Thursday, May 28

Film: Tormented Click for more info

A slightly odd horror film about a suicidal bullied kid coming back from the grave for revenge. It's a bit more tongue in cheek than usual (or perhaps just as much), and despite the few laughs and genuinely genius scenes isn't really all that special.

I'd catch that other horror film currently out instead.

Sunday, May 24

Game: Punch Out (Wii) Click for more info

Aaaah. As some of you might have figured out by now, it's the simple games I like the best. Take Punch Out - a remake of the classic NES and SNES boxing games. There's no statistics and management here, no gym training requirement, no countless moves to remember - heck, you can't even move around the ring during fights.

What it does have in spades is some brilliant gameplay bathed in simplicity: holding the Wii remote sideways you have a button to punch for each hand, and the ability to duck and dodge. That's pretty much it. Yes there is a motion option (including one which uses a Balance Board) but in my opinion they can be swiftly ignored.

So how does such simplicity generate such joyous fun? Well in some ways its precisely because of it. You see, your opponents can duck and dodge too, as well as pummel you with some powerful attacks. These follow a deliberate and discoverable pattern, and it's finding these that bring such a sense of achievement, especially when you were getting your ass kicked moments before. The game is full of things just clicking into place.

And if you fail (and you will), it's not the game's fault. You know there's a weakness somewhere, you just need to take the beats until you find it (and you will). It's having this faith in the game that means you won't get too frustrated with it.

Apart from the main game (which is a bit short having only 13 opponents), there's a two player mode. Although this hasn't been well received in the press I thought it was awesome - you have to use the same tactics on your real life opponent that you did on the virtual one, except this time you get to play mind games too. There are other aspects of this mode (including being able to turn into a Giga-Mac after a series of successful volleys) but in essence it's just a video game version of rock-paper-scissors.

Graphics and sound are simple yet vastly more effective than other current games and there's nothing else to really comment about. I love this game!

Thursday, May 21

Link of the Day Click for more info

Attack of the Zombie Photos

Partly of interest only 'cos it vindicates what I've been saying all along, but mainly as an explanation as to why I'll never intentionally pose in a photo you intend on uploading to Facebook.

The sooner the common denominator stops "progressing", the better.

Monday, May 18

Film: Angels & Demons Click for more info

It seems that the only way I can enjoy a film adapted from something of Dan Brown's is to ignore the book in the first place. Unlike I did with The Da Vinci Code, I thought Angels & Demons was pretty darned good.

The main asset in such a film is the mystery of it all, or rather how it unravels as the film progresses. A&D was well paced; in fact I'd say that its pace was its best quality - it gave you just enough to make your own guesses but equally enough to make you doubt them again. Genius!

Everything else was standard fare: Tom et al played their respective roles well, Rome looked good and the whole thing was well produced. Well, except for the bits where they had to compensate for The Vatican's lack of cooperation; the CGI in these scenes were a bit shoddy but I guess they had to be done that way.

Overall it was a well balanced and enjoyable enough film to catch. Recommended.

Sunday, May 17

Film: Coraline Click for more info

Grim fairytale about a young girl who just doesn't realise how lucky she is (cough). And as usual it takes a monster of sorts to get her to figure this out; in execution though Coraline just about does enough to be something fresh rather than predictable.

There's no doubt that Coraline has been well put together, with love and attention pouring out of the film at its seams. The 3D is superfluous and in many ways a distraction to the art style of the film, but apart from that Coraline gets full marks for production. Interestingly the voice-acting is noticeably passable rather than excellent, something which also seemed to detract.

The biggest issue I had was with the inaccessibility of the film. As well as being disturbing (in more ways than one), it seemed to be pretty hard work appreciating what it was trying to do - a thinking man's cartoon then? It also took a bit of time getting started, and I found myself losing patience as it laboured on its opening point.

But overall Coraline was a good enough experience to sit through, and worth a watch if you know you have the patience for such things.

Saturday, May 16

Food: Don Pietro Click for more info

Don Pietro shows that you don't always have to drive for an hour to get a respectable eating experience; for instance take this local Italian sat right in the middle of the exotic location some of us like to call Gant's Hill. It serves up decent enough nosh at a fair whack (I got the garlic bread and what appeared to be the best veggie option on the menu in a gnocchi all for under a tenner), it's clean and cosy and service is brilliant. Yes, you have to make do with the inevitable Essex crowd you'll find in there, but that all just adds to the charm (and gives you licence to be as loud as you want, too).

It beats any local balti house hands down in my opinion. Recommended; well if you're in the area anyway.

Friday, May 15

New Music

Second Chance - Shinedown

Yes, more ballady soft rock. So sue me.

XKCD Click for more info

Is it lucky or unlucky to have mulitple opportunities?



Perhaps, but I'm not sure how this applies to those who'd rather remain single anyway - I guess some might be less fussy about an individual if they could have two of them. Maybe that's why four wives is a good idea? That last bit was a joke, ladies - four probably wouldn't be enough anyway.

Wednesday, May 13

Sunday, May 10

Shak's Choice: Zoe Saldana

For those of you who have seen the film Zoe plays a delightful Uhura in this weekend's Star Trek:



I'm sure a big part of her qualifications is due to the big ol' geek in me, but hey, we like who we like for a variety of reasons. And yes, it took me ages to find one of her in Starfleet garb. Boots and miniskirts? Ah, you just gotta love the fashion from sixties' sci-fi.

Film: Star Trek Click for more info

Okay. First things first: Star Trek is NOT a reboot. Those of you who think it is are either wrong, have no clue about ST or simply don't know what the word means. If you fall into the latter, a reboot would consist of stuff like making Kirk a bird or the Enterprise bright blue and shaped like a rocket. You know, as if you're reinventing something. No, this ST was perfectly consistent with the ST universe as already told, even though it's znantrq gb erjevgr gur cbfg Xvex ren; ohg url, gung'f gvzr geniry sbe ln. Anyway, lecture over - back to the review.

I thought Star Trek was fab. It managed to pack Starfleet action, Federation heroics and everything else that made Star Trek generally awesome. It was funny (Kirk the Perv was brilliant), poignant (kinda) and relevant to ST lore. I must say JJ did an absolutely brilliant job keeping true to the series.

There's little to complain about here. The acting was brilliant, with everyone contributing to the ST look and feel - quite astonishingly I sometimes forgot what the old cast looked like as the new ones made them their own (Hmmm, Uhura.). I got a bit annoyed at the action sequences as the usually classic and beautifully orchestrated space battles seemed to have become infected with those annoying BSG style camera pans and zooms.

But that's a minor complaint really. The film was fantastic, and I say that not only as a Trekkie; it also appealed to the single non-Trekkie who was forced to watch with us. I must admit that I'm a bit sad about what the story implies about the later generations of Star Trek (in short, they don't really exist anymore), but I'm sure I'll forget all that once the inevitable sequels arrive. In the meantime I'll just soak up all the pure and unadulterated Star Trek goodness this film provides. Recommended!

Co-dependence

I'll open with a story: once upon a time, there was man and woman and they were happy. The guy would go out to work and earn the bread, lift heavy stuff and use powertools. The woman would cook the bread, keep the home and raise the children. There weren't many complaints with this situation, or perhaps more correctly none were aired - the guy was bored and unfulfilled at work, while the woman felt she was always under-appreciated. However they each stuck to their responsibilities, ironically, because of each other. Even more bizarrely they were happy with their lot and wouldn't have it any other way.

Then something went wrong. What that something was is beyond the remit of this bit of writing, but it could have been sucky men leaving their wives with no way of fending for themselves, or it could have been the women feeling that they were better than just mere housework. Whichever it was, the balance had become irreparably upset and women (more than men) decided to take action.

This happened on both practical and emotional levels. Practically, a woman would now be called stupid for not making sure she had a professional backup plan, while men were told they need to learn to do housework partly as a useful skill (it is), but mainly to enable the general redistribution of roles that was occurring.

On the emotional side, men now had their boys and the women their girls: groups of people who were the most important to them - sometimes more so than family. These are the people you went to with your relationship problems (you know, instead of each other) and the people you went out with (you know, instead of each other).

And now we find ourselves in the position where we don't technically need partners any more. We have our own money, we can keep our own homes, we have our own friends to lean on. Faced with this there's no purpose or even room for a partner. I mean hey: what would be the point?

I'd be the first to admit that I depend on my family a lot, and in the ways you might typically think I do. Where some people have seen that as a weakness, I see it as a blessing. The fact is that I could move out and learn to cook and keep a home (I like to think I know how to do the 9-5 already); but possibly counter-intuitively I just don't think it would be very facilitating to my general well-being. I want to rely on someone else for some things, just like I would want my nearest and dearest to rely on me for the things I can best provide. Just like my friends who had moved out of uni could never return home, it's this familial co-dependence that keeps our home together. It's also worth noting that being needed provides some self-worth to an individual too.

Traditional roles aren't the only way to distribute roles though; I mean sure, perhaps it makes me a classic chauvinist how I personally feel men and women are better at certain things, but that doesn't mean roles can't be switched if that's what's been agreed upon (just remember though: working can suck as much as housework). It's the co-dependence that's important here, not the actual things that make that co-dependence possible and this should be discussed and negotiated rather than assumed.

But it isn't just practically that people are becoming more independent: it's happening emotionally too. Married people now keep group of friends where the spouse isn't relevant or even welcome; some even wish to travel without their partners after marriage. The idea that only friends can provide a level of well-being and social process that a spouse can't disturbs me quite a bit - in my idealistic world you not only would one not need much more than a partner who is also a best friend, but should also contribute to your existing group-dynamics too.

The usual response to my stance above is for people to claim that space and independence are important and even vital components for a healthy relationship. I'd say that bailing, however temporary, isn't a solution but merely wallpaper over the fact that you can't bear the company of someone for an extended period of time. I recognise that practically you can't do everything together - but I think it's important to at least aspire to that. And besides, space can be overrated: parents can't choose to have space or time-outs from their children for instance. I would also disagree with the assertion that co-dependence is somehow a weakness, or barrier to development. I didn't need space from my family to grow; in fact it helped with that in a very specific and unique way.

Co-dependence means exactly that; the support should go both ways and not just be the woman depending on the man, or man on the woman. It has to be almost symbiotic, since this is where the co-appreciation stems from. This requires a consciousness regarding your roles and responsibilities in a relationship whether you enjoy them or not (leaving aside the pleasure one gets from providing for a loved one).

And despite the coining of the term Superwoman Complex I don't think any specific gender is the most to blame. In fact quite ironically most of my female mates agree with the article in that they are actually looking for co-dependent relationships. For some reason however this wish doesn't manifest in the actual searching process, possibly due to it being seen as a possible sign of weakness, or perhaps it's the concrete and possibly rigid definitions that frighten some people.

I would say that looking around, the relationships which I see lasting the longest are the ones in which the participants are the most co-dependant. Put simply, needing each other is an incentive to work hard to keep one another - one reason why divorce is such an accessible option now is because it literally is. I'm not implying that people should endeavour to stay in bad relationships, but if you don't need to stay in one then that could be an easier option than trying to fix or bear with it.

And finally just to qualify my bias I should say that I personally find co-dependant relationships far more attractive than independent ones. I've been raised with the idea that I will one day provide for a family - this idea is what got me through study and my early years of working rather than any kind of professional or personal ambition to succeed.

I think that that's an aside to my suggestion that they're the strongest though. In essence it unfortunately just seems that we're now looking for someone we'll be able to live with, rather than someone we couldn't live without. I know which position I'd rather be in.

Originally drafted 2nd February 2009

Friday, May 8

Filmharmonic 2009 Click for more info

A last minute dash for tickets got us some pretty good seats at tonight's performance at the Royal Albert Hall. I hadn't been there since graduation and that poignancy alone had me excited. I didn't need that extra impetus though since the music, a selection of film and TV theme tunes from the past thirty years, was utterly brilliant.

All were instantly recognisable. We had Mission Impossible, Ghostbusters (yay!), Star Wars, Superman, Jurassic Park and even Dynasty and Dallas to name a few, and I was humming and tapping my feet to all of them.

I was a bit confused at how different some of the pieces sounded though - some bits were very different - but then I realised that this was probably the point; classic music reinterpreted by the RPO.

The two hours pretty much flew by,and I had a grin on my face throughout as I was taken back to when I first heard them all. Great stuff.

Rebel Muzik Click for more info

After missing it loads I managed to catch May's Rebel Muzik - it seems to becoming more and more popular each time I visit and I hope the intimacy isn't spoiled by that. Tonight's session was brilliant as usual if a bit late-running due to breaking for Maghirb. The open mic, although brave, wasn't as good as it usually is but the rest of the show more than made up for that.

Support was in the form of Reveal, Masikah and DPZ the latter of whom I thought was awesome - it was just a shame he came on so late (not that he looked like he wanted to stop any time soon).

Headlining was Lowkey who was launching his Tears to Laughter single - it's currently on iTunes where all of the profits made from a sale there will go to the DEC appeal. He quite plainly ripped it up tonight and even though I've seen him plenty of times before I'd say today was on another level.

The only complaint I had for today was the late running - as well as starting late it was packed to the brim and we ended up leaving at ten to midnight. The thin crowd at the end was a bit upsetting but DPZ managed to power through anyway.

Monday, May 4

Film: X-Men Origins: Wolverine Click for more info

In my opinion going back to where it started was a genius move by the people behind X-Men. The regular series wasn't going anywhere (and became a target for those looking for authenticity) and had lost its ability to be fresh.

Wolverine is essentially more of the same live action comic book stuff, but don't let the title fool you too much; although it is mainly about Wolverine it does go out of its way to explain a lot of the history behind the X-Men (well that in the universe of film anyway) in general.

So yes; we have other superheroes, we have fights and boss fights, and we have tragedy. The ending is as expected, largely since you should have seen it already anyway, the acting is alright, while the rest of the production does well. Of course it comes with plot holes galore (and I'm sure comic book fans would have noted more than I did) so leave your reason at home.

No surprises here, but a solid and enjoyable romp nevertheless. Recommended.

Sunday, May 3

Game: Left 4 Dead (PC) Click for more info

Sometimes you play a game and wonder why it hadn't been done before. L4D is survival horror, FPS stylee: so tons of easy to kill zombies (of the fast running variety - 28 Days Later has a lot to answer for). The real hook, however, is that you're not alone - there are four main characters in all opening up some of the best co-op play I've had the pleasure of, uh, playing.

The rest of the game is kept simple - there are no gimmicks here, no plot. There is a grand total of 5 or 6 weapons to pick from (a good thing in my opinion) of which you can only hold one - and when that runs out of ammo you have a pair of infinite handguns to play with instead. There are no boss fights per se, just hairy "climax scenarios" where you literally fight frantically for survival.

The simple nature of the game allows you to dictate the pace of it. You can go fast or slow, you can play with or against your team (and I'm not ashamed to say that I ran for the safety of the helicopter without a thought for my team mates) or you can just hang around, blasting away at continually re-spawning undead till the cows come home. Bliss.

It was enough to prompt me to buy a new graphics card for my pc (a 4770 if anyone is interested) and as it's currently 16 quid via Steam there really isn't much excuse. Absolutely brilliant.

Food: Citrus Click for more info

Posh and a bit pretentious at it, Citrus serves up overpriced yet oh-so-small portions of admittedly yummy food. I went for a spaghetti pasta dish and a Sea Bass main, both of which were pretty well made - unfortunately we had to pace ourselves a bit since eating at a normal rate seemed to make it all disappear a bit too quickly.

The place was nicely done; the decor had invoked a few comments from us, although the layout may have been a bit too intimate for a group of 10 rowdy East Londoners. Still, the service was top notch if a bit slow.

Price was an issue here - even after sticking to two courses and a drink the bill came to 15 quid a head: even after the Top Table 50% discount we all felt a bit short changed, something made even more apparent as we hit a chicken shop on the way back home.

Literally not worth it, unfortunately.