Monthly Archives: January 2012

Big Media gets smart?

"The River" - this year's "Lost" or the new "Flash Forward".

In a development which probably isn’t a harbinger of things to come,  ABC Studios have partnered with iTunes in the UK to bring new mystery series, “The River”, to UK viewers a day after it debuts in the US.

This is partly down to the awkward but undeniable fact that no UK broadcaster has picked up the show yet, despite reviews of the pilot like this one from io9.

Something which makes me slightly nervous about this show is the involvement of “Paranormal Activity” creator Oren Peli and Steven Spielberg as producers.  Spielberg’s record on TV isn’t the best – for every “Band of Brothers” or “The Pacific”, there’s a “Falling Skies” or “Terra Nova”.  Neither of those shows is an out and out stinker, but they’ve always seemed to me to be feature projects which couldn’t quite hack it and ended up on telly.

I have to say that I wonder if this is going to be the shape of television to come – buying a single show season pass on a platform like iTunes rather than shelling out for a pricey tv package which has only a few series that you actually want to watch.   The pricing probably has to catch up to make this model of viewing attractive – I’m not sure that I want to commit to a show from the outset which might never get beyond twelve episodes – but as I find myself watching fewer and fewer hours of TV each year (a number which will decrease  yet further when “30 Rock” ends its run), perhaps taking a punt on the new JJ Abrams or Ron D Moore show will seem like the way to go.

 

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“Resident Evil: Retribution” new image, teaser poster and release date

So, it's a low-key, period costume piece, then?

The internets, they keep on giving.

Over on the “Resident Evil” movie Facebook page, there’s a link to this delightful teaser poster for this year’s “Retribution” sequel.  Everything’s gone all Mayan, you might say.

If you’re keeping score, it’s the fifth movie in the Paul Anderson/Milla Jovovich series of game-to-film adaptations and as the last movie – “Afterlife” – was the highest grossing entry in the franchise, it’s hard to see how the September 14th release of this latest film will be anything other than a hit – the fans of the games bitch about the diversions from the game storyline and still buy tickets, the critic’s reviews are (let’s be candid) quite beside the point and at the end of the week, I can think of no more enjoyable experience than heading to the cinema to see Milla Jovovich kicking zombies in the head.

This is the part where Milla negotiates nicely with the zombie horde, yes?

Well, it would be even better if it wasn’t in 3D, but I’m going to lose that battle, so why fight it in the first place?   Stupid glasses it is.

Everybody look at me/'Cause I'm sailing on a boat...

And September 14th, by the way, seems to be the release date for the UK and US – our friends in Australia and New Zealand have to wait until October for the film, which seems desperately unfair or a rare mercy, depending on how you see things.

Isn’t the digital age supposed to bring an end to this idea of stupidly staggered release dates?  Can’t we all share the guilty pleasure awesome at the same time?

 

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Matthew Vaughn signs up for “X-Men: First Class” sequel

Image

In news bound to cheer up fans of smarter superhero fare, director Matthew Vaughn has signed up to direct a sequel to last year’s quite ace “X-Men: First Class”

Hopefully this also means that Jane Goldman (pictured above, with her signature crimson hair which is clearly her bad-ass super-power) will also return – though Empire’s story at the link above indicates that regular Twentieth Century Fox writer/producer Simon Kinberg (“Fantastic Four”/”Mr and  Mrs Smith”) is initially flinging words into his laptop and hoping something sticks.

An early request from this corner – can we hope for a sequel where most of the female members of the team don’t have to walk about in their underwear in the service of ‘being undercover’?  Cheers.

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Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning – demoed!

I have to confess that I’ve been a bit remiss on the gaming side of things.  Since finishing “Uncharted 3” in the run up to Christmas, my time has been monopolised by other things.  This is partly by choice, as I decided to throw some of my energies into reading through the growing stack of novels by my bedside before they formed some kind of sentient, gaudy covered Jenga-like tower of my undoing.

I’ll get to that in a post later this week – blame GoodReads.com and the Sword and Laser podcast for getting me hooked on books anew – but I want to touch on a game demo which reeled me in like a conga eel at the weekend.  I’m talking about the latest action/RPG from EA, Big Huge Games and 38 Studios, “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning”.

If you’re currently neck-deep in your “Skyrim” quest lines, I’m not sure that you’ll find a great deal in the “Amalur” demo to drag you away from your Dragonborn adventures but if you’ve skipped “Skyrim” – and, believe it or not, there are people who haven’t set foot in that epic digital realm – it’s entirely possible that this hybrid fantasy adventure might be your particular flagon of Elven Ale.

For one thing, it’s inevitably a more directed experience, at least in the demo portion that I’ve played.   You watch some cut scene action, create a character and go on a extended tuition of combat, mechanics and get some back story thrown in.  It’s not an earth-shattering approach to the genre, but it is nicely assured and seems to be a slightly better job of chucking you into a single-player action fantasy setting than EA’s “Dragon Age 2” did in 2011.

As is so often the case for me, I’ve gone for the female Elf archetype and played through the demo focusing on combat as much as any of the other talents which you can level up.  And the combat, at least in this vertical slice of game, is accessible, fun and makes you feel like you can mix things up to suit your style until you have the measure of the enemies being pitted against you.

Dodge about a bit, hit some poor unfortunate lackey with arrows from a distance, dash back in and lay waste with your short blades – it’s often so tough to get this stuff right in games, but on the evidence of this demo, if “Amalur” gets something dead on, it’s the fighting.  Boding well for the full retail release, I’m saying.

The settings are fun, the meta-game collection aspects are well integrated and the conversation system is accessible to anybody who’s picked up and played “Mass Effect” in this console generation.   That comparison alone may suggest to whether you want to play it or not, but I’m enjoying what I’ve played of this game and might be reorganizing my time to give this game some attention once it comes out on the 10th of February in the UK.

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What he said…

Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann on the central issue affecting content providers, via Reddit.

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When egos dare – Hagar on Halen

The Red Rocker, rocking in red. Later, haters.

Bless Sammy Hagar – in an age where celebrities dare not speak in public without the assistance of PR’s and PA’s to keep them on message, Hagar’s somebody that you can rely on to tell it as he sees it.

I suspect that, if I had been around as long as him, could buy Belgium with the spare change in my trousers and had been in massive rock bands since the seventies, I too might well not give a tailor’s chalk about offending sensibilities.

Hagar’s been on the promotional trail bigging up his current super group Chickenfoot and has words for the ‘new’ Van Halen material.

And those words include ‘zero inspiration’ and ‘zero creativity’.  Ouch, much?

I can see where he’s coming from – as detailed in previous posts, I’m a little nonplussed by the fact that the new Van Halen stuff is mostly old material which didn’t make it onto earlier records.  That doesn’t sit well with me and Hagar too questions why this new/old line-up hasn’t sat down to write wholly new material.  It’s not like these guys are fresh-faced kids bulking out their album track listing with covers – it’s Van-freaking-Halen, for (Jamie’s) crying out loud.

If seasoned pros like Chickenfoot can get in a room and write new songs, why can’t Dave, Eddie, Alex and Wolfgang get their creative process going?

Hey, I’m not a musician and I don’t know how the writing process works when you’ve been around as long as VH have but the equivalent in another media would be George Lucas going back to a previous project and futzing around with things until they get all messed up.

Hey, now – wait a minute…

 

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TheGessNation – a YouTube vlog which ROCKS…

Nightwish - Finland's finest Symphonic Mentalists...

Surfing YouTube sometimes yields an absolute gem amidst the dross, comment section haters and sponsored piffle.  One such example of this phenomenon is TheGessNation.

Pat, for TheGessNation is his YouTube channel, reviews Heavy Metal albums on YouTube and does so brilliantly.  He gets the absurdity inherent in the genre and celebrates it whilst telling you why the music’s compelling, the place that it has within a band’s previous catalogue and how it all relates to the sometimes bewildering world of Metal sub-genres.

Labouring under the belief that Heavy Metal constitutes one, solitary genre of music?  Oh, how wrong you are, dear friend, how wrong you are…

I’d compare him, in terms of wit and charm, to Metal Hammer magazine writer Dom Lawson (whose ‘Dom’s Metal Sandwich’ is another vlog which you should check out – even if he doesn’t seem that keen on the splendid new Lacuna Coil record...).

If you have to watch one, I’d suggest that the edition which deals with Megadeth’s most recent record, “Th1rt3en” is worth a look – all the skinny on Megadeth’s most recent record and the complex web of madness which is intrinsic to discussing Dave Mustaine’s band of not-so-merry thrashers.

And as if you needed proof of how YouTube can send you down many an interesting rabbit hole – here’s the aforementioned Nightwish recording their most recent album, “Imaginarium”, via a promotional tie-in with Genelac studio monitors.  The things that you find on the internets, eh Marco?

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A Season of Vamps: “Fright Night” (2011) review

A rare remake that's worth your time...

(MILD SPOILERS from herein for the new version)

As noted in my previous post, I’m quite a fan of Tom Holland’s 1985 comic horror gem, “Fright Night.  It was genre-aware long before such a thing was fashionable, scary in the right places whilst never being frightened to bring the funny and had characters subject to memorably unpleasant, feral vampire transformations – not so much a case of sporting one or two pronounced fangs as protagonists suddenly looking, well, like this:

Edward Cullen and his photogenic clan of Gap Bloodsuckers this isn’t.

That said, the new “Fright Night”, as directed by Craig Gillespie finds itself entering a cultural space in which vampires have never been more popular but that popularity has arguably come at the expense of some of their credibility and fear-inducing iconography.  Also the vampire in literature has always been a popular conduit for discussing forbidden desire, repressed sexuality and ideas of body horror, the romantic side of the mythos is quite the thing latterly, whether it takes the form of eternal emo teen Edward in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” novels , the sexy southern gentleman bloodsucker Bill Compton of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books or the tortured angst of Angel in Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” series.

Where to go, then?  Go into the same territory as “30 Days of Night” and make the vampire an implacable, terrifying, predatory threat or make your anti-hero ruggedly handsome and just hope that there’s enough of a vampire fan base to let your guy chomp his way into their hearts?

Hmm. You would, wouldn't you?

To its credit, this iteration of “Fright Night” manages to make its night walking antagonist Jerry, played splendidly by Colin Farrell, into a threat who is both charming and genuinely dangerous, using his rogue’s persona to good effect as a way of ensnaring victims, entrancing would-be enemies and putting the authorities off the scent.  He’s a rougher, more working class guy than I remember Chris Sarandon as being in the original film – this Jerry is a jeans-wearing and six-pack of Budweiser kind of bloke, a fellow who “works nights” on the Vegas strip.   He’s a world away from the refined, elegantly attired, ‘old world’ blood drinker of the Lestat school – he’s the sort of dude you expert you see working on his car in the driveway of his sub-division home, cranking Alice in Chains on the stereo.

Vegas is another change in this version, which is expertly written by “Buffy”/“Angel”veteran, Marti Noxon, and it’s an inspired choice.  The suburban neighbourhood under threat in this version is out in the middle of nowhere, which makes for some striking photography and compositions by cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, who intriguingly also shot both “New Moon” and “Eclipse” in the “Twilight” series.

Imogen Poots, as Amy, in "Fright Night".

In many ways, “Fright Night” is the best kind of remake.  It takes a much-loved horror comedy and updates it for a contemporary audience without negating the original’s qualities in any way.  The effects work is slightly more elaborate, as befits the CGI era, without going too far into the realm of Flubber-like virtual characters who suspend the viewers belief immediately.  The script is deliciously smart and multi-layered, giving Anton Yelchin’s Charley an interesting arc and a believable, quite charming relationship with his girlfriend, Amy – the oft-underused but always excellent Imogen Poots.

The alterations made to the characters and their motivations are often inspired, never less so than in the case of Peter Vincent, played so memorably in 1985 by the late Roddy McDowell and in this version by the abso-bloody-lutely hilarious David Tennant.

He’s half Criss Angel, half Russell Brand, somewhat of a fraudulent jackass and a an absolute hoot to watch whenever he’s on screen.  In this version, Vincent is a Vegas theatre illusionist rather than the TV horror movie host he was previously but the change allows for many excellent jabs at the artifice of illusion and the cosplay-like nature of a rock-star wannabe like Angel.

I have no idea whether he is as much of a buffoon as Vincent is in this new version but the influence of the self-described ‘Mind Freak’ is so clear that it’s impossible not to erase him from your mind whenever Tennant’s camping it up in leather trousers and bolting for safety at the first sign of supernatural trouble.

"You have to have faith for that to work".

What we have here is a remake which respects the original film but is never in thrall to it.  It expands the canvas whilst keeping the things which worked and improving on them in some ways.  It has a superb cast, genuine moments of unnerving tension, clever and creepy ideas (the holding cells in Jerry’s house – I don’t know why, but the idea just gives me the proverbial wiggins) and a sense of humour which is both up to date (yes, there is a gentle jab at Stephenie Meyer;s fan base) and genuinely funny.

TL: DR version? If you like vampires, see this.  If you like the principal cast, definitely see this.  If you enjoyed the original, see this.  It’s great.

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What I (might) be watching tonight…

The business of choosing DVD rentals is a fraught one in our house.

We’ve just given up on our subscription to the UK’s leading provider of rental-by-post for the reasons which most people might cite – your top choices not turning up, the discs which you get sent being hit-and-miss in terms of cleanliness and playability, the title that you added in haste during one period of insomniac delirium and never being watched.  The short and long of it is that we weren’t watching stuff, were paying a monthly subscription no matter what and spending more money than we needed to on what is the thinking nerd’s equivalent of the unused gym membership.

Hence, we’re supporting our local Blockbuster whilst it’s still there.

We’re planning to watch this dynamic duo of films tonight:

When Irish eyes are smiling...

and somehow we missed this (hopefully) delightful valentine to nerdery and film-making last summer…

That J.J. Abrams - crazy angles, crazy guy...

I’m expecting big things, I won’t lie.  With “Fright Night”, I’ve yet to see anything that Anton Yelchin was in which I didn’t like  (and yes, that is me admitting on the Internet that I enjoyed “Terminator Salvation”).

With “Fright Night”I loved the original – it was a VHS/TV broadcast staple for me, although I’ve not seen it in years.  Here’s hoping that this revamp (sorry, had to be done) keeps the fine balance of scares to chuckles that Tom Holland’s 1985 film managed to deliver.

Also – this dude is in it:

MindFreak! Or not, what with copyright infringement and all that jazz...

So, plus ten to awesome Scots Thesp-based kick assery then?

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ACTA is the new SOPA?

Now that the internet has calmed down a bit about anti-internet legislation SOPA, should we all start worrying about ACTA instead?

ACTA Demotivational Poster via Very Demotivational.com

If you’re not up to speed on your legal challenges to a free, unregulated internet, ACTA is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement and purports to do as its name suggests and enforce the regulation of intellectual property rights in signatory countries.

This proposed legislation won’t be debated fully before the European Parliament until June,

but a prominent MEP has already resigned, citing behind-the-scenes manoeuvres by officials preparing the agreement for his reticence to participate in a debate which, it seems, is less of a debate and more of a signed, sealed and delivered mandate which doesn’t really resemble democracy or the practice thereof by my understanding.

Of course, one might argue that a 14-year-old kid firing up a sweet Torrent client and illicitly downloading the new Drake album or a dodgy copy of the new “Sherlock Holmes” is engaging in a form of anti-democratic activity which is ultimately far more harmful to musicians, producers, record labels, CD pressing plants, distribution companies, retailers and a myriad of inter-related interests and we should be doing something about that, but I digress…

Colours nailed to the mast, I feel that we need to allow musicians to make a living from making music.  I’m not at all certain that SOPA and ACTA do anything more than bolt the stable door long after the prize pony has made a run for it, but if they do anything, they might just set some alarm bells ringing in the heads of folks who use the internet and don’t think twice about downloading music without, y’know, paying for it or even thinking about the implications of what they’re doing.

Lots of people in the world are finding their respective economies tough to deal with and I absolutely understand that – things like entertainment are a luxury which many people have to think twice about before paying out money for, but a dubious downloaded file isn’t an answer and only ends up screwing over a singer or band who’s at the bottom of a long line of music industry people who get paid long before the artist does.

I’m damned if I know what the answer to this problem is – we have a generation of kids now who don’t view ‘owning’ a physical copy of music or a film as being at all relevant to them and I think that’s partially what terrifies the established entertainment businesses because they can’t keep marketing new media formats to a demographic who regard their product as being ephemeral and not something that they need to have access to on a long-term basis.  If you get your tunes online, via a phone handset, why do you need to have shelves of CD’s which you might rip once to a hard drive and then never look at again?

So, if I’m reading this correctly, the whole problem with copyright is a generational one and as long as that divide exists, there’s no good solution to it beyond some entrepeneur coming up with a service which gives the kids what they want, gets the suits their cut and somehow doesn’t screw over the creative types either?

Good luck sorting out that problem…

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