31.12.10

2010: Year of the List

Or list of the year, I forget which. Here we go again - another completely subjective list of the things I found and liked this year.

--Of the movies I saw:

Inception
Christopher Nolan made me very happy with this decidedly literal take on the psychological thriller.

The Sky Crawlers
Evocative, imaginative and unsettling animation from Mamoru Oshii.

I'm Here
Spike Jonze's thirty minute short is weird, bittersweet and extremely memorable. You can watch it online here.

--Of the books I read:

Winged Victory - V.M. Yeates
An unflinchingly honest portrayal of young men ruined physically and psychologically by wartime flying in the newly founded R.A.F.

Boneshaker - Cherie Priest
A wonderfully atmospheric story of poison gas, zombies and steampunk.

---Comics and manga:

20th Century Boys - Naoki Urasawa
If you haven't already seen me raving about this fantastic series, you can't have been paying attention. A sprawling, genre-defying epic told at a personal scale.

Biomega - Tsutomu Nihei
All your transhuman zombie bio/cyberpunk needs in one gothic, M.C. Escher-esque setting. With added talking grizzly bear.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas - Gerard Way, Gabriel Bá et al.
The continuation of the most imaginative superhero comic you'll ever read, which still never loses its human touch.

---Of the TV shows I watched:

Baccano!
Essentially the animated, prohibition-era, supernatural, ultraviolent The Wire.

Downton Abbey
You mean a period drama can be about progress instead of pining nostalgically for eras when everyone knew their place? And the whole thing is gorgeous and brilliantly written? More please.

Avatar: The Legend of Aang
I finally saw the first season of the acclaimed cartoon this year. It's not perfect, but the setting and characters are wonderfully realised.

---Of the games I played:

Mass Effect 2
Delivering on the promise of modern, mainstream, big-budget games, Mass Effect 2 places you in a sci-fi epic overflowing with cinematic action and life-or-death decisions. Also: Tali.

Digital: A Love Story
Simple. Minimalist. Heartbreaking.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
You may not experience the same visceral emotional response that this game gave me, but even without it, this demonstrates an important other way in interactive storytelling - rather than letting the player decide what happens, this game tries to get in your head and tell you the story it thinks suits you best.

--Of the New Years I had:

I wish you a very happy one. May 2011 be a year where good things happen for you.

29.12.10

Five Thoughts on Tron Legacy


  1. Bruce Boxleitner is old now, but no less awesome.
  2. I didn't find the CG Jeff Bridges that creepy.
  3. Michael Sheen steals every scene he's in.
  4. I fell head-over-heels in love with Daft Punk's awesome soundtrack.
  5. Also, to a lesser extent, with Olivia Wilde's Quorra.

28.12.10

Christmas Present


Already retrieved from behind the sofa countless times.

24.12.10

Christmas a la Cassini

Since it's Saturnalia, or thereabouts, let's take a look at some of the Cassini images I missed over the past few months:


The familiar icon of a crescent moon is rendered alien in this view of Enceladus bisecting a slender crescent of Saturnian daylight.


Another snap from the same flyby shows Enceladus' characteristic geysers.


Cassini caught a good portrait here of one of Saturn's many smaller, potato-shaped moons: Helene.


Saturn's second largest moon, Rhea, eclipses Titan in a grab for the limelight. Rhea is about a million kilometres away in this image, and Titan 2 million.


Saturn has many cratered, icy moons, but Tethys here shows off one of its most remarkable features: Ithaca Chasma, a massive canyon dwarfed only by Valles Marineris on Mars.

Happy Christmas everyone - whatever planet, moon or ring-system you may call home.

(All images credit NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.)

20.12.10

Monday Movie: A Town Called Panic


Somewhere in the serene papier mache countryside, a toy cowboy and Indian live with a horse, forever getting up to mischief. When their latest hijinks see horse's house completely obliterated, the trio knuckle down to rebuild it, only for each set of walls they build to be stolen by unseen criminals.

Chasing after the thieves, Cowboy, Indian and Horse blunder to the centre of the Earth, the bottom of the sea and the bowels of a terrible, terrible war machine. Will they recover their home, clear the name of their impossibly macho neighbour and get horse to his piano lessons on time? Well, if anyone can do it... it's probably not these three idiots.

A Town Called Panic (a.k.a. Panique au Village) blends rock-bottom crude animation with an epic, child-sized imagination to create an infectious, anarchic and bizarrely charming film where pretty much anything can happen.

18.12.10

The Weather Forecast was Accurate

Again.

In the space of an hour this afternoon, everything was covered in snow.

At least now I have some sensible icy weather shoes.

17.12.10

Friday Lego Blogging



Everyone knows the cardboard box is the ultimate infiltration tool.

14.12.10

It only took me forever...

Finally posted a slightly fixed up version of my last game on the other blog.

7.12.10

Sarif Industries


Sarif Industries.

Just a small cog in a large hype machine, that's me.

6.12.10

Coughing Fit



Heroic effort made to avoid corpsing.

3.12.10

Friday Video Game Tragedy Blogging



The cryo-trays are under attack. Defend them.

1.12.10

Sn-sn-snoooooow


I can't walk anywhere because the pavements are solid, slippery, compacted snow and I don't have any shoes with good grip. And the buses are up the spout.

Travelling has been interesting.

29.11.10

Monday Movie: Speedy


"Speedy" (Harold Lloyd) has considerable trouble holding down a job, whether he's goofing off in an ice cream parlour or terrorizing passenger Babe Ruth by driving a taxi without looking where he's going. Fortunately, he has a devoted girlfriend with an amiable old father. This old-fashioned geezer also happens to be the man who drives the last horse-drawn trolley in New York - or at least, he does as long as he's able to maintain a service at least once every twenty-four hours. And some unscrupulous businessmen have a few ideas about that...

As Lloyd's last silent film, this saw his brand now carefully honed into exactly, well, you know, that kind of film that it was. Where the two other great "silent comedians" of the era were dedicated filmmakers with an interest in cinematic experimentation (in the case of Buster Keaton) or heartwarming storytelling (in the case of Charlie Chaplin), Harold Lloyd films were mostly just intended as vehicles for his comedic talent, happy to drop everything and run off in pursuit of any good gag. Speedy perhaps stands out in that it finds a structure where it all fits together quite nicely. Speedy's different jobs enable Lloyd to get involved in all manner of hijinks, a trip to Coney Island fair ground cements his chemistry with leading lady Ann Christy (in what was apparently both her big break and her last major picture), and the battle for the old trolley runs through a glorious slapstick street brawl before the inevitable madcap chase to the climax.

27.11.10

Tra la la la la

Just updated the blog to fit current trends.

UPDATE:

Okay, that's quite enough of that.

Stay awesome guys. Stay awesome.

25.11.10

Thursday Comic


Batman: Heart of Hush - Paul Dini, Dustin Nguyen, et al.

So here I've gone and read another Hush book, even after last time. You could be forgiven for thinking that I had some specific interest in the character of Hush, but I have to say there are a lot of other Batman villains I'd sooner read about. But then I encountered the artwork of Dustin Nguyen online and wanted to pick up a book he'd worked on. Coupled with Paul Dini (Batman: The Animated Series, Batman: Arkham Asylum) taking the writer's chair, this became an unexpected must-buy for me.

And I have to say that Dini's take on Hush is a lot smoother than Jeph Loeb's (not that I bear any grudge against Loeb, his name is on by far the thickest graphic novel on my stack) - there's a more focused cast, more exploration of Hush's motives and pathology, far more touching moments between Batman and Catwoman (and, so it seems, between Hush and a mobster's daughter). There are also a few quintessential Dini touches - Zatanna plays a supporting role, and Harley Quinn and Mr Freeze put in brief appearances.

On the strength of this, I was quite happy to pick up the first collected edition of Dini and Nguyen's Batman: Streets of Gotham. W-wait... that's about Hush too? Oh well.

23.11.10

"8 minutes. And then I blow up again?"



From Duncan Jones, the director of Moon.

22.11.10

Monday Movie: Exit Through the Gift Shop


Meet Thierry Guetta, a man who films every moment of his life. When he discovers that his cousin is the French graffiti artist Space Invader, it's his induction into the world of street art. Soon he's accompanying all manner of guerilla artists on their sojourns around the cities of the globe, as they fight signposts and billboards for control of our visual space. His access extends as far as Shephard Fairey (whose iconic image of Barack Obama is known worldwide) and even the impossibly elusive Banksy. When anyone asks him just why he's filming everything, he responds with the obvious answer: he's making a documentary on street art. Eventually though, Banksy realises that Thierry is just "a guy with a camera and mental problems".

Exit Through the Gift Shop is a really interesting film, in a lot more ways than you might expect. At first it covers a broad perspective on street art, arguing that this is a way to put meaningful images in the public eye while side-stepping or corrupting corporate advertising and the art-gallery establishment. And then, in Thierry, or "Mr Brainwash" as he starts to call himself, it goes on to show this very process going spectacularly awry, projecting someone into the public eye who has no talent or originality beyond his unwavering self-belief and an innate knack for generating hype.

But, hang on a moment, I can't fail to mention that there's also the nagging suspicion that Mr Brainwash may himself just be the latest Banksy piece, a bizarre self-parody, or a parody of people's perceptions of Banksy and his career - and in some way, despite what Banksy may say at the start of the film, this actually is a film about him. Isn't that just the kind of stunt he'd pull?

(I also have to mention that the UK DVD comes in a really cool cardboard box, with a kaleidoscopic pair of "unique 2D glasses". It does not, regrettably, come with subtitles.)

21.11.10

Wait, today is... what?


I guess I'm 27 now.

18.11.10

Thursday Comic


20th Century Boys, vols 5-9 - Naoki Urasawa

Yes, I'm still reading 20th Century Boys. Yes, I'm still loving it to bits. No, I still can't tell you what it's about.

Probably the best description of this series is that it's in the vein of expansive mystery TV shows like Lost - except that you never doubt that Urasawa has the whole thing planned out in meticulous detail, and he's also very adept at resolving minor mysteries when they've run out of steam or introducing entirely new branches of the plot.

The other thing he does well is audacity. Not just in the way he can convincingly introduce pretty much anything to the storyline, but also in the way he's quite happy to go straight from a scene of epic science fiction, say, to an everyday moment of personal drama - sliding effortlessly between what some might expect to be entirely disparate genres.

Recommended with all the commends I can rec.

16.11.10

Oh, by the way...

I took second place at IFComp.

15.11.10

Monday Movie: Angel-A


André (Jamel Debbouze, probably best known as the young greengrocer from Amelie) has hit rock bottom. Heavily in debt and down on his luck, he can't even get arrested. Can't even kill himself without having to rescue a similarly-inclined woman, "Angela", who appears out of nowhere and then attaches herself to him, taking a mysterious interest in his emotional and moral well-being. Wait, could she be-? No, of course not.

After a prolonged period without helming any films, Luc Besson returned to write and direct Angel-A, a small, low-key film that nevertheless allows Besson to show off his unparalleled flare for visual style, arresting premise and memorable characters. Of course, he has something of a more fluid relationship with plot and character development, both of which are rather weak here. But Angel-A, for all that it lacks, still manages to be both charming and eye-catching throughout.

12.11.10

Friday Classic TV Blogging



Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).

11.11.10

Thursday Book


The Great Silence - Juliet Nicholson

This history of Britain from 11th November 1918 to 11th November 1920 provides a very readable account of the nation's slow recovery from the Great War - charting the path from stoic weariness, through a gradual acknowledgement of the need to grieve, and finally the desire for some much needed peace and recreation at the dawn of the twenties.

Nicholson's focus is largely biased towards the higher classes, and the focus on London is so deeply ingrained that in certain places the fact that the text is about the capital is only mentioned incidentally. There's also a stronger interest in the prosaic and everyday than the impersonal or theoretical. Which, actually, is entirely suited to my purposes - namely: trying to get a feel on a personal scale for the cultural forces that would shape 1920s England.

10.11.10

Your Guide to US Political Concepts

President A detains people without due process and readily admits torturing them. He also implements social policies that place the vulnerable and marginalised at risk of increased hardships and mortality.

This president is a GOOD, CHRISTIAN MAN.

President B attempts to expand healthcare to reach more vulnerable and marginalised people. At every turn he is sure to defer to those who are vociferously opposed to his plans, scaling them back.

This president is a FASCIST.

8.11.10

A Typically Mondayish Monday

Still feeling a bit weak, but the rocketship seems to be under way again. The captain sends many purrs, although I'm still a bit worried about him.

I was able to pick up the Wii Goldeneye remake today, and am enjoying it muchly. Some nicely satisfying gunplay - and it's definitely nice to see a game with some Britishness on display, when most of our developers are busy making culturally American games.

Also, I'll probably post about one of the two dozen squillion Harold Lloyd films I've seen recently since I saw that bumper collection on sale - just as soon as I find the time and energy.

7.11.10

Too Literal

When I said I was worried sick, I did mean it literally, but I didn't expect to be unable to keep anything down yesterday. I'm feeling better now, and I've managed to have a couple of meals today.

5.11.10

A Ride in a Taxi

So, yesterday my space cat started periodically acting as if he was in great distress, while otherwise still acting normally.

Today we took a taxi to the vets, and it seems that there's nothing obviously wrong with him. He's got some antihistamines in case it's arthritic pain that's upsetting him (mum vouches that this is something that can wax and wane), and a check up again in a week's time.

Worried sick about him.

1.11.10

Monday Movie: Lebanon


It's 1982, and four twenty-year-old men are shut up in a tank, rolling into Lebanon with a platoon of soldiers. Young, inexperienced, watching proceedings through their periscopes and heading into the aftermath of an air-strike, they're expected to shell first, ask questions later. When they don't, the more vulnerable infantrymen get killed. When they do, they contribute to the indiscriminate bombardment of a largely civilian area.

And then, as the platoon's only vehicle, they're also used as storage for a corpse, a Syrian prisoner, and the Phalangist soldier who wants to "interrogate" him. And this is all before their hard-edged commanding officer (who drops in on them from above like a visitor from another world) realises that they've blundered into very dangerous territory indeed.

Samuel Maoz's claustrophobic and autobiographical Lebanon, filmed - but for two static shots - entirely inside a tank, is a grimy, unflinching psychological drama, which I wouldn't call political so much as simply honest.

29.10.10

Friday Julia Blogging


This random prettiness from the 1920s represents Gentle Julia, apparently.

Just After Thursday Book


Zima Blue - Alastair Reynolds

I've written previously that I think Alistair Reynolds is currently doing his best work outside of the Revelation Space continuity that made his name. This book is a collection of just such stories, spanning throughout his career. As such it's probably a bit of a mixed bag, but it also supports my assertion, in that it contains several stories that I found substantially more powerful than anything in the opposing collection, Galactic North.

Chief among them are Enola, a simply beautiful story about an intelligent weapon of mass destruction - that can't be discussed without spoiling its surprising intensity; and Beyond the Aquila Rift, a typically Reynoldsian story of astronauts blasted into baffling depths of space and time. Spirey and the Queen lays out a deliciously dark and gritty civilisation that nevertheless brims with winning personality (even if it become less punchy as it goes on). And a trio of stories about a man fleeing genocide across the Galaxy manages to put a new spin on themes you might have thought Reynolds had done to death elsewhere (unfortunately these stories were written out of chronological order, and I felt the climax turned out a lot weaker than the build-up).

Then there's a couple of stories revolving around an interplanetary reporter which are fine enough, but not quite my thing. The rest of the stories are set much closer to home - 'near future' stories of a type not usually associated with this author (although he writes that he wishes he could shake this assumption). These stories did win me over eventually, but I honestly think Reynolds is simply better at fantastic world-building than he is at producing an interesting twist on our own present day society.

Still, mixed bag or not, this is an essential buy for any Reynolds fan.

24.10.10

Verily Procreational

Insert obligatory mention of how great it is that short-form cinema is being made more accessible by the Internet. Follow with superlative-laden raving about the following content being right up my alley:



Hat tip: Twitch, of course.

22.10.10

20.10.10

Human civilisation has reached its peak.



Fire the nuclear missiles now. There's no way we can top this.

Official site (Japanese).

19.10.10

Winter

I have started wearing my scarf.

15.10.10

Friday Goose Blogging


Today I met someone who was a goose.

13.10.10

12.10.10

11.10.10

Monday Movie: Millennium Actress


Somehow, small-time documentary-maker Genya Tachibana has managed to arrange an interview with his idol, the legendary - now reclusive - actress Chiyoko Fujiwara. As Chiyoko tells the story of how she fell in love with a dissident artist and first became involved in film, Tachibana and his reluctant cameraman are drawn literally into her story - past and present, real events and acting roles, all merging seamlessly.

Millennium Actress could probably have been a live action film, but hand-drawn animation allows writer/director Satoshi Kon to blend disparate scenes into one another with ease, to portray images that are perfect and impossible, and yet exude deep emotional veracity. This is a film that tells a story on a personal scale while allowing incredible flights of fancy, that's moving and profound without ever losing its sense of humour and fun, that toys expertly with pacing and viewer expectations.

I always struggle to decide which of Satoshi Kon's films is my favourite, but in the way it weaves an unexpectedly subtle story into an imaginative and vibrant animation, I'd say this is the one to demonstrate his true potential as a filmmaker. A potential which is now, of course, sadly and abruptly fulfilled.

7.10.10

I Saw a Thing


Presumably it's been there since February.

5.10.10

She Stole My Heart(s)



Hey, give those back!

4.10.10

Monday Movie: Mesrine Parts 1 & 2


Jacques Mesrine returns from the violence of the Algerian war to a life of burglary. Finding his way from there into organised crime, he eventually becomes a transatlantic icon, after a spree of armed robberies with his then girlfriend across France and Quebec. When he's finally incarcerated and tortured in a notorious Canadian prison - and resolves to both break out and come back and break out the other prisoners, something tells you he's not going to be proven wrong - even if the latter exercise merely results in a lot of people getting shot. And, of course, it's all based on a true story.

Mesrine Part 1: Killer Instinct, climaxes with Jacques, if not fulfilling his word to bust open a prison, at least committing enough audacious crimes (for example, robbing two banks on opposite sides of the same street one after the other) to have become something of a legend. Mesrine Part 2: Public Enemy Number 1 picks up the story with our anti-hero going from strength to criminal strength - escaping from a courtroom with the judge at gunpoint, robbing banks and casinos, escaping prison yet again, abducting a millionaire and rowing leisurely away from a huge police and military search party.

Where things get really interesting is how Mesrine becomes obsessed with his public perception, to the extent that when one journalist publicly attacks his self-proclaimed Robin Hood status, Mesrine lures him to a fake interview and then tortures and attempts to murder him. The sense of the criminal as a member of wider society - in particular of the famous criminal and their relation to the media - is palpable. But where director Jean-François Richet really succeeds is in depicting both Mesrine's crimes and his charm with unflinching honesty. We're left with no doubt that this is a man who did terrible things, but we also all too readily understand the allure that made him such an infamous figure.

And, finally, you can't discuss the film without mentioning Vincent Cassel's incredible lead performance - a single role which has launched him from being best known as the guy who used to be friends with Mathieu Kassovitz, to a name being tentatively compared to Pacino and De Niro. Time will only tell whether this is his peak or his best opportunity, but I sincerely hope that he's now given more roles that will let him fulfil his potential.

2.10.10

It's not the end of the world.



But you can see it from here.

1.10.10

Friday Shepherd Blogging


The shepherds of Greater Kumania.

30.9.10

End of the Month

In case you didn't realise it, I've spent the past month making a game for IFComp. I kept my sanity by posting daily updates on my progress at the other blog.

The fact I started late forced me to work hard and choose ruthlessly between competing ideas, which was good for me, I think (my normal mode of operation being to work lazily and cram in whatever I think of). I have no idea how well I'll do in the competition, but I'm glad to be able to say I've participated.

FYI, the competition rules prohibit me from discussing the game publicly during the judging period (which might begin tomorrow, possibly).

27.9.10

I have a few movies to Monday Movie, but I'm really tired and I'll be commuting into London at rush hour tomorrow, so instead I am merely going to post a happy thought:

:-)

22.9.10

Don't ask me for directions.

Seriously, why do people do it?

Look, the important thing is: I gave them directions to a restaurant. It was just one in completely the opposite direction from the restaurant they asked me about.

They both have glass fronts. I walk past both of them on the way to work. They're pretty much the same restaurant except one's a pub chain and the other's overpriced sea food.

And they can't have wanted greater accuracy than that, otherwise they'd have known not to ask me.

21.9.10

Phew

I think I've got somewhere.

16.9.10

Tired

Making stuff is really hard and not very fun.

6.9.10

I'ma IFComping

I have just over a week to do this thing I'm doing, so expect posting to be irregular.

3.9.10

30.8.10

Monday Movies: Futurama's Fifth Season


The fifth season of Futurama was released as a series of direct-to-DVD features, which is good enough to qualify for a Monday Movie or four in my books. The first two movies - Bender's Big Score and The Beast with a Billion Backs form a consistent story arc in which amoral android Bender busts open the entire Universe and enables its invasion by an enormous tentacled monster. The third instalment, Bender's Game is billed as a straight-up parody of epic fantasy tropes, but actually does quite a bit more besides, and, finally, Into the Wild Green Yonder pits the regular cast of characters against one another in a bid to provide some emotional resolution for what was expected to be the series finale.

What's interesting about Futurama is that while many people might be inclined to call it a parody, I think it's actually one of the best examples of science fiction you'll find in movies and television. Okay, yeah, there's pretty much nothing they won't throw out the window for a cheap gag, but a cheap gag on Futurama goes a long way. In contrast to a certain other Matt Groening cartoon, perhaps the fact this one has forever been circling the bowl of cancellation has lead to a brutal comic efficiency. Also, perhaps completely the opposite from that other franchise, although the cast of Futurama may all seem like mere parodies and tropes, there's a real effort made to give them depth, likeability and some measure of development.

As is often the case with shows unfairly threatened with cancellation, the team are definitely pulling out all the stops for what they thought might be their last gasp. While that may leave me wondering what they'll do with the new season they got, there's no doubt that Into the Wild Green Yonder provides a satisfying (but far from final) conclusion, and the other three films demonstrate nerd comedy at its finest - epic and irreverent, but ultimately with a smidgen of heart.