Monday, December 24, 2007

Holy Shit

Found via the clever Kung Fu Monkey. I want this in my first person games *now*.

Groundhog Day

I finally got got to watch this one properly without interruptions, and what a marvelous movie it is. Original premise, tight script and direction that doesn't leave an ounce of fat to trim, and any movie with Bill Murray in it takes an automatic leap in quality. Watching his sarcastic, self-centered weatherman sink into despair and then finally become a genuinely decent man (although the bastard is funnier, it has to be said) from endlessly repeating the same day is simply a joy. It's one of the few genuinely great comedies.

And yet, I find myself strangely morose afterwards. Maybe because the premise lends itself too well to navel-gazing, and that never goes anywhere good. That "Come, Sweet Death" off the misery-tastic End of Evangelion just came up on itunes certainly isn't helping.

Whatever, I'm off to gorge myself on chocolate. 'Tis the season to be jolly, even if I'll have to accomplish it through chemical means.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

American politics, how I love thee

Not only is it the most savage thing outside bloodsports, what passes for political commentary usually manages to make me laugh, cry and shudder in terror at the same time.

Witness for instance National Review editor Jonah Goldberg's new Liberal Fascism. If the title alone didn't make your eyes spin in their sockets, here's the table of contents:

Cribbed from the ever lovely Sadly, no! which has lots more on this little marvel of a book.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Well, I certainly didn't see this coming. Call of Duty 4, a legitimate contender for shooter of the year? If you'd told me that after I played the demo, I'd have laughed you out of the house. Partly because the level they have you playing is boring, and partly because I didn't much feel like playing a US marine in an ambiguous Middle Eastern country* killing ethnic ruffians given the current state of Mess-o-potamia.

Turns out the demo level is probably the worst in the game, and when taken in the context of the whole game it's not even close to being some horrible rah-rah-rah rubbish. In fact, if you're looking for political commentary in the story, you'd have to conclude that the chaps at Infinity Ward aren't very big fans of the current US foreign policy. Go figure.

The Call of Duty games adhere to the rollercoaster style of game design: the designers craft the levels with a certain path in mind, and by golly, you're going to follow it whether you want to or not. Obvious upside: the designers know where you're going to be, and can craft spetacular set pieces. Equally obvious downside: it can be horribly transparent and immersion-breaking when done badly. It doesn't work here all the time; there's bits where you get bogged down, and the fact that they're constantly spawning enemies at you until you've progressed past a certain point becomes painfully obvious. But when it works, it delivers some of the most powerful moments in gaming in a long time.

There's a level where you play as a gunner in an AC-130 gunship, covering the SAS squad you follow during the majority of the game. You hover over the battlefield and eradicate white dot after white dot on a thermal image, a laconic crewmember calmly calling out targets and commenting on your kills. It could've just as easily been footage from any current war. The effect is just chilling, which is an extraordinary thing for a game to accomplish. Then there's their take on the now so common tram-ride in the title sequence, the end of the US marine part of the story, and a flashback mission set in Chernobyl that were equally jaw-dropping. And there's a really clever thing they do with the tutorial, and a sinking ship and...well, you get the picture.

It's over pretty quickly, around six hours if you're a competent fps gamer, but it's a mostly brilliant six hours of sensory overload, filled with big wow moments. Shooter of the year? Not quite, but you can certainly make a decent case for it.

*Saudia Arabia, unless my map-reading skills have gone to hell. Honestly, why be all coy about it when you're zooming around maps with easily identifyable landmarks in the briefing movies?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Works out in the health spa, muscles glow... (with bloom)

So I bought new computer recently, and a fairly beefy one at that. A necessary step, or so I tell myself. The old one was getting pretty rickety, and that the new one lets me play all but the most piggish games at 1600x1200 with all the bells and whistles turned on is just an unintended bonus, right? Games like Gears of War, the first to really showcase the xbox 360:s hardware recently made its way to the PC. Pretty sweet.

Except for the fact that they put all that hardware and tecnical prowess to the most hideous use imaginable. Here's a quick question: Which of the following two images is more attractive one? This blockbuster next-gen game...

...or this last generation title that didn't sell nearly as much as it should have?

No, the question is not which one has more pixel shaders firing or bumpmapping or whatever technical wizardy, but which one is prettier. If you voted for the one with actual colours in it, congratulations, you win!

In other words, Gears of War looks like shit.

Now, war is hell and ugly subject matters should look ugly and all that, but Jesus. You'd think they'd let something a little bit vibrant into the palette at some point. Even the blood's so dark it's black.

And it's not just that I don't care for the art direction at all, sometimes that monochrome sludge becomes an impediment to the gameplay as well. It takes you some split seconds longer to see if that's one of your fellow impossibly-muscled-and-manly soldiers, or an evil Locust grunt you're about to blow to smithereens. True, the targeting reticule changes colour over enemies, but given that Gears makes an effort to minimize the HUD in other parts, it's ridiculous that you'd be forced to rely on it for something as basic as this.

It's a real shame, because otherwise Gears does some pretty nifty things. I really like the way the camera dips down and narrows the view when you're running, lobbing grenades is wonderfully precise, and even something as basic as reloading your weapon has been tweaked to add a more strategic element to it. But the fact remains that everytime I load it up, the endless Grimness and humourless (ok, so there's plenty of unintentional laughs to be found) macho bullshit makes me want to play something with puppies and hugs and rainbows instead.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Grindhouse, if you weren't aware, is Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's homage to trashy 70's explotation flicks.

Rodriguez' Planet Terror is schlocky in all the right ways, full of gore and bad zombie effects, features an insanely sexy one-legged Rose McGowan rocket-jumping and other bits of z-grade awesomeness. You know if you like this sort of thing, and if you do, odds are you'll love Planet Terror. Plus, Michael Biehn! Awesome.

Death Proof is a fairly fun ten-minute car chase preceded by over an hour and a half of ceaseless, inane jabbering. Now, Tarantino has a way of making the most mundane bullshit sound profound, but a) this requires good actors, and b) this is the most self-indulgent, tedious crap he's penned so far.

It did shit business when it was released as a double feature in the US, so it got split up into two different movies for Europe. This is both good and bad. Bad, because Death Proof got longer. Good, because now you can avoid it altogether. Huzzah!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Beelzebozo the clown, and future Darwin Award

Now, sit on beelzebozo's lap young 'un, and he'll demonstrate Hulk's special love hold on you.
An Illinois man who worked as a "Christian clown" named Klutzo was arrested yesterday on child pornography charges for allegedly taking naked photographs of young boys at a Philippines orphanage.

And then there's the reverend who liked to get choked

An Alabama minister who died in June of "accidental mechanical asphyxia" was found hogtied and wearing two complete wet suits, including a face mask, diving gloves and slippers, rubberized underwear, and a head mask,

How do you hogtie yourself? That's dedication, now.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Reverse Graffiti

Brazilian artist/designer Alexendre Orion making street art by scraping off layers of soot from tunnel walls.

Monday, September 24, 2007

What we need more of is science

Chernobyl fungus feeds on radiation:
Casadevall and his co-researchers then set about performing a variety of tests using several different fungi. Two types - one that was induced to make melanin (Crytococcus neoformans) and another that naturally contains it (Wangiella dermatitidis) - were exposed to levels of ionizing radiation approximately 500 times higher than background levels. Both of these melanin-containing species grew significantly faster than when exposed to standard background radiation.

"Just as the pigment chlorophyll converts sunlight into chemical energy that allows green plants to live and grow, our research suggests that melanin can use a different portion of the electromagnetic spectrum - ionizing radiation - to benefit the fungi containing it," said co-researcher Ekaterina Dadachova.

Oh my god! Stan Lee was right!

US Army develops pain rays:

When turned on, it emits an invisible, focused beam of radiation - similar to the microwaves in a domestic cooker - that are tuned to a precise frequency to stimulate human nerve endings.

It can throw a wave of agony nearly half a mile.

Because the beam penetrates skin only to a depth of 1/64th of an inch, it cannot, says Raytheon, cause visible, permanent injury.

But anyone in the beam's path will feel, over their entire body, the agonising sensation I've just felt on my fingertip. The prospect doesn't bear thinking about.

"I have been in front of the full-sized system and, believe me, you just run. You don't have time to think about it - you just run," says George Svitak, a Raytheon executive.

Silent Guardian is supposed to be the 21st century equivalent of tear gas or water cannon - a way of getting crowds to disperse quickly and with minimum harm. Its potential is obvious.

Diana Mail though, so grains of salt, etc.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Come on Bennet, let's paaahty

Commando is the greatest gay movie of the eighties. I just watched it again and could go over it all the way to the ludicrous steam-spurting finale, but there's nothing I could say that ruthless reviews hasn't already put better:
For no apparent reason, Bennett exclaims, “John, I'm not going to shoot you between the eyes. I'm going to shoot you between the balls.” Money shoot him between the balls... But what really sent my gaydar off the chart was the following exchange between Arnold and Mr. Wells:

Matrix: "You can beat me... You want to put a knife in me. Look me in the eyes. See what's going on in there while you turn it. That's what you want to do to me, right? Come on, let the girl go. You and me. Don't deprive yourself of some pleasure. Come on Bennett; let's party."

Bennett: "I don't need the girl -- I don't need the girl!!"

Short of Arnold actually licking Vernon's ass, you simply could not come up with a gayer scene. Seriously, men fucking is straighter. And of course, you can’t spell Commando without “man,” “do” or “personal lubricant.”

Of course, there's no way words can do justice to the hopeless, conflicted longing in Bennett's face when Arnie goads him into going at him toe to toe.

Commando is fantastic beyond words.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

On Finnish-Swedishness and alienation

So I went out to dinner with my classmates today, and amongst all the beer and talk about the virtues of Perl, C#, Python and unit testing and whatnot (I dunno if I've been spoilt by a year abroad filled with wider conversation topics or what, but *one* hour of shop-talk should be more than enough, surely? Or maybe I'm a just a horrible failure of a computer scientist.), there was one bit of genuine insight that struck a nerve.

One of the guys observed about his summer working in Germany, where he was the lone Finnish-Swede amongst a bunch of Finns, that what growing up in the mostly swedish parts of Finland (there's a bunch of them along the west coast, fact fans, especially in the middle part) uniquely prepares you for is being in a place where you don't understand what the hell anyone's saying. Everyone else was freaking out, but for him, it was business as usual.

And it's true, you know. I grew up in a shitty little village where something like ninety percent of the peopulation speaks Swedish. You simply don't need or hear Finnish in your day-to-day life, but unless you're some inbred navel-gazing yokel whose greatest ambition in life is to take over his father's pigsty, you're very much aware of the huge swathes of country where they don't speak like you at all. Point is: you're not 100% at ease in a lot of places in your country, so going abroad is not that big of a deal.

Which I believe accounts for how easily I got by in Japan at the start, despite the dire warnings from various exchange studies booklets. Sure, the customs are different, but the whole bit about only understanding the odd word here and there was just like being ten years old again and going somewhere Finnish, with their strange and terrible language that defies mortal comprehension. You just roll with it.

Or maybe not. I am after all a bit DUNK! after all that beer.

Function Creep an album by one of my internet chums, and a quite a pleasant listen, if you like atmospheric electronic noise in the vein of Boards of Canada and the like, with an added dose of nuclear paranoia. He recommends Target City as a one-song overview of the album if you're precious about your time and bandwidth, and I won't much argue with that, although I'm very partial to DMB myself.

You can get it all for free here, and if you like this you might want to check out the Not A Gun EP as well, especially Early Morning Weatherview.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Spook Country

William Gibson's a tricky writer for me. I love his books and the atmosphere he creates in them, but I'm rarely sure if he's *actually* any good.

Gibson, for the non-nerds out there, was one of the creators of the cyberpunk sub-genre of science fiction. Nowadays he's writing writing about the here and now, but still using most of the tools of he used in his sci-fi days.

Spook Country gives us three protagonists: former singer Hollis Henry turned magazine writer trying to find something to do with her life, the Cuban intelligence trained cultural and ethnic mash-up Tito, who makes his living as and "illegal facilitator", and the perpetually sedated translator Milgram who's been hijacked by someone who may or may not be a government agent. All of them connected to a mysterious container that's been at sea for a very long time, and is about to make landfall soon.

His take on the here and now naturally includes the current fucked up state of affairs in the US. While his corporate dystopias were very much informed by Reagan and his policies, this is by far the most overt political commentary Gibson's done in any of his books, so you get bits like:

"The old man was as American as it got, but in what she thought of as some very recently archaic way. Someone who would've been in charge of something, in America, when grown-ups still ran things."

and casual references to getting shot in the face by the vice-president.

I enjoyed Spook Country, but not to the same extent as say, Pattern Recognition. The mystery of the container pulled me along for quite a while, but the thing that usually holds Gibson's novels together for me is the atmosphere and vision instead of plot and characters, and I suspect the problem here is that I'm a bit too much on the same page. So I'm nodding along instead of going "cool" when he brings up levitating beds and the like, because I remember the story he cribbed it from.

Monday, September 3, 2007


So these last couple of days have been less than excellent. I was going to go on a longwinded account of every sniffle, quivering lip and stoic stare into the middle distance from the moment I looked down on the train to the airport and saw "Vicki" on the side of a plastic bag, causing my brain to go into an endless repeat of the list people I might never see again, to the final kick in the teeth of waking up in my dead-end hometown with not a living soul about.

But bollocks to that.

I've done more than enough such rubbish already, and whining and moping doeth not a dashing gentleman make.

Besides, I'm all better now. Through judicious application of music magic, mainly consisting of Kenickie's Robot Song on endless repeat and assorted dehumanizing industrial music, especially Front Line Assembly's Tactical Neural Implant, as well as a momentarily crippling addiction to Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, I am now returned to my normal detached, cynical persona with none of those moist fleshy bits interfering with my reasoning. Huzzah!

So: onwards! Towards...the future! And whatever happens, there will be no fucking crying.

But first, an illustrated guide one-picture summary of why the last year was pretty damn glorious:

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Or, more succinctly

I know it's over...

...and it never really began, but in my heart it was so real...

Oh god, here we go with The Smiths again. I'm afraid it won't be for the last time either. Because, you know, moping. I'm back in Finland, and everything is wrong, wrong, WRONG. Where are the naked men running about? Why will there be no more drinking in the kitchen? Where are all the goddamned people? Have I wandered into some post-apocalyptic nightmare? And what's up with the bed? It's all soft, and softness is for the WEAK. And WEAK people start...start sniffling...

Excuse me for a bit, there's some dust in my eye...

Oh bollocks to this. I'm will try to distract the terrible sadness demons on my shoulders by commencing the first part of operation Don't Be A Horrible Fat Bastard, You Fat, Horrible Bastard (more on this later, unless it's an utter failure from the start) and try again later. With pictures! Of semi-naked men!

Unless of course looking at pictures kicks up so much dust in my eyes that I can't see to write.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


So a new movie by Alex Garland and Danny Boyle, the writer and the director that did such a splendid job reviving the zombie genre with 28 Days Later. This time around they're doing sci-fi. And it's a pretty excellent movie, and it feels* like *proper* sci-fi, not one of your lobotomized post-Star Wars space operas. Not that I have anything against space operas per se, but I do prefer my space travel to be dangerous, terrifying and awe-inspiring instead of some blurry lights that happen on the way between the escape from the clutches of the Murderous Space Prawn and the showdown with Dread Admiral Znorf, keeper of the Sacred Cutlery.

The traveling in this case takes place on the Icarus II, where a team of seven is trying to deliver a bomb that will re-ignite the sun, which is dying for some unspecified reason. Keen observers will notice the II there and deduce that this wasn't the first attempt, and wouldn't you just know it, when they approach the sun they intercept a distress signal from the first Icarus. Of course, they decide to investigate, and things start going terribly wrong. Mistakes are made, people start cracking under pressure, and so on and so great. I'm only really familiar with Cillian Murphy and Michelle Yeoh (who's always lovely to see, btw.) but all of the actors acquit themselves nicely.

Things get muddled in the third act, which is a departure in tone from what came before. Garland wants to make a point about God, but his atheist ideas get filtered through Boyle and his catholic upbringing and it's never really quite clear what they want to say. But I could roll with it though. The atmosphere's great, and the use of sfx is marvellous throughout. Boyle uses cgi to give us quiet bits of awe, like Mercury orbiting in front of the sun, as well 'splodes. I approve.

And whatever you do, do not watch the extended trailer unless you want to know all the plot points going in. Why do companies insist on giving away the entire goddamned movie in the trailer anyway?

*This is not saying that all the science holds up. You can pick many nits, if you are so inclined. It's just noting the difference in atmosphere and what it's interested in talking about.

And as sort of tangent: 28 Weeks Later sadly isn't much cop. There's a pretty nice subtext about how your parents will fail and betray you, and some genuinely awesome bits such as the helicopter butchering, but they get lost in too much shaky cam, contrivances, annoying children and disturbing outbursts of misogyny.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

And if you're so clever, then why are you on your own tonight?

Perennial bad influence Gillen rambles about The Smiths, and reminds of precisely how much I love them. Nobody mopes like Morrisey, and with a seriously annoying cold, tons of work that needs to be done and absolutely no motivation, I am in a moping mood.

Not that moping is the be end of all The Smiths' brilliance, Morrisey can be gloriously funny when he wants to, but in the end it's the stingers that serve tragedy rather than comedy that leave the greatest impression. But then, isn't that usually the case?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Anime roundup

Deadlines approaching, stress increasing, which of course means I turn to increasing amounts of disposable entertainment for procrastination. So without further ado, here's some of what I've distracted myself with, in order of decreasing awfulness:

Armitage III

A sudden craving for cyberpunk made me dig out this old OVA series (later re-cut into a movie dubbed Armitage III: Poly-Matrix, and got a sequel further on called Dual Matrix). Which turned out to be a rather big mistake.

The plot, which turns utterly incomprehensible by the third episode, goes like this: a robot-hating detective named Ross Sylibus is transferred from Chicago to Mars, where someone is killing off super-advanced robots secretly living as humans for some mysterious reason. Arriving there, he's teamed up with one of those hot-pants wearing anime women that have an endless capacity for violence but still need a big man because they're such fragile, sobbing things. She's the titular Armitage, and of course also a robot.

None of it makes any sense whatsoever, but somehow the earth government its evil feminist government is responsible because they take offense to pregnant robots and oh god, who's writing this shit, Nippon Kaigi*? The character moments are there because they are expected, not because they're justified by what's come before. We get Ross throwing away his phone when his boss calls up because he's "Fed up with the system", but nothing that tells us exactly what he's fed up with.

Maybe it was his outrage over being ordered to drop the robot murder investigation and focus on the wave of random, indiscriminate bombings that were killing lots of people that did it.

I'm pretty sure I deserve either an award or a beating for seeing this bilge all the way through to the bitter end.

*Conservative/proto-fascist organisation that screams bloody murder there's any pushes for gender equality in Japan.


Clare's a Claymore, a half-demon tasked with hunting down the demons (called yoma) that infiltrate and prey on humanity and...what? You've heard this one before you say?

So it's not the most original of premises, and there's a lot of other things you've before as well, such as fights that care little for physics, plausibility or logistics, lots of talk about power levels and steely-eyed, emotionally stunted killers that reconnect with their humanity via annoying children that stupidly refuse to obey orders and shout people's names repeatedly while crying.

On the plus side, while no Berserk by any stretch of the imagination, it does supply a fair share of blood and violence, subverts some clichés, and gives us the occasional amusingly grotesque image.

I was going to say that it's not terrible, but not much good either, but then a sudden decapitation introduced the main antagonist and got the overarching plot going, and it sort of won me over. So it's a little bit good then, even if it's overly plagued by shounen anime tropes.

Seirei no Moribito

Easily the best of the bunch, although not flawless. Another fantasy series, this one's directed by Kenji Kamiyama of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex fame, although unfortunately, it's not up to those standards. While there's a lot to like in here, such as a genuinely strong and competent older female protagonist, fantastic production values, music by the ever reliable Kenji Kawai and some excellently choreographed close combat, the pace is lacking and the characters so far aren't interesting enough to keep your attention during the slow moments.

The plot's pretty straightforward: a bodyguard name Balsa gets hired to protect a young prince by his mother. It seems a water fiend has laid an egg inside him, and as long as he lives the kingdom's threatened by a drought, and so his father the Emperor has targeted him for assassination. Problem is, six episodes in the immediate threat to the prince was taken care of, and at episode 14 we are just starting to see the hints of a real antagonist emerging. In between, there's just the prince's adjusting to life outside the palace, a slow development of the overall mythology and a sudden blast from the past taking place. I'm not an impatient man, but moving a little bit faster would be warranted.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

This one's for Vicky... well as all other rampant arachnophobes out there.
IT'S every arachnophobe's worst nightmare: millions of spiders on the move, blanketing everything in cobwebs.

The Gippsland flooding has triggered a spider population explosion of up to 30 species, which have taken to the air in the search for new homes.
Yum. Just look at that.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Superheroes? Without capes? Goodness me.

Hurgh. Am tired, cranky and generally unfit for polite company, and nbc hit show Heroes is mostly to blame. (The rest of it lies squarely on my constantly blue-screening lab computer and my own miserablism.) Damn thing kept me up extremely late, leaving me with a little bit over four hours of sleep last night.

The show's conceit isn't really that original, even though it likes to think it is; comics have been doing superheroes without capes for quite a long time now. However, it is *very* well executed. So: evolution in overdrive, people gain strange abilities and have to cope with them, and so on and so X-Men. Except without spandex and racism metaphors and more X-Files. Given the premise, it's quite naturally an ensemble show, which has its strengths and weaknesses. There's no main character that it all hinges on, even though some are clearly more important than others, which promises a bit of unpredictability; anyone could violently exit the stage at any point. On the other hand, when you get to one of the plot threads or characters that doesn't work work as well as the others, you just want to reach for the fast forward button. Everyone will fall in love with the bumbling, nerdy and earnest Hiro, and when you get past the concept of Evil Stripper Mom, her part will start to bore you.

Also: know that Heroes *loves* the classic cliffhanger. You will reach for the next episode the moment the latest one finishes. (Unless of course you don't care for the show at all, but as a Doktor, I cannot be held responsible for your lapses in taste.)

Saturday, June 30, 2007

So it appears I am going to learn salsa

Tonight, I went with Leo and a bunch of other guys to a salsa club. Leo is Cuban, a brain surgeon and generally a marvel of a man, and no less so on the dance floor. I know not a lick of salsa except for what he taught me at the dorm's Christmas party oh-so-long ago, but most of us are in the same boat, no matter where you go with Leo you end up having fun, so that's ok.

At the club, us rubbish people end up feeling sort of self-conscious and awkward, to start with. A frightening amount of people seem to know what they're doing, but enough people kindly take pity on us and impart their wisdom for the night to mosey along quite nicely. Then there's a break. There's going to be a special show, the centerpiece of which is a girl who's freshly arrived from Cuba. It's sort of a welcoming thing for her, accepting her into the salsa community in Osaka and whatnot.

One Cuban salsa show and some spectacularly undulating hips later, me and my non-salsa capable friends look at each other and go: "Yeah. I think I'm going to join a salsa course when I get the chance."

All in all a good night then. I just wish Leo hadn't told us the girl in question was only eighteen.

I feel like a dirty old man now.

Friday, June 29, 2007

HERO, redux

I've been spending a frankly disturbing amount of time listening to Kermode's reviews at the BBC archives these last days.

What I love about him is that he really gets it; reviews are a guide for the consumer, yes, but they're also entertainment. Reviews don't matter for the big blockbusters, most people look at the trailer and decide to go to the opening night or not. From then on, it'll be word of mouth that makes it sink or swim.

Unless it's the Star Wars prequels, which everyone knew would suck after the hideous Episode One, and then went to see anyway.

(Including me. In my defense, it was only a lot of peer pressure that got me into theatre for the last one.)

Reviews matter more for the smaller films that can't saturate the public awareness beforehand with ridiculous promotional campaigns, but especially for stuff like PotC, they're mostly there for us to argue or agree with. Entertainment, in other words. Kermode, in addition to being knowledgeable and passionate about movies, is one funny bastard. He threatens to become obnoxious at times with his disproportionate hatred for "Orloondo Bland" and Julian Sands, but pulls it off thanks to it obviously being genuine (and frankly, it's hard to argue that Orlando Bloom isn't a charisma vacuum).

I just love the man. Especially when he's wrong.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I have a new hero

His name is Mark Kermode, film critic for BBC's Radio Five. Why? Well, just have a look at his review of Pirate of the Caribbean: World's End.

I don't care if you love PotC or not (I quite liked the first one myself, thought the second was a bloated mess that went nowhere, haven't seen the last one yet), that's the sort spirit I want to see in a critic.

His spewing of hate on misogynistic shitfest Captivity in the current podcast is equally glorious.

Monday, June 25, 2007

While (sort of) on the topic of musical obsessions...

I've been listening to Swedish indie favourite turned stadium monster Kent a lot lately, in particular their breakthrough second album Verkligen (meaning Really) which is on nearly constant rotation in my ipod. Maybe it's being off in a strange and terrible foreign land and not getting enough of the mother tongue, or maybe it's this mental connection I have between Kent and Summer. (Which is a bit weird, considering how much angst and darkness there's in their songs.)

Anyway, Verkligen kicked of what's in my mind their golden period, consisting of three great albums: Verkligen, Isola and Hagnesta Hill. While I'd still say Isola is the best one, thanks to superior songwriting and a complete lack of filler material (Hagnesta Hill suffers from being a couple of songs too long, and the filler to worthwhile songs ratio kept on rising with every subsequent album), Verkligen is growing on me. The less than polished production lends it a raggedness and frailty that's missing from the following releases, and the occasional missteps become charming youthful exuberance. It's palpably a work of a young and hungry band. Bits of the same drive exist on Hagnesta Hill, which was their attempt at breaking out in the English speaking market*, but not nearly to the same degree. It goes straight after my (possible misguided) affinity for underdogs, and elevates it that little bit extra in my opinion.

*Both HH and Isola were released in English and Swedish versions. Their attempt failed due to Kent in English being shit.

Well, shit is perhaps being overly harsh, but they definitely lose something in the translation. Observe: first real hit single Kräm, and its tepid English version What It Feels Like. Besides the lyrics being more awkward, the vocals are just dead in comparison, with none of the desperation apparent in the Swedish chorus.

The top five reasons I love High Fidelity

So after celebrating Midsummer by spending all of Friday night drinking on the roof with fellow expatriate Niko, I was in no state to accolish much of anything during the rest of the weekend except sleep and renew my man-crush on John Cusack, via underrated assassin-comedy Grosse Point Blank and seminal low-key romantic comedy High Fidelity.

Hence, the following list.

1. John Cusack. Always intensely likable even when the character he's playing isn't. Better yet, he can do smart with ease. The over-caffeinated commitment-phobic Rob is the sort of character he excels at.

2. It's about a bunch of elitist pricks ragging on their customers, and feeling superior to everyone thanks to their encyclopedic knowledge of music.

3. The moral of the story is that to find love and happiness, you have to give up. No one's perfect, even polynesian sex godessess have horrible, washed-out cotton panties amongst the lingerie. And that's ok.

4. It's content to just let the humour and story develop from the characters instead forcing all sort of superfluous plot points and artificial crisises into the movie.

5. The scene where the incredibly awkward Dick hits on a girl. Hell, just Dick in his entirety.

Not coincidentally, the "It's not who you are, it's what you like" seduction routine reminds me of Gillen & McKelvie's excellent music-as-magic comic Phonogram. It could just be because they share the same obsessions, but I suspect High Fidelity was a conscious influnce. (Go read the first issue for free, and give Warren Ellis' Fell a go while you're there as well.)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Holy hell, what's up with the date below?

Testing, testing.

EDIT: Ah, so it seems the time stamp is for the first draft saved instead of time published.

That's not a very clever way of doing things, google.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Starship Troopers. A bit shit, isn't it?

I suppose I should talk about this Japan thing sometime, but that would take effort, and why exert yourself when you could talk about pop-culture instead of real life? Exactly.

There's quite a lot of Nerd Rage flowing about the internets whenever Starship Troopers gets mentioned. You can hardly bring up either the movie or the book without some put-upon fan of Heinlein wanting to burn Paul Verhoeven at the stake for what he did with the movie adaptation.

I can certainly understand how someone with a lot of affection for the book would feel upset at all the ways the movie differs from the source material.

Verhoeven, while depicting the core values of Heinlein's Federation (franchise has to be earned, the way to earn it is through military service, horrible communist alien scum must die) accurately enough, chose to send it up as the xenophobic and militaristic proto-fascist state it is.

I just can't see why someone actually *likes* the book.

I love sci-fi, not only for the lasers, explosions and big stompy robots, but for the all the opportunities it affords the authors to comment on technology and current social issues. You can stick what you want to talk about under federation star ships and whatnot, leaving it for those that want to look a little bit deeper. Or you can be completely overt with your commentary, cutting loose like it was 1984. What you can't do, is suck.

Johnny Rico rebels against his father, and signs up for military service, for reason's not entirely clear to himself. He then proceeds to fuck up with regular intervals, so a strict, but infinitely wise and well-meaning commanding officer can correct him and steer him on the right track. Occasionally they slaughter vaguely defined aliens, for no other reason than that this is the way of the universe; constant expansion and military prowess is needed or we become wiped by some other race. Sometimes Heinlein will wax lyrical over the virtues of public corporal punishment and executions, but mostly it's a never ending sloppy blowjob to the military.

Starship Troopers is just a hideously dull polemic, populated by paper thin character, and very little in the way of plot. And the writing's not much cop either. The prose is workmanlike at best, and it's painfully obvious that this was intended to be 50's juvenilia. There's a lot of "Why, I...!" and sometimes a "Heck!" or even a "Gosh!" thrown in for good measure.

So there's not much to except general awfulness to distract you from his message, not even explosions. (For something that promises "Military Adventure" on the cover, there's an awful lot of boot camp and lecturing, and comparatively little fighting. If you're going to write military porn, at least have the decency to show us more ultra-violence than sermons about what a moral fucking organisation it is.) Whatever his aspirations towards serious discourse on the meaning and responsibilities of citizenship, it just ends up a repellent militaristic screed. That Heinlein chooses to elaborate on most of the philosophy in flashbacks to Rico's History and Moral Philosophy classes, doesn't help matters much either, since the lecturers are all always Unquestionably Right. They can prove everything they say, see. With math.

To be fair, the actual science in the book comes off as pretty credible (apart from the times they use math to prove political and sociological points, that is). But when the only worthwhile thing about your book also applies to technical manuals, you're doing something very wrong. Heinlein might as well have written a fictional user's manual for powered armour. It would have been a marked improvement.

Monday, June 11, 2007

First post!

Yeah, so I'm finally catching up with 2002 and this whole blogging thing. I was originally going to chronicle my year in Japan on a blog, but since I'm such a lazy fuck I've never gotten around to it until now, nine months into the grand adventure.

Naturally, I'm procrastrinating.