Smile of the Day is another video clip/song. Although I own an XBox 360 I haven't yet succumbed to buying Halo 3 (although I have Halo and Halo 2) - there are just aren't enough hours in a day. Looks like I made a wise decision, at least if this Blame Halo 3 video is anything to go by!
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Smile of the Day comes courtesy of Jacqui, a friend I met when I visited New Zealand a few years ago. If I hadn't told you she lived in New Zealand you could probably have guessed after watching this YouTube video. It's very silly and very juvenile, but I challenge you not to find yourself smiling at it!
Monday, October 29, 2007
Going to bed relatively early (well before midnight - a first for me since I started my 'time out' from paid work to catch up on new technologies) is the kiss of death for curing my insomnia. I woke up 'wide awake' at 5am this morning. Needless to say as I type this, at around 6.30am, I'm feeling a lot less fresh than I was an hour or so ago.
I've published a new DVD review, of the 1947 'film noir' classic Kiss of Death which was released just a couple of weeks ago. You can read it here.
Today's Smile of the Day is a Dilbert cartoon, which was actually published a few days ago, but seems to so accurately describe my life I couldn't let it go by without comment!
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Guess who only just found out the clocks went back an hour today (doh!) - nice surprise to find there's an extra hour in the day though!
Smile of the Day is not so much humorous (although some might disagree) but something that put a smile on my face this morning. This YouTube video of someone performing Pachelbel's Canon put a smile on MY face this morning, as it's one of my favourite classical pieces of music, although the performance of it on electric guitar may not be to everyone's taste!
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Shiny Disc Reviews Kick Off Again
I finally got the shiny disc reviews going again today, with my review of the DVD for Tell No One being published on my UK DVD Review Blog and an HD-DVD review of The Reaping almost finished, ready for publication on my HD-DVD Review Blog tomorrow. When I get to finally publish a review on my Blu-Ray Review Blog (probably not until Tuesday) I shall feel I'm 'back in the saddle', caught up again and finally back home for good (just in time to depart to Cyprus next weekend for a week long break with my sister).
My weekly copy of Screen International, the weekly industry broadsheet for the film industry, arrived on the mat this morning. The paper is a bit of a disappointment, given the high cost of subscription, and usually comes across as an extremely thin content-free Variety or Hollywood Reporter wanna-be, with little of real interest to those not trying to make money or be a 'mover and shaker' in the film industry. But in this week's issue a few stories I'd missed on the various web sites I usually rely on for my news caught my eye.
A big surprise is the news that principal photography has started on Goal! 3. The first film in the planned trilogy was a rather tired cliché 'poor boy makes good' coming of age story, and received luke-warm reviews with correspondingly disappointing box office performance, despite being the first football film to be given 'behind the scenes' access to the stars (including David Beckham, who with his 'deer in headlights' performance showed that any rumours of him moving to LA for a possible future career in acting are hilariously out-of-whack with reality).
Goal! 2 lost the writers of the first film, but tried to up the ante by shooting in Spain and having even more of the big name footballers make an appearance, with some clever CGI work meaning that we got to see the star of the film play in a real match. Alas, the film was even worse than the first, was universally panned by the critics, and disappeared within days of opening at the UK box office. Large amounts of money must have been lost, so it's somewhat surprising to read that somehow the financing has been found to complete the 'trilogy'. However news that the originally planned director Michael Apted has been replaced by Andy Morahan doesn't auger well for the project rescuing what, until now, has been an extremely wasted opportunity to present a woefully-unrepresented sport well on the big screen.
Another Dr Who -associated Rant (I can't help myself!)
Other surprising news is that the Adulthood follow-up to Kidulthood is already underway, with the lead 'actor', best known for his performance as Dr Who's side-kick 'Mickey', now taking on both director and lead actor duties. I guess I shouldn't pre-judge based on an appallingly bad performance on TV's most seriously over-rated science fiction show, but one can't help wondering whether the sequel has been commissioned based solely on the cronyism that seems to run rampant throughout the BBC and Dr Who in particular, rather than the commercial prospects or talent involved in the venture!
Stephen Moffat on Tin-Tin. Hoorah!
On a happier note, the one shining beacon in the cesspit of writing that has mostly been the new Dr Who, has been Stephen Moffat and it seems I'm not the only one who thinks so. While Billy Bunter (aka Russell T Davies) may be oblivious to his talents (one meagre story per season of Who), Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson are not. The writer has been hired to perform writing duties on the new Tin-Tin franchise of movies that the two directors are working on together. Suddenly I'm excited about a cartoon character's big screen debut, where before I had little interest at all!
40 Years of New Line Cinema
Talk of Peter Jackson neatly brings me on to the subject of New Line Cinema, who receive a special 40 Years of... story in the current issue of the afore-mentioned Screen International. I love a lot of the company's output, if not the man at the top, Bob Shaye. For one of the worst examples of underling sycophancy I've ever seen, check out the extra's on the recently issued DVD of the man's The Last Mimzy - a text book example of why executive officers should NEVER be allowed to direct their own films as some sort of vanity project. The continual fawning from the cast and crew about their director's talent would be amusing if the evidence of him 'handling' his actors weren't so much in evidence elsewhere in the extra's, even if you were to ignore the car crash of a film that was the end-result. It almost makes one want to take Peter Jackson's side in the ongoing, and very public war of words between the two over accountability and ripping people off (I say 'almost' because let's not get carried away here in what has clearly been a case of two pots repeating to each other "You're a kettle and you're black!").
What's fascinating about the piece is to see what the company's biggest box office successes, Lord of the Rings aside, have been over the years. It's a real mixed bag with 2007, 2005, 1997 and 1991 (the years of Rush Hour 3, Wedding Crashers, Spawn and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II) generating good profits from absolute dreck when contrasted with 2004, 2001-2003 and 1995 (the years of The Notebook, The Lord of the Rings movies and Seven respectively.
Interesting film history aside, what I like most about the piece is the lack of mention of the wretched Hobbit project (it's a childish, inferior piece of work that just isn't going to meet expectations set by the Rings franchise so please let's stop encouraging them to do a 'Star Wars' and just set out on a ridiculous money-making venture that just rips off everybody involved) and the war of words between Bob Shaye and Peter Jackson.
Smile of the Day
I make no excuse for making this post's Smile of The Day a link to an advertisement! I'm a big fan of Despair.com's products, and have several of their famed 'de-motivator' posters framed in my office at home. But their DespairWear Blogging t-shirt seems particularly apt, given the amount of time I seem to have spent blogging over the last few days! Check out the counter underneath the slogan. Genius!
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
It's funny how you only really take on world events when they affect you or someone you know directly.
Last month, my friend Brian Sibley blogged about the fires in Greece (he was holidaying in Athens) and how great tracts of land were being destroyed and we Brits weren't helping out like other countries. It made a minor item in the news which would barely otherwise register on my radar suddenly seem more important.
This morning I got a shock going to read my friend Susan (Mooch)'s blog.
Susan and her family came over to stay in London last Summer. I'd met her and her family on my first trip to Los Angeles for the Fellowship of the Ring oscar party, and she's been a great friend ever since. Meeting up with her is always a highlight of any trip to that part of the world, and I've been the guest of her and her family in their home at San Diego more times than I care to remember.
Reading about her sudden evacuation, along with the very real threat to the family home, brings that 'minor' news item about some fires in California (almost universally angled at the celebrities whose homes in Hollywood are affected) to life in a vivid, horrid and personal way.
Thankfully, as you can see if you read her blog, she retains her wonderful sense of humour and understands the importance of these things vs what could have happened (so glad that one of the other 25 copies of the Viggo picture of Elijah Wood that I have hanging in my lounge has been saved <giggle>) in the face of what must be very worrying circumstances.
It does make me wonder what we've done to our planet, and how we could have got to a state where even now far too little action is being taken to avert a longer term catastrophe with global warming.
I'd hoped to have one of the shiny disc blogs updated today with a new DVD or HD-DVD review, but alas! most of yesterday was spent chasing up paperwork, sorting out PC's and generally trying to sort out my somewhat broken company web site.
My New Work-Related Blog
This attempt to fix the company web site turned into a 'tidy up the blogs' exercise with another new blog to cover work-related stuff set up at irascianwork.blogspot.com and a general tidying up of this blog too, at least in terms of the links and general contents of the right hand margin of this blog. I'll be trying to keep the new work-related blog up-to-date with daily updates, in much the same way as I'm trying to do with this personal one (well it beats studying! ;-)). If nothing else it'll put pressure on me to keep on track for certification preparation/new technology learning over the next few weeks.
I know this is supposed to be my personal blog, as opposed to my work-related one, but in trying to catch up with new technologies I came across Twitter, which at first glance came across as a pointless blog for people who like to use SMS text messaging (and severely limited, in that no blog entry can be more than 140 characters long!) before I realised its main use - giving people the ability to track where you are and what you're doing at any given time.
It's a bit over the top of course, but what's really cool is that you can add Twitter updates to blogs like this one (just click on a link from within Twitter and it's pretty much done!). If you look to the bottom of the right-hand margin of this blog you'll see a section labelled Twitter Updates. This is automatically updated (so long as I remember to keep updating it) with details of where I am and/or what I'm doing at the moment (or least fairly recently). It's a handy way of keeping friends and family aware of what you're doing - particularly if you're adept at sending SMS text messages.
I wonder how long it'll be before I tire of updating it!
Yet another Peter Jackson Fall Out
In a desperate attempt to have some film-related news in this blog post, I guess I can mention yesterday's story that Ryan Gosling has left the set of Peter Jackson's latest film, The Lovely Bones, owing to 'creative differences'. It never ceases to amaze me how fickle and stupid 'fans' of the Lord of the Rings films can be when it comes to news about Jackson, despite the mounting evidence that the man is not quite the naive, cuddly geek he likes to pretend he is in public. Forums are already full of bile for Gosling, with claims that he has been 'let go' because he can't act (try watching ANY of his films before making such ludicrous claims). Follow this argument through to its logical conclusion and presumably Howard Shore was 'let go' from King Kong at the last minute because he can't compose, and Viggo Mortensen keeps returning to make films with David Cronenberg, rather than Jackson, because he can't act!
In the meantime a film I might have been interested in seeing, despite the involvement of one of the most self-indulgent directors of our age, suddenly becomes one to avoid with the news that Mark 'Marky Mark' Whalberg is now taking over the part of Gosling's role. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!
Start the Day with a Smile
For today's 'start the day with a smile' link, I can't help but point you at the Lesbians and Lunges article on the hilarious Glitter for Brains blog. You may have heard that a couple of days ago J K Rowling 'out'ed Dumbledore as being gay. In the post I've linked to Lee reacts to the news, as well as giving an outrageous update on how he's getting on with his new personal trainer. Warning: This link is probably not worth following if you're a homophobe who's had a sense-of-humour bypass!
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Sunday turned out to be pretty much a Transformers day, what with me getting round to checking out the new HD-DVD release
(region free from the States, it's due out here on shiny disc in the UK at a hugely inflated price in a week or two) and the new issue of
Cinefex magazine waiting on my doormat when I returned from Ireland.
I saw the film on the big screen in Limerick just a few weeks ago and was lucky enough to see it in pristine condition (I suspect it was a digital cinema) with a fantastic sound system. It was, I felt, a film that needed to be seen on the big screen rather than shiny disc, and although I was glad I'd caught it I can't say I was as enthused as the likes of Empire magazine appeared to be with their rather over-the-top fanboy raves. Undoubtedly it was a roller-coaster ride of a film, and an entertaining experience, albeit one where you need to deposit your brains at the same stand where you buy the obscenely-sized tub of popcorn on the way in.
My personal enjoyment aside, I completely understand those who think director Michael Bay shouldn't be allowed near any film that has even the slimmest chance of being halfway decent. I know one can be too precious about these things (and I think I'm the only person on the planet who actually liked Pearl Harbor!) but let's face facts: Michael Bay is someone who approaches each film the same way - with no idea of subtlety, class, believable dialogue or even the most basic credibility. Worse, at least so far as I'm concerned, the man hasn't got a clue as to how to edit a movie unless it involves cutting things so fast you're likely to go into an epileptic fit if you try and actually follow each cut as it happens.
For the best example of 'a really good rant' about the man and the Transformers movie in particular check out the Radio 5 podcast where critic Mark Kermode goes into a long rant about Michael Bay 'the porn director'. It's hilariously accurate.
Michael Bay issues aside, and ignoring the fact that the film is too long - particularly with its overly-repetitive can't-make-out-what's-happening-in-the-fight-scenes second half - the film is an impressive technical tour-de-force, and it's not hard to see why two days after it officially went on sale this is now the biggest selling disc on the high definition format ever. CGI is often ropey and easily spottable even in the biggest budget pictures (I don't care what Lord of the Rings fanboys say - too often one is taken OUT of Tolkien's world because of poor matte paintings or poor special FX in those movies. Not so with this film, and if ILM don't sweep the boards with the FX awards this year then the Academy should just pack up and go home. On that front alone this film is ground-breaking, and as presented on the superb HD-DVD disc set that's been released this is reference-quality material.
In the cinema it was almost impossible to hear the dialogue because the surround sound effects were so loud throughout the whole movie, and it's the same here - which sound fanatics seem to see as being 'a good thing' despite the absence of a True-HD sound option. And although a 50" plasma can't compete with a large screen digital print (or the IMAX screen which is currently showing an 'alternate scenes' version in London) it's pretty clear that the HD-DVD disc represents a new standard in quality for showing off home cinema systems, even if you can't stand the totally dumbed-down content.
Leave your brain at the door, forget who Michael Bay is and it's an enjoyable romp. If you have an HD-DVD player this is pretty much a 'must own', not least because it makes excellent use of the new format with some great 'picture in picture' features, and a second high definition disc crammed full of extra's, themselves all in high definition, where most HD-DVD discs simply carry the low-resolution extra's over from the standard DVD. It becomes clear very quickly that a lot of work went into the HD-DVD presentation, which shows where the money is in making the movies these days, given that the film only exited the multiplexes a few weeks ago. Films are made to make money on shiny disc these days, and a cinema excursion may well recover the production costs, but it's the shiny disc that makes all the profits and needs to be an important part of the production process.
The Transformers disc is also a very important disc for another reason - it's extended the format war such that it's now looking like two formats (Blu-Ray and HD-DVD) are going to co-exist for quite some time now, where it had looked like Blu-Ray was going to be the clear winner. I've made no secrets of my preference (HD-DVD is region free; Blu-Ray isn't, costs more to produce - and therefore buy - for no perceivable advantage, requires a player that costs more, and is still in beta format with final specs which none of the existing players meet being finalised until next month) but Blu-Ray has clearly won the marketing war.
In the UK the HD-DVD camp have launched such a poor array of titles that the format seems doomed in Europe and it's only the cheap import service from MovieTyme who let you purchase in British pounds and ship from within the UK without import duties keeping the format alive with HD-DVD supporters. Originally Transformers was going to be made available in both high definition formats. But then Paramount and Dreamworks announced they were joining Universal Studios in going HD-DVD exclusive (at least for the next 18 months) which has changed the whole game. No self-respecting cinephile can afford to excluse both those studios from their collections.
Unfortunately I do think that longer term Blu-Ray will win, if only because Sony's marketing is so strong and they've managed to (finally!) persuade Fox to ramp up the titles they release. But in the meantime, I'm much preferring HD-DVD - if only because so many Blu-Ray titles are region locked and only available for US players.
Getting back to Transformers itself, it's hard to see why anybody would want any more information than is given in the over-the-top extra's disc included in the HD-DVD two disc pack that's been released. But if you do require more of a fix, or prefer your material in printed form, you could do worse than purchasing the latest Cinefex magazine which has three long, detailed essays into the effects processes used - not just for Transformers, but also for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Stardust too (with shorter pieces detailing work carried out on Sunshine and Resident Evil 3. Cinefex comes highly recommended from me, although UK readers will have to subscribe if they can't visit some of the more obscure cineaste stores in London.
Smile of the Day (courtesy of the not-for-the-prudish Skip's Acorn Treasury) is this You-Tube video on No dwarves or horses or things in places (Maxx's Diary). Don't worry, although the source for the link can get very racy there's nothing in the video itself likely to offend or shock, just hopefully raise a smile.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Weekend catch-up means there's little film-related to report this morning, but the following picture from the folks at The Register gave me a mid-morning smile. I hope it gives you one too! I guess we should all be grateful that the bus used has a very short exhaust!
The only films I got to see over the weekend were on shiny disc. Blue Blood was gripping in a 'should-have-been-a-reality-TV-show-not-a-movie' kind of way (ie well worth a rental, but not a purchase) and has had a strong commercial push with adverts for the DVD all over London, and even a free DVD of the first 20 minutes (with discount voucher) given away with some magazines. It's a good, life-affirming documentary, but given this had rave critical reviews on commercial theatrical release (which nobody went to see) I can't see the expensive marketing push boosting the possible profits. To loosely quote Homer Simpson 'Why pay money for what you can get for free on the TV?'.
A Mighty Heart arrived on US import HD-DVD last week, which is timely since it has only just had a theatrical cinema release over here in the UK.
I was really looking forward to A Mighty Heart, directed by Michael Winterbottom, not least because it features Angelina Jolie in a role that actually requires her having to act for a change. Unfortunately this one needs to be filed under the category 'extremely worthy, but God did they have to make it so dull?!'. It's not hard to see why many have dismissed it as little more than a vanity project for Jolie (with hubbie Brad Pitt as one of the producers). I think it has little to offer the average movie goer, and it's not hard to see why it performed so poorly at the American box office despite most of the serious critics giving it high marks. It's not a bad film, it's just not very exciting and given all the pre-release hype I was very disappointed with it. Full marks for shooting the film on location, but the hand-held 'on the hoof' camera footage means that the decision to make this a high-definition format release makes no sense at all. I'd rather see some decent back catalogue titles which can really show off the format released on HD-DVD instead.
It's a busy day today with dental appointments, watch repairs (they won't take them in in Saturdays - go figure!) and general PC tune-up prior to starting certification revision and AJAX learning, but I'm hoping to get time to watch the French thriller Tell No One on DVD tonight (it's at times like this I'm so grateful that every day I look at the TV guide I can't see anything I want to watch!). The critics love Tell No One so hopefully I will too. Short review tomorrow, hopefully!
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Arriving back in the UK yesterday (huzzah!) I finally got a chance to pop into town to spend some book vouchers I'd been given as a leaving present from the folks at Intelligent Environments when I finished my contract work with them back in May.
For once computer books were NOT on the agenda :)
This is, of course, the time of year when books with titles like '<insert name of vaguely related magazine here > Film Review 2008' appear on the shelves. This consistent naming style of such annuals has always struck me as somewhat ridiculous, given that most of these books will have had to go to print less than half way through the year preceding the one advertised in the book's title.
I resisted the temptation to update one of my annual review guides - all becoming increasingly redundant in these days of internet access to sites like imdb and Rotten Tomatoes. My preference in these 'all movies you might see' review volumes is for the series from The Radio Times, although I haven't updated my copy since 2004. Apparently the newest volume, as one would expect, features more films. But it also features less pages which, given the miniscule, barely readable, print of my 2004 volume means that either they've made the reviews even shorter than the one or two sentence critiques they've used in the past, or that you're going to spend more than the cost of the book on a magnifying glass to be able to read anything. I think I'll pass on that one then!
One annual review I do look for every year - not least because, thanks to the joys of Ebay, I have every edition published since 1942 - is the Film Review annual which restricts itself to mini-reviews of the year it represents. Alas there are a few weeks to go before that one is published.
In the end my money went on the latest (and seemingly final) Movies of the...' series produced by the wonderful Taschen Books, and edited by Jurgen Muller. These lavishly produced books comprise the editor's choice of the 'seminal' 5-7 films of each year in the decade each volume covers. The series started with 'Movies of the 90s' and with each successive volume has moved backwards, a decade at a time. The 2007-published volume breaks the rules of previous titles in the series by covering films released between 1895 and 1920 in a section that would normally cover just a single year - but of course this makes sense given the paucity of quality and promotional material for that period.
This latest book is as luxurious as previous versions have been - consisting primarily of lots of black and white stills from movies with the accompanying short synopses and essays of appreciation almost passing as mere side notes. The 'white text on thick glossy black paper' approach is distinctive but does make keeping them in tip-top condition pretty much impossible as every finger print and smudge seems to get highlighted in a way that wouldn't be possible if a more traditional approach to printing had been taken.
But that's a minor criticism for what is arguably my favourite series of film criticisms ever. I don't always agree with the authors' selections for the given year (in fact often, I disagree - sometimes violently!), but for someone whose film knowledge prior to the mid 1970's is seriously lacking, the volumes are a God-send when it comes to hunting out essential gems from the past.
Shiny Disc reviews (or at least links) will start reappearing on this blog over the next few weeks, as background fller to the ongoing work on preparing for launch of the ShinyDiscs.com web site which will require a not insignificant amount of programming. As one of my ongoing mini film projects, now that the final (or, more accurately, chronologically the first) volume in the series has been printed, I'm going to start a separate series of reviews based on films highlighted in these volumes that are available on shiny disc format, in an attempt to catch up on the history of modern movies.
First up will be The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916) - expect reviews to appear here when sendit.com get around to delivering the copies I ordered yesterday.
Both films were, of course, directed by legendary film-maker D.W. Griffiths and it will be interesting to find out if watching them feels more like work than pleasure given how far we've come in the more than 90 years since these classics were made.
Monday, October 15, 2007
So it's a morning flight back to Limerick tomorrow. Not sure if I'll be back home (for good this time - please God!) very late Friday night or whether it will be one of those 'last flight on Sunday' jobs (my flight to Limerick at the moment is booked one way).
Wish I'd not got up at 7am this morning having gone to bed at 4am because patching a server took far longer than it should have done. Sigh!
Sunday, October 14, 2007
This is probably just as well because I have a horrid feeling I'm going to get a call for help tomorrow or Tuesday asking me to fly out and help avert a possible looming crisis before next Monday's deadline arrives. Hopefully not and I'm just being too 'glass half empty' about the whole thing.
Former colleagues on the project and friends seem surprised that I don't regret the whole difficult experience, but the truth is I needed a break from London and despite all the hassle and stress the contract achieved for me what I'd wanted from it. I met and worked with some really good people too, which is always a bonus. All that being said, it's good to be home!
Today I've started what I meant to do back in February when my new Vista laptop and two new widescreen monitors arrived: start the 'Spring cleaning' job I've been putting off for the best part of the last six years. Before going to Ireland I only ever got time to install one of the afore-mentioned monitors because of the ridiculously over-crowded office I have at home. The other monitor, complete with stand and docking station, has been blocking my hallway in sealed boxes for months and there comes a point where constantly moving piles of paperwork from one place to another in a vain attempt to try and acccommodate them really doesn't achieve anything. So more than 10 years of assorted paper, CDs, DVDs and electrical debris need to be correctly filed, abandoned or otherwise deployed so that I can start work on prepping for new Microsoft certification exams, getting to grips with the £300 worth of 'new client-side technology' books that were waiting for me when I got home (Thanks Brian and David for taking delivery and then bringing them round so they were waiting!) and, at some point, kick-starting development of the temporarily abandoned shinydiscs.com site and its associated blog reviews.
So it's good to be home, but I'll feel a lot more confident about that if I'm still here on Wednesday! In the meantime I don't think I've cleared as much dust, sorted out so many tangled wires, or repeatedly wiped down so many surfaces as I have in the last 24 hours. And that's just in one corner of one room! What I'm trying to say is... I may be back but it may still be some time before I'm back to the 'daily blog update' that was always the intention when I started this thing over a year ago.