Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Midweek Fun - Who You Gonna Call?

OK, I'm running out of steam for a week's worth of posts while I'm off in sunny Spain so you're mostly getting cheating-style video posts. And today is no exception. As we're heading towards Halloween, here's something to get the spooky mood going. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Big Six Oh

There once was a bloke called Ray
Celebrating his 60th birthday
Taking the family
Away over the sea
For much drinking day after day

Happy 60th, Pops!

[Admittedly, potentially a pretty pointless post as a) none of us are near interweb access; 2) we're all together anyway so I'll be saying it in person (the birthday wish, not the limerick); and c) he doesn't read this blog. Still, it's the thought that counts, I reckon.]

Monday, 26 October 2009

Review - Up 3D

In a nutshell:- Pixar does it again.

The Basics:- Seems hard to believe but this is the tenth Pixar film and the ninth one that I've watched*. It's also their first film to venture into the realm of 3D and continues a growing sense of maturity in their films. Up follows the adventures of septuagenarian Carl as he attempts to follow his dead wife's dream of adventure by flying his house by helium balloon to South America. However, the presence of a stowaway wilderness scout called Russell and the discovery of a rare giant bird means that things don't go quite to plan...

The Good:- I feel a little bit like I'm repeating myself but it really does seem like Pixar's films get better every time. The opening sequence which takes us heartbreakingly through Carl and his wife Ellie's life together, bringing us right up to his current state of widowhood, seems a far cry from Pixar's beginnings with Toy Story and A Bug's Life. That's not to bash those early films - they're still fantastic films - it just shows how Pixar is unwilling to stick with a tried and tested successful formula simply because it works; if it's part of the story, then that's the direction they're going on. That's not to say that they've ignored the funny - there are some great moments of verbal and visual humour. Pixar certainly know their slapstick - witness Russell's window-scraping moment as a particular highlight. The 3D also adds considerably to the film and not in the standard "poking-things-out-towards-the-camera" sort of way. It adds real depth to the sweeping South American scenes and the climactic set pieces, feeling like it's being utilised wisely instead of gratuitously.

The Bad:- Not a lot to pick out here but, for me, the characters of the enemy dogs didn't quite work as well and the joke of the helium-voiced Alpha dog fell a little flat. It's only a minor niggle, however - I'm really just dredging to think of something bad to say!

The Verdict:- Another triumph. Funny, sad, exciting and uplifting**, Pixar is one of the few film studios that seems to completely buck the law of diminishing returns. Go see it. If you're disappointed by it then I'm afraid there may be no hope for you. Plus it's got a teaser for Toy Story 3 and you know, given their track record so far, that's a sequel that's more than likely to be worth a watch...

* I've never watched Cars. For some reason, the premise just didn't really grab me. It all looked a bit pedestrian. That was an unintentional pun. Honest. I do that a lot.

** I did quite well to not use words like that up until the end, I thought.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Weekend Fun - Coming Soon-Style Goodness

I'm actually away for the next week* but, by the miracle of modern technology, will continue to post some stuff even though I'm not anywhere near a computer and am wending my merry way to a villa in Barcelona**. As the weekend's are traditionally quiet round these parts and to give myself less to write (workshy fop that I am), here's a little video post for you.

Today's installment is a little masterclass in the way that trailers should be done more often:-

* Which is why you won't get any response to comments. I'm not being rude,. I'm just not here. Well, and maybe being a little rude, too.

** Note to burglars - this is not true. I'm sat at home with a shotgun in my hand just waiting for you to make the first move. Punk.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Let's Be Nice Out There

Now, I know that the world of the blog is traditionally the place to find ill-informed rantings and woefully self-absorbed bile, so here's a post that does absolutely nothing to dispel that popular image.

There is a particular brand of joy that is thrust upon many millions of people every working day. It's a form of transportation that would, in all likelihood, be illegal for cattle and yet is somehow not only perfectly acceptable for humans but also increasingly overpriced. It is known as commuting and a more perfect generator of human misery has yet to be devised. For not only is it arduous and torturous in itself but the people what do have to use it also seem to take an almost perverse delight in making things more miserable for themselves.

Let's run through some basic etiquette for travelling on a form of transport that you have to share with other people, shall we? (The clue's in the name - "Public Transport"; there's no getting away from other people.)

Getting On? Let 'Em Off - This one should be a no-brainer and yet it somehow seems to stump many people on a daily basis. If you want to get on the train/tube/bus, you need to let other people get off first. In order for there to be enough room for you inside, there needs to be less people inside. It's very simple. If you try to push past the people getting off in order to get on, they can't get off and you can't get on. That's fairly basic physics, really.

Standing People Off First - Now, this one's more of a personal gripe but I believe it's valid nonetheless - when a train reached it's final destination, if someone has been standing for the entire journey and you have been seated, you let them off first. The train's not going anywhere, it's the final stop. Those extra few seconds of you rushing to get up and push past the standing people isn't going to make a huge difference to your onward journey. Enjoy that seat for a few more moments and let the miserable standing people go.

Bike + Train + Crowded Rush Hour = You Suck - On one of my recent early morning commuting journeys from my gorgeous girlfriend's place to my place of employment, a man had decided to take up four side-facing seats with his pushbike. As is natural at this time of day, the train became extremely crowded and people became irate. When someone attempted to point out to this prize numpty that you couldn't take a bike on a rush hour train, his only response was, "Yes, you can." When pushed further, his only further retorts were a simple "I'm not arguing about this"; the discursive equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and going "La, la, la, la, la, I can't hear you." When he reached his stop, a large proportion of the carriage received shin injuries as he indelicately extricated himself. Moral of the story? That guy's a dick. Don't be that guy.

There are more - oh so may more - which I could go into at great diatribinal length but, let's face it, you're already looking at your watch and wondering when all this is going to end. Fine, go on, nip off, I release you. Just make sure you're polite otherwise you may end up the subject of a vitriolic piece of online frippery which will be read by about nine people who will smile wryly before forgetting it and wondering what they've having for supper. Chilling thought, isn't it?

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Review - District 9

In a nutshell:- Great South African sci-fi flick.

The Basics:- Based on his previous short film, Alive In Joburg, and produced by hobbit-filming beardy himself, Peter Jackson, District 9 is writer/director Neill Blomkamp's debut feature film. It tells the story of an alternate South Africa which, for the last twenty years, has been home to a dispossessed aliens - found in a stalled spaceship floating above Johannesburg. We follow Wikus Van De Merwe, a low-level bureaucrat, as he attempts to evict the aliens (nicknamed "Prawns") from the refugee camp District 9 - an eviction that doesn't go as planned...

The Good:- This is a film that could have easily dwelt in a heavy-handed fashion on the parallels between the aliens' plight and the real-life political situation in South Africa but, after establishing the links, it neatly sidesteps that and focuses instead on Wikus, an initially unlikeable little character who you eventually come to identify with, even if he does retain some of that unlikeability throughout. It's a nice film in that it seems to be going in a certain direction before switching and changing into a slightly different film than originally anticipated. The set-up is nicely realised and there are some nice moments of bleak humour as well as some genuinely bleak moments. It also shifts into an action-oriented gear towards the end and has some impressive action moments. There's something about that kind of harks back to the actiony sci-fi flicks that I grew up watching in the late eighties - Terminator, Predator, Robocop.

The Bad:- There are a few plot holes here and there (which I won't particularly go into for those of you that haven't seen it yet) and the occasional slightly infuriating film cliche (how come the man on the run still has valid security codes to his previous place of employment? First thing you;d change, surely!) but for the most part, it stands up well. The only thing that I'm not sure is totally successful is the mixing between the mock-documentary style and the traditional filmmaking style. To me, it felt slightly out of place at times. But these are minor niggles.

The Verdict:- It's refreshing to see a sci-fi film that isn't either a continuation of an existing franchise or the beginnings of a new one. It's pacey, it's entertaining, it has some great action, it wears it's South African heritage on it's sleeve and it's juts a good sci-fi film. I definitely recommend it if you haven't been to see it already.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


He opens the door and it makes a protesting, creaking noise; it hasn't been used in some time and seems to feel resentful of being called back into service. It's dim in here and his hand fumbles for the light cord. The light comes on but, somehow, it seems only to highlight the gloom rather than dispel it. All around, boxes are placed randomly. Said boxes are covered in a small layer of dust.

He approaches the first one and blows at the dust, an action which only succeeds in producing a small but perfectly formed cloud of dusty particles and a slight but irritating cough at the back of his throat. (What an odd thing to say. Like he's going to cough from some other part of his anatomy. An elbow maybe?)

The boxes are all pretty much empty; for the most part, just a label on each one. He browses through them, smiling as he goes, gently wiping at a layer of dust here and there (but carefully, so as not to provoke another miniature coughstorm). Eventually, he spies the one he was which he was searching for and gathers it up, leaving the way he came and pinging off the light as he leaves.

He takes the box back downstairs. The curious eyes are there waiting. With great ceremony, he turns the box towards them. They can see the writing on the side. It simply says, in rather crude capital letters written in a child-like spidery scrawl, "Slack".

He clears his throat (a little bit of boxy dust still clinging in there). They wait expectantly, breath baited.

"My name is Nick," says he, "and I'm a lazy blogger. But I'm going to get better. Well, as soon as I get back from holiday. Which is next week. So, probably next month, I guess."

The overwhelming feeling of anticlimax in the room is palpable yet not unexpected.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The Future Ain't What It Used To Be

A sci-fi website that I look at regularly asked the question, whilst reviewing reprints of old pulp SF, do science fiction classics still matter? It's the sort of question that comes up frequently - if you've got speculative fiction based on an imaginary future, does it lose its power once that future fails to come true or once modern technology has outpaced the writer's ideas to such an extent that what was once futuristic is now dated and anachronistic? Well, I tend to agree to with the article which stated that, for the most part, a well-written story still holds it power regardless of when it first came out (the example they use being Jane Austen - would you dismiss Pride And Prejudice simply because it was written in a different time with different values to our own?*).

I'd go a little bit further than they do, however. I'd say that there are very few examples of science fiction that becomes worthless or irrelevant simply because it no longer presents a vision of the future. As has been said before, the majority of science fiction is an extrapolation and reflection of the period during which it was written and, as such, even the most pulpy old SF can, seemingly paradoxically, show us something about our past.

So basically, sci fi is aces even if it's rubbish because, even then, it's still brills. With that overly long preamble in mind, let's highlight some classic works that don't always get a look in with those who tend to shy away from the science-y fiction-y stuff.

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman - A realistic view of war in space in which, due to relativity, soldiers fighting for weeks or years at a time return home to find centuries have passed. leaving them increasingly alienated and disconnected from the war they're fighting. First published in 1974, it's a clear allegory on America's involvement in Vietnam - Haldeman was a Vietnam vet who was wounded in combat.

Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon - A history book which spans the next couple of million of years of human evolution. It's unusual in that it is written as a faux text book, although don't let that put you off - the breadth of speculative imagination on display is fantastic for a book published in 1930.

The Stars My Destination (or Tiger! Tiger!) by Alfred Bester - Bester is often cited by a lot of sci-fi/fantasy/horror authors as one of the greats. The novel features a genuinely unlikeable, monstrous protagonist but is no less compelling for it.

I could go on and list many more - including some truly pulpy ones Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars books** - but I've rambled enough already and, to be honest, I don't have as snappy an ending as I did a beginning. So I'll just leave it there for now.

* Personally, I'd dismiss it because I found it tedious and annoying but that's just my opinion.

** And please note that I don't mean pulpy in a dismissive or disrespectful way - I enjoy those books as much as the ones listed above, just perhaps in a slightly different way.