Archive for December, 2009

“It’s Life Jim, But Not As We Know It…”

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Since the dawn of my self-awareness, I have often wondered, what if many of the scientific assumptions we based our knowledge of the universe on were wrong? The furthest we have gone into space is a little bit outside our own solar system (and that was by a probe, not a manned craft), so many of the facts that we have gathered about other planets have come from viewing telescope pictures of them and making calculations based on those. They could be right, yes, but as the old maxim goes: “Your eyes can deceive you, don’t trust them.”

For instance, take Mars, an apparently lifeless planet. The reason I say apparently lifeless is that telescopes cannot see underground. This is relevant because there could be life underground. Our own planet hosts moles and other such life underground, so why can’t others? People may argue that the lack of water on Mars makes it incapable of supporting life, but intelligent life need not be like us. In saying ‘life needs certain elements to live’, scientists are using life found here on Earth as the template. Just as humans have adapted to their surrounding by evolution, so could other life forms. I am informed that they’ve sampled the soil on Mars, but you can go outside and do that right now, it’s literally just grabbing a handful of dirt. You cannot extrapolate ‘no life’ from a handful of dirt.

The knee-jerk reaction of most people to a new idea is scepticism. This is the origin of the phrase ‘seeing is believing’ and I believe that we have to embrace the new, good ideas if we are to progress to the stars. This is why I admire Star Trek, it inspired a generation of nerds to dream of life on other worlds, an exciting life. The spirit of the future is a drive to know more, a thirst for exploration, and I love that idea. It gives people something to aim for, and hope for the future.

And what about other areas of the universe? We don’t know what lies beyond black holes, we claim that going faster than the speed of light is an impossibility, yet just because we haven’t done these things doesn’t mean they can’t be done. Because of this, generally the only way to conclude something by my system is to go there and test it out for yourself. So the astronauts of tomorrow will be brave men and women who take unheard of risks, such as the aforementioned black hole thing. Yes, there is obviously an element of danger involved, but who knows what we might discover?

This is why I don’t like to impose my beliefs or lack thereof on other people, since I don’t know any more than they do. None of us do. We are essentially making guesses about the universe that have yet to be disproved. Now, I’m not a scientist, so I welcome any criticism or comments that you may care to make.

Time Is Conspiring Against Him. Hell Of A Persecution Complex…

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

Anyone who hasn’t seen Doctor Who or who gets offended when I criticise it, skip this blog.

Harry Potter on crack. That was what I thought when I saw the opening scenes of the new Doctor Who special, The End Of Time. First impressions – biometric imprints taken from lips long after The Master died, Potions Of Life, A KANGAROO MASTER – what the hell were they smoking?! I was half expecting Lucy Saxon to yell ‘Expelliarmus’ to kill her former husband, but no, we got some sort of DEATH POTION. This turned The Master gleefully insane, which was fascinating to watch. John Simm plays this role gloriously well (some might say a little too well), while you can really see the emotion in David Tennant’s eyes as he nears the end of his time as The Doctor.

The acting in this episode is bloody brilliant, you will see nothing to beat it this year. The actors throw themselves into their roles with great energy and emotion. Timothy Dalton was actually spitting as he was speaking his lines (the few he had) and as previously mentioned, John Simm was positively feral, more like wolf than man. Admittedly a flying wolf, but you have to allow some writing license. Bernard Cribbins was also a good companion for Tennant’s Doctor, as they are both nearing death (in Bernard Cribbins’ case, probably quite literally).

This episode did have some good moments as well as bad, one of which is the expression on the Doctor’s face when he works out what the Master’s plan is (and I loved the Master race pun). There were actually a few ‘oh crap’ moments in this episode, each of which was beautifully well done.

The thing I love about this episode is the idea that time itself is conspiring against him. Not just the Master, time. Like the title of this review says, that would be one hell of a persecution complex. It is set up in such a way that you know he is a doomed man but that he’s trying to fight it as best as he can. That’s the most that any of us can do when faced with our own deaths, really. Although I don’t think that time itself tries to kill us.

Oh, and the usual cliché of the Doctor walking away from some flames in slow motion is slightly changed in this episode. It’s changed because he’s still doing the ‘slow mo flame walk’ but The Master hits him in the chest with a lightning bolt. Idiot.

I didn’t enjoy this episode as much as I have some others, because it all seemed closer to Harry Potter than Doctor Who, what with all the life-force hurling and kangaroo jumping and such, and this episode is better if you skip the first ten minutes and just know that the Master comes back. That said, it was still pretty good and quite engaging.  Bottom line, this was one of the better specials produced this year. By all means, try to check it out while you can on the iPlayer.

Merry Blogmas, And To All A Good Blog…

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

With Christmas just around the corner, I felt now more than ever would be a fitting time to write up a little Christmas blog. So I’m going to give all of you a little present in the form of a hopefully entertaining Christmas post. No Christmas would be quite complete without the same round of repeats of Only Fools And Horses holiday specials and the same old clip shows that you see every single year. You will also see a lot of compilation shows of Chrimbo number ones and things like that.

Rather oddly, I can’t really find many movies on at this time of year worth watching. The only one of remote interest to me is Blade Runner, which is not in the least bit Christmassy (still good though). You thought there would be A Christmas Carol and Its A Wonderful Life, etc. Instead, we get the aforementioned Blade Runner and The Hound Of The Baskervilles!

Tonight we get a Christmas edition of the excellent show QI. Haven’t seen it yet, but it looks promising; I may end up reviewing it tomorrow as another present to my readers. Over on E4+1×5 as I write this is a Christmas episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S, which is funny and vaguely in keeping with the Christmas spirit, that’s always nice to see. I love Christmas, if only because it’s one of the few days that I can eat a big damn plate of food and not get reprimanded for it.

Tomorrow there is a Christmas special of Doctor Who, which looks like it will be good. Obviously, I am looking forward to eating this over a cracking Christmas dinner with my family.

People complain about Christmas being a capitalist holiday that is only used for making money for the big department stores, but that’s part of the appeal. Spending money on things that you normally don’t have the money to buy or wouldn’t buy is a good thing to do. If you don’t have the best of incomes, it’s one of the best times to be extravagant.

Christmas is traditionally celebrated as a time of peace, goodwill and 3 ghosts that appear for some reason. So I see no reason to not let that continue. If there’s one good contribution Jesus made to the world (and there is), it’s the holiday that was named in his honour.

So I’ll leave you on this note. Life is too short to not share the love you have every once in a while. Enjoy the time that you spend with your family this year. Merry Christmas, and love to all my readers.

Do Androids Dream Of Owning This Movie? They Should…

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

This is a film that has been praised to hell and back since its release more than 25 years ago. When my dad picked up the dvd, I thought I would give it a try…

Blade Runner is one of Ridley Scott’s most famous works (I am unacquainted with his other ones, such as Alien and Gladiator), which people have cited as starting the cyberpunk genre. This may be true, but the fact remains that the film, to the average moviegoer (which I consider), is confusing as hell. There are some philosopical meanings and ideas behind it, but I can see why this film didn’t do too well at the box office when it came out. I spent half of the film thinking that the main Replicant creator was played by old Leonard Nimoy (as in Star Trek: The Next Generation or the New Trek) so I was distracted while I was waiting for the credits to prove me right (they didn’t).

This is a film revolving around the detective Rick Deckard, who is tasked with finding four rogue android Replicants that have come to meet their designer and commit some light murder along the way. It has a reasonably well known speech from the end by a Replicant that people who haven’t seen the film have heard before.

Harrison Ford enjoyed another turn in this film as a troubled leading man on a quest to do something or other. Thinking about it, that streak didn’t really stop until the mid-90’s or so. Rutger Hauer makes an interesting antagonist as the leader of the doomed Replicants. This film has a large amount of action in it, so any action fans will be pleased by that while those who like their films to make them think will not be left wanting.

Some aspects of the film are left unclear, such as if Deckard (Ford) is a Replicant or not (my opinion is that he is not), or what precisely a Blade Runner is. I know it’s supposed to be Deckard’s job, but he doesn’t seem to be running any blades in the film. It sounds like it should be a film set in Mexico about knife smugglers.

In my personal opinion, it’s not as good as Indiana Jones or Star Wars, but it’s better than The Fugitive, so if you want a bit of Ford action without too much time on a trilogy, go with this one. It has a gritty used future feel to it, which is good to watch and was quite ground breaking at the time (if you discount Star Wars). It’s basically Film Noir from the 80’s. This wasn’t really a film that I was enthusiastic about while watching, but it has a lot of questions and ideas designed to make you think, held together with well done action sequences and effects work.

Thinking about it, the only problem that I had with this film was that when I was watching it, a lot of the philosophical questions went over my head and the action mostly held my attention, but that might not be the case with you. I recommend this film as the good film it is, so find it and watch it.

If anyone wants to check this out, you can pick up the dvd from any good store (go for the Final Cut, if possible) or you can see it on the BBC iPlayer for the next two days or so.

Family Guy Strikes Back…

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Some of you may have read my recent Blue Harvest review, in which I proclaimed my unholy love for that spoof of Star Wars by the creators of Family Guy. So naturally, as it’s the same subject matter, this film strikes you immediately as more of the same. Which isn’t a bad thing, they’ve kept the quality of the jokes and humour at roughly the same level. There are real-laugh out loud moments, some good points about the source material and some interesting bits.

This one is based on The Empire Strikes Back, just as Blue Harvest was based on A New Hope. Disappointingly, they use the power outage in the exact same way as they did in the first one. It’s pretty faithful to the source material, although some would consider it to be too close to the source material to keep it as funny.

Something Something Something Dark Side (for that is its name) is an okay piece to look at. It’s funny and all, but none of it is hilarious as the last one was in several places. I guess that’s because the humour is focused less on the source material and more on observations on life that have been written into the Star Wars universe. Whereas most of the humour from Blue Harvest came from pointing out absurdities within the original film.

One complaint I have about this one is that it very much went for the whole ‘quoting the film verbatim’ thing. Blue Harvest stayed away from thieving half the dialogue from the film, but I suppose in a way it’s necessary to move the story along. Except that’s why you have writers. The original film wasn’t really written very much with humour in mind, although there were some funny moments, and I’m not going to say ‘much like this one’ because that would be low and not really true.

Overall, I liked this one. It wasn’t as good as it could be, but certainly worth a watch. It didn’t make me laugh as hard as Blue Harvest did, but they set themselves such a fine bar to jump with Blue Harvest that they sort of collided with it on the way up. Definitely a day-one purchase in my book.

(Doctor) Who Watches This Show Anyway?

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

As one of my blogging buddies pointed out last night, why would you have a Doctor Who special of a comedically inclined music quiz? I’ll tell you why, because it was damn funny. Doctor Who Never Mind The Buzzcocks (may not be its actual name) was a surprisingly funny edition of this show that I can normally take or leave.

David Tennant makes a excellent host, quite frankly, a much better one than he has any right to be. Catherine Tate is phenomenally stupid as one of the guests in this show, but it’s of the laughing at rather than with kind of humour. Bernard Cribbins is funny as a somewhat crazy old bastard, interjecting with witty remarks and humour based on what is said to him. They obviously can’t stray too far from the formula, so you do have the concessions to the world of music, such as a guest appearance by Jamie Cullum and somebody I am informed is called Jo Whiley. Being friends with a fangirl of Jamie Cullum, I naturally want to avoid him at all costs.

The elements of Doctor Who are well incorporated, with Catherine Tate revealing just how little of Doctor Who she is aware of. There is a somewhat welcome appearance from the TARDIS and a Dalek, among others, and some of the questions are Doctor Who related, although it would’ve been a nice touch to get one of the previous Doctors in for the Identity Parade round. I must admit, watching a full orchestra performing a certain beloved 80’s song was one of the oddest things I have ever seen in my life.

Part of me doesn’t really agree with the concept of having a Doctor Who christmas special of Never Mind The Buzzcocks, but that part is drowned out by the louder part that said this was fucking fantastic. It whet my appetite for more Who and kept my minimal Buzzcocks dislikin’ part of me down for the day.

The only ‘problem’: I expected (and thought I was right) John Barrowman to be in this one. The reason I say problem is that he’s been in it before and he’s been in everything else, so it’s no big loss.

Oh, actually, two problems. No Barrowman and no Tom Baker. He should’ve been in it! He is a true crazy old bastard and I’m sure people would’ve found him hysterical, as he’s shown himself to be quite comedic on occasion. I’m not saying he should’ve been the host, but maybe one of the guests and he would’ve worked wonders.

Overall, I found this episode to be funnier than normal Buzzcocks, so if you’re a fan of Doctor Who or Never Mind The Buzzcocks, then I as a general non-fan would urge you to check this out, as it is well worth the half hour of your time.

“Come On Watson, The New Movie Is Afoot!”

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

As I write this, the new Sherlock Holmes movie is coming out in less than two weeks. On my birthday, in fact. If I can drag my woman to it, I plan to have a review of it up here the day afterwards. But for now, I must find myself content with offering a preview to anyone who wants to read it.

This movie (from what I can gather of the thrice-viewed trailer) appears to be a rougher, more action prone Holmes for the new generation. Both Holmes and Watson are played by handsome men (Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law respectively) in this Guy Ritchie directed movie. Considering Guy Ritchie directed the excellent gangster movie Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, that’s no bad thing.

As with any adaptation of loved characters or franchises for a modern audience, I’m sure many people will be saying ‘he doesn’t do this in the books’, or to put it another way ‘MUR MUR MUR’. It’s a new story for the new age, so there are naturally bound to be any number of elements that clash with Doyle’s characterisations.

Mercifully, they appear to have concocted a fresh story for this movie, rather than resorting to adapting one of the many stories that have already been covered. The new story involves the same characters, a new villain and some choice names from the original stories (but a surprising lack of Moriaty as the film’s villain, considering he is seen as the main villain of the series), such as Irene Adler and Mary Morstan as Watson’s love interest.

Those of you who know me well (and that’s all of you) will know that I have decided not to trust trailers, so I have decided to watch this film without really knowing a lot about it. To that end, the only research I have done for it is reading the Wikipedia article for the purposes of this preview. I wouldn’t have watched the trailer at all but I didn’t have any choice about it and fortunately I cannot remember much of it anyway.

As a keen Sherlockian myself, I loved the original stories and have tried the Sherlock Scan on many people without success. so I await this film and the results with great interest. To tide me over, I have a big compilation book of Doyle’s stories by my side. Now off to read them…

“It’s A Sign!”

Monday, December 14th, 2009

I was lucky enough to be able to attend a Robert Rankin signing recently with one of my best friends, Sam. For those of you that are lucky enough to know me, you will know that Robert Rankin is one of my favourite authors of all time (I even wrote a blog post about it). There are a few things you should know about signings. Unless he or she is really obscure, the author will have fans by the bucketload. Therefore, you will be expecting to wait. Now, luckily, I was waiting for about two minutes yesterday, because he’s not that well-known. However, if you have plans to go and see someone like J.K Rowling or someone as famous as her, then I’d suggest turning up an hour or more before the event or not going at all. Because the likelihood is that someone will be waiting. And that someone is you. For more than three hours.

If you go to the signing of an author who is relatively obscure (like I did) then you are one of the lucky ones. These will be the authors who are more enthusiastic about the large number of books you bring to be signed and the ones who are more keen to have a chat and spend a bit of time with each fan. I had a bit of chat and a laugh with him yesterday and found out why the cover was different than what he originally had planned, although he still made the finished version. I even got a free mince pie out of it, that’s something you don’t get with your massive book signings.

But it’s not all about the author, of course. Often a signing turns into an outing, due to their inevitable location many a mile from you. It’s at those times that the experience is worth it, as I went with a friend who was very tolerant of my nerdgasming, and we had a good day together that ended with him sleeping round mine. So it’s a good way to spend a Saturday if you get the chance. Some books for your own collection or eBay, have a nice lunch or snacks and browse the shops and then home. Good day, well spent.

I’ve Got The X-Factor. But I Shouldn’t…

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

As I listen to the latest discussions about the potential winner of this year’s X Factor or I’m A Celebrity, I think, ‘who gives a shit, honestly?’ People look back to about ten years ago and say ‘whatever happened to stuff like Beyblades or Pogs when we were kids?’ I’ll tell you what happened. Our tastes merely mutated from Kidulthood to Adulthood, so the latest sensation sweeping the nation is Jedward as opposed to Pokémon. Which, while still popular, is no longer ‘craze’ status.

The sad thing is, when you’re watching Big Brother, X-Factor and I’m A Celebrity, the participants are often less famous than you, so you are watching a bunch of nobodies go about their lives, so much so that I swear farting is probably a highlight of the day. I’m surprised that the BBC has embraced the reality show genre, as the 2007 Royal Charter says its mission was to ‘inform, educate and entertain’. Big Brother was hardly educational, wouldn’t you agree?

While the tabloid publicised antics of Jade Goody and others were a marvellous spectacle for those who really didn’t give a shit (obviously I would be one of those) I found the sudden elevation from nobody to somebody very jarring. If I ever get into show business, I want it to be because I have done something, not because I featured on some show before fucking off back into obscurity. Unfortunately, there are certain individuals who don’t seem to understand the ‘fucking off’ bit. Among them, that highly disturbing pair of twins known as Jedward.

The first I saw of them was a YouTube video of their performance of them performing that Britney Spears song. I can’t remember which one, but it had the bit about the Titanic lady in it. I didn’t like that song anyway, but they mutilated it! The whole point of that video was that it was about two lovers, not a borderline incestuous relationship. They used that sequence where the old lady from Titanic is mentioned in their choreographed routine and it just grated to see it coming from two twins.

We should stop making reality television. It isn’t funny, it’s barely entertaining (the best bits of X-Factor are the nutjobs who can’t sing) and it sure as hell isn’t thought provoking. Normally I would dismiss it as me being old-fashioned again, but looking at it I find it very hard to see any good in it. People could make the argument that it puts talented people in the public eye, but to do what? To churn out one or two efforts and then go back to obscurity. Rarely do we see anyone whose fame has lasted long because of this.

I, for one, am sick of it. Sick of all the Facebook status updates bemoaning the latest eviction or kick out and gossiping, sick of seeing the front pages of the tabloids focusing on these obscure fuckers who got up on some stage and sang and I am especially sick of seeing and hearing all the adverts for their post-competition singles EVERY SINGLE YEAR*.

Which brings me on to another thing. Invariably, the winner of X-Factor will have a Christmas single, and the cattle of the British public will go out and buy it by the truckload. And a truck is exactly where the soullessly produced singles should go – a truck that is driving towards a landfill.

In fact, because of this post,  I realised I needed a new category for my blogpage. Ladies and gentlemen, I present the new category: Vitriol.

*I am also sick of the slow loading speed of WordPress.

“Damn, Now I Need A New, Unblowupable Mind…”

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Short, thought-provoking and intelligent. No, I’m not describing an Oompa-Loompa, but Scott Adam’s book, God’s Debris. Those of you who are aware of the humorous comic strip Dilbert may not know that a few years back, the creator went in a wildly different direction with two thought experiments wrapped in books. This is the first. I shall discuss the second at the end of the blog.

The central premise of this book is that the protagonist meets an old man who knows everything about Life, The Universe, And Everything. The charm of the book is that you come away (if it worked – the writer wrote hypnosis into the book) marvelling at the sense it makes and how it all fits together. I first read it as an eBook when Adams offered it free online, and I was absolutely blown away. Naturally, I went on to order it from my local bookstore.

I should explain, I read this book twice. The first time, I misinterpreted the message of the book slightly and thought that it was sending out a straight-up atheist message that there was no God. As a result it depressed me in a big way. Then, when I came back to it, I saw it in a whole new light and I felt enlightened all over again. I took some tips from the book and it really helped me as a person and in dealing with people. In fact, I’d say it probably kick-started my whole happiness phase. Take the fact that I can’t really remember much of anything before that as you will.

There is so much going for this book: it’s smart, it has a really nice cover (a nebula background over space, with the names discreetly printed over it) and it is short, meaning that you can just dip in and out and probably have enough time to absorb one whole chapter. At 128 pages, it is pretty damn short, but you come away feeling like you got value for money (especially if you get the free eBook from the link at the bottom of this blog).

This was followed by a sequel a few years later, The Religion War. This one can’t be downloaded as a free eBook, unfortunately, so you can’t try it out before you read. The thought experiment is now wrapped up in a more coherent plot, with the protagonist getting more of a developed role in this book. I enjoyed this book too, but not as much as God’s Debris, as that numbers among one of my top ten favourites. Scott Adams clearly hadn’t heard of the concept of subtlety when he wrote this book. God’s Debris vaguely hid the ideas that it contains, whereas The Religion War asks you the religious questions point blank at the end of the book. So it is still good, but not as good as the first one. Which is the case with most sequels, really.

If you like having your mind blown, then I highly recommend you take the hour or two out of your day and give this cracking book a read.

Free eBook: http://www.andrewsmcmeel.com/godsdebris/