31.12.09

2009: A Year of Stuff

As I do every year, here's a list of what I found and liked in the past year. This list is entirely subjective - not just in the sense of reflecting my own tastes, but also in terms of reflecting which things I first encountered in 2009.

---Of the movies I saw:


Waltz with Bashir
An evocative and moving animated documentary, exploring the lingering mental scars of warfare.


Coraline
Henry Selick brought us this beautifully realised and sinister fantasy film, proving that American animation can be more than just talking animals when it wants to be.


The Good, The Bad, The Weird
A good old-fashioned action-adventure, with explosions, chases and gun fights galore. Proof that director Kim Ji-woon can turn his hand to anything and succeed.

---Of the books I read:

The Modern World - Steph Swainston
My favourite fantasy author continues to explore the giddy heights of imagination and the gritty depths of her unromanticised, not-quite-medieval world.

The Host - Stephenie Meyer
By turns devastating and uplifting, this story of unexpected love between humans and body-snatchers is a great piece of science fiction drama.

The Stone Gods - Jeannette Winterston
Bad science fiction, certainly, but a fantastic piece of surreal literature. Affecting and difficult.

---Comics and manga:


Solanin - Inio Asano
A well realised slice-of-life comic with nicely drawn characters (in more ways than one).


The Umbrella Academy - Gerard Way, Gabriel Ba
A cut above the usual superhero comic, this blends a wildly imaginative menagerie of ideas into a cohesive and memorable whole.

---Of the TV shows I watched:

The Wire
More like a novel in terms of scope, but presented in a way only possible on television, this is a huge, believable cross-section of Baltimore life made by people who should know what they're talking about.

Ugly Betty
Once again, one of the few shows I watched live. Fantastic characters and a nice mixture of comedy and melodrama make for a very enjoyable hour of entertainment.

The Shield
The final season saw this show - with some of the best plotting and direction you'll see on the small screen - let loose to deliver a stonking great conclusion for all its simmering tensions.

---Of the games I played:


Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney
A combination of intricate plotting, compelling characterisation and delightful artwork make this probably the most memorable and engrossing game I played this year.


Resident Evil Archives
There were three Resi games that I played for the first time this year, and I liked all of them, but this is the one I've picked for my top three games. The remake of the first instalment in the series is quite unlike any of its sequels - with less bullets, more strategy and some quite subtle plot branching.


Batman: Arkham Asylum
In contrast to the usual license cash-in, this game has been made by people passionate for the Batman comics, with demanding fans in mind. Atmospheric environments, fluid gameplay and Paul Dini's writing combine to make this an unexpected classic.

30.12.09

Nolan, Besson, JOY

Catching up on my film news:

The new trailer for Christopher Nolan's Inception gave me chills.

And Twitch have got the first trailer for Luc Besson's Les Aventures Extraordinaires D'Adele Blanc-Sec here - nothing too exciting for those of us who aren't francophone, but still a little nugget extra from a film I'm very much looking forward to.

28.12.09

Monday Movie: Sherlock Holmes


I went to see Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes today. Rumours of the famous hero being sexed up or deconstructed are mostly unsubstantiated, and although it may be something of an action film at times, I'd argue that it still has a proper detective plot that makes the typical Basil Rathbone film look rather lightweight. On that subject, I'd also add that Downey Jr is the first actor I've seen who, in my eyes, can hold a candle to Rathbone's portrayal of Holmes (although Rathbone wins out on faithfulness). And Jude Law is far and away the best Watson I can name.

We've also got a fantastically vivid and grimy depiction of Victorian London, where the expected CGI milieus actually work very well, and Hans Zimmer's score is a catchy blend of Victorian sounds and modern tastes. Not to forget the snappy, fencing repartee that Downey Jr and Law lend to a delightful chemistry between Holmes and Watson.

Sherlock Holmes was exactly the right kind of clever, fast-paced, witty, rambunctious adventure to appeal to me, and if you're looking for a film about secret doors, fist fights and engaging characters, booking some tickets for this is probably a good place to start.

24.12.09

Saturnalia

Just got time to wish all you Internet folks a happy holiday season.

Give lots of presents, eat lots of reindeer cakes, climb to the top of that evergreen tree and become a fairy... Or whatever it is that we do this time of year.

:-)

22.12.09

Sunlight on an Alien Lake


Cassini sends us this image of something scientists have been seeking for a while now: a tell-tale glint of sunlight, reflected on the surface of one of its hydrocarbon lakes.

“This one image communicates so much about Titan -- thick atmosphere, surface lakes and an otherworldliness,” said Bob Pappalardo, Cassini project scientist, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “It’s an unsettling combination of strangeness yet similarity to Earth. This picture is one of Cassini’s iconic images.”

Read the rest here.

17.12.09

NOBODY PANIC

But I am writing out my Christmas cards and I looked out the window and it is snowing and there is snow on everything.

15.12.09

Wearing Colonel Autumn's Coat


Feeling pretty fly.

Kind of wondering when the bus is going to turn up, though. It already seems to be two hundred years overdue.

14.12.09

Monday Movie: Infernal Affairs


For ten years Yan has been so deep undercover that only two people knew he was a cop - and one of those has just died. But as Yan's intelligence helps to tighten the noose around canny crime boss Sam, it becomes apparent that the police have been infiltrated as well. Lau, a consumate police officer who has risen through the ranks, remains loyal to Sam, even as he reaps the benefits of a respectable job. Both sides race to uncover their mole before it's too late - while Lau and Yan must reconcile their day-to-day lives with their actual roles in society.

Although at times it may strive for heights of drama and depths of emotion that it can't quite reach, Infernal Affairs is a slick, tightly plotted thriller that never lets up the pace. Contrary to what you may expect from a Hong Kong police movie, this an intense battle of wits rather than firearms, with plenty of well thought out twists and surprises along the way.

13.12.09

Bye Colonel


It's been a while since I last touched Fallout 3, but the allure of walking very long distances across an irradiated wasteland has drawn me back. Currently playing through Broken Steel - which finally gives me the chance to do what I always wanted, and wear Colonel Autumn's superfly coat.

9.12.09

I did a thing


Go over to the other blog to get the thing...

7.12.09

Monday Movie: Touch of Evil


A car bomb that travels across the US-Mexico border is the catalyst that brings Charlton Heston's honest Mexican cop up against the bloated, unshaven spectre of director Orson Welles' corrupt detective in this classic drama. Ticking all the boxes of your quintessential film noir, Touch of Evil presents a menacing, ambiguous world, where there are no easy choices.

This is one of the many films after Citizen Kane for which Welles famously wrestled unsuccessfully for creative control, but it still shows off his skills for snappy dialogue and moody direction. There's the expert use of deep focus, shadows, reflections, and low camera angles - and also, this time, a number of deft tracking shots - not least the audacious opening shot, which follows the fateful car bomb and weaves in and out of characters' lives.

6.12.09

I'm hoping to release my next game some time during the week.

Thursday is my office Christmas party, which last year wiped me out for a few days, so I'm going to try and get it out there on Wednesday.

Although I am totally going to stay sober this time.

3.12.09

Thursday Book


The Host - Stephanie Meyer

Earth is the latest world to have been taken over by the 'Souls' - a race of alien parasites that spread from planet to planet, stealing the bodies of intelligent beings. Wanderer, a Soul who has lived on countless worlds but has never found a place to call home, is implanted into the body of Melanie Stryder, one of the few remaining free, adult humans. And then something happens that Wanderer has never experienced before. Melanie stays behind, a ghostly voice in the head that Wanderer would normally consider solely her own.

Worse than that, as the other Souls try to use Melanie's memories to track down other humans, Wanderer finds herself coming to share Melanie's love for her boyfriend and little brother. Faced with the abject humiliation of having failed to properly take over her host, Wanderer chooses to trek out into the Arizona desert, and into a hidden community of violent, savage humans.

Although her Twilight books have never appealed to me in the slightest, Stephanie Meyer's science fiction romance novel, The Host (not to be confused with Bong Joon-ho's monster movie comedy drama The Host) is my cup of tea in so many ways I don't think I could list them all. Most importantly, despite what the advertising copy may try to tell you, this is science fiction: a story that explores the (non-)human condition from a more cosmic perspective.

It's also a gripping drama with a strong romantic element, developing into a nicely realised love quadrangle between a woman, a man, the parasite who controls the woman's body, and another man who grows to love the parasite. The tension between Wanderer's defiantly peaceful and altruistic nature and the violence and distrust that she - as an alien body-snatcher - encounters from the humans; the begrudging trust and even love that she earns from them inch by painful inch - including, most surprising and touching of all, from Melanie herself - all this, interspersed with dramatic set-backs and surprises, adds up to a real page turner - the kind of book I found myself thinking about longingly when I wasn't able to pick it up and read more.

Without giving anything away, let me just tell you that I stayed up until 2am to finish the last hundred pages of this thing. I could see where it was headed, and I gave such a damn about the characters - all of them, even, towards the very end, the chief antagonist, and another character who only arrives for the finale - that I was desperately worried for how things would turn out. Whether or not this book broke my heart or left me elated, I'll let you find out for yourself. The Host certainly isn't high literature, but it is an extremely well characterised and plotted book, full of drama and emotion, that provided some of the best highs and lows of anything I read this year.

1.12.09

Adding the final polish to my project.  Hopefully it'll be done within a week or two.