself from the US and show that silly little upstart in the Tories what a REAL leader is all about!

However, if you're like me and believe that foreign policy is far more important than domestic policy (you see foreign policy directly affects all aspects of domestic policy when you are a dependent nation like the UK), you'll see that Gordon Brown is not really that big an improvement on Blair.

He may be talking about pulling the troops out of Iraq, but this is something that is being demanded by many in the electorate anyway. Reacting to the electorate is not exactly rocket science (though it eluded Blair for most of his time in office). And I've got to say that if submitting to US demands for using RAF Menwith Hill for the ill-conceived missile shield is a sweetener for the US accepting our troop withdrawal then we our "special relationship" is no different to the one we had under Blair.

Announcing that the UK will permit the placement of radars and personnel at Menwith Hill via a statement to the commons hours before summer recess is nothing short of cowardice on the part of this government and it's Prime Minister.

It's reminiscent of that episode in the West Wing when the senior staff collect together all the bad bits of news to be announced on Friday ("trash day"), because most people don't read the papers on a Saturday.

Whether the missile shield works or not (and I don't believe for a second that it will offer much protection to US interests) is beside the point. It is a blatant act of warmongering aggression and one that will only lead to a major decline in relations with Russia and potentially China. I'm no fan of Putin but this new only gives him a reason to arm his nation further. For those who believe that Putin is a dictator who is hurting his own people, giving him an enemy to wage a cold war with is only going to solidify opinion in his country against the West rather than against him.

I will never understand the "special relationship". Shouldn't the role of every government be to garner strong relations with all nations? It doesn't even make sense from an economic standpoint. Most of our trade is with Europe, the commonwealth and the far east! Some nostalgic Brits go on about us positioning ourselves as experienced advisors to the new superpower. I mean we did control a quarter of the planet once. If this is the case then why is the special relationship so one-sided? It wasn't under Thatcher and Blair always dreamed of being just like Maggie!

All I know is that despite the rhetoric, Brown is no White Knight who is going to usher in a golden age for Britain. Unless you think having nuclear weapons aimed at North Yorkshire is a good thing, of course!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Transformers aka The Rock 5

As I sat watching Transformers at my local cinema a strange comparison popped into my head. Michael Bay is a lot like Derek Zoolander. You see Zoolander, despite being the hero of one of the greatest comedies of all time has only one look. Blue Steel? Ferrari? Le Tigra? They're the same face!

In the last 11 years Michael Bay has made only one movie. That movie was called ‘The Rock’ and since then he has remade the same movie over and over again. In fact, he probably holds the record for most remakes of the same movie, like ever!

For those who don’t know the Transformers story, it ain’t that special. Two sets of warring robots come down to Earth to do battle. And that’s about it really. The movie is an effort to bring a big budget family action paint job to a 1980s cartoon that should have been left to be remembered fondly. Naturally there were 30 year olds who screeched with joy at the news that their childhood heroes were on the way to the big screen. I was not one of them. I’ve never understood the adult love for transformers and I doubt I ever will. Like I said, I remember it fondly, but I wouldn’t want to own the DVDs now! But hey, fandom isn’t meant to make sense and I certainly have my own OTT fandom skeletons in the wardbrode!

I think what upset me from the moment Transformers was announced was the general Hollywood trend towards delving back 20-30 years and remaking, re-imagining, updating old shows and movies. The summer will always be the place for limited plot, high octane blockbusters and long may it continue, but at least the majority of blockbusters from ten years ago had a more original ring to them.

Summer 1997 saw the release of Men in Black, The Lost World, Air Force One, My Best Friends Wedding, Face Off, Con Air, Contact and Austin Powers. Now don’t get me wrong, not all of these were solid movies. Plus 1997 also saw the release of a certain Batman & Robin, but hopefully you see my point. On the whole, original summer movies varying from action to sci fi to comedy.

What about 20 years ago? Summer 1987 saw Full Metal Jacket, Predator, The Untouchables, Beverly Hills Cop 2, Dirty Dancing, Dragnet, La Bamba, Robocop, The Living Daylights, The Witches of Eastwick, Adventures in Babysitting, Innerspace and Spaceballs.

And what has Summer 2007 brought us? Spiderman 3, Shrek 3, Pirates 3, Transformers, Harry Potter 5, Fantastic Four 2, Die Hard 4, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Oceans 13, Knocked Up, Hairspray and 28 Weeks Later. I look through this list and only the romcom Knocked Up stands out for NOT being a sequel or movie/TV remake. Again, this is not meant as an attack on all sequels and remakes. I have enjoyed some of the movies listed above, but I do feel it illustrates the general trend of unoriginality sweeping across Hollywood.

Some may disagree, but I’ll take summer 1997 or 1987 over summer 2007 any day.

Anyway, I digress.

The news that Michael Bay was attached to direct Transformers took me very much over the edge. I don’t think any other mainstream director has ever polarised viewpoints quite like he does. Nonetheless I made it clear that I can rise above my own pre-conceptions. I have been proven wrong before and left the cinema with my faith restored in summertime movies (Pirates 3 being the most recent example).

And then I went to see the film.

For 45 minutes I sat there actually enjoying myself. My initial fears about Shia LaBeouf were unfounded. He has clearly learnt to temper his annoying arsehole persona with a little more subtlety. In fact even the de facto love story starts out relatively fresh with some comical scenes in which Bumblebee plays matchmaker.

Hell, I was even able to ignore the walking cliche US army Captain fighting to get home to be with his wife and new born kid (yawn) and marvel at the cool special effects in the opening battle.

Yes, I was even able to ignore the bit were the Pentagon called on all geeks out there to help them work out what was going on and rewarded us with the usual stereotypical group of young nerdy looking boys and one hot looking blond woman who was better than all of them put together. Despite the awfulness of it, I took it with a smile.

And then Optimus Prime and his mates showed up.

The rest of the film was truly awful. Optimus Prime, the great hero from my youth was just dull and his lines so bad I actually pitied him. You see the problem was that the film had blown its wad way too early. When you break it down it is just a bunch of robots fighting with a love story tacked on. And once you’ve seen a couple of robots fight the later battles become just plain boring. Oh look it’s a cgi robot transforming again and attacking another cgi robot. Yawn.

Shia LaBeouf and Bumblebee are the only redeeming features as the movie takes us from underground lairs to the centre of LA with little or no reason and onward toward a conclusion that offers no surprises whatsoever. The love story is forgotten (except for a few closeups of hands holding when things get scary) in favour of more action and louder explosions. Everything I could get from this movie, I got in the first 45 minutes.

And then there was Jar Jar Binks!

What I hear you cry. Yes, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse Michael Bay throws in the most annoying cgi character since Jar Jar as a seemingly indestructible mobile phone/cd player/whatever wreaks havoc for our heroes throughout the movie. I think the character was supposed to be evil but also provide some comic relief. Failed to be either really.

All this brings me back to my original point that Michael Bay has only made one movie. Transformers is just The Rock with robots. Just like Armageddon was just The Rock with a big asteroid and Pearl Harbour was just The Rock with Ben "gobble gobble" Affleck!

It isn’t spoiling it to say that LaBeouf gets the girl and they make out under a beautiful setting sun at the end. Nor that the brave Army Captain gets back to his wife for a heartwarming embrace under a beautiful sunset at the end. You’d have to be a complete moron to not see it coming! Afterall, this is exactly what happens to Nic Cage in The Rock, Ben Affleck in Pearl Harbour and Ben Affleck again in Armageddon.

Michael Bay has only one movie! The Rock? Armageddon? Pearl Harbour? The Island? Transformers? They’re the same movie! Doesn't anybody notice this? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!

Monday, July 16, 2007


A trailer has now been released for the as yet untitled JJ Abrams produced movie. It's currently being advertised simply as 1-18-08 which is the release date.

This one is being kept massively underwraps and the makers are clearly trying to plug the JJ Abrams connection. It should be noted that he is the producer, not the writer or director of this flick. However, his involvement is likely to be more than casual.

The trailer is one of the best teasers I've seen in years, but we all know that this is not a guarantee of anything these days.

The director (Matt Reeves) is a relative unknown who has done quite a bit of TV work. Scarily, his only movie directorial credit is The Pallbearer... a truly woeful comedy with David Schwimmer. However, that was a long time ago, so maybe he's learnt a lot since then!

Interestingly it's written by the very talented Drew Goddard. He wrote some fantastic 7th season Buffy eps, along with a number of Angel, Alias and more recently Lost eps.

It's early days (i.e. this one could be truly fantastic or truly shit), but it's got the internet community in a full-on buzz.

Most people are ruling out this being a Godzilla remake (thank god!) while there have been rumblings about it being a Cthulhu movie. I guess we will have to wait until January to find out.

There's lots of viral marketing going on with this movie with fake sites and real sites being setup in connection with it. Lots of denials and counter claims about what sites are real and fake. Very intelligent marketing if you're into that kind of thing.

Here's hoping this one lives up to the buzz.

Official site

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Iraq - in the words of the veterans

I watched Platoon the other day. I always find it impossible to imagine what can lead people to act the way they do in wartime. It's all too easy to watch a film like Platoon and just say "that Sgt Barnes is an evil bastard...". And yet, to do so is to miss the point of the movie.

Vietnam was the event that changed the concept of war forever in my eyes. Everyone talks of World War 1 being the last time people would cheer the announcement of war. Well Vietnam marks the moment when (some) people finally noticed that war isn't black and white. It isn't about good and evil. It's all shades of grey. In Platoon Sgt Barnes had lost the capacity for showing any level of moral decency towards anyone outside his squad. But look at how his squad respected him. They trusted him above all things, because they knew he would protect them, and that was all that matters. He was brutal and nasty, but it is because of Vietnam that he became like that, not because he was like that from the start.

Which brings me to Iraq. Often compared to Vietnam and rightly so, the scale may be much smaller but the pattern of increasing violence and lack of public support is alarmingly similar.

Now American magazine 'The Nation' is to publish interviews and quotes from Iraq War veterans that detail the violence and random killings that have become part and parcel of Americas new Vietnam.

The ones I've read immediately brought me back to Platoon; one of the first movies to really highlight the human drama of Vietnam. Kids being sent off to war, many of them believing that what they were doing was for the good of their country; for freedoms sake, only for many of them to be turned into murderers and vilified by their country back home. Not because of the atrocities they committed, but because they lost.

Read the independent article

Selected excerpts

"I'll tell you the point where I really turned... [there was] this little, you know, pudgy little two-year-old child with the cute little pudgy legs and she has a bullet through her leg... An IED [improvised explosive device] went off, the gun-happy soldiers just started shooting anywhere and the baby got hit. And this baby looked at me... like asking me why. You know, 'Why do I have a bullet in my leg?'... I was just like, 'This is, this is it. This is ridiculous'."

"I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, 'A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi... You know, so what?'... [Only when we got home] in... meeting other veterans, it seems like the guilt really takes place, takes root, then."

"I just remember thinking, 'I just brought terror to someone under the American flag'."

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Yippee-ki-yay, Mofo...

If there is one thing I hate more than the constant glut of unoriginal remakes and sequels, it’s ageing actors deciding to reprise a famous role 10+ years after their previous stint. We’ve had Rocky and next year sees Rambo and Indiana Jones return to our screens. Stallone is 61 tomorrow, Ford is 65 next week. I hope I’m capable of taking on the entire Soviet military when I’m in my 60s! Go Rambo… Go!

Which brings me to Mister Bruce Willis. At only 52 he could be jumping from helicopters and shouting Yippee-ki-yay, Motherfucker for another decade or so yet, and if Die Hard 4 is anything to go by, I wouldn’t put it past him.

Let me say this, this movie is not a patch on the first Die Hard. Not even close. Yet I still left the cinema with a huge smile on my face, content in the knowledge that it is possible for an ageing actor to return to his most famous role without ruining my memories.

The plot is woeful. In fact it got me wondering what the studio exec meeting must have been like. Something like this?

Evil Exec 1: Mr Willis. Want to do another Die Hard?
Bruce: Yippee-ki-yay, Motherfucker
Evil Exec 2: That’s great. Now we realise you’re old…

Bruce dropkicks Evil Exec 2 through the window.

Bruce: Welcome to the party pal!
Evil Exec 3: Anyway, we thought we could do a movie that plays on the fact you are past it.

Bruce fires a ball point pen straight through the heart of Evil Exec 3.

Bruce: Take *that* under advisement, jerkweed.
Evil Exec 1: The point is, that we wanna make a movie in which your more traditional ball-busting skills have to take on some, what we in the biz like to call ‘cyber’ terrorists.
Bruce: Cyber terrorists? Who gives a shit about Cyber terrorists? Who the fuck is this?
Evil Exec 4: It would be a movie about an enemy that uses computers against the World. And by the World we mean the USA! USA! USA!
Evil Exec 1: Better still we could have the ‘cyber’ terrorists attack on Independence Day. It would be symbolic.
Evil Exec 4: Plus we could throw in loads of your old lines, make constant references to the fact you are old and instead of having your wife pissed off with you… Why not your grown up daughter?

Bruce strangles Evil Exec 4 using a shoe lace between his teeth.

Evil Exec 1: You see we have to be bigger and better than before. In Die Hard 1 you saved a building full of people. In Die Hard 2 you saved an airport and a whole load of planes. In Die Hard 3 it was a whole city. This time… this time Bruce, you’ll save the whole fucking country.
Bruce: How can the same shit happen to the same guy 4 times?
Evil Exec 1: You’re the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time Bruce. It’s what you do best.
Bruce: Story of my life.

The plot really is that basic. But in a way, that’s what gives this movie its charm. The bad guys motives (which are ludicrous beyond belief) aren’t important and neither really are his actions. What matters is riding shotgun with Bruce as he kills people in spectacular fashion.

There are some nice touches. McClanes view on heroism and how it has treated him in life is quite poignant. But this ain’t no touchy feely movie. This is about men (and occasionally women, but mainly men) killing every motherfucking thing around them. GRRR!

The villain ( Timothy Olyphant) does his job without ever being spectacular. Truth is it’s really hard to follow the likes of Alan Rickman, but he hams it up nicely.

McClanes sidekick is Dodgeballs and Galaxy Quests likable nerd Justin Long. Unsurprisingly, he plays a cyber-nerd who is the only hacker left who can beat the big bad. Add in a rather comical cameo by Kevin Smith as the Yoda-esque cyber-sage called Warlock and you’ve got the makings of a disaster.

And yet, this was one of the most enjoyable films I’ve watched all year. The action is spectacular and if I have a criticism it’s that, in an effort to be bigger and better Die Hard 4 goes way way way OTT. While Die Hard stretched the boundaries of what was believable, the stunts were still realistic; a fit guy actually could do those things. Here, McClane becomes a little less like the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time and a little more like Jack Bauer; an indestructible superhero. But hey, it’s not a major gripe, and thankfully he’s nowhere near as annoying as SuperBauer!

I think the secret of Die Hard 4 being successful is that it follows the pattern laid down by Terminator 3. Everyone knows that Bruce is a bit too old to be doing this. And so the makers have given us a movie that takes the piss out of itself. It is not serious, and it’s completely OTT, hence the reason for having a plot with more holes in it colander. McClane should have died 5 times over before the first hour is up, but he doesn’t. Why? Because it’s Die Hard!

Great fun and totally recommended if you want a film that is pure brawn and zero brains. Let’s just hope they don’t make another one!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

George W or George III

Fun blog comparing American under the control of President Bush now and King George III 230 years ago!

Am not so sure the canadians will love the idea of joining up with the US to form a new nation though!

Happy Independence Day to all my friends over in that extremely scary place they call the US of A.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Newsreader fights back

There is no doubt that news is becoming more and more irrelevant. In the US the entire emphasis is on covering celebrity bollox while ignoring the true issues in our world today.

Well one newsreader finally snapped and decided to take a stand. Mika Brzezinski, newsreader on the MSNBCs Morning Joe programme decided to take issue with her producers decision to put the Paris Hilton story as the lead.

While I commend the newsreader for taking a stand, it was very sad to see her co-presenters acting in such a pathetic and childish way towards her actions.

Gore is more popular than all other Presidential candidates

For a man who was renowned as being a figure of fun, it's quite a turnaround.

In a recent poll Al Gore came out as being more popular than all of the Presidential candidates. Whether this new found love for the Bob Geldof of climate change will force him to reconsider his position is another matter.

The 2008 election is such a tough one to call. It's looking like Hillary Clinton (or maybe Barak Obama) vs Rudy Giuliani. The problem is that Clinton has massive baggage and is not seen entirely as an anti-war candidate (something which the democrats want). Oh and she's a woman. It may be the 21st century but there are still a lot of people who do not feel a woman can handle such a job (Thatcher anyone? Oh wait, she was more of a man really!).

Obama is young and a bit of an unknown quantity. He's black which immediately hurts him in the south. It shouldn't, but only a moron would try to say it won't.

Giuliani, while the most popular choice amongst Republicans, is divisive. His stance on abortion and gun laws is alienating him from the traditionalist Republican base.

If Al Gore was to throw his hat into the ring, boy would it get interesting. Now there's a sentence I didn't believe I'd ever be writing!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Day After Tomorrow...

The last couple of days really have been like something out of 'The Day After Tomorrow'.

The flooding in Sheffield & Rotherham started around lunchtime on June 25th and completely overwhelmed the region. By the time I left work 25 miles to the North half of Sheffield was out of power and the roads were becoming impossible to navigate. In the end it took me over 6 hours to get home (at one point I move about 500 yards in an hour).

Truly petrifying experience. My car was battered by mud, gravel and spillwater flowing down hills and I had to jump out a few times to re-attach mud guards that had been ripped off.

Got home to find no power and it wasn't restored until late last night. We've now been told that there will be rolling blackouts for the next 48 hours as the power companies struggle with the sheer scale of the problems.

There are loads of videos on the web, but here is a selection of interesting ones:

Shef Weds football club. My house is half a mile (uphill, thankfully) from here.
Meadowhall flooding. One of the largest shopping malls in Britain is a mess. All ground floor shops have suffered damage internally. The stock lost will run into the millions.
The RAF rescue. The RAF pulled over 100 people out of swamped buildings well into the night.

4 people have now died in the floods around the region and with more rough weather expected at the weekend, the fear is that the rivers may not have receded enough to prevent this happening again.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pirates 3 and Summer Blockbuster Season

Summer blockbuster season has for as long as I can remember been the time of mega-action, complex special effects and limited plotlines. Now I know I can be a harsh critic and I tend to prefer movies that make me think, but in the past I have genuinely looked forward to the summer season. There’s nothing quite like sitting back in your allocated seat and marvelling at the constant stream of eye candy.

From Back to the Future 3 to Spiderman, summertime represents style over content and long may it continue.

That was until the last couple of years. The competition in Hollywood is now so fierce that studios have opted to go for ‘bigger’ movies year on year. The problem with this is how to outdo what has gone before. Summer blockbusters aren’t going to win Oscars for the acting or screenwriting categories so the general view is to just up the threat levels, increase the amount of action and throw in extra layers of complexity.

Unfortunately, summer blockbusters are notoriously hit and miss. The problems are too many to list here but suffice to say the fact that there are more than ever before doesn’t help.

With this in mind I went into the crammed showing of Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End expecting the worst. The news that the film was going to weigh in at 2 hours and 40 minutes did not sit well with me. As I’ve argued before, for a movie to stretch well past the 2 hour mark it needs to have more than just fun special effects and great action scenes. It needs to have an epic storyline. Blockbusters rarely have these and after the travesty of Pirates 2 I was right to feel concerned.

And then the movie started.

Pirates 3 brings together the many plotlines left open from the previous movie and rather than mangle them together to form a Spiderman 3 shaped mess, it actually flows along really well. Despite the many convoluted stories left hanging in the previous film the director successfully manages to produce a classic film of 3 acts. In the beginning the group must tie up the loose ends and rescue Jack from Davy Jones’ Locker. Act 2 slows the pace down enough to allow our heroes time to choose their allegiances. More importantly it gives the director a chance to build a story that, while simplistic in nature, is both epic and tragic. Of course it wouldn’t be a summer blockbuster without the de facto climactic battle to end all battles to make up a final act. And boy is it yo-ho-me-hearties fun.

For me, the success of Pirates 3 has less to do with it returning to the roots of what makes summer blockbusters good and more to do with it actually nailing how to make a modern, complex popcorn movie.

Merging extra layers of plot into a big budget action movie is difficult. I say this because until now I can’t ever recall seeing it working. Spiderman 3 is a great example of a failure to understand how to increase the complexity of a movie while maintaining its popcorn cinema credentials. The first two Spideys were very well done; firmly in the blockbuster mould but with enough plot and depth to keep more than just a 12 year old entertained. However, in an effort to be ‘bigger’ than its predecessors, Spidey 3 became a mess; a hotchpotch of convoluted plotlines and missed chances. I’m not going to do a review of the movie, but for a good breakdown of the problems, check out George’s blog.

The same can be said of the second outing of Pirates of the Caribbean. Some might argue that it is a problem of hype, but movies like this create their own hype so it’s hard to be sympathetic. The marketing now is 24/7 (thankyou Star Wars) and while it has had the desired effect of increasing the number of bums on seats, for me the quality has been ever-decreasing. The directors of these movies are inevitably charged with trying to make longer and more complex movies while adhering to the principle that their craft must entertain the pre-pubescent kiddies. The result is more and more likely to be a Spiderman 3 or a Pirates 2. But every once in a while everything comes together and just works.

Pirates 3 is a great example of this. Whereas the middle part of the trilogy (why must everything be a trilogy?) felt like a movie in which the writers had come up with 3 or 4 great set pieces and then tried to write a story around it, the third film has a central plot that ties all the characters together. All of the other sub-plots are handled in their own time and without forcing the movie off on some wild-goose chase. Love stories like the one between Davy Jones and Tia are woven nicely into a central plot about fighting for the freedom to roam the seas.

The performances from the central characters are strong. I was particularly impressed with Orlando Bloom, who finally seemed to step out of the shadow of Lord of the Rings. Naturally Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush were on top form. Even Keira Knightley failed to dampen my enjoyment. If I have one criticism of the cast it would be of the total waste of the talent that is Chow Yun-Fat. I mean, this guy is one of the coolest men on the planet and the writers give him about 3 scenes. Gutting!

Also, while I was very impressed with the handling of the many plot threads I did still have issues with the central theme. Fight for freedom movies are great but I couldn’t shake the feeling that having a bunch of pirates standing for freedom was a bit rich really. I mean don’t get me wrong, the villain is perfectly cast as the truly evil East India Trading Company. You won’t ever get me defending their actions, but to have pirates held up as heroes was akin to saying you prefer Blair to Bush because he has less nuclear weapons. It’s all shades of dark grey!

Anyway, I’m digressing and forgetting that this is popcorn cinema, and you’d be right to pull me to one side and say… “er Nige, it was a movie about pirates fighting sea monsters, lighten up!”.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End is a very good piece of cinema. While not on par with the first film, it is strong on merit. It manages something extremely rare in the movie business and actually makes a very simple premise last for well over 2 and a half hours without compromising on quality or forgetting it’s central story. If only we could re-edit Pirates 2 then the franchise would make a half-decent trilogy.

So there we go. Reading back through this blog it’s clear that I have the capacity to write a summer blockbuster. My prose is convoluted, my central theme goes missing for long periods and I’ve kind of left it open for a sequel.

Taxi to Hollywood please!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Fall of Caesar

Shakespeare would have been proud. With more than a hint of melancholy Tony Blair made his pre-resignation speech today defending his policies and proclaiming that the British people have it far better now than we did in 1997.

Given that Blair was obsessed with image and buzz words like ‘Cool Brittania’, it was only fitting that Blair should see fit to drag this one out with as much heart-tugging poignancy as he could muster. One commentator described it as being delivered in the ‘Diana Funeral’ style, and it certainly seems that Blair views this whole event as some kind of Shakespearean tragedy. The great Caesar is going, long before his time. Forced out by low opinion polls and a legacy that includes Britains most disastrous foreign policy engagement since the Suez crisis.

As friends, Romans and countrymen line up to offer tributes to their fallen King, I feel it necessary to point out that this is only the PRE-resignation speech. The guy won’t be leaving office until June 27th, meaning that we are likely to be treated to another slice of Blair wisdom then. In fact this is technically his second pre-resignation speech after first announcing he’d be gone ‘within a year’ last September.

Of course, it would be wrong of me not to comment a little on his 10 years in power. The media likes to boil things down into a nutshell; has he been good for the country or bad for the country? Well it isn’t really that simple is it? Even I, a hardened anti-Blair activist, can recognise that it is impossible for any leader to be in power for 10 years without doing something good!

Sadly, my opinion is that pretty much all the good came in the first 4 years. The introduction of the minimum wage, the handing over of interest-rate management to the bank of England, the introduction of devolved assemblies in Wales and Scotland and the successes on the World stage (Good Friday Agreement, Kosovo, Sierra Leone) all occurred in his first term of office.

After 9/11 everything changed. It has been written that Blair really did (and still does) see this as a great battle between ideologies; That invading Iraq and Afghanistan are acceptable cases of liberal interventionism (like Kosovo was). This isn’t the case. I believe whole-heartedly in liberal interventionism. We shouldn’t stand back while people are slaughtered in countries around the world. We must take action. The war in Kosovo was right and just. The war in Iraq was a mistake of arrogance.

The only tenuous moral justification Blair had left for Iraq was that Saddam was a dictator that murdered his own people and suppressed opinion with violence. However, this was not the reason we went to war. It was the reason given when all the others (WMD, links to Al Qaeda etc) failed to produce significant evidence to back them up. But more than anything, his failure in Iraq is that a plan for managing the peace was not effectively drawn up in the months prior to the invasion. Vague plans for holding elections and training a police force are nothing more than rhetoric if most of the country doesn’t have electricity or running water. Throughout 1944 and 1945 the allied forces put together a detailed plan for post-war Europe. Given that we were constantly told how Saddam was the greatest threat we had faced since Hitler, it is astonishing that no-one in the vast ranks of military advisors, politicians and civil servants considered what would happen when you create a power vacuum in a country were a dictator has ruled with an iron fist for over 25 years.

While it would be easy to chalk up the remainder of Blair’s time in office post 9/11 as a tale of wars, terrorism and trips across the Atlantic the truth is that a considerable amount of legislation has been introduced. However, while Blair started out his tenure talking of social justice and freedom of choice for all, increasingly the last 5 years has taken on a more controversial nature. From top-up tuition fees which went against a manifesto promise, to measures for curbing a citizen’s right to protest, I find it difficult to rationalise the change in direction his second term took. Hell, even his efforts to modernise the House of Lords have become overshadowed by scandal and corruption.

In his speech, Blair turned to his favourite friend to detail his achievements. No not Alistair or Peter, but rather the statistics that have been the backbone of his time in office. Crime is down, hospital waiting lists are down, schools are more productive, our economy is the most stable it has been in generations and unemployment is down. Of course, statistics are too easy to spin, and sadly for Blair too much of his time in office has been spent obsessing about figures that ‘prove’ his success.

  • Reported crime is down, but violent crime is up.

  • Hospital waiting lists are down, but a considerable number of trusts are in heavy debt and have been forced to put caps on hiring staff, even to replace natural turnover.

  • We have the highest rate of University attendance in history, but students are now burdened with considerable debt and find themselves over-qualified for the jobs available in this country.

  • Our economy is booming, but it is based entirely on massive borrowing and held up by the highest level of consumer debt in history.

  • Unemployment is down… okay Tony, I’ll give you that one.

On top of statistics we’ve had the positioning of unelected advisors reporting on government departments – a move I find shameful and deeply undemocratic. Indeed, Blair’s first two terms can be described as more Presidential than anything we have seen before.

Blair has said that we should all think back 10 years and ask if our standard of living has improved. That is the saddest excuse a Prime Minister can use to explain away his time in office. To boil down his achievements to this is an indictment of failure. Let me ask you, in 1997 would you say your standard of living had improved since 1979? Of course it had. Standard of living in this country has been improving steadily since the end of WW2.

Blair has achieved some great things in his time. Of that there is no doubt, but my opinion of him will always be that of a man who was more spin than substance; a man who used his massive majority to force through unpopular legislation; a man who rather than improving democracy in this country, has damaged it considerably; a man who squandered the greatest chance in generations to make this country a better place for all; a man who cannot hide behind moral justification for a war that has made the World a more dangerous place and given disillusioned Muslims a reason to turn to violence.

I won’t miss you Tony.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Blair does a Bush

Perhaps the funniest story from this weeks local and parliamentary elections was the fact that hundreds of thousands of votes may have been lost due to glitches and general confusion with the new systems of votes.

Of course the irony of this is that the problems occurred in the one part of the country where Tony Blair was fighting neck-a-neck to hold on to power. Now I'm not suggesting that Tony tried to take a leaf out of George Bush's Election 2000 book... well ok I am... but either way it didn't work. The largest party in Scotland is now the SNP, who will look to forge an alliance with one of the smaller parties in an effort to form a government. Thankfully, their hopes of forcing a referendum on Scottish independence are unlikely to come to fruition as their likely partner (the Lib Dems) have categorically ruled out voting in favour of such a move.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Studio 60 Season 1 Will Finish!!

Following the decision to pull Studio 60 from it's primetime line-up, NBC have now announced the remainder of Season 1 will air on Thursdays at 10pm EST, starting on 24th May.

This is fantastic news, although it still remains unlikely that the show will get a second season.

I guess the campaigning will begin in earnest in the coming months to force NBC to realise that cancelling the best written show on TV in favour of more reality crap is not in the best interests of everyone.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

10 Steps to Fascism

Great article detailing the 10 steps that all governments perform in order to curb freedoms and remove the democratic process from their countries. Interestingly, the United States seems to have taken all 10 to heart.

Full article

Step 1: Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
Step 2: Create a gulag
Step 3: Develop a thug caste
Step 4: Set up an internal surveillance system
Step 5: Harass citizens' groups
Step 6: Engage in arbitrary detention and release
Step 7: Target key individuals
Step 8: Control the press
Step 9: Dissent equals treason
Step 10: Suspend the rule of law

So much for the land of the free.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Power of Nightmares on Google Video

For those of you who didn't get to see the excellent Power of Nightmares on BBC a couple of years ago, it is now available on Google Video.

Episode 1: Baby It's Cold Outside
Episode 2: The Phantom Victory
Episode 3: The Shadows in the Cave

I do recommend it as a well researched history on the current troubles.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Mario From Hell

Incredibly long, but superb video of a guy trying to get through a fan created Mario ROM. I have never seen such a hard game.

"WTF - Who designed this?!"

Monday, April 02, 2007

Serenity is #1 Sci-Fi Movie Ever!!

A poll by SFX magazine has seen Serenity take poll position as the favoured SciFi movie among geeks. While we all know that Serenity is far better than Star Wars, it's still a shock that so many other people are in the know!

BBC Article

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Happy Birthday Europe!

Forgive the sheer pro-european-ness of this blog, but with so many die-hard euro-skeptics out there, I felt it was necessary to mark the 50th anniversary of European Union.

Let's be honest here, the combination of so many cultures, languages and governments was never going to be easy. There have been some major screw-ups and embarrassing blunders.

However, when you consider that 60 years ago the continent was devastated and divided, while less than 20 years ago half of europe was shrouded behind the Iron Curtain, it is nothing short of astounding that we now have a growing and vibrant union; one that continues to rise to the challenges of the 21st Century.

What has Europe ever done for us? - enjoy!

Monday, March 12, 2007

300 breaks records

The movie adaptation of 300 has broken box office records for opening weekends in March, taking $70m in it's first 3 days of release.

I have to admit, this is far more than I could have hoped for. While Frank Millers comics are amongst the best available, I'd never really imagined something like 300 as having massive mainstream appeal, a la Spiderman.

Here's hoping it keeps going strong.

Friday, March 09, 2007

300 Trailer with sneaky single frame

Found this new 300 trailer I hadn't seen before. It's pretty cool and has some superb shots that look like they've been perfectly copied from the original comic.

However, once you've watched it. Pause it and drag the slider back to 1:52 and you'll find a sneaky extra frame from a recently announced upcoming Zach Snyder film.

Rorschach is here!!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Studio 60 Cancelled

For those unfamiliar with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, it's the behind-the-scenes story of a fictional comedy sketch show. The fact that Aaron Sorkin (of West Wing fame) was behind it, was enough to guarantee it top billing by NBC. However, after a run of poor ratings the show has been pulled.

To say I'm gutted is an understatement. I was recommended the show about 10 eps in by George and once we'd got hold of them we watched the whole lot in the space of a weekend. It's by a long way the best written show I've seen in years and while it's popularity may have been lower than NBC had hoped, it was still putting in 7 million ratings. There are some who argue that the shows demise has as much to do with too many jokes about american TV networks as anything else, but either way, it would appear that another great show has been axed far before it's time.

NBC are officially bastards!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Classic Windows 386 promo

Aaaah, the 1980s. Such a simple time, when men had cool moustaches and women thick-rimmed glasses.

The link is to a promo done by Microsoft for Windows 386. It's absolute genius. Things really go 'bizarre' around the 7 minute mark, but tbh it's classic 1980s right the way through.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Adoption Debate

The Equality Act, which outlaws discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the basis of sexual orientation is already under threat due to the sermonising of church officials who believe that Catholic adoption agencies should be exempt from the legislation.

While I accept that all people have a right to their opinions and beliefs, religion cannot be used time and again as an excuse for opting out of important legislation. There is a serious inequality in the treatment of religious groups and non-religious groups. Religion cannot be given as an excuse for discrimination. If a person tried to prevent a black couple from adopting a child it would be considered a serious act of discrimination, regardless of the persons views, opinions or beliefs. This is no different.

the government is currently standing firm on this issue, and I hope that continues.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Review of the Movie Year 2006

2006 was the year of the sequel and the remake. With this in mind you'd think that it was a pretty poor and unoriginal year, but as 2007 arrives I look back on what I personally feel was one of the best years for a while.

Oscar Season

The start of the year saw the usual glut of high profile, thought-provoking cinema. True-life stories, official biographies, and gay cowboys all strutted their 'For Your Considerations'. For me, the stand-out movie during this time was Walk the Line. While it only covered the period up to the 1970s, it was a tour de force for both Joaquin Pheonix and Reese Witherspoon. Capote provided Philip Seymour Hoffman with a thoroughly deserved Oscar, but the film itself was surprisingly dull. Brokeback Mountain was a brave and thoughtful adaptation which captured audiences hearts and awards for fun. Particularly impressive was Heath Ledger, playing the tortured Ennis Del Mar with the kind of subtlety his previous performances lacked.

The Curse of Summer

As is common, most of my favourite movies could be found in cinemas during early Spring, Autumn and Winter. Summer has become the property of the popcorn blockbuster, and while lots of eye-candy was on offer I felt myself continually frustrated by a raft of movies were story had been usurped by stunning visuals and thrilling set-piece action scenes. MI:III was probably the best example of this; a good, fun action movie. However, it was totally soul-less and could have easily been a vehicle for any action hero.

Superman Returns was great fun and probably one of the better summer films. Sadly, it suffered from poor casting (Superman aside) and a rather simplistic plot. On the flip-side was Pirates of the Caribbean 2. Now this wasn't a bad film, but in comparison to the first of the franchise it was severely lacking. The main problems stemmed from a convoluted plot and a pointless middle third. Thankfully, the comedy was still reasonably sharp and the film was saved by a thrilling final act.

X-Men 3 and Cars complete the big 5 summer movies (the least said about Poseidon, the better!). Cars lacked the originality of some of its Pixar predecessors (see Incredibles and Monsters Inc.) while X-Men 3 suffered from losing Bryan Singer at the helm. I'd probably post the latter, mutant infested final battle, as my favourite flick of the summer, despite the tagged on multiple endings.

Post 9/11

It's almost become the fashion for movies to explore the way the World has changed since 9/11. Some offer us pointers to previous times of upheaval (Good Night, and Good Luck); others use the subsequent War on Terror as foreshadowing for the destruction of our modern way of life (V for Vendetta). For the first time since the events of September 11th, two movies arrived in 2006 that depict the attack from standpoints of people involved. I avoided both United 93 and World Trade Center at the cinemas and it was only recently that I sat down to watch the former. I can safely say I've now been put off watching Oliver Stones story of courageous fire, police and port authority crews forever.

United 93 is a strange film; the directors decision to play the events onboard the doomed airliner in almost real-time results in the now popular documentary style drama. However, it also means that little or no time is spent dealing with the background of any of the real life characters.

If the director was trying to shock us and make us aware of the panic and confusion a hijacking can cause, then he succeeds only in covering old ground. There are distressing moments and it is hard not to be moved by some of the later scenes, but in many ways it is only because we already know how it ends. It's for this same reason that I don't need to see World Trade Center. Unlike the events in World War 2 or the Kennedy assassination, 9/11 played out live in front of a worldwide audience. I maintain that there is nothing quite as shocking as re-watching the original news footage from the day. The panic, the heroism, the tragedy and the fear can be seen throughout the faces of the news-teams, fire crews, politicians and most importantly the normal people trapped in the two towers and fleeing the scenes of devastation.

A movie that just illustrates the days events with actors playing out the roles is of no use whatsoever, unless it deals with the causes, motivation and history behind them. My advice would be to avoid United 93 and WTC and go onto youtube and watch the news reels from the day. You'll find them more shocking and informative than anything Hollywood can produce.

A Good Year for Britain

2006 was a surprisingly good year for British movies. While I accept that we Brits may excel at producing exciting London gangster flicks (Lock Stock, Snatch), grim up north gritty dramas (Billy Elliot), or classy period dramas (anything written by Dickens, Shakespeare, Austen etc), it is nice when a few films come along that avoid these stereotypes.

Children of Men gave us a chilling vision of future in which the World had fallen into anarchy. With superb performances from Clive Owen and Michael Caine, it was the only film I went back to the cinema to see a second time this year.

History Boys and Starter for Ten jumped us back in time to the roaring 80s. Thankfully, they both avoided falling into that classic trap of showing us how grim life was in the 1980s and they are the better for it. History Boys in particularly stood out as one of the best adaptations of the year.

The Queen looks destined for Oscar glory, and while it is slow in places, it really puts that crazy week in 1997 into perspective, when it felt like I was the only one in my home town who wasn't crying their eyes out over some women I'd never met.

Even American films like V for Vendetta managed to take the original source material (by Alan Moore) and produce a film that was still, at its core, about a Fascist Britain. After the Wachowskis total failure with those sci fi sequels that shall not be named, V for Vendetta was a startling come-back.

Michael Caine had a very busy year and proved that the later years can often produce some actors best work. His performances in Children of Men and The Prestige were stunning for a man famous for being great at playing Michael Caine. The latter film was yet another triumph for Chris Nolan, who is fast becoming one of my favourite directors.

The year ended with that icon of Britishness returning in a new guise. Casino Royale could, as my friend George pointed out, have been titled Bond Begins, as it really felt like a totally new beginning for the tired old secret agent. The plot may have stuttered (particularly in the final third), but it was by far and away the best Bond movie in my lifetime. All those Daniel Craig haters look pretty damn stupid now!

The last time Britain had a year this good in the movies, a crazed lunatic was running the White House and we had a Prime Minister who ignored everything that anyone else said. Coincidence? I think not!

The Top 10

And so, after all that we come down to my top 10 of the year. In reverse order,

10) V for Vendetta
Alan Moores comics are notorious for being ruined by the time they make it the screen, but the Wachowski brothers manage to update the story for a more modern setting without belittling the plot. Despite the film being brought down a few pegs by the poor performance of Natalie Portman and an odd love-twist, it survives to have the anarchist within us all cheering at the end!

9) The History Boys
Adapted for the screen from the award winning play by Alan Bennett, the story of a group of boys all vying for a place at Oxbridge was one of the surprise comedy hits in a year filled with all-American romcoms. Some fantastic performances (Samuel Barnett steals the film) and lots of witty dialogue makes History Boys one of the best growing up movies in a long time.

8) A Scanner Darkly
Keanu Reeves is another of those acting anomalies. Derided for being wooden, he still manages to pull off some fantastic flicks. A Scanner Darkly is mesmerising, partly for the beautiful use of rotoscoping, but also for the performances of Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr, and Woody Harrelson. It's also a very faithful adaptation of the original Philip K Dick

7) Brick
An indie film that is destined to become a classic, some called Brick this years Donnie Darko, and I tend to agree. The story of a high school kid immersed in the mystery of his missing former girlfriend, Brick is both dark and witty. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock From the Sun) is fantastic in the lead role and shows maturity far beyond that of his previous work.

6) Syriana
Ignore the hoopla about United 93 and see Syriana. Without needing to directly reference 9/11, this movie does more than any other to educate the population about just how the major players work in the Middle East. George Clooney had a great year and proves that his model of film-making (make a big budget blockbuster to fund the films he really wants do) truly works. Alexander Siddig, meanwhile, proves that it is possible to escape the stigma of being in Trek to become a recognised serious actor.

5) Stranger Than Fiction
Will Ferrell is a lot like Jim Carey. He did a lot of slapstick comedy with very mixed results before using an off-beat comedy-drama to prove he can be taken seriously. It worked for Carey with Truman Show and I believe the same can be said of Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction. The dialogue is brilliantly scripted and it could be argued that Emma Thompson steals the limelight with a wonderfully neurotic performance.

4) An Inconvenient Truth
Al Gore (aka most boring man ever to run for President) + A powerpoint slideshow about global warming = The biggest documentary movie of the year. Say what? An Inconvenient Truth has captured the publics imagination, not just by informing about the causes of global warming, but by empowering ordinary people. The message here is that we can make a difference; all of us. Do not wait for your government to do something when you can make a start yourself. An Inconvenient Truth is a well-researched, scientifically sound movie that, despite having Al Gore speaking over it from start to finish, is tremendously entertaining and very very frightening.

3) Pan's Labyrinth
Oh if only more mainstream fairy tales were like this. Pans Labyrinth is the story of a young girl who escapes from the horrors of the Spanish civil war, only to find herself immersed in the dark and scary world of monsters and fauns. Guillermo del Toro doesn't hold back in showing the true horrors of war, while the performance of the young Ivan Baquero is far beyond the current crop of Hollywood children, whose ability seems rated solely on how cute they can look on camera!

2) The Children of Men
So good I saw it twice, this is British dystopian sci fi at its best. Ill never understand how the Brits, when compared to their American counterparts, seem to excel at sci fi in the movies but struggle when it comes to the same genre on television. Children of Men is shot with the kind of raw flowing style that I could watch over and over again. The final dash through the ruined streets of a refugee camp is scarily realistic and had me on the edge of my seat.

1) The Prestige
Chris Nolan, Christian Bale, Michael Caine; when these three get together, good stuff really does happen. After the magnificent Batman Begins, Nolan continues his fine directing form with a movie about rival magicians a century ago. The Prestige jumps around the timeline (a Nolan trademark), while still withholding enough twists and sub-plots to make the final reveal compelling. Hugh Jackman proves there is life in him beyond X-Men, while Bale simply re-affirms his place as one of the finest actors of his generation.


And that, as they say is that. There were plenty more good movies that could have had a mention (Good Night, and Good Luck, Inside Man, Ice Age 2 to name a few), and plenty more movies that are best forgotten (Miami Vice, Slither, The Sentinel et al). However, in the end I feel that 2006 has been a decent year for movie-lovers.

I'm off to contemplate a world in which I could choose two movies with Michael Caine in them as the best of the year!