Category Archives: Random Notes

Random notes from a disorganized brain…

Hagrid’s Feeling For Snow…

Image

We took Hagrid for a walk in the overnight snow which blanketed the UK on Monday morning – he wasn’t that keen, you’ll be surprised to learn.

Sure, he pads about in the curious white carpet which has unceremoniously deposed his normal pavements and parkland, and he has a sniff about, but he’s just not that into it.

Where are the smells?  And why do his paws not have as much traction as normal?  What’s this cold stuff on the end of his nose?  And why is it drastically reducing my daily walks from two to one longish one?  So many canine questions, so very few answers…

1 Comment

Filed under Blogs, Fluffrick, Random Notes

Zero Tolerance Parenting

We hear a lot of negative news stories about gaming, children displaying addictive reactions to electronic entertainment and perceived social problems arising from the same.

Image

And then there are stories like this which show admirable creativity in dealing with a child’s gaming-fixated mindset:

Dad hires hitmen to kill son’s gaming avatars

Is it just me or has life begun to mimic the plots of Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow novels?

When talking, reason and punitive measures fail to reach loved ones and persuade them to perhaps back off the TERA grinding for a spell, perhaps this drastic course of action is one that might just reach one’s virtual realm ensconced offspring?

1 Comment

Filed under Random Notes

No Easy Choices

I don’t see any point in preaching to you about Friday’s events in Newtown, Connecticut.  Like many people worldwide, I felt a sense of futility and horror as the story developed in real time and got steadily worse with each reading.  You know how you feel, why you feel it and what you think should be done about gun laws.

At this point in time, thanks to a powerful combination of national mythology, entrenched fear of violent crime and a fiercely guarded right to self determination, it seems like insurmountable effort beyond the ability of any American president to introduce legislation which will reduce gun ownership.  

“If you take away our legally-obtained guns’, so goes the argument, ‘How do we defend ourselves from criminals who don’t care about licenses, waiting periods and legality?”  Try to intervene as a government in a constitutional right which so many Americans regard as integral to their pursuit of life and you run the risk of initiating a path which ends in full-on Civil War.  It might seem fanciful to a Briton who lives happily without ever seeing a gun in real life, let along owning one, but that’s the way it is.

The notion that America will one day be a gun-free society is so esoteric that it barely deserves discussion – for many Americans, the genuine distrust they feel for government necessitates (in their minds) their right to own weapons and protect their freedom from interference and tyranny.  We’re too far gone, it would seem, to change that way of viewing the world.

How do you begin to convince a people that this line of thinking only serves to perpetuate the cycle of horror that they’ve found themselves in? That’s the task that America now sees itself tasked with.  

Do you continue down this road, where each year sees multiple, gun-related atrocities committed by a malcontent, mentally ill spree killer whose suicide invariably acts as the climactic act of their destructive path?  Or do you try to change the way that your society functions, with no concrete guarantee of changing hearts and minds in your lifetime?

I should contextualise my remarks by telling that I’m not a parent, so the rawest emotions that many of you reading this will have felt over the weekend are not ones which I can honestly profess to feel – I think Charlie Brooker’s column in the Guardian today sums up what many families will have felt at one point or another in the last few days.

The only reaction that I can have is empathy for those who have lost loved, cherished, yearned-for children in circumstances so utterly distressing and vile that they pierce the hardest, most cynical heart.  I can’t purport to solve the situation that Americans now grapple with, nor absolve my country of the myriad issues and inequalities which tax our ability to function as a nation.

When children die in banally horrific situations like this we should look deeply at our world. We can all be better than this – we should want to be.  

2 Comments

Filed under Random Notes

Metallic Faith Malarkey

Image

When I’m not learning how to write my name in Elvish, I’m being utterly perplexed by my fellow citizens.

In data extrapolated from the 2011 UK census results, it would appear that 6,242 of Britons declared  Heavy Metal as their religion (for the record, that’s more respondents than self-identified as a Scientologist, Druid or Shaman).

To which one can only remark “Huh?”

I love a bit of Maiden as much as the next middle-aged, dog-walking vegetarian but can’t quite get behind the notion of aligning my musical genre of choice with organised faith – the goals of one seem quite at odds with the professed beliefs of the other, surely?

Obviously this result should probably be taken in the spirit of the kind of lightly subversive, nose-thumbing surrealism that I suspect it to be (note the high ranking of ‘Jedi Knight‘ as a faith of choice in the UK census, even after the quality of the “Star Wars” prequels should have killed aligning oneself to Uncle George’s franchise outright).

So, if I’m reading all of this correctly, the proper conclusion to draw from this census is that agencies of social control (which we normally oppose with all-consuming fervour) are a very bad idea until they provide you with the opportunity to make a snarky response to a survey.

Swell.

2 Comments

Filed under Blogs, Music, Random Notes

“Predator” on Blu-Ray – Hi-Def Halloween Horror

If it’s reference quality video you want…look elsewhere?

It’s a fact little disputed amongst serious scholars of bone-crunching, gore-spattered, pectoral-pumping, 1980’s cinema that John McTiernan‘s action/sci-fi/horror mash-up “Predator” is a pivotal movie of the decade and ranks as some of iconic star Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s best on-screen work.

Shorn of many of the reactionary politics which accompanied many action-thrillers of the decade and focussing instead on creating one of the best variations on “The Most Dangerous Game” that we’ve seen on-screen, “Predator” doesn’t waste a second of its 107 minute running time and lives longer in the memory because of it – it would take a real bonehead to mess up this premise and the taut script by Jim and John Thomas thankfully provides director McTiernan with an opportunity to stage tense, violent and genuinely thrilling set-pieces which still resonate 25 years later.

25 years since this film opened?  Oy vey.

The set-up is simplicity itself – an elite team of covert military extraction specialists led by Major Dutch Schaefer (Alan Alda…Schwarzenegger) take on the job of entering a South American conflict zone to retrieve lost government personnel and instead find themselves on the wrong end of a terrifying big game hunt waged by an alien big game hunter whose dental bills must be crippling.

METAL!

It’s to the Thomas’ credit that they find ways to subvert expectations and misdirect the audience until the runaway train of the main plot kicks in and never lets up for the remainder of the running time.  Sparing as it is, there is at least some attempt to lend Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers and the various tree-trunk necked cast passing character development amidst the shoot-outs, last-gasp escapes and deliriously homoerotic bro-bonding elsewhere in the film.

Things that McTiernan’s direction gets abundantly right are demonstrated by the action sequences – each one is shot in what would come to be recognized as the director’s signature style, which marries frenetic bouts of mayhem with always easy to understand spatial staging and razor-sharp editing.  The tension is always palpable and the gore is done with something approaching restraint – limbs are lopped, unfortunate soldiers are skinned and somehow none of it seems aggressively horrible or leeringly adolescent.

“Take that, nature!”

What’s honestly pleasing about this film is the way that it gets to have its cake and consume it greedily – whilst we get to enjoy early scenes of Dutch and crew laying waste to all comers with an array of absurdly fetishized military hardware (culminating in the scene captured above), it rapidly becomes clear that all of the mini-guns, grenade launcher attachments and over-developed biceps in the world are precisely no use whatsoever against the alien protagonist of the title when it starts hunting them in earnest.  There is always, as Uncle George Lucas would later remind us in Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace“, a bigger fish.

The mano-a-alien showdown at the end still thrills, wisely devoting a significant amount of on-screen time to beating the living crap out of the otherwise impervious Austrian Oak and making the certainty of his ultimate triumph rather more of a contest than it had been to this point – it’s also fun to see Dutch’s character pushed to rely less on his undisputed muscles and more on his adaptive, intellectual abilities to best the universe’s premier big-game hunter, deploying a valley’s worth of improvised traps and tricks to slow down old crab-face before the two can finally face each other down.

You can see why the sequels, spin-offs and remakes resulted from this utterly enjoyable original flick – but it’s telling that few of them (arguably Nimrod Antal‘s “Predators” being the best) have ever approached the seamless blend of horror beats, action gags and sci-fi coolness that McTiernan’s film has to spare.

The Blu-Ray, by the way, is fine – save for some utterly misguided digital makeover techniques being applied to the print, which result in all the cast’s craggy faces being uniformly de-lined and as feature-free as a Vogue cover model – and has much to recommend it.  If you can get past the layer of virtual polyfilla being applied to the actors, the picture itself is fine if devoid of the kind of film grain which you would expect to see in a film of this vintage.

The sound mix is pretty good – guns boom, explosions shake your subwoofer and Alan Silvestri‘s magnificent score jockey for aural position betwixt your speakers and don’t step on each other’s shoes too often.   Extras are reasonably generous – there’s a making-of, some deleted scenes and trailers, a McTiernan commentary and a text commentary by a film historian (it’s a living, I guess…).

If you’ve ever thought about buying the movie, this is fairly definitive stuff and it looks and sounds as good as it ever will, shy of what a hypothetical director-supervised edition for the thirtieth anniversary edition might offer up.  Not one for purists, but certainly a disc that fans should enjoy.

1 Comment

Filed under Films, Geekery, Random Notes

From VFX to No FX? The near-death and resurrection of Digital Domain…

 

Formerly an industry leader, now just about hanging on – Digital Domain, James Cameron‘s VFX house this week staved off bankruptcy…

It’s something of a conundrum – visual effects work is the life-blood of summer blockbusters, tv shows, music videos and commercials, but the business behind it is utterly cut-throat and increasingly parlous – witness this week’s near-bankrupt Digital Domain.

Once the brainchild of Billion Dollar King of the World, James Cameron, and the late, lamented Stan Winston, the latter-day Digital Domain expanded from its core effects business to producing  a now on-hold animated feature, “The Legend of Tembo”  and just this week avoided going to the wall entirely – and it’s by no means alone.

Chances are that you’ve seen D.D.s  contributions to Cameron’s Titanic, , the J.J. Abrams “Star Trek”, the “Transformers” series, Fincher‘s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button & The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or “Thor”.

An excellent story by Bill Desowitz, over at the always illuminating Thompson on Hollywood, relates just how tough it is to keep your head above water in the business of painting digital dreams…

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Films, Geekery, Random Notes

What would you do with £148 million?

It’s not a problem which many of us will ever have to deal with, I grant you, but it’s good to see lottery winners finding creative (if jocular) ways to go large with their new windfall.

If I were a rich man…

This is the dilemma affecting newly-minted millionaires Adrian and Gillian Bayford, who this week claimed a winning EuroMillions lottery jackpot of £148 million, leading music store owner Adrian to joke that he’d like to use some of his cash to persuade the classic Guns ‘N’ Roses line-up to reform.

Putting aside the sad truth that even if you paid him handsomely  to play a private gig for you the odds are that  Axl would still show up two hours late, I got to thinking about what manner of frippery I would spend my hypothetical jackpot on.

“Uncharted” on a multiplex screen? Yes please!

I’d hire out my local multiplex’s bigger screens, hook-up a games console and blast through some action games for an evening of delirious nerdery.   Or, you know, build my own cinema addition to whichever house I bought (which would, of course, be Hagrid-friendly).  Who hasn’t gone to their local cinema and thought – “You know what ‘The Expendables 2’ needs?  To be Uncharted 3 or Dragon’s Dogma instead and have me playing it”

I’ve never been a car guy, so expensive luxury prestige marques are not for me.  What’s the point in buying something that jettisons a metric ton of value once you get the keys and sit behind the wheel for the first time?  Likewise, I don’t aspire to own a helicopter or personal jet – this kind of personal transportation is more my speed….

Should be able to get the shopping in the back of that no problem…

And if money was truly no barrier to creating things that I know would please those I love…

Now to summon the pots of cash necessary to hire Southend Interactive to make my wife a bespoke sequel…

I’d hire the developers of lovely, eccentric and desperately underrated XBox 360 platformer “Ilomilo“, Southend Interactive, to code and create a sequel to their glorious XBLA title.  Because Mrs Rolling Eyeballs would quite like that, don’t you know?

6 Comments

Filed under Blogs, Gaming, Geekery, Music, Random Notes