Archive for November, 2009

Colfer’s Hitchhikers Makeover Turns Out To Be Mostly Harmless…

Monday, November 30th, 2009

When I first heard that Eoin Colfer, an author whose work I started following when I was a pre-teen, was commissioned to carry on the work of the late, great, Douglas Adams, I was intrigued to see what the finished result would be like. Then I forgot about it until a few days before release. My dad picked it up from the library, so I decided to give it a go in the name of research. I haven’t read the new James Bond book Devil May Care, but the idea behind its publication is very similar. This was written in the style of Douglas Adams, just as Devil May Care was written in the style of Ian Fleming. It captures a lot of Adams’ witty, random style, while making good use of new elements and ideas.

One thing I don’t like is Wowbagger The Infinitely Prolonged’s elevation from random joke to main character. He went from a funny, little-seen immortal character that goes around insulting people to your average immortal with a death wish. He’s been Flinted, a phrase which here means that he got a bit too much like the immortal Flint from Star Trek for my liking. This was pretty much inevitable with any character development that could’ve been done with his character, and it is pretty fun when you learn that his immortality pretty much has no limits. But that’s the thing; he didn’t really need any character development. Immortals in fiction (because there aren’t any known ones in real life) have gained a reputation for being whiny bitches for some reason. I know I’d be grateful for it if I had that power.

The Vogons make another appearance here as the bureaucratic villains of the series, although the bureaucratic side is played down in favour of the ‘absolute bastard’ side. I mean yes, they’re only doing a job, but they could do it in a nicer way. In an attempt to make a sympathetic character out of a Vogon, the reader follows one who is leaning towards a human way of thinking. This provides the way of saving the Earthling colony.

The writer handles his pre-existing characters well, developing a romance between Trillian and Wowbagger. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn, with the level of obvious love for the original books, that Hitchhikers influenced him in his youth. The new ideas that he brings to the books are using Cthulhu and making reference to the Lovecraft mythos, as well as giving Thor a personality as a Rock God. He also has an intentionally stereotypical (as in, the character is trying to be stereotypical) Irish character. Whether this is because Colfer is from Ireland himself (it serves as the setting for his Artemis Fowl books) remains to be seen.

This book works as a successor to Adams’ legacy and in its own right. I found it to be involving, humorous (the cheese and God jokes were pretty funny) and it provides a suitable ending for the series if they decide to end it there. It is a damn good read while it lasts and I think that anyone who likes Adams’ original trilogy of five books should get this.


The Evil Monkey Came Out Of The Closet. Gay Pride Is Going To Have A Field Day…

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

Usual spoiler warnings apply. I’m not the biggest fan of Hannah Montana, so I’m going to avoid making jokes at her expense.

I apprehensively sat down to watch a recent Family Guy episode last night, the slightly appropriately titled ‘Hannah Banana’. The problem with that title is that it is obviously supposed to rhyme, as it does. If you pronounce it with an American accent. However, to those of us who pronounce it ‘Hannah banarna’, it doesn’t work. Maybe it was the lemonade or my tiredness, but I found myself laughing quite a bit. The plot itself felt tired and clichéd, but the jokes were actually pretty funny.

The tired cliché that passes for a plot is as follows: Chris attempts to prove to his disbelieving family that the evil monkey in his closet actually exists, while Family Guy proves to be a late addition to the ‘mocking Hannah Montana’ bandwagon, with a subplot that intersects with the main Peter-Chris one of Stewie & Brian meeting Hannah Montana. It was one of the least surprising twists in history that she turned out to be an android, but it works. It allowed for a nice reference to King Kong, while at the same time turning it on its head with the ‘woman’ taking the small ape up the skyscraper. Peter shows himself to be his usual tosser self when he ignores his son’s homework needs, then gets into an argument with him when the monkey (of all people/simians) helps him with his work. What really grates about this is that nobody called him out on how much of an absolute bastard he was being to his kid. Not even his wife.

The Evil Monkey finds himself being less evil in this episode, due to the need for Chris to have a potential replacement father figure to take over from Peter, even though everybody knows that’s never going to happen. It’s the typical family sitcom situation, which is what Family Guy is when you come down to it. A ruder, topical version of The Simpsons.

Their true views on Hannah Montana are given one line in the show, in which the show and the music are called awful (by the monkey, who you think would be tone deaf). It’s nice to see that Family Guy has no need for the ‘the opinions of the characters within the show do not reflect those of the producers’ disclaimer. Because other than a ruder version of The Simpsons, that is essentially what Family Guy is. A platform for the producers’ opinions, and boy do they have opinions. Opinions and old footage of Conway Twitty, but let’s not go there.

This episode was good because they picked an easy subject to mock, as anyone who’s not the target audience could probably find something to mock in Hannah Montana. It was also good because they kept to writing actual jokes that were funny, not airing political opinions about recent events. I liked this one, and it felt like a return to form for Family Guy. By some peoples’ standards, maybe not as good as the early seasons, but there is a seemingly inevitable decay in the quality of animated shows the longer they last. So for anyone interested in Family Guy or who has seen most of them before, I’d definitely say check this one out.

I Hate Being The Bearer Of Not So Good News…

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

I started up my Wii’s iPlayer feature today and spied with my adequately proportioned eye, something beginning with R.

Russell Howard’s Good News, a topical comedy show on BBC Three (that one with Two Pints). My impressions of this show during the six-week run have been fairly mixed. For the most part, I don’t really like it that much. Yes, I will sit down and watch it, but it’s not really that great. It’s good if you just want a cheap laugh, as most people will at about 10 on a Thursday evening when it goes out. To the uninitiated, this show is a combination of Russell Howard standing on a stage and random clips from that week’s news, edited in a way that makes it seem funny, along with specially filmed bits that relate somehow to the events being talked about in that episode. You can see the same format done with roughly the same amount of success on Have I Got News For You. And as with this show, it’s not one of the best shows out there.

The main humour of this show comes from introducing a recent news item, saying something cutting about it, and then playing a clip that makes the people involved look drunk or stupid. It relies very much on out-of-context remarks played for humour, which isn’t very funny. Sometimes this makes it seem like the show’s editors must have a very easy job, as all they have to do is find clips on the internet or recent news shows. One clip on the episode I watched today came straight from YouTube. It was that one with the guy getting a football in the face; I’m sure you’ve seen it a thousand times before.

One of the things that turned me off this show was seeing a man in a giant rat costume get ejaculate-style goo fired all over him. It made a bit more sense in context but IT FUCKING SHOULDN’T! There is never a time when that should make the slightest bit of sense when you are describing it to someone else. This is also why I don’t like the hat-trick of Conway Twitty appearances in Family Guy, because if you try to describe it to someone else, they would say “uh-huh. And the funny part?”

A feature of the first few episodes that they seem to have mercifully abandoned now is the comedian at the end of each episode, which is odd because I thought they were supposed to have the warm-up guy at the beginning. I was watching one of the early episodes with my brother, and one of the only comedians I watched on the show was Phil Kay, who we pretty much skipped because he wasn’t funny (as I am informed happened throughout the run of the early episodes whenever the comedian came on). We stopped Fast-Forwarding at one point and he was throwing leaves into the audience and dancing like a madman. We gave each other a worried look and continued Fast-Forwarding.

Followers of Russell Howard since his appearances on Mock The Week can’t go in expecting the same amount of laughs or they will surely be disappointed. That’s the thing about this show; as I said earlier it is very good if you want a cheap laugh in the evening. But a cheap laugh it will most definitely be as anything more is sadly lacking.

Musical Musings…

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

I only realised this when I was talking to Best Mate Daniel recently, but the musical tastes that I have mostly stem from my time playing 1980’s-a-thon Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. To me, nothing beats grabbing a really nice car and blasting down the road playing Beat It or Waiting For A Girl Like You on the in-game radio. It was a cracking game, and probably one of my top ten. This was the point at which I started taking an active interest in 1980’s music, pretty much to the exclusion of all others. After playing it, I also started remembering my parents playing older music in the car (such as Genesis) when I was younger and liking it.

Loving this genre of music turned my mind against most modern music for some reason. But I don’t mind. In my opinion, when I hear music like ‘Crank That Soulja Boy’ or whatever, I think to myself that I’m not losing much. I’m not saying that all modern music is bad, just that it tends to be too loud/emo/samey for my tastes. There are some modern songs that I do like, same as there are a few 80’s or 70’s songs that I don’t like.

Bizarrely though, my absolute favourite 80’s song comes not from Vice City or looking for music as a result of that, but through Guitar Hero 3. As I said in one of my earlier blog posts, Stevie Ray Vaughan is one of my favourite musicians of all time, and one that I would love to have met when he was alive. ‘Texas Flood’ is my favourite song ever. It’s good to listen to it with headphones on with a cup of something nice by your side (I recommend tea or hot chocolate).

Most of the music I like comes from programmes I like, hearing the song and seeking it out for myself. Life On Mars is particularly excellent in this regard, with lots of classic music being cleared and aired to enhance the atmosphere of the time. This is more or less how I got into the who, and it was a pleasant surprise during the spin-off series, Ashes To Ashes, to hear a song I already had that I thought was an obscure song: Music For Chameleons by Gary Numan.

This is why I don’t really like people asking me what I have on my iPod, because I see my music tastes as a personal thing, so I don’t like it when people grab my iPod, then criticising my music tastes because it’s not what they’re into. These people need to learn a little thing called the live and let live philosophy.

“I Need A Hiro…”

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

This blog contains many spoilers. Many! This blog is only recommended if you have been keeping track of the latest series of Heroes online.

So I was watching the latest episode of Heroes last night when something occurred to me. I’m probably right in saying that we have all known someone like Resident Irish/Prick Samuel at some point in our lives. An utter dick, who doesn’t care about anyone but himself but who claims to hold other’s interests at heart. Maybe not a murderer, but he might as well be, for all the crap he gives about humanity. I and many other people call this a poisonous friend. It was pretty nice and gory when he shot his brother in the throat with a rock though; I actually winced when I saw the way it went in.

It was nice to see Sylar Classic again in all his evil glory, but it does unfortunately mean that they can never kill him again. The only way they can kill him is if he chooses to kill himself (which he really should, as he’s pretty much lost any right he had to live) and tells them where to shoot him on his body. Kind of like the “I cannot Self-Terminate” scene in Terminator 2. Does anyone else think it would be pretty cool if they had some sort of Terminator homage to highlight this? Complete with awkward-to-watch-with-your-parents sex scene.

I think that four seasons in and with a full carnival of specials to make up, they really started scraping the bottom of the barrel for powers. In the expanded universe, there are two people with utterly stupid powers. One person is named Little Miss Goldenrod, and she has the power of Gold Mimicry. Yes, Gold Mimicry. The other person and the one with possibly the stupidest power of all is known as Caleb, and he has the power of:




Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you read that right. Spider mimicry. As in, he grows 8 huge spider limbs from his back. I can’t tell what prompted them to come up with that, or what they were smoking, but there it is. I will give it to them though, they are slowing departing from X-Men’s shadow, because I’m pretty sure nobody in the X-Men universe can mimic a spider. I think Spider-Man is the closest they have to that. And even he doesn’t have spider-legs growing from him. It would make that secret identity a lot harder to maintain.

Thanks to Peter absorbing his brother’s flight ability, no-one in the show can heal Hiro anymore. And now he has flight, which as anyone who knows me knows, I think of as an absolutely useless offensive power. Speaking of Hiro, I did think Samuel was being a real douchebag to Hiro but he should’ve seen it coming. I mean, he is never going to give Charlie back. There is a very real possibility that he doesn’t actually know where she is in time and space. I did like the expression on Samuel’s face when Hiro disappeared though. That combined with the cultural references made for a fun moment.

All in all, it was a pretty interesting episode, and I’d certainly recommend checking it out.

I Saw This One Coming…

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Since I was a sprogling, I can remember being able to see vague glimpses of my future in dreams. After a couple of intriguing deja-vu moments scattered through my life (I say a couple, I’ve always been susceptible to these), I have come to the conclusion that this could be one of two things.

The first theory: that humans have the capacity to see the future, but the vast majority can only do it in a dreamlike state, which is why you don’t remember the dreams.

The second: that it is all a massive coincidence. Skeptics will doubtless go with this last theory. There is some mileage in this theory, but I don’t believe that we have all the answers, and that taking this option would be the easy way out. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to think that it’s all a coincidence.

Obviously, there are dreams that would be easy to distinguish from what will happen, such as apocalypse scenarios or deaths of loved ones or suchlike. It’s the little ones that get deja-vu on you, because you never know if you were just repeating yourself or actually saw the future. Another problem with this is that you never really discover anything useful from this, like lottery numbers or a particular horse winning a race. Considering that you don’t remember most of the dreams, you can’t do anything about it anyway.

This leads to the rather depressing possibility, but the one that is most likely when you think about it, that our future and our past are both written in stone (completely contradicting Back To The Future, but there we are). The reason this is depressing is because it suggests we have no control over what happens to us, or what we become. It suggests that anything bad that happens was always going to happen from the start. This would suggest the existence of God to those that believe, since it would be interpreted evidence of a larger plan. It would also completely eliminate free will from the equation, since you can’t have free will if your choices are already set.

This fits into my overarching theory that the mind is capable of great things if you know how to control it. I’m not going to go into the realms of the fantastic here, but we have all heard of things like the placebo effect or the power of positive thinking. This is why things like astral projection are felt to exist; because people believe it’s possible. I believe it might just be possible, but I’m not saying it’s right. It could all be a coincidence, but my mind remains open to anything, since I know that we don’t know all the answers about our world, nor should we presume to.

If we accept the rather unlikely possibility that we have the capability to see the future as a truth, would it have existed from the dawn of our race? It could be something we were formerly able to do consciously but that we have forgotten over the years, like a racial memory or something . This could lend an air of truth to the Mayan myth of what will happen in 2012. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s true. If we get to December 20th (guessing here), 2012 and the world does end, I’ll eat my head. It’s not like anyone will live long enough to care. Unfortunately, if it is true, there’s an unexpected downside: I’ll have no presents before I die.



“Unlucky There’s A Family Guy…”

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

I found myself with some spare time to kill recently and took to watching some recent Family Guy episodes online. While I knew it was going downhill, it surprised me at how much the quality has declined recently. It was a noteworthy moment in any episode when I actually laughed. I think that at some point the makers of this show sat down and thought “hmm, we’re running short on jokes, so let’s just play something random for shock value,” which isn’t comedy. It may make you stare at the screen and make you ask “what the fuck just happened?” that’s not funny. And, of course, people who know me will know that one of the ways to make me go postal is to mention one name to me.

That name is Conway Twitty. Let’s get something straight here. I do not bear a grudge against the late Mr Twitty, even if I don’t like his style of music. But what I can’t let go is the fact that they use his live appearances as filler in place of jokes. In one of the latest episodes, they introduced him again. I emitted a small scream and died a little inside, but sat it out, expecting it to cut away about halfway through the song. But no, they didn’t. They sacrificed three and a half minutes of material to make us watch a dead singer from the Seventies?!

They are up to Season 8 now and it is starting to show earlier than it did for The Simpsons. It took them until about Season 14 to stop being truly funny. There is an overuse of political satire within the show, as evidenced by the line within the “Brian & Stewie: Nazi Road Trip” episode. The somewhat rage-inducing exchange goes like this:

Stewie: “Wow, a secret laboratory building weapons of mass destruction in Germany. Why didn’t America know about this?”

Brian: “Maybe because they didn’t have any oil…” (he turns his head for a slow look at the camera)

Stewie: “Ohh, clap clap clap clap!”

This is bad enough as it is, but it gets worse when you realise that the same person voices both of them. He is also the creator of the show. So he is effectively backing up his own opinions in the voice acting he does. If I ever get into show business, I make it my solemn vow to make this man my nemesis of comedy. But that’s Family Guy, it’s always been heavy-handed in the lessons that the viewer must learn, such as: holding any belief other than Atheism is stupid and wrong.

Family Guy was good, back in the day. I remember seeing some of the earlier seasons on dvd and being amazed by the comedy in it. But when it got uncancelled, it got far too political and went downhill as a result. And while I’m on the subject of dvds, why do they charge more than a pound per episode for the boxsets? They sell about thirteen episodes at a time, and they’re forced to change the season labelling so that the customers feel they’re getting a whole season, as opposed to half of one. On top of that, we’re forced to wait a year for a small boxset to come out. I’d rather just wait the two years and get the full series.

The reason that the Family Guy Star Wars special worked so well is because they didn’t overuse cutaways, and the staff got to show off their humour-writing skills as opposed to upping the ‘what the fuck’ quotient. They loved their subject matter and it showed. I think they should cut down their reliance on cutaways and concentrate more on writing the actual jokes, while keeping more of a narrative structure.

Maybe if they stuck to this formula, it may work for them and people (especially the people with their own blogs) may stop complaining about the decline in quality. Of course, you would get the dumb fanboys who would complain that it’s not the same old Family Guy and that they will boycott it. No, it wouldn’t be the same. It would be funnier, and better as a result.

“That’s No Moon…That’s A Review…”

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Today I will be reviewing and comparing two Star Wars related products: Family Guy’s affectionate parody and Robot Chicken’s back to back sketch show. I will be reviewing them in the order I watched them yesterday and comparing them at the end.

First up, Family Guy’s Blue Harvest. At 45 minutes long, it’s the closest to a full parody and the longer of the two. It’s basically a scene-by-scene take on the entire first movie, distilled into a 45 minute version of it. The reason I like this one is that it parodies stuff you didn’t notice or care about when you saw A New Hope, and it still manages to come up with original and relevant humour. Of course, as it’s Family Guy, they have a cast of regulars and personalities to draw on for this feature. They made good choices with who to assign what role, as well as having good writing on their side. All round, this is a good piece of work. If you like Star Wars or even love it, I would highly recommend checking this out on dvd. It is fully worth the £5-£10 asking price.

Robot Chicken takes a different angle on Star Wars. It is not a full parody, instead taking the form of short, sharp sketches by necessity. The reason they are short sketches is that they work in stop motion using claymation and action figures, so keeping it short makes it easier and quicker to get the finished product out there. I’m not sure what the point was of ending this one with a musical (The Empire On Ice) but it sure as hell wasn’t funny. There were some classic moments in this 22 minute special (I’m thinking of the Admiral Ackbar cereal, the Reverse Charge collect call and a few more), but not enough to make it worth buying on its own. Having said that, the amount of celebrity voices in this special is damn impressive whichever way you look at it. They got Conan O’ Brien, Donald Faison (Turk from Scrubs), Malcolm McDowell, Mark Hamill and George Lucas, among many others. So, I don’t think this would be worth buying on its own if you just want to see this, but if you like extras, this is your disc. They have three episodes of Adult Swim shows, commentaries, deleted scenes, along with behind the scenes featurettes and trailers. In summary, if you just want the Star Wars special, give the dvd a miss and try to find the clips on YouTube. If you like extras, then this is a good buy.

Now for comparisons. Which do I think is better? Blue Harvest, by far. It’s funnier all round, it’s in a less hit and miss format, and it feels like you get more value for money over the Robot Chicken attempt. While it’s true that the Robot Chicken came first (there’s a reference to this in Blue Harvest), the later contender outdid the first. Robot Chicken feels like it they wrote it primarily for people who have short attention spans and don’t like laughing very much, as it’s not that funny. Both of these are available on dvd for roughly the same price, so if you can only get one, go for the Family Guy version. You’ll laugh longer and harder.

Scott Varnham and the Meaning Of Life…(That’d Be A Shit Film)

Friday, November 20th, 2009

A classmate of mine recently voiced the theory that the meaning of life is experience. I like this theory, because it sounds like one of the ones that could be true. I don’t claim to have all the answers (because I’m not a religion), but I’d like the opportunity to tell you what the meaning of life is to my eyes.

I would like to start this by saying what I see as the goal of pretty much anything you do, which is keeping your mind busy and being interested.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t just boil everything down to whether it interests me or not, but I’m saying it all contributes to the general richness of life if you open your eyes to it. For example, I write this blog because it interests me to see what exactly I think about things (most of my writing comes out stream of consciousness style), and I hope it interests you, the reader. Part of why Columbus risked sailing off the edge of the world is that he wanted to learn whether he would go over or not. Most of it is admittedly that he wanted to find a quicker route to the West Indies, but that’s not as inspiring.

I think it is quite telling that I have thoughts of my death mostly when I’m bored. This is why I go to college and enjoy it, this is why I watch dvds and read books so much: because they interest me, they keep my mind occupied. As the great (fictional) detective once said, “I abhor inactivity, Watson.” Substitute ‘Watson’ for ‘Dear reader’ and you get an idea of where I’m coming from here.

This is the reason that I tend towards being lenient with people who piss me off. Our short span on this Earth is too short to hold grudges for any length of time. All things pass, in time. It’s far easier and less stressful to have friends who annoy you and help you learn from dealing with them than having a lifelong enemy. It’s hard sometimes to forgive, but generally speaking I manage it.

This is part of why I want to have an extended lifespan (as previously blogged about). Imagine all the experiences you could have in 1000 years of living. Of course, it is human nature to repeat mistakes, but most consequences fade with time.

What I’m saying in this blog entry is that pretty much every experience you have will probably come in handy at some point. This blog writing will probably help if I ever get that columnist/film reviewer job or start writing my autobiography. Even if you are in the depths of depression and sadness, it will serve to give you empathy with anyone who is going through the same stuff you are. If you make the most of life, people will see you as an interesting person, with plenty of stories to tell. They won’t all end with “and then the bear took his face off,” but you know what I mean. There will generally always be someone who will take an interest in your life if you just know how to tell the right stories from your past in the right way.

Die Hard 4: The Search For More Money…

Friday, November 20th, 2009

So we come to another entry in the “Scott Varnham reviews films you’ve probably seen” week. The usual spoiler warnings apply, but it’s a two-year old movie that has probably been talked to death on other websites, so I’m not too concerned about spoilers.

I rewatched the first film in this series with some mates a week or two ago, and we had a few laughs at its expense. Especially Alan Rickman. But it was a pretty good film, if you’re into action and ‘funny’ dialogue. Same with Die Hard 4.

This film wasn’t that great, reviewed as an actual attempt at film making, but if you just want clichés and don’t want to have to think too hard about what you’re seeing then this is the movie for you. You are heavily required to suspend your disbelief here to think about how John McClane could possibly survive everything that’s thrown at him and more.

The characters themselves are walking clichés, from the main man himself, John McClane (Bruce Willis) as the reluctant hero of the film, the annoying hacker boy sidekick (Justin Long, of Dodgeball fame) to his action gal daughter who develops her oh so ‘touching’ relationship with her father throughout the events of the film. It’s not really explained why she’s so full of hate for him at the start, but their interactions and characterisations in this film remind me of the later film “Taken” (which was actually pretty good, if again Clichéd).

Now we come to my biggest gripe with this film and the thing that disinclined me to watch it in the first place. The famous exchange that got quoted everywhere:

Dude From Dodgeball: “You just killed a helicopter with a car!”

Da Bruce: “I was out of bullets…”

The actual scene didn’t fare up better than I thought it would when I heard the line. The gunner inside the helicopter saw the car coming and decided to leap out of the helicopter that was about ten to fifteen feet in the air. I’m not sure how he thought that was going to work out, especially considering that he landed on a car bonnet. Much to my incredible surprise, he survived. This is part of the reason why I consider the suspension of disbelief an essential thing to have to watch this film. In another scene, the villain has employed some Hacker Henchmen to do his evil bidding. The chief of these Henchmens gets called away by the boss (tipping the wink as he walks out), and as he leaves the room, the soldier who relayed the message opens fire on them, killing them all for no reason. I fail to see any sense behind it.

But maybe I’m approaching this with the wrong mindset. The thing about the Die Hard movies is they’re not really designed for you to take them too seriously. I’m sure that they are best appreciated with a beer and some snacks to keep you going through it. They don’t have any serious message to get across (with the exception of Die Hard 4, but that’s a message that needs drumming into the minds of the people, so I’ll let it pass), so they can just be enjoyed for what they are, which is entertaining action movies. Cheesy as hell, sure, but that’s part of the fun.