Archive for January, 2010

“Leave It Freddie…It’s PeckhamTown…”

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

The nonsensically-named Rock & Chips is the latest Only Fools & Horses spin-off show, a (presumably) one-off special that serves as a prequel to the regular series, which started in 1981 and ended with a Christmas special back in 2003.

What really baffles me about this is that there is no point to doing this prequel. Everything of interest here was already covered in the original series’ run and any dramatic elements and tension are completely pointless, as the result is a foregone conclusion. There are no new revelations here, and nothing much of interest is learned, except maybe for die hard Only Fools fans.

Nicholas Lyndhurst takes one of the leading roles in this ninety-minute episode as the local ex-con and challenger for fair lady’s heart. He has some shining moments, such as proving near the end that he’s not just a typecast plonker and that he can act. Points go to the wardrobe department for supplying him with a really non-obvious toupee (that, or he has a visible seam in his hair naturally) [/sarcasm].

Said fair lady is Joan Trotter and the obvious focus of this episode. She also pulls off some good acting as the really-quite-dense woman who somehow captures Freddie Robdal’s (Lyndhurst) heart. There are some cracking moments where you see just how stupid she really is, like taking hours to get a joke, or mispronouncing ‘c’est la vie’.

Speaking of cracking moments, the comedy moments in this episode were there but you get the feeling that they were unfulfilled and that they couldn’t be expanded on to their full potential. One particular moment that stood out for me was when Joan and her friend were in the pregnancy clinic (that is NOT a spoiler, foregone conclusion and if you didn’t see the fact that she gets pregnant coming, you probably weren’t going to watch it anyway). To take the test, a man announces your name and you go into a cubicle to do your thang. She gives her name to the clinic as ‘Gloria Ming’ with the justification that ‘no-one’s gonna be called Smith, are they?’. Cue “SMITH…(many heads look up)” They could’ve cut it there or gone to a reaction shot and shifted between scenes, but they didn’t. Instead, three repetitions of the same joke are used, and then some humour based around the fact that ‘Ming’ bears a resemblance to ‘Minge’.

When you hear the concept, and the fact that That Bloke Who Plays Jay From The Inbetweeners Is Filling The Role Of Del-Boy, you assume it is going to be some sort of teen humour based comedy around Del’s antics in the 60’s. Instead, it’s a Drama-Comedy (emphasis on the drama). As a result, so much feels like missed opportunities. Having said that, when you laugh, you laugh…hard. Another scene that stood out for me was when Robdal and Trotter have shacked up together (again, NOT A SPOILER) and he makes a death-related joke that goes over her (and initially my) head. When she starts to catch on, so do I, and the expression on both their faces only serves to increase the laughs.

This unpublicised prequel is not a bad thing to watch, just don’t go in expecting a bundle of laughs per minute, and you won’t be disappointed when you get a decent-quality drama. This could’ve been a great show, it just needed some slightly better writing and direction.


Scott ‘Dislikes’ This…

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

A large bulk of my internet-faring day is spent on Facebook, sifting through the hordes of fanpages and groups that should be named in my honour that exist on this social networking website and that I am exposed to through the ‘Live Feed’ feature. On the surface, it sounds pointless, but knowing what fanpages and groups your friends have joined is addictive in a weird way. Knowing what your friends are up to and being able to comment and like statuses (stati?) is quite entertaining, when they have something of value to say. When the statuses are typed by drunkards or idiots, then it’s not so entertaining.

It is very annoying to see the constant groups that pop up (I saw a couple for ‘I was on Facebook on a snow day!’) that are absolutely pointless. I also dislike (something you can’t do on Facebook itself) all those groups that say “1 Million against Facebook becoming a paysite!” First of all, anyone who thinks that the heads of an international social networking site with many millions of users will listen to what said users think is mental. The next part is, why would it become a paysite? They make many millions from advertising anyway, and most of the groups have their own agenda, like spamming the users or doing a bit of advertising of their own.

Same goes for all the ‘Facebook finally has a Dislike button, add it now!’ groups. If they had a button added, why on Earth would you need to join a group to add it? You wouldn’t get a choice in the matter, much like when the ‘like’ button came into use. This groups ask you to invite all your friends (by which they mean spam them) and you’ll get some sort of magical button that totally doesn’t spam you or anything, yeah?

Plus, when Facebook changes their site layout and adds new features, the same users, who were crying out for some changes and calling it shit (basically complaining like old biddies), start moaning that they want the old Facebook back. They must feel like they can never please people.

Facebook has also gotten on the instant message bandwagon with their chat program. Naturally, people can’t be happy about this (considering that our parents had nowhere near this level of technology, that’s somewhat baffling), instead just concentrating on the slowness. Which, to be fair, is true, but that doesn’t excuse that people are taking such things for granted today, and that they don’t consider the past anymore.

All in all, Facebook is a pretty useful social utility, and one that is immensely unhelpful if you’re trying to work, since you get distracted by procrastinating. I enjoy using it, it’s just that the fact that it bares the open stupidity of people that never ceases to amaze me.

But according to the Daily Mail, Facebook is giving me cancer anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Would’ve thought that it was because I’m resting my laptop on my groin, but there we are.


Eventually, Wolverine Will Get Cybernetic Components And Become A Terminator. Fear This!

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

I had a busy morning (by my standards), so I took a leaf out of my dad’s book. This involved coming home and relaxing by putting on a movie or two. I picked X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Much like Die Hard, this is a movie that mainly concentrates on the action with a story façade. The story itself was surprisingly predictable once all the pieces fell into place, and as it’s a prequel you knew what was going to happen anyway.

As an action film, this does not disappoint in the slightest, although an incredible suspension of disbelief is required to make sure that you enjoy it to its full potential. There was clever directing here, especially in the opening montage of James Logan’s early life, from the 1840s to a time about 6 years after the Vietnam War, which is when the rest of the film takes place. It made clever transitions from scene-to-scene here, which is always refreshing to see in a film that should be just concentrating on absorbing you in the action. There are many explosions here, which should satisfy any fire-lovers who watch it.

Something that confuses me is the amount of shirtless men in action films, which are after all marketed at men who like that sort of thing. This one was particularly notable, as it had a known ‘hunk’ in the leading role. He did workouts and weight training for all those shots where he is shirtless in some capacity and it shows. This film, aside from being a good action film, can also be regarded as a vehicle for Jackman’s man tits. There is one scene in particular, where in what I can only assume is an unintentional Superman shout-out (which would be weird, as they’re different comic companies entirely), an old couple who don’t give their names (Ma and Pa Kent?) find a naked Hugh Jackman in their barn, which I’m sure the woman would’ve appreciated if she was younger. They immediately start outfitting him with their son’s old clothes, which just so happen to fit/make him look cool.

Turns out the entire purpose of that scene was so the bad guys could blow up the barn and kill the old couple with a fiery deathball from which there could be no escape. Oh, except for Wolverine, of course. To be precise, he escapes through the side of the barn on a motorbike. Then he somehow takes down a helicopter with his bare claws. He then proceeds to crash this helicopter, and blow it up, which involves him making use of an old cliché and staple of action films; namely a straight-up, honest-to-God walk towards the camera in slow motion while something blows up behind him.

My overall verdict is that if you go into this expecting a masterpiece of filmmaking, you won’t be happy, but if you just go in expecting an action film and not too much story, then you will love this movie. This film promises action and boy, does it deliver.

This should have played over the end credits, shame it didn’t :

Tonight Kids, We Bring You A Very Special Episode…

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

In one of the most ‘loved’ traditions of television, the time has come where the laughter (what laughter there was) stops, while I talk about a subject that is understandably close to my heart.

When I was little, I was put on the special needs register at my school, I never quite understood why. Now I know, through talking to my parents about it, that I am on the Autistic Spectrum, and that I have ‘Higher Functioning Asperger’s Syndrome’. In a nutshell, it means that I am technically disabled. Why do you say technically, Scott, you incredibly clever and handsome man? I say it because several people have expressed surprise that I am autistic.

It is not obvious from looking at me, like some other disabilities that I have seen over the course of my relatively short life span, but the autism is there. It is mostly internal, with very little effect on my body. There are quite a few mental effects, but thanks to the way I am around other people, these mostly go unnoticed. For instance, my heartbeat gets quicker whenever something out of the norm happens during my day, like getting a phone call (even one that I’m expecting) or going somewhere other than college or staying home. I occasionally get panic attacks, which I thought I’d got over in secondary school but apparently not, as I found out a while back.

I spend a large amount of time being undermined by my own insecurities, or staying awake either imagining or replaying bad moments of my life. I spend a lot of time thinking that I’m a horrible boyfriend because I can’t remember anything that anyone tells me, but it’s my tolerant girlfriend (who I’m very lucky to have) who notices this most of all. This is part of why I can’t get to sleep very often and why I am even now lying awake typing this while talking to a friend about this subject.

I crave social contact above nearly all else, but the asperger’s makes it hard to establish friendships and relationships. Even then, I’m quite withdrawn from the few friends that I make. Fortunately, college seems to be going quite well in this regard, in that I’ve found a core group of friends whose company makes me never want to leave.

This was actually one of the reasons why I left my secondary school early, as I was both being bullied and being unsupported by the staff, who took me off the special needs statement much to the outrage of my mother.

I continually feel ashamed of pretty much everything that I have done over the course of my life, and there are rare times where I wish I could just die. Not turning towards suicide (because rather contradicting what I just said, I have a fear of death), you understand, but the thought is sometimes there.

It’s not all doom and gloom, of course. What my brain has lacked (and I believe, started to build) in the social department, it more than made up for by giving me the capacity to enjoy reading and a good memory for facts, figures and knowledge. It has also given me a distinct personality that sets me apart from other people (although never superior to others, I’d never be that much of a wanker to consider myself better) and I’ve developed more of a humorous personality and jocular nature.

In a way, I’m fortunate to have been given a perspective into the lives of disabled people that others don’t often see, due to spending a year or two on a college course with them.

Plus, I’m a budding writer with a girlfriend and quite a lot of friends. Life is not that bad. Whether this is the kind of person I would’ve become without autism will probably never be known (unless we get some kind of Star Trek mirror universe stuff going on), but I’ll live with this version of myself.

“He Took The Daytime Train Goin’ Anywhere…”

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

After reading one of Bill Bryson’s amusing travel books (Notes From A Small Island) and taking several trips to London for days out with friends, my desire for travel and enjoyment of such has been reawakened. Part of this is that my grandfather used to take me on trips down to the beach when I was an infant. I enjoyed the mystery that he layered the trip with, not knowing where we were going (incidentally, we once went to a place called Broadstairs, I really have to go down there again to see if I can jog any memories), merely inviting my curiosity by answering my questions with ‘you’ll see when we get there’. Thanks to modern events, the idea of an old guy taking two infants out to a beach town probably sounds a bit dodgy, but it was a better time without any of this modern worry.

Listen to me, I sound like an old man, reminiscing on a long-gone relative. The fact is, I’m probably not much older or younger than a teenager reading this blog and my granddad is still with us. I remember going to the London Eye with him once, so it was a joy to be able to share a similar experience with my girlfriend recently, when we went on the Hype Park Giant Wheel Thing together.

I have devised a plan to get a daily travel card and go round London for the day, stopping at whatever stations I feel like (although there will be a few preplanned ones). I want to capture the old feeling of making a day of it, rather than the commute from home to college that I normally take. This reminds me, I go to college in Windsor, a historically interesting and beautiful place. And yet I don’t spend nearly enough time exploring and taking a stroll around, which I aim to fix soon. I plan to make this trip alone, mainly because I’m worried that as I have no fixed destination in  mind and no real idea where I’m going once I get there, that the other person or people wouldn’t enjoy it very much and that I would just bore them.

The little trips that my granddad took me on gave me a lifelong love for travelling on trains that I still have to this day and will probably continue to have for as long as I live. We don’t see him so much anymore, but the love of travel is an enduring little legacy that he left on my young mind.

I said in the introductory paragraph that I took several trips to London with friends. All of these helped me feel happy, journeying into London for the first time in a while and recapturing how I enjoyed similar trips when I was nothing but a child, so for that I thank them. Particular shout-outs go to my girlfriend Annie and my friend Sam, because one of the best ways to see a new place or revisit an old one is with loved ones around you.

There Can Be Only One Good Highlander Film*…

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

For the purposes of this review, we shall be ignoring the rest of the franchise and concentrating solely on the original and best film. When I re-watched it this movie, I tried to approach it as a newcomer would and I think that I mostly succeeded.

The 1986 movie Highlander is a movie of love, immortality, violence and an awesome soundtrack. The main concept of this film is that there are immortal humans living out their lives, fighting among themselves, all the while going unnoticed by ordinary mortals. These immortals can only be killed by decapitation, so they battle it out with swords to reach the foretold time of ‘The Gathering’ where an unknown Prize will be awarded to the last immortal left alive, giving the film the tagline ‘There can be only one’.

The film introduces the protagonist, an immortal called Connor MacLeod. With the help of his mentor, Ramirez (played by Sean Connery), he must defeat the strongest of all immortals (the Kurgan) in 1985. It all comes to an exciting climax with explosive special effects and stunts.

The director created some of the best scene transitions I’ve seen in a long time, with such examples as a fish tank changing to a lake in Scotland, or going through the roof of an underground car park to 16th Century Scotland.

The sword fights (which are, let’s be honest, the main attraction of this film) are well fought and executed. In the same vein, the special effects aren’t too convincing (you can see the harness on MacLeod at the end of the film) but they have a certain charm to them and they are still pretty epic.

The Kurgan makes a great villain; you can tell that Clancy Brown (also the voice of Mr. Crabs in Spongebob Squarepants) enjoyed his role as the 3000 year old savage warrior, who rapes MacLeod’s wife (off-screen) and goes on one of the best joyrides ever seen to Queen’s rendition of ‘New York, New York’.

The rest of the casting is relatively well done. Sean Connery makes a good cultured mentor for the main protagonist (and laughably claims that he is an Egyptian while speaking with a Scottish accent). Christopher Lambert (Macleod) does a pretty good Scottish accent in the flashback scenes and makes a good complex and mysterious hero.

The music in this film is bloody excellent, with both an orchestra and Queen making appearances on the soundtrack of the movie. The orchestral pieces suit the atmosphere of the movie really well, especially in scenes of Connor’s early life. It is almost universally agreed that whatever you can say about Highlander in general, the first one had the best music by far. Queen provides some suitably awesome music for the film, which can be found in an album called ‘It’s A Kind Of Magic’. For example, ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ is possibly one of the most depressing songs about immortality ever made.

The word on the street (of Wikipedia) is that they are planning to remake this film to be released at some point this year, with Vinnie Jones rumoured to be in the hot seat for The Kurgan this time around. Hands up who thinks that sounds awful?

*Long story short, it’s this one.

Super Mario All-Stars. Sounds Like A Baseball Team, Plays Like A Good Game.

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

I submitted this piece to the website (which I located from Simon Reed’s blog), and it was accepted there. I present it here too for the link-averse reader:

I think that the time is right for a re-release of the Super Nintendo classic compilation package ‘Super Mario All-Stars’.

Released in 1993 over here, it combined the original Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 2, 3 and The Lost Levels into one handy package with remade graphics and a save facility. A later version also released in 1993 included Super Mario World as part of the package. It served as the basis for the Super Mario Advance remakes, so this makes me think that it’s time it receives a DS or Wii release (as the DS is roughly up to Nintendo 64 specification standards).

Hardly any mainstream shops sell Game Boy Advance or older games any more, so it would be a good way to make money from their existing games while embracing their new systems.

They could claim that the games are a bargain compared to buying them all individually, and that you could have them all on one handy disk/cartridge. I know that Nintendo has released all of the games on the Virtual Console, but they don’t have a save facility and the priginal Super Mario Bros. is allegedly a poor conversion to the Virtual Console format (according to NGamer magazine). I would buy it myself to test this out, but I’m not spending the few Wii points that I have on a game that is apparently a poor conversion.

I bought Lost Levels last year as both part of the compilation and the Virtual Console version. The Lost Levels version is far superior, as it lets you save your progress if you die (the Wii version lets you do this too, but only if you go to the Wii Menu when you die) and the graphics are very well done, keeping more to the standard of SMW than SMB. The infamous difficulty level of The Lost Levels would no doubt be something very much appreciated by the crowd that believes that the Wii or DS are just for casual gamers.

Would I buy this hypothetical re-release? Well, here’s the situation as I see it: it’s convenient being able to access any of the Mario games that I want, but it is inconvenient to set up the SNES. Therefore, a Wii or DS version would be much appreciated. These games (with the possible exception of Super Mario Bros. 2) are all tried and tested classics and I’m sure many gamers, new and old, would appreciate another chance to play them all at their best in one handy package.

It’s Not Christmas Anymore. So Why Does It Look Like It Is?

Friday, January 8th, 2010

I look outside at the white blanket of snow covering my fair town of Slough, and I wonder why the hell we are so attracted to it? Here we are, in the beginning of January, seeing landscapes that look like they belong in a Christmas card. I half expect to hear a robin tweeting away irritatingly in the background and to see a big banner that says ‘Merry Christmas!’ Actually, that does sound plausible. Only we call it ‘forgetting to take down the decorations’.

We have a transport system that is woefully underequipped to deal with snow on the tracks. Over in Japan, if a bridge collapses they will get people working around the clock to restore it to full working order. So why can’t they do that with snow? I can appreciate how a bus would have trouble with this, but the roads seem to be relatively ice-free when I go outside in the morning. But surely it can’t be that hard to attach a plow* to the front of a train for such situations. It would make the journey safer and cause less delays. **

That’s another thing I hate about snow days; when you have them you generally get the day off from school or work due to poor weather conditions. So that’s great, you think, I’m free to do whatever I want! Except the trains and buses will be affected, so any travel needed will likely be about ten times harder than it needs to be, and the roads are quite unsafe due to the ice that has built up on them.

Don’t get me started on the ice that inevitably follows a snowfall. As an adept former ice-skater myself, it was quite a surprise to end up flat on my arse, watching the luggage case I was carrying slowly glide away across the ice. It’s happened a few times before, but I don’t expect it to happen when I’m walking home, for the love of God! I hate the fact that the pavements don’t get cleaned as well as the roads do, so that it takes twice as long to walk anywhere than normal.

Another somewhat obvious thing that comes with this is the affected areas being damn cold to walk through. Even our houses aren’t safe from the scourge of coldness. I suppose in a way in a way it echoes the spirit of Christmas, a family lovingly huddled around a fire together to escape the cold. Did I mention this is January? The time for such festivity has been and gone.

The snowfall, when it comes properly, looks beautiful, pristine and gloriously untouched. Until everybody and their mothers go out and trample all over it and spoil the perfect ground. It gives us an insight into human nature, if we cannot see a nice piece of scenery without wanting to leave our mark on it and reduce it to a mere shadow of its previous beauty.

I don’t have anything against snow, per se; I think it looks beautiful and picturesque. What I really have a problem with is the fact that there is never snow when you want it, and when you do want it you don’t get it. If this is global warming in action, surely it could pick a better time?

* Call Mr. Plow, that’s my name, that name again is Mr. Plow!

** Or end horribly. I’m not sure which…

The Doctor Knows The Time Lords Are Returning. And Knowing Is Half The Battle…

Monday, January 4th, 2010

This is a review of the latest episode of Doctor Who, so there are many spoilers. A great many.

As I write this, Facebook statuses and forums are starting to come to terms with the fact that the last episode of Doctor Who with David Tennant has been and gone. And what an episode it was. For the truly uninitiated, the Tenth Doctor’s life expires in this episode and the Eleventh steps in to take his place. David Tennant has been with us for four years of quality viewing time on a Saturday evening and it was a shame to see him go. He showed us a very believable character of a man who doesn’t want to die.

The prophecy from the frequently used Russell T. Davies Scroll Of Foreshadowing* says that someone will knock four times and the Doctor will die. Why this matters to someone who can regenerate is explained away by saying that it feels like he actually dies. And by the end of the special, you’re wishing for him to hurry up and die, as it’s clearly a foregone conclusion.

If there’s one thing I don’t like about Doctor Who, it is the large amount of foreshadowing that goes towards ramping up tension for the finale. I actually think this episode might have worked better without it, so they could have the death be more of a surprise for the viewer. The only problem I can see the lack of foreshadowing creating is that this episode is all about the Doctor trying to escape his death, so the point of the story would need to be changed somewhat. Although I think an episode about the Time Lords returning doesn’t really need anymore dramatic tension than that.

Yes, the Time Lords return in this episode. In retrospect, it’s very easy to say, why didn’t they do that before? Well, due to the nature of the ‘timey-wimey ball’, they have done it before. It’s always been done, ever since the Time War’s conclusion. Gotta admire dickery with time.

During the course of the episode when the Doctor is describing exactly why the Time Lords shouldn’t be coming back, he mentions “the Could’ve Been King and his Army Of Meanwhiles And Neverweres”. Is it me, or does that sound like a character on a kids’ tv show; or a fairytale? Actually, a lot of the Time War just seems like personification of time-related phenomena. For example, ‘The Nightmare Child’ just sounds like personification of a black hole or other such singularity.

The Doctor and Wilf are good together as a companion and Time Lord, and I would be interested to see if they get back together again (however briefly) during the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure (oh God, I have to get used to saying that). It’s looking highly unlikely, but you never know. Speaking of the Eleventh Doctor, I wonder how many people are going to declare that he is ruining Doctor Who when his season starts? The first you saw of him on screen, he looked like he was constipated and he took the piss out of his own hair. Now that’s encouraging…

Doctor Who has its good episodes and its bad, but when I say good, I mean good. This episode had its high points and low points, but it was a cracking episode overall. One that I will certainly be watching again in the near future.

*Not actually an in-programme scroll…yet.