Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

What I’ve Been Doing Lately…

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

A casual checking of the dates between posts will show you how much I’ve been neglecting this blog of late. The main reason for that is that I started this as a review blog, but since then I’ve found other outlets for my work (more about those on the About page). As bizarre as this may seem for a man who writes reviews and opinion pieces, I don’t like writing about myself (and yet, look how easily the words flow!), so I tend to let the day-to-day annoyances stay confined to reality and thus there are no posts here.

So, what have I been doing since my last update?

Well, for one thing I got a gig writing theatre reviews for the Maidenhead Advertiser by exploiting the hell out of a connection I have. It’s unpaid at the moment but it’s a step in the right direction and I get to watch shows for free! (And if I was an alcoholic, the free drinks would’ve helped too!) I’m honestly proud of the stuff I’ve written for them, it’s some of the best stuff I’ve done.

Round about October, I got my dream job! It was at Waterstone’s in Windsor. And yes, I know working in a bookstore is a bit of a sad dream job to have but if you know me it’s also utterly predictable. I worked there for about three months or so but had to leave due to my temporary contract running out and their not having the hours to keep me on (and due to my hilarious incompetence). So now I’m unemployed again but I gained a lot of confidence from doing it, which is the important thing.

I’ve developed a rather neat script idea for college which I plan to write into a full movie script when I get the time (certainly won’t be able to do it in college time).

I’ve been featured in the pages of Nintendo Gamer magazine (Issue 72) as their Lylat Wars Super Fan, in which I made a somewhat grand claim about being able to play it blind. I can’t; I’m familiar with all the enemy patterns, it’s just that my problem is that I can’t visualise.

I’ve had my laptop stolen twice, once in a house burglary and the other out of my Dad’s car. This pissed me off no end, let me tell you.

And now, as I start out with the best of intentions to keep this blog updated in the future, it only remains to tell you that I’ve embarked on a series-wide review of the James Bond films on Kasterborous’ sister site, Cult Britannia. Except Quantum Of Solace.

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Blu-ray Vs. DVD: FIGHT!

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

I’ve been antagonising some of my nerdier friends on The Twitter recently with my proclamations that there’s fuck all difference between Blu-ray and DVD.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an idiot – I know that one is read using a Blue laser as opposed to a Red one (hence the name) and I know that if you watch an older DVD and compare it to a Blu-Ray, the picture quality is poor by comparison due to how the definition of Standard Definition has changed over the years. Compare The Shawshank Redemption to Star Wars and you’ll see what I mean.

It doesn’t help that by its very nature, you cannot advertise Blu-ray quality on a DVD (much like you can’t advertise 3D footage on a 2D television). I saw an advert the other day where the ‘before’ picture appeared to have a filter applied to it to make it look worse. You can, however, upscale existing DVDs to high definition in most Blu-ray players just by putting them in and playing them.

These days, Standard Definition looks a lot better than it did, as evidenced by the most recent series of Doctor Who and Sherlock. This makes a small step up to almost-unnoticeable High Definition so very, very unnecessary. Think of the upgrade from VHS to DVD, and now compare the upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray. Almost unnoticeable.

What I don’t understand is why stand-up comedy productions get their own Blu-ray releases. There’s almost nothing gained by it, it’s purely done to get more money due to the price difference between Blu-ray and DVD. I would be less cynical of the studios’ motives if Blu-ray was actually a big step forwards. My best analogy for this is comparing the DSi to the DSi XL. While the step up from DS Lite was a noticeable improvement, the one from DSi to DSi XL was much less so.

So in essence, it’s more expensive, more isolating as a format (as Blu-ray players are more expensive and for obvious reasons DVD players are not forwards-compatible) and the difference is negligible. Why does it exist again?

Blu-ray Facts:

Blu-ray discs have 25GB of capacity. You’d think some of that would be visible!

50 First Dates was a launch title for Blu-ray, a fact so depressing that I want to kill myself now. Should’ve been Failure To Launch! [/snark]

I have precisely one Blu-ray disc in my collection (although with the picture quality these days, I don’t need any): Dara O Briain’s This Is The Show. I was happy with this until I realised that I couldn’t watch it that day due to not having a Blu-ray player in my room.

Blu-ray is trademarked under that name, rather than Blu-Ray. Similar to the way Technicolor is a trademark whatever country you’re using it in.

Why I Don’t Believe In God…

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

I’ve never really believed in God. When I was young, I went to a Christian school so I didn’t really question it and called myself a Christian (we sung hymns and everything), but that was mainly because I didn’t know there was a word for not believing in God or never having considered it before.

These days, I’m a firm atheist. I try to be tolerant of other people’s beliefs but when you believe that you’re right and other people are wrong (to the point of certainty), that’s harder than it seems. (Hence why people of other religions try to convert you.) Try to let spelling mistakes pass when the other person genuinely believes that’s how it’s supposed to be spelled and you’ll see what I mean. Humans don’t like being wrong and they don’t like it when other people are wrong. After giving it some thought, I concluded that there is no God, but for a number of reasons.

One of the reasons is that I believe that the theory of evolution by natural selection is true and indeed, observable (if people started using the word “theory” correctly instead of using it to mean “hypothesis”, more of them would believe in it). Having worked that one out, I concluded that if life evolved, there was not really a need for a God. You could bring the idea of intelligent design into it, but I personally think it’s a cop-out so that you can still say “God did it”. (I also don’t understand why people are offended at the idea of evolving from primates.) The main beauty of evolution is that if it happened without a God, that just makes the appearance of certain species all the more wondrous.

The main problem that I have with God, and in particular, The Bible is that once you’ve refuted one thing from a 2000-3000 year old collection of myth and allegory, everything else starts to fall down as well and that makes it less likely that there is a God. You’ve got to remember that this was a time when much of what we take for granted today was totally new and crazy to the people of the time, so stuff like thunder probably was frequently interpreted as the voice of God. It was also a time where the written word had been invented not too long before so stories were only just beginning to be written down so people could just lie and say they heard the call of God (or, as is possible with some of today’s charlatans, genuinely believe it and/or have some sort of mental problem). I also feel that religion in general has done more harm than good.

I believe that Jesus was probably a real person (although he wouldn’t have been called that) and he’s on my time-travel “to meet” list, but that all he did was teach some lessons and tell some parables and it all got blown way out of proportion by the gullible fools of that time. And he certainly wouldn’t have been a white man.

I also feel it’s not exactly helpful, even though it’s understandable, to believe in a big man in the sky who will make everything better and is controlling it all, so there’s a reason for your suffering. This goes hand in hand with the invention of an afterlife as a consoling tactic for the grieving (which I’m fine with, just if you’ve read this don’t expect me to say things like “he’s gone to a better place”).

I think the most important thing, however, is the fact that I have got by perfectly fine without believing in any sort of God for most of the 20 years that I’ve been on this Earth. I’ve followed my own moral code and so far I’ve not committed any crimes against humanity or gone on killing sprees (although I have hurt people emotionally, which I deeply regret). I’ve seen wondrous things and known fantastic people, but nothing to make me think there’s some sort of God watching over me. Other people can believe that if they want, and that’s fine, but I have laid out here why I don’t.

EPIC WIN PART THREE: THE REVIEWS…

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

As the second episode of Epic Win that I was in the audience for aired last night, I felt now would be a good time to do reviews of how they came out on air.

Episode 1: The first one I attended, we were told to come back next week so Kane could participate in the “breathing in someone’s face” challenge covered below. This one wasn’t that great, but it did make me chuckle a few times. The experience was mainly memorable for the untelevised “woman walking into doorframe” bit and the fact that I was in the audience for in (and indeed, am visible).

Episode 5: This one was more interesting to me as Kane, my friend, was in this one as a “breather”. He finally admitted (and you can see for yourself, it’s here or you can watch the whole thing on the iPlayer) that he really went for it and breathed hard in the guy’s face. For some reason, he also raised his eyebrows seductively as the camera panned past him. This time, you can see me three or four times. I’ll be honest, I sort of blend into the crowd a bit and don’t look very happy to be there.

I thought the shows themselves were alright, they had a good couple of contestants and slightly mental ones. As a series, it does have an over-reliance on puns though. I’m sure if the show the show lowered its use of puns that it would be better for all concerned. There’s one bit that’s part of all the shows that is sub-par 70s variety show schtick, which is the bit where the announcer, Joe Lycett, pops up from behind a chair and does his announcing stuff. It seems like it belongs on a 70s gameshow of some sort.

I probably wouldn’t watch any episodes of a second series, but I have been watching the ones I wasn’t on. I thought they were alright, nothing special. They’re a reasonably entertaining way to pass the time, but be warned, you will cringe at the puns.

The Mystery Of The £500,000 Book…

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

So I was browsing on Amazon, looking for Roger Ebert books, as you do, and I found this. Words cannot describe the speechlessness I’m feeling right now.

First of all, I don’t understand why it’s £500,000. It’s from 25 years ago and is almost new. Being almost new should be enough to knock its value down by a few grand. To say nothing of the fact that it’s by Roger Ebert (who I like, don’t think I’m knocking him), rather than one of the conventional masters of the literary form. I’m sure there are original copies of Arthur Conan Doyle books that go for less than this. I’m pretty sure there are Gutenberg Bibles and Shakespeare First Folio pages that go for less than this.

Another thing I don’t understand is why, after shelling out half a mill for a 25 year old book, you then have to pay £2.80 delivery fees. For £500,000 I expect the seller to come to me and throw something else into the deal. I mean, once he gets the money into his bank account, he would be a millionaire as the book is coming from America. He would have to get down on his knees and present me the book like it’s a relic of the saints, while I give him the nondescript briefcase (as opposed to the sack with a dollar sign on it) containing the money. In fact, if I was buying a book for 500 grand, I’d want him to buy me a house that I could live in and a separate house to store the book when I’m not reading it. I want a criss-cross laser grid guarding the book from secret agents at all times. Call me crazy but nobody’s going to insure it for as much as the buyer shells out for it (I expect them to assume it’s a prank call and record it for training purposes) so you’d need some protection for it.

I love books, but I think the idea of paying £500,000 for anything other than the most desirable collector’s item is ludicrous and preposterous.

EPIC WIN PART TWO: REVENGE OF THE WARM-UP…

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

Continuing on from the last blog post I did about Epic Win, Kane and I headed to Television Centre to attend another recording of the new show with Alexander Armstrong. This time, we were there for a reason. Last week Kane got asked to breathe on a guy’s face, as the guy’s ability was to be able to smell what flavour of crisps you’d eaten by smelling your breath. This meant we were promptly separated as he was taken off to some darkened room somewhere. Initial suspicions that he would be taken round back and shot for agreeing to such a challenge were unfounded.

As we were all seated, the comedian started his warm-up routine. I should’ve been worried when I noticed it was the same guy as last time doing the warm-up. What followed were many of the same jokes still delivered by a Dale Winton lookalike. It is fair enough, I suppose – they don’t expect people to be attending twice so they just get the warm-up guy in, and not much of the actual process changes in between shows so they give the same tips to the audience. You know the kind of thing – “fire exits are there, lighting rigs may fall down but the chances of that happening twice in one week are minimal, have a Kit-Kat”, that kind of thing. Then Alexander Armstrong comes out and does the same jokes that he did last week to warm the audience up. Remember the one where he implied I gave death threats? He did that again but to a different person this time.

The actual show wasn’t really that good this time around. The first act was pretty impressive, the jetski guy was pretty cool and both the smurf guy and the crisp-breath smelling guy were just weird. None of them were particularly stand-out acts. Impressive, don’t get me wrong, but nothing that made you marvel at human achievement. Fortunately, nobody concussed themselves this week. Bizarrely, although the top of the door was padded, it actually lowered the ceiling of the door so the contestants going through it had to bend down further.

I had a couple of gripes with the actual recording process. For one thing, if any particularly tall people happen to go, be prepared to lop a foot off your height. I spent the evening with my legs drawn up to my chest (exaggerated for comedic effect). Another gripe is that one of the guys operating the camera for audience reaction shots looked very pissed off at the audience for making him do it. Every time he had to get a different shot, he looked like he resented having to move in any way. I imagine that he used to be a director but then got busted down to camera operator. Makes it seem like a cop show. (Incidentally, there’s a guy whose job it is to run behind this guy supplying cable. It’s like if you paid somebody to follow you with a hoover so the cord doesn’t get taut.)*

Lest we forget, the main reason that Kane and I were there was to see him breathe on someone’s face. And this happened towards the end of the evening. I am informed that they were taken to brush their teeth and were supplied with their own toothbrushes and toothpaste, which the lucky people got to take home with them. The guy was stood on the stage, blindfolded (so he couldn’t see who was holding what pack of crisps) and the volunteers (15 in all) were lined up off camera with two nutter-looking people at the very front (who I am informed were hired extras). Kane was fourth in line and I was surprised when he really went at that guy’s face. I’m surprised there wasn’t a cloud of flame-grilled steak crisp breath around his face afterwards. The crisp smelling dude (Anthony) got through about 7 of them before his minute ran out, and he’d only gotten four of them (out of eight needed) right. This meant he failed the challenge and had to leave through the Fail door (making sure to duck). Between scenes, he did identify four more but he’d already failed at that point so couldn’t go through.

Lastly came the pick-ups. This was made hilarious by the general confusion of the audience, as they had to do pick-up shots for last week’s show, at which point Stephen K. Amos asked if he’d fallen asleep earlier.

The good thing about my Epic Win saga is that if I’m lucky and if you’re lucky too, in a few weeks you will be seeing my highly attractive and chiselled good looks in a brief audience reaction shot on your screens. Kane will definitely be on it, unless they are real dicks and cut his appearance. Although I can’t speak for him in terms of chiselled good looks.

*In fact, now I think about it he’s probably, you know, a RUNNER.

Incidentally, the last entry in the saga will be a post-airing review of the episodes I was there for.

EPIC WIN…

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Standing outside Television Centre yesterday, Kane and I didn’t quite know what the new show Epic Win! was going to be like. We got an idea of the oddity involved when a BBC Worker approached us and asked if we’d like to eat crisps and breathe on a man’s face as part of the show* (his “talent” was to be able to tell the flavour of crisps consumed by smelling the person’s breath).

Surprisingly, we were seated at the very front of the studio, with no seats between us and the panel. This surprised me because up until now I had the feeling that they were reserved for the beautiful people, but apparently it’s a matter of getting there first. I should warn you that this does make you an excellent target for the warm-up comedian, as he came over and picked on me. This was because he was saying that if we were to be on television, you have to look happy to be there (which is fair enough). I was then informed that he’d seen “better smiles on roadkill”.

He then introduced the host, Alexander Armstrong, who then proceeded to make jokes about how half of the crowd had to be turned away from the previous day’s recording, including one chap who made death threats. It was at this point that he turned to me, shook my hand and said “we’re very glad that we got you back today, please tell us if you want anything”. I can say I wasn’t expecting that, but hell, I got a handshake out of Alexander Armstrong so I’m not complaining.

Around about this point, they introduced the premise of Epic Win, which is essentially: nutjobs come in and perform extraordinarily niche feats (one of the contestants who we’ll be discussing later had to guess ten Take That songs from one-second snippets of them), at which point a panel of judges has to choose how much they would award in money for the feat. Each panel member can award up to £1000, so the total award could be anywhere from £3-£3000. Sounds simple, right? Well, in addition to that, several different cash sums flash up on the screen, one after the other, and the contestant has to judge carefully when they’re coming up to the amount that the judges give them. If they overestimate themselves, they go home with nothing (allegedly).

Jesus, that gave me a headache. That’s the problem with game shows – sometimes they can be too complicated. The simpler the better is the way to go if any of you ever want to make one.

I’ll use this space to give you a brief run-down of each contestant and what I thought of them (spoilers for when this airs, by the way):

First Chap: This man’s talent was blowing up hot water bottles by blowing into them. And holy shit, it was impressive. He blew up 3 in about 40 seconds while on an exercise bike.

Second Bloke: A chap who runs a lawnmower museum had to guess which lawnmowers (out of a choice of 20) cut five strips of grass. He did it in a pre-recorded video. We also got to see Vanessa Feltz’s incredibly phallic seed-dipper.

Third Lady: She was the crazy Take That fan who had to guess ten Take That songs by listening to one-second long snippets of them. She did better than I was expecting at this but still went home for guessing seven correctly (she had to get a minimum of eight). However, that was not the most memorable thing about her. That was the moment that she proved the door was far too short to walk through. She showed us this by using her forehead to make contact with the top of the door in a painful manner. Although we were worried for her safety (Armstrong looked as worried as if he’d killed her himself), she was apparently fine afterwards. This did lead to a surreal moment when they had to do pick-up shots with someone who was no longer there. When it airs, you will note that they didn’t actually get footage of her going through the door. No doubt they will show her walking towards it and then cut away.

The Last Chap: In my view, this guy was the most impressive. According to his intro, he once walked for 36 miles without dropping a football, and he demonstrated his keepy-uppy skills by getting dressed while controlling a ball.

After this came the last few shots, one of which had to be done about three times for whatever reason. Then, about three and a half hours after we got in (to put this in perspective, the show will probably be a half hour one), we finally got to go home.

All in all, it was a rather strange evening, and anyone who has been to one of these things will know that it will get you questioning if anything in television is truly spontaneous. For some of the contestants, I found out that they won or lost before they did by looking at the autocue. I did have fun though, even though some of the dialogue (specifically, the puns) was rather evil. I look forward to seeing it, and hopefully myself, on television.

Edited to add: The airdate for the first episode of Epic Win is the 20th of August.

*This bit was unfortunately cancelled, but hopefully we’ll hear back soon about getting tickets for next week so Kane can breathe on a guy’s face then. I decided not to do it as I’m not sure if they can capture my good side on camera.

Why I Prefer Doing Film Or DVD Reviews…

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

The main reason that I prefer doing film and dvd reviews is a commitment of time involved. With a DVD or film, it’s fairly easy to watch and review quite quickly. It generally just requires a free day to watch the item in question then write a review about it. Whereas with books, you are asked to commit yourself to long periods of time to actually finish the thing (because I don’t want to be one of those reviewers who does the bare minimum in terms of research) and then have to write a review about it. Indeed, this is the main reason I used to not do them at all. There was a period of time when I had 2 book reviews on my blog and maybe 3 on Blogcritics. Then I started reviewing a lot more books, one of which I’ve just put into pending. I think I have about five coming my way at the moment, all in all. Doing reviews for publishers outside of the normal process is a good way to get in their good books so I oblige every so often and sometimes some genuinely good books come along (see my reviews of 33 Days, Riding The Alligator or Ultimate Regeneration).

I also vastly prefer the DVDs I get sent generally, as among other things that I’ve been able to review for Blogcritics, I’ve reviewed Doctor Who Series 5, The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air Season 6 and the rather excellent Buried.

The other reason that I don’t like doing book reviews as much is that the author is a lot more likely to read the feedback than a film-maker, because those are typically offered through representatives (one company, Noble PR, seem to exist solely to send me horror movies). However, self-published authors interact with me through email when they’re actually sending me the books. Obviously I don’t like hurting people’s feelings but I appreciate that sometimes it has to be done in the name of honesty. I think I’ll be the worst kind of reviewer when I stop caring about other people’s feelings. And I’ll be honest, quite a lot of the time I get sent crap, although that ratio is starting to even out as I get better at picking out the good ones.

(Incidentally, I almost never do music album reviews at all. I just appreciate the free promos.)

Upon The Oddities Of Action Figures…

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Now, as my friends know, I am a bit of a nerd about books and action figures (a name given to them to avoid the connotations of the word ‘doll’ on a toy marketed at young boys), but even I would draw the line at this. For those of you who don’t want to click the link unless you know what it is (I generally have the same attitude), this is a figure of Dr Constantine (sold by Forbidden Planet), a character from Series 1 of the new Doctor Who, who gets briefly claimed by the alien menace of the week.

Call me weird, but I cannot for the life of me work out what child would see him meet his fate and then rush to the store to buy his likeness in 6″ form. I can understand buying action figures of the Doctor (I have some on my shelf, along with a disused money box TARDIS), or the Daleks and the companions at a stretch, but what child would go out and buy an action figure based on a (at the time) 69-year-old actor with an extremely posh diction and manner of speaking, who then gets zombified?!

To my mind, one of the main points of action figures (apart from being collectible, which only works if they’re long out of production and sought-after) is that children can play with them. What kind of boring child (other than possibly me) would bring out Dr Constantine for the conversation with the Doctor, rather than the Daleks and the Cybermen? Reminds me of the Prune Face sketch from Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III, which ends with titles saying “PRUNE FACE GOT AN ACTION FIGURE ANYWAY!”

Then again, maybe I’m coming at this from the wrong angle. According to one Robert Litton, the only one to review it, “This [is] a great character and the likeness is amazing. Also has a head with gas mask. Great addition to my 9th Dr. figures.” Guess we know who’s buying them then. Some guy in his basement with an internet connection, since I doubt a 9-year-old wrote that review.

Hardly A Level Complaint To Aim At The Game…

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

So I despise the last level of Mario Galaxy 2, Grandmaster Galaxy. Filled with enemies, electric barriers and long drops, it has gained a reputation as one of the most difficult levels of the game, and for good reason. But say you pass it. Say you dodge, duck, dip, dive and…dodge your way through the obstacle course to defeat the last three enemies you need to get the star. You’ve done it, right? You’ve mastered Galaxy 2!

Alas, t’was not to be. The very last star (the 242nd!) needs you to do the same thing, except this time without getting hit! You get hit once and you have to start again at the very beginning of the level. This is especially annoying as there are six sections to the level, and four of them are quite easy to get past (dying on the first or second section is like, to borrow a simile from Retsupurae, you showing up to compete in the Special Olympics and them saying “no, you have to leave”). The fourth section is the most annoying, as at least with the last one you felt that you got somewhere, but the fact is that most of the time you won’t ever see it.

There are some handy shortcuts that you can use to get by (I also recommend popping by the casino first) but overall the star itself is very frustrating. I suspect I should stop playing it, lest this become my white whale, but you know the old story. Just one more star…